The Failing Pastor’s “Encouragement” to Struggling Pastors

Earlier this week I wrote a post about not being sure how long I can continue being a pastor. It received quite a bit of response publicly and privately.

Although it is nice to know I am not alone, how discouraging that this is the place so many pastors are in.

Some pastors are living large and don’t have these feelings or frustrations. Others are frustrated for reasons other than those I expressed. I don’t know what to say about those situations.

I would like to talk to those pastors who are doing what they can to faithfully preach the Word, teach and disciple individuals, and otherwise attempt to fulfill the biblical qualifications and expectations of the pastoral role, and yet are met with apathy, rejection, and mockery.

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I think most pastoral frustration, certainly mine, is not a tiredness of work or the church, but just the sheer pointlessness of it. I do my best to faithfully preach God’s Word and it appears the more I endeavor to do this, the more people leave.

My faith does not require the approval of others, but my sincere desires to help people are constantly thwarted. The lives of people who have dropped out of church do not go well. I hurt for them. I don’t know what to do.

This is the time that the happy pastors tell me “There’s nothing you can do. It’s all God.” Which helps nothing, but appears to be top-drawer advice from most.

This advice only adds to my frustration. God is growing everyone else’s church but not mine? Nice to know He’s so helpful. Can I even trust Him? If He’s not on my side, should I even be doing this? Many have told me “no.”

Thanks.

The gates of hell will not prevail against God’s Kingdom. God does not need me to keep the Church alive.

At the same time I have been called to care for one little part of it, to give my life for it, to sacrifice for it, to let my progress in the faith be seen by all, to take heed to my life and my doctrine so that I and my hearers will be saved.

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The Failing Pastor on “Good Friday”

It’s Good Friday. This has always struck me as a really dumb name for this day. Christ was betrayed and crucified.

Yes, I’m fully aware that His death was a necessary component of the Gospel. Got it.

But this is the rejection of the Son of God, the Creator and Sustainer of all life. He came to His own and His own received Him not. This is heart breaking.

Our Christianity focuses way too much on the positive. I know the Gospel is “Good News.” Got it. But before the Good News comes the Bad News.

In all our discussing of the Gospel, never forget to emphasize just how awful we are. We killed the Lord of Glory.

People do not like God. They do not like anything that God likes. What man esteems is an abomination in the sight of God. We’re on completely different pages.

If you are approaching pastoral ministry thinking, “If I preach the Word, if I emphasize Christ, my church will grow.” You’re in for a surprise.

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Identifying People Who Want to Take Over the Church

I’m not perfect. I tell my church all the time, “check everything I say with the Word. Even I disagree with some of the stuff I’ve said in the past.”

Being corrected when I mess up is fine with me. If my doctrine is wrong and verses can be pointed out that correct my error, I’m ok with this. I’ve learned a lot from thoughtful people who graciously present verses. Don’t mind that one bit (although it can be embarrassing).

Then there are other people.

There is no grace. There is no desire to help. There are frequently verses thrown around, but rarely are they used in context or even fully quoted. There hasn’t been much thought applied.

These people take it upon themselves to try to completely change my entire doctrinal framework. They aren’t content to fix one point I said; they will not rest until they move me into a completely different theological camp and take the church with them.

One guy told me that if I didn’t make our church Catholic he would be forced to leave. “Well, we’re not going to become a Catholic church.” I seemingly unnecessarily explained. I just didn’t get it. Did he really think that our church would drop everything and follow his whims? Did he honestly expect me to change our church’s entire structure, doctrine, and practice for him?

He did. He honestly did.

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My Top Funny/Sad Stories of People Leaving the Church

There was a guy at my church years ago who struggled with every sin imaginable. And, to be clear, most of them were not past tense: he was currently doing them. He insisted he was saved because when he was a kid he said “the prayer” at camp, so he was “Once saved, always saved.” He was absolutely certain that because of God’s grace nothing he did mattered. “I’m not saved by works.” “True,” I said, “but a believer has been created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” He insisted he didn’t have to. “Ephesians 2:8-9 says works don’t save.” “I know, but there’s a verse 10.” “Nope,” he insisted, “verse 10 is too far.” “What? It’s the next verse?” He left my church after the 22nd time we had this conversation.

There was a guy at my church who was a “leader” in our youth group. Several weeks in a row he made one of the kids cry with his harsh words, and one night he made not only a kid cry, but also an adult fellow leader. I said to him, “I’d appreciate it if you’d stop making people cry.” He left the church because I was too dictatorial.

There was a guy at my church who decided to chuck his entire doctrinal background. He eventually adopted Catholic theology. He told me that my church needed to change its doctrine if we wanted him to stay. He left.

There was a guy at my church who got mad because I said that Christians will struggle with sin as long as they have a flesh body. Nope, not him. He hadn’t sinned for years. And if this is the kind of immature thing my church taught, he’d go elsewhere. He did.

Continue reading “My Top Funny/Sad Stories of People Leaving the Church”

How to Destroy Your Church in Less than a Month

Just so you know, I speak from experience.

There was a time when my church did well. One Sunday we had to bring out more chairs there were so many people. That was cool.

Except the entire time my church was “doing well” and I preached to filled chairs, I felt completely compromised and miserable. I was preaching a party line and had actually no idea what I was talking about.

I began reading the Bible obsessively. I saw things I never saw before. I began preaching those things. People began to leave slowly. But there was one thing I did which completely pulled the rug out from under everything and the church has not yet recovered. And, just so you know, this was ten years ago now.

If you’d like to know how I ruined my church in one month, or would like to try it yourself (it was exciting), here’s how you do it.

1) Identify your church’s pet program. This is the thing your church is most proud of, what it brags about most. This is the thing that takes up people’s time and money and energy. For us it was a youth group. Our youth group was almost twice the size of our church.

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My 10 Steps to Pastoral Depression

There’s a lake near my house where I go when I’m down to talk things over with the Lord. I pace up and down the dock, sometimes just stand and stare, but all the while praying for help.

I’ve been there many times. I’ve wept there more than any other place. One afternoon in a state of despair, my head thought, “I could just jump in the water and never come back up.” Before that thought scared me, it seemed rather attractive.

Pastoral depression is a thing. Actually, depression is a thing, doesn’t matter what your job is. Pastoral depression is like any other depression, it’s just more shocking because pastors are supposed to have everything together and know Jesus so well. “Knowing Jesus” in American Christianity is supposed to look happy.

Best life now, don’t ya know.

Depression, in some ways, is no big deal. We live in a culture that over-values happiness and anyone not sufficiently happy is deemed to have “issues.” Moses, Elijah, and Job all asked God to kill them. Paul said he desired to depart. Jesus asked “How much longer must I be with this faithless generation?”

Ministry is tough. It’s ok to acknowledge that. But if a pastor admits his struggles, he merely sets himself up for a lecture. “You gotta have faith, man. All things work together for good.”

Pastors spend all week listening to people complain, yet if the pastor dares complain one time, lectures fly. So now the depression is doubled. The pastor has the initial problem and now the pastor is told repeatedly not to be sad about anything. The pastor has no one to talk to.

The steps to my pastoral depression descend like this:

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Dealing with Church Bullies

When I first became pastor, two men in the church viewed themselves as being the assumed decision makers. They hired me and set my wages and gave me my paycheck.

I was a young, new pastor with no pastoral experience. I knew they were the supposed leaders of the church. I showed them respect and asked their opinion when it came to decisions. They regularly refused to say anything and told me to do whatever I wanted.

So I did. I was then regularly told that what I wanted was the stupidest thing a pastor should want. One day after church, my wife and I were invited over to one of the guy’s houses for lunch. We agreed.

When I got there, guess who else was there? So these two decision makers of the church brought me into the living room, leaving the wives to corner my wife, and sat me in the lowest chair in the living room, which as I recall kept my butt about four inches off the floor, practically eating my knees.

They both stood over me and told me how dumb I was and how wrong my latest decision was. Never mind the fact that I asked them what they thought about this decision beforehand and both refused to do or say anything.

I patiently took their lecture and the awkward chair situation, ate lunch, and went back to making stupid decisions.

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The Fun of Judging What Pastors Own

Remember pastors: the kind of car you drive might be the deciding factor in whether someone goes to heaven or hell.
@FailingPastor

 

A guy who was going off on me right before leaving my church was in my driveway, in front of his new SUV, and pointed to my used Toyota Camry and said, “Pretty nice car for a pastor.”

I believe I was so stunned by this that I just stood there. Really? A Toyota Camry is too nice? Incidentally, this happened about ten years ago. The guy is now dead. The Camry is still going.

I don’t mind if people have problems with me, that is to be expected. I do appreciate it, however, if the problems are actually legitimate.

A Toyota Camry is a pretty sensible vehicle. It’s a no-frills model. It serves its purpose, which is all I ask in a car.

Anyone who listens to my preaching knows that I emphasize the idea that you cannot serve God and mammon, that we are to let go of the things of this earth and grab on to eternal things. I mention this almost every week.

Of all the problems I have, materialism isn’t one of them. Ask my wife, my non-materialism annoys her at times. This isn’t even necessarily all for spiritual reasons either. I just hate stuff.

But no matter how careful I am, how sensible and thoughtful my purchases are, you can bet someone will judge them.

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If You Think Evangelism Is Easy, I’m Guessing You’re Not Doing It

APOSTLE PAUL: I am in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.

OTHER PASTORS: Took me four minutes and I got that guy saved and solved all his problems.
@FailingPastor

 

 

Pretty tired of reading books where the author saves people in between getting off the plane and getting to baggage claim.

Can’t take it anymore.

I’m not downing their evangelistic efforts. I have much respect for people who can strike up conversations with people about anything, let alone the Gospel.

Some plant, some water. I get it. No problem.

The problem I have is assuming that once your blessed 4 minutes with that person is over, they are done now. Totally saved beyond a shadow of a doubt. Everywhere they go people are getting saved in record time.

How do they know this?

Once you get your baggage and get in the taxi, do you see this person again? How do you know they are saved, simply because they said the thing you told them to say?

The Great Commission, which is often trotted out in support of this quick and easy method of evangelism, actually sounds quite hard and drawn out. We’re to make disciples and teach them to do everything Christ commanded.

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Should Who is in the Audience Influence the Sermon?

Most of being a pastor is wondering if certain people will be there, followed by wondering why certain people weren’t there.
@FailingPastor

 

 

While preparing sermons, I often consider how certain people will react to what I’m preaching. I can see their faces. I reflect on past conversations with them and the verses that trip them up. Every person in church has issues and verses they struggle with that I’ve learned over time.

When those issues and verses come up, sometimes I want those people to be there and sometimes I don’t.

Whether they are there or not doesn’t change my sermon content; I’m no Pilate, making decisions to keep the crowd happy. But I will shift my tone or attitude and I find this to be good. I want to be sensitive to people’s true concerns without compromising the message.

I also know that many doctrinal issues have been disputed for hundreds of years. My one sermon is not going to settle the argument. As I prepare my sermons I go over how to say things in light of these people, in light of their past issues, or even on a church-wide basis and the history our church has had with these issues.

Once the sermon is preached, I anticipate the reaction those people will have to the sermon. Will they say anything to me? Will they complain? Will their life change?

Usually I’m met with silence. I got to talking to someone and so did they and then they were gone.

Then I wonder for the rest of the week if they will email or call. Then I wonder if they’ll show up to church.

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