One criticism I hear frequently from Christians is that when a pastor resigns or a church doesn’t grow, it’s because the pastor wasn’t called, or lacked faith, or was doing it in his own power and not the Spirit’s, and other similar things.
In other words, it’s the pastor’s fault if a church doesn’t grow or the pastor quits.
As if the church doesn’t have anything to do with it.
I know good pastors who had churches with problems. Those pastors left in total discouragement. They did a good job. They had good hearts. The church is at least partially at fault.
I’m observant enough to know it’s not always the church’s fault. There are bad pastors who do their job terribly. I am not attempting to justify terrible pastors. My attempt is to defend quality pastors.
I, in my own humble opinion, was a quality pastor! Was I perfect? No, I made mistakes and can list the top ten without too much pause for reflection.
But my heart was right. I was devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word and His Gospel. I preached the Word faithfully. I prayed regularly, visited people, knew the people, and honestly loved the people even if I was often confused about what that love should do. I took stands for righteousness and truth, while doing my best to extend grace and mercy.
I got nowhere.
The church didn’t grow. It shrunk. I earned less per year after 21 years than I did when I began. To all measurable standards of success, I was a complete failure.
Although many miss this, the reason I call myself the Failing Pastor is not because I think I’m a failure; it’s because the church clearly let me know I was. Before the Lord, I did what I thought was right and I’ll let Him judge my ministry. Before people, well, they all let me know what a loser I was.
As I said, it doesn’t take long for me to come up with legit mistakes I made. No pastor thinks they nailed everything correctly.
But I also know my church had issues that more or less made it impossible for anything good to occur.
No doubt some of you are thinking, “Wow, who does this guy think he is?” Let me explain some stuff about the church I was at and you tell me if this church didn’t have issues!
Here are some facts about the church I served for 21 years. All of these things were true of the church before I got there. None of these things were my doing! They were in place before I arrived.
1. They thought the only part of the Bible we had to follow were the epistles of Paul. You could not make any point to them from any other book of the Bible. The Old Testament was right out. The previous pastor even said OUT LOUD that he didn’t think the Apostle Paul understood grace until the last two chapters of 2 Timothy!
2. Salvation was proved by having said The Prayer. That’s it. Nothing else was needed or required. Repentance was out. Obedience was legalism. Faith was simply a mental assent that Jesus did a thing and I like it.
3. Grace was emphasized so much that good works were viewed as being bad. If you did something good, now you had your own righteousness to depend on. It’s better to sin and rely on grace. Should we sin that grace may abound? They pretty much yelled, “ABSOLUTELY, YES!”
4. They determined that baptism and communion were not necessary for the church age. All physical things like that were Jewish and law.
5. They turned grace into legalism. My favorite example is when I wore a tie to church one Sunday a few months into my pastoral career. I was confronted in the hallway, backed up against the wall by the supposed “head of the church,” and told “Why are you wearing a tie? We don’t wear ties here; we’re not legalists.” The irony of that statement has not even to this day ceased to amaze me.
6. They had no board. Church leadership resided in the pastor and his two yes-men. They controlled the money and all decisions in the church and did a fine job lording it over the people. The two yes-men continued to lord it over me when I got there.
7. There were many odd money things going on in the books that I soon discovered upon getting there. Their largest expense of the year was “Miscellaneous.” There was some money laundering going on. It was a mess to sort it out and get it cleaned up.
8. The only thing the church did was a one hour meeting each Sunday. That was it. One hour. Fifty-five minutes of which was the pastor berating the people about his peculiar views of gracish legalism.
9. The previous pastor once preached that he hoped more people in his church would live with each other and do all the sexing outside of marriage so they would know they trusted God’s grace. If anyone disagreed with him, he once said (in a sermon recorded on tape) “you can go to hell.”
10. People on one side of the church didn’t know the names of people on the other side of the church. There was no love, no fellowship, just a worshipping of the pastor with some Pauline verses about grace sprinkled in.
So, yeah, go right ahead and tell me the reason I failed at this church was because of me! I confronted all these issues. I confronted the two yes-men (who left soon after). I preached the Bible. This church who didn’t like the Old Testament, guess what I did? “Take your Bible and open to Genesis chapter 1.” Then I spent twelve years expositorally preaching through the Old Testament. Ha! That still cracks me up.
I did not back down from the church’s weirdness and endeavored to do all I could to rescue the perishing in the church. Several were set free from the false teaching. But most clung to it desperately and fought me for years before leaving in terrible, not very gracious, ways.
I added a Sunday School, a midweek Bible Study, social events, we supported missionaries, which they had never done before. I began a benevolence fund. We did communion regularly and I baptized people. I had a board of deacons and always endeavored to train up more elders. I tried doing church the way the New Testament says to do it.
I fought the fight. I thought it might work. It didn’t. It just slowly died.
Two weeks after I resigned the church voted to cancel all church events except one hour of preaching on Sundays. Right back where it started. They didn’t want a church. I didn’t want to pastor a non-church.
Any charge that my resignation was a result of me not caring, only doing it for the money, not being called, or anything else, is rather humorous to me. I took a diseased church and tried to get the people to heal it. They preferred the disease.
I got out before I got diseased.
That’s my story. Sometimes there are bad churches. I applaud all pastors who are fighting to help those churches become true, legit, New Testament churches. It’s a battle worth fighting, even if in the end you “lose.”
You were at least in the arena fighting it out. There came a point for me where I had to get out. It wasn’t working, nor was it going to. I was done. I tried. The swine won’t get any more pearls from me. I’m out.
21 years, to all appearances, I failed. The church is right back where it started before I spent 21 years trying to help it. I have something to do with the failure, I have to admit I wasn’t perfect. But the Lord knows my heart was in it and I tried to do the right thing.
Fight the fight, pastors! Do the right thing before the Lord and don’t let the goats get you down. The Lord is the ultimate judge of my ministry and I’ll let Him do it and let me know if I failed or not. He’ll do the same for you.
Pastor like you’re standing before the Lord, because some day you will be.
If you want to hear more about my failed attempt to do what I could do help a diseased church, I wrote a book about it. CLICK HERE to get a copy, because I went through the trouble of writing it!