Can Churches be Doctrinally Right and Loving?

“Well, of course!” is the happy answer.

But I don’t know. I know the opposite is true: a church can be doctrinally bankrupt and unloving!

The church I came to pastor over 21 years ago was neither doctrinally right nor loving. They had a weird brand of hyper-dispensationalism and over-emphasized the word “grace” to the point of lasciviousness.

The previous pastor once told the congregation he didn’t care if a non-married couple moved in with each other, “it’s all grace, it doesn’t matter.” He said this from the pulpit, not as an aside in a conversation at a restaurant.

Their notion of grace was very extreme, hardly anyone else in Christianity went as far and weird with it as they did. This led them to believe they were the sole possessors of truth. They prided themselves on their doctrinal rightness. They were the sole defenders of truth.

The church was made up of many ex-legalistic people. They happily threw off the bonds of legalism and lived it up in their notion of “grace.”

My favorite episode in learning how weird the church I came to was, was when I wore a tie to church one Sunday. The assumed “leader of the church” came up to me and said, “You shouldn’t wear a tie.” I said, “What?” not as though I didn’t hear him, but more “what in the world are you talking about?”

He replied, “We don’t wear ties; we’re not legalistic.” I was so thrown off by this I don’t think I replied at all. I probably laughed nervously. If you’re not legalistic, then how come you have a dress code about not wearing ties?! So weird.

But that’s where they went. They turned grace into lasciviousness and a reverse-legalism. You indeed sinned so people knew grace was abounding. And they were massive jerks. One outsider described the church this way, “Oh yeah, they talk a lot about grace but don’t show it to anyone.”

This was a case where a church’s bad doctrine eliminated love entirely. I felt my job was to correct the doctrine and hope that a true understanding of the Gospel would result in love.

I began correcting the doctrine. People left. Many thought I was becoming legalistic because I taught that sin actually was bad and we weren’t supposed to do it.

There was some progress. Some people got it, some already had an issue with the old pastor and his increasingly weird grace stuff. Some love showed up.

But it just never really clicked. After 21 years of banging my head on this one wall, I just got worn out. Unfortunately I was losing love going over this same stupid doctrinal error and getting hurt by so many people. As my doctrine improved, which I believe it did, my love was dying.

The wounds were deep and waiting for the next wound to show up was driving me insane. On top of all that, my grandfather was the previous pastor! As my church increasingly had a problem with me, so did my family. I got it from all sides and I honestly can say that the hurt and rejection sucked love right out of me.

Is it possible for a church to emphasize right doctrine and be loving? I imagine there are many people who think so. I hope it’s true. I’d like to be part of one.

What I know for sure is, besides glib answers of the possibility, I have no idea how it’s done. Which is where Twitter tells me, “Well, that’s because you tried to do it! You can’t do it! Only God can.”

Yup, thanks. Apparently He doesn’t know how to do it either then! I asked Him so many times with tears to do so.

When you’re part of the In-Group in your church, it’s easy to think your church is loving. When your church’s doctrine doesn’t bother you, it’s easy to think your church has right doctrine.

Maybe we’re bad judges on this. Maybe I was a bad judge of my own “ministry.” God is the judge, He will let me know the true judgment, whether I had wood, hay, and stubble, or precious stones.

I pray for pastors that you would figure out the balance between doctrine and love. Knowledge puffs up. It’s what it does. But being stupid can’t be the answer!

It’s a tough thing. I pray you and your church can figure it out.

I Am Done With Pastoral Ministry

I must admit, I’ve been deceiving you. I know, hard to believe an anon account on Twitter would not be completely forthright.

Last year I resigned as pastor.

I couldn’t do it anymore. To quote the great theologian B. B. King, “The thrill is gone, the thrill is gone away for good.”

I endured as much as I could. I made it over 20 years. In many areas I did my best. In other areas, yeah, I didn’t do great. The areas I didn’t do well in were largely because I couldn’t figure out what to do. I knew what other pastors did, certainly got plenty of advice, but I couldn’t bring myself to do much of that stuff. I struggled.

I can honestly say I gave myself to the profession and took the responsibility seriously. In the time I was pastor I read the Bible cover to cover over 40 times. I wanted to make sure that no matter what passage anyone ever asked me about, I had read it recently. I preached straight through the Bible for 16 years. I wanted people to deal with God’s words, not my opinions or theological camp.

I memorized books of the Bible. Read hundreds of theology books. I visited people. Moved so many couches it’s not funny. Loved and served as best I could. Probably the greatest evidence that I gave myself to my job is that I talked to people on the phone. I think I’ve talked to five people on the phone since resigning and I’m related to three of them.

In the end, I can say that I grew tremendously through the experience. I don’t think I’d be where I am today in Christian growth without being a pastor, I guess I’ll never know that for sure, but all I know is it was a great teacher.

I have been hurt deeply. My back has been stabbed so many times, if it were to happen again the stab would just fall right out my front. There is a hurt in me and a frustration, bitterness, anger, I don’t know what all it is, but it’s deep and it hurts.

At the same time, I also know I’m a sinner and was not innocent. I was not perfect in all my interactions with people. I know I didn’t abuse anyone, so I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

I’ve already begun attending a church. I have no plans to forsake the Church. My pastoral experience showed me what churches need from people; now to see if I’m man enough to be what I wished someone was for my church! Kind of scary.

I can say with utmost assurance that I currently never want to be a pastor again. I will hesitate to say that I won’t ever be one again, but it would have to more or less fall in my lap and/or have me backed into a corner, but I won’t limit what the Spirit might have for me down the road. My flesh is not at all willing, but I suppose, if the Spirit insisted enough, I’d do it again. But man, it would have to be brutally clear and obvious that I should!

Much of the stuff I’ve put on the Twitter account was fabricated, some was borrowed from other pastors, and other bits were completely real. The real stuff was delayed time wise so if my identity came out hopefully no one would be hurt. Everything on the blog was real, didn’t make any of it up.

I’ve enjoyed the Twitter account. It was fun. It was a good release for me. It was also fantastic to commiserate with other pastors. Pretty cool to hear so many pastors were encouraged by things I said.

Thank you for reading and taking part.

I think I’m done with regular Twitter-ing for the most part. If you’d enjoy hearing more from me, I do like writing and think I have some things to share about the pastoral ministry, I’m going to continue writing on the Failing Pastor blog. There should be a button on the lower part of your screen where you can subscribe. You will get an email when I post here.

I’d like to write some about sermon crafting (someone recently joked I should teach homiletics, that got me thinking . . .), knowing the Bible, dealing with people, perhaps more details about my ministry and why I quit, transitioning out of pastoral ministry and into being a “layman,” and basic Christian things. As I plan on being in church for the remainder of my life, I will, no doubt, have more things to pontificate on!

And, at risk of completely getting in trouble, here is the link to the church where I pastored so you know I was legit at one point! For a time the web site will still be online. If you’d like to hear me preach, you can sample way too many of my sermons here.

If this blows up in my face, I have the power to delete everything I’ve ever said or done online! Not really, but I can delete this post pretty easily!

Again, thank you. Please do subscribe to the blog if you’d like to hear more.

For all those remaining in ministry:
You’re a better man than I and you have my respect, for what that’s worth. Fight the fight, be instant in season and out. Preach the word. Grow. Love the people. Uphold the Lord Jesus Christ in all you say and do. You represent Him. Take the responsibility seriously. Remind them to do good works that they be not unfruitful. As much as is possible, as much as it depends on you, live peaceably with everyone. You’ll stand before the Lord someday; live like it!

Thank you.

The Pastor’s Job Is Not to Fix People

As soon as the pastor gets into the mindset of “You people are messed up. It is my job to fix you.” It is all over for all of them.
@FailingPastor

I grew up in a pastor’s home. Every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night I sat in the car on the way home listening to my parents talk about the messed up people in our church.

I knew who criticized my dad’s sermon. I knew who had an issue about the special music. I know who didn’t like the hymn selection. I knew all the problems and the people who caused them.

I also saw the pain and agony this caused my father.

When a young boy sees his pastor dad suffering and knows why he is and who caused it, that young boy becomes bitter and angry, not only at those people, but at the church.

That’s where I was for many years.

I grew up thinking that I belonged to THE FAMILY that had all the solutions. Everyone else was messed up. My family was pretty close to perfect. We existed to rescue all the idiots around us.

It doesn’t take psychoanalysis to know that this created some “issues” in my head about people.

When you grow up thinking that everyone is a moron set about to cause you pain and suffering, which is why I must save them, you’re going to have some strained relationships.

It does not shock me now, looking back, to understand why so many of my friends left me behind. We were rarely enjoying each other’s company; I was trying to fix them.

Now that I’ve been a pastor for a long time and had some distance from this mentality, and also been shown in many painful ways that my mentality was wrong, I’m changing my views of ministry.

The people in your church are not your projects. They are not “things” you put up with. They are not people who exist for you to demonstrate your skillz and take money from as they bow in adoration of your powers.

No, the people in your church are people. People just like you. People who have issues and sin and yeah, they are messed up. And, by the way, so are you and I.

The job of a pastor is to bring people to Christ. To do the best we can to live out the truth of God’s word and the love of His Gospel. We take every opportunity to know, care for, and serve those around us in hopes of making the Gospel powerful.

We don’t do this for followers, pay raises, building projects, or pastoral bragging rights. We do this because this is what Christ did for us.

Christ is perfect and surrounded by fallen humanity. He didn’t try to fix them; He didn’t charge them money to talk to Him. He laid down His life for them, for us, for me.

It is very easy to lose sight of this and start thinking that we pastors have it all together. The people need us; we don’t need them. They have the problems; we have the solutions. We then judge them as beneath us.

One reason why pastors fail to have friendships is because we look down on people too much and deem others to be beneath us. We show respect of persons rather than the love of Christ.

Watch out for this danger, pastors. It won’t end up well for you or for anyone you come in contact with. We’re all in need of a Savior and lucky for us, we have a great one. Let’s help each other get to Him.

Guilt Keeps Many Pastors Employed

Through my 20+ years of being a pastor I have thought of quitting many times. The Failing Pastor persona has put me in touch with many other pastors who feel the same way.

Large portions of me want to quit being a pastor. Yet here I am, still a pastor.

There are many reasons I’m still in my job. I’d like to talk about one of them: guilt.

I fear that if I quit I won’t get the same opportunities to serve the Lord. I fear that I will have quit right before a harvest. I fear that everything in my life will fall apart until I’m driven back into the “ministry.” I feel like I’m quitting on God. It’s not just leaving a 9-5 job; it’s all entwined with my spiritual life. It feels like quitting being a pastor is quitting part of my spiritual life. Like I’m turning from faith. It feels like guilt.

Some of these guilt feelings are just dumb. They go away quickly with a little bit of thought and prayer. Yet they come back.

Anytime I feel like walking out the door for good, guilt keeps me put.

I read about Jonah. What if as I walk away I get swallowed by a large aquatic creature? I know for sure I will drive and not take a boat as I head out. Takes care of that threat, but no doubt a giant buffalo will do me in.

Many pastors feel they had a “call” to the ministry. I have some skepticism over such things, mostly from watching people who were “called” to take a church, who then come to not like that church after three years and have yet another “call” to another, supposedly better, church. It looks like people just doing their thing and putting a spiritual veneer on it so no one can question them.

“Sorry, God said I gotta go.” You can’t argue with that.

I don’t think I had a “call” to come to this church I’m at. It fell into my lap, more or less. I heard no voice, no spine tingle, no sign. It just kind of happened. Some have told me that’s the “call.” Obviously God was behind it if it was that easy.

Yeah, I don’t know. Sometimes I’m lazy and just do the thing that happens.

I know why I came to this church. I knew what needed to be done and I tried to do it. It also hasn’t really worked. I’m also tired and burned out and close to punching people if they do that one thing one more time. I hate that feeling.

Sometimes I feel it would be best if I just quit now before messing it up big time. But then The Guilt. “You will reap if you faint not.” Yah, yah, yah.

But here’s the thing: I heard no voice calling me to this church, not even a voice telling me to be a pastor, it was just a thing I felt I had to do. So I did.

I also know that there are many things I have been called to do directly in God’s Word, things that all believers are called to do: Love the Lord, love your neighbor, provide for your family, use your spiritual gifts, do good and develop spiritual fruit.

I can do that anywhere with anyone at any time. It does not require being a pastor. And, in some ways, being a pastor takes away the love aspect by making it “just my job.” I want to know what life is like outside the professional church office (I was born into a pastor’s family, I’ve known nothing else). I want to love my neighbor because I’m following Christ, not because I probably just do it so people will come to my church.

I write these things down because I know other pastors struggle with these thoughts and The Guilt. I’m working thru my thoughts on the subject. I’ve not come to any definite conclusions.

There are perks to being a pastor, there are reasons I do it, it’s not all terrible and in many ways it’s incredible. But I’m also feeling the need to move on. I’m continuing to work these thoughts out and do what is right, not based on guilt or people’s expectations, but as a man who will stand before the Lord and give an account.

I want to do the right thing before Him. I pray you do as well. Perhaps we can help each other do that. Fight the fight.

This Pastor is Not Woke

Being “Woke” is the new cool thing the cool kids are doing. Wokeness is the official religion of the atheist Left.

Wokeness is religion. It’s the latest flavor of the Tower of Babel/Humanism venture.

The problem with Wokeness is that it has no set law. There is no final authority. Their goalposts are on a bullet train. Being against authority (the patriarchy) is a central tenet. Since there’s no central authority, there’s no central, unifying law.

If you give in to The Woke Ones you will never win. They will always push you further and further into Wokeness. White men are out. Women are in. White women don’t count though, must be a woman of color. Women of color are out because of gayness. Gays are out because of transgender. Transgender are out because someone now identifies as a gay tree trunk, which is merely a patriarchal authority over weed, man.

It just doesn’t stop. There is no end.

Therefore, I have decided not to give in to them at all. I do not preach on the Hot Topic of the day Woke Twitter tells me I’m supposed to preach on. I don’t pander to their ideas. They will change next week anyway. Wokeness has a short attention span and I’ll never go far enough in that short amount of time. Too exhausting.

I’ll stay over here following my Good Shepherd next to green pastures and still waters. Perhaps, with the world’s constant Woke Craziness, someone may ask me for a reason for the hope that is in me. The crazier the world, the more rational, peaceful, and hopeful Christianity looks.

Beyond all that, the other tragedy of Wokeness is that since there’s no final authority, there’s also no forgiveness. There is no High Priest.

When you trample on the toes of the Woke, they respond with outrage. They will attempt to get you fired, humiliated, and use every attempt to ruin your life. If they believed in gun ownership, we’d all be in trouble (look for this pivot soon).

There is no forgiveness, they won’t let you up. They destroy you. All you have is damnation with no hope of redemption. What a sad, scary place to live, especially since who knows when you’ll violate one of their ever-changing standards.

Wokeness is contrary to everything the Bible says and all that God is. It’s a return to Babel. Babel didn’t work the first time and it won’t work this time.

Wokeness has to implode. It is not founded on truth. Truth always wins out. Who knows how long this will take.

It is entertaining to watch, unfortunately, people will die because of it. Suicide rates in the next 50 years are going to be terrifying. Ungrounded people do unstable things.

The problem is the same, it’s just a different manifestation of the same reality: no one wants to listen to God and His truth. They will listen to pretty much anything other than that, even a talking serpent.

The solution remains the same too: keep preaching the Word of Truth, in season and out. This is the only answer. All else is vain and leads to death.

Preach the Word. Never quit. Don’t give in to the fads of the outraged world. Lead them to Christ, the Good Shepherd, who can truly give peace that passes understanding.

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.

Continue reading “The Failing Pastor’s “Encouragement” to Struggling Pastors”

True Pastoral Pain

There are days where I’m not sure why I even bother being a pastor.

These days are not helped by pithy advice, happy thoughts, and “God is in control” statements.

There is a deep soul hurt. A pain that is so real, so vital; there’s no blood, no broken bones, no evidence of physical trauma. But on the inside I’m bleeding out.

It’s a hurt for people. It’s a hurt that wants to do so much more. A hurt that I have no idea what “so much more” means.

If I knew what to do for people; I’d do it. I just have no clue. I’ve tried everything I know. Been doing this long enough to have exhausted my ideas and resources. And yes, I know, “See, that’s your problem! It’s not about you and your ideas and resources. You gotta let go and let God.” I know. I tried that idea too.

I do what I think I can, what I think I am gifted to do. It’s not working. I feel helpless and yet I long so badly to help.

My personal life is fine. My marriage is good, my kids are turning out quite nicely, I’m doing ok financially. Spiritually I’m doing better than ever, making real strides against sin.

But as a pastor, nothing is working.

Continue reading “True Pastoral Pain”

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”

Why I am Still a Pastor

If you read my stuff, you know I have some “issues” surrounding my pastoral career. It begs the question: Why are you still doing this if it’s that bad?

Here are my answers to that question in no particular order:

1. I do actually occasionally help people. Not many, not as many as I’d like. But there are some. I can see their growth in Christ and to know I had a part in planting or watering is so awesomely cool I can’t even explain it. I fail to see how I’d get this many shots at that by not being a pastor. To be of use to hurting, questioning, and doubting people is very cool.

2. I just wouldn’t do these things otherwise. I get opportunities to be with people in very personal moments. Weddings, funerals, counseling, just talking. I have sat next to more crying people in the last 20 years than I ever thought possible. These are things this job requires me to do and people view me as someone they can invite in. I would never in a million years get this many opportunities to be with people otherwise.

3. I have grown in Christ tremendously. Much of what I share on the Failing Pastor is my flesh’s cynical take on being a pastor. The reality is a tad more balanced. I have had so many people and things ripped away from me, I’ve only had Christ left. Only His Word to stand on. If my pastoral career had been successful, I’m quite sure I’d have lost my soul. I cannot thank Him enough for how terrible my church is for what it’s done for me spiritually!

Continue reading “Why I am Still a Pastor”

Why I Became a Pastor

When I was nearing high school graduation, everyone asked me, “So, what do you want to do for a living?”

My standard answer was, “I don’t know, but I know I don’t want to be a pastor.”

I am a third-generation pastor. I grew up in a pastor’s home. I knew things about people at a very young age. I saw my dad practically kill himself trying to keep people happy. I knew the arguments, pettiness, and judgmentalism of Christianity before I was out of grade school.

My dad did not hide these things. I don’t think he could have even if he wanted to. He just felt stuff and I could clearly figure out what he was feeling.

It also helped that on many occasions he’d come home from a visitation and say to me, “Be careful who you marry” or “stay away from alcohol.” I knew who he visited; even I could do that math!

Half my life was spent at church. I cleaned, folded tables and chairs, learned to use a dust mop, and knew the inner workings of the church. I waited for hours as my parents yammered on after church.

I was in college when I saw my first complete Super Bowl. Many a Sunday after church was spent out in my parent’s car in the church parking lot listening to the football games get started without me. This may not seem like a big deal, but to a teenage boy who completely loved sports, this was torture.

Continue reading “Why I Became a Pastor”