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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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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A Poor Pastor’s Advice to Poor Pastors

It used to be that being a pastor was synonymous with being poor. This changed at some point with televangelism or something. I don’t know. I just know it changed.

Pastors became celebrities and churches began competing with Business for larger buildings and programs. As churches grew; so did pastors’ salaries. (One might cynically conclude the desire for a larger church is actually a desire for a larger salary. But only very bad, cynical people would actually state that opinion publically.)

While many pastors are making a comfortable living, there are many who struggle to get by.

I’d be one of those pastors.

It’s cute and easy to tell me how to grow my church and be like those famous pastors with large churches and salaries, but no. It doesn’t work in towns in rural America. I can Saddleback on that Church Growth horse all day and it aint happening. I would also feel like a complete sellout that is close to shipwrecking his faith if I did that.

Over the years I have supplemented my income in several ways. I’ve worked as housekeeping in local resorts. I’ve done grounds crew for a millionaire’s home. I do some writing. I flip things on the internet. None of these things has made me rich, but they’ve all gotten my family and I through to this point. My wife has also taken part in such things and now that our kids are out of the house, she works part-time. She’s struggled along at my side the whole time too. My kids were all employed at young ages as well. It was a family effort.

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The Failing Pastor’s Wife

I’m not talking about wives who fail at being pastors wives, I’m talking about my wife who is the wife of a failing pastor.

When we came to this church I told them my wife was not an employee. She should not be expected to do a bunch of stuff, and if you have something to tell me, tell me.

These parameters are not remembered by anyone, so it has to be demonstrated consistently. People don’t listen to words; they might eventually pick up on habits.

All the grandiose statements about “my wife is not an employee” are great and everything, but when no one else shows up to watch kids in the nursery, guess who watches kids in the nursery?

I think there were years where my wife heard maybe five of my messages because no one else would serve in the nursery. This was not good. Spare me the lectures about “Well, you need to make people do it, that’s not right.”

Yeah, ok, and who exactly are these people I want to entrust the care of other people’s children to? Not to mention that my wife felt bad making a mom who brought the kids stay in the nursery with the kids. What’s the point of going to church then?

My wife knows my theological brilliance anyway, she’ll just watch the kids. She’d rather give other people an “opportunity” to hear sermons than her.

But it still got old.

The nursery thing was annoying, but we’ve since taken care of that by not having any little kids in our church anymore. But perhaps the two biggest sacrifices she makes being married to a failing pastor are these:

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