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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Top 5 Things that Make This Pastor Sad

Pastoral ministry isn’t hard physically. Many aspects are actually totally enjoyable. One of my favorite things in the world is developing sermons and preaching them. Visiting people has become a good source of entertainment and fellowship. Hospital visits are even becoming more, well “enjoyable” isn’t the right word, manageable?!

Pastoral ministry is hard in other ways. It takes an emotional toll after a while. There are many sad aspects of the job that suck the life and energy out of me. Here are the leading causes of pastoral sadness.

1. Tragedies
Bad things happen to a lot of people. Watching the elderly woman take care of her husband slipping away with Alzheimer’s. Watching people slowly succumb to cancer. Parents who give birth to kids with health issues. Suicide. Accidents and injuries. Man, it’s tough walking with people through these things. It also seems like these things come in bunches. There have been times where these things just compound and I wonder where the energy comes from to deal with another one. I have learned to not take seasons free of these things for granted.

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Should a Pastor Use Humor in the Pulpit?

I’ve heard arguments for yes and no in answer to this question.

Some view humor in a sermon as being blasphemous, out of place, and irreverent. I understand the point and think it has merit. We are dealing with Big Serious Issues.

Others say humor is fine; it’s part of effective communication and keeps people listening. I get this too. Big Serious Issues can get Big and Boring. What good is it if everyone is asleep while you’re seriously discussing Big Serious Issues?

Ignoring all church tradition and sanctimony, my answer to the question is this: It depends. I’d need to ask some questions to understand the context better to give a correct answer.

1. Is the pastor funny?
If you are not naturally funny, then don’t use humor. We are often not the best judges of our own humor. The best test is if anyone thinks you’re funny when you try to be funny. If you are not funny; do not force humor into your sermons. It will sound stilted and won’t work. Don’t be the guy who reads jokes you found on the internet because you know you need laughs, but then read them all wrong with terrible timing and voice so everyone just cringes. Don’t be that guy. If you are naturally funny, I do think it is fine to be funny.

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Why there is so Little Arguing on the Failing Pastor Account

One thing I’ve noticed about Christian Internet is the unbelievable amount of arguing. Now, Christians have no corner on this market. Everyone argues on the internet.

I just find it more disappointing to see it so much on Christian Internet.

Do you people not know that arguing with Christians is what church is for?

But what you’ll note about this account is that there’s very little arguing. Oh sure, people voice their disagreements with me. That’s fine. But I’ve noticed it just don’t thrive here like it does other places. Arguing doesn’t flourish here for at least two reasons:

1) This is my account and I don’t take the bait.
2) Most of the faithful readers of this account are pastors who are also worn out by arguing and don’t take the bait either.

There are a number of reasons why I don’t take the bait and argue.

1) I do not care about your opinions.
Now before you get mad at me, call me a jerk, and argue my point, let me explain. I honestly do care about you if I know you. But here’s the thing: I don’t know you. You don’t know me. Let the anonymity chill us both. Don’t take an anonymous person’s opinions that seriously. Argue with your friends and family; they theoretically care about you.

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What the Failing Pastor Wants for Christmas

I’m not a big fan of holidays. Christmas does very little for me at this point in my life.

Giving gifts has become annoying. I give people things they’ll never use and they return the favor by giving me things I never use. It’s like when God gave Joel Osteen His Son. “What am I gonna do with this? I gotta pay bills!”

My family has all but given up with “thoughtful” gifts. Now we just exchange lists of things we want. Which is dumb. Why not you just go get what you want yourself and I’ll go get what I want myself? Save everyone the hassle.

Anyway, I’m asked by numerous relatives every year what I want for Christmas. Most of what I want for Christmas can’t be bought, but these truly are the things I’d like.

1) World Peace
I sincerely, with all the honesty and integrity of my heart, desire everyone to just shut up and get along. Relax. Don’t argue at every provocation. Get a thick skin. Be gracious. Lighten up. No one is listening anyway. Sssshhh. Be still and know God. I long for the return of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, to set all things right.

2) Spiritual Growth.
I want this for me, first and foremost, but also for my wife, my kids, my family, my church, my city, my country, my nation, and the world. This, in fact, is the thing that would lead to World Peace.

3) Ice Cream, Steak, and Dr. Pepper
Solomon concludes that all is vanity, yet he repeatedly says to spend your hard earned money on food and drink. I have ceased, for the most part, in buying things. When I spend money it’s on food or doing something. I hate stuff lying around my house, cluttering up my desk, and tripping my feet. I want to eat and then go do something to burn those calories so I can eat more.

4) Twitter Dominance
I wish I could get another helping of insight and humor to make my Tweets reach the world and bring about spiritual growth, peace, and a few laughs. I want to do better for you, Twitter World.

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When Should a Pastor Quit?

My church gives me many reasons to quit. I don’t want to list them; it will just make me depressed and sound whiny. Just trust me; it does.

I have thought about quitting many times. Ask my wife, and she’s only heard a tiny fraction of them.

Many times the quitting-feeling is just self-pity. Things didn’t go as well as I wanted them too, that one person is doing “their thing” again, no one showed up again, another board member is acting weird again, and stuff like that. I get over these fairly quickly.

But there have been some dark times, times where all point and motivation were completely gone. I phoned it in for a while. No one noticed because no one was there, which didn’t help.

I once asked a pastor who makes a partial living telling other pastors how to be a pastor, when a pastor should admit defeat and move on.

“After five years is the standard principle,” was his answer. My mouth dropped.

“Five years? Wow, I could have quit my church four times!”

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The Top Four Times a Pastor Wants a Bigger Church

Humans measure success by numbers. People clamor for more followers, more subscribers, more attention, more money, more buildings. Success is measured numerically.

All pastors feel pressure to get higher numbers: More attenders, more members, more baptisms, more conversions, more money, more buildings, more programs, etc. More, more, more.

Unfortunately (although this is actually fortunate), spiritual success cannot be measured numerically. The Pharisees sought justification in the sight of people. Their success was known because it was seen. Jesus thought they were the least righteous people He ever met.

God judges success completely differently than we do.

Which leads me to my point: why do you want a bigger church? I am the pastor of a small church. Many would be shocked by how small I mean “small“ to be. I have come to notice that there are specific times I want a bigger church.

1. When a visitor comes.
Why is it that whenever a visitor comes, or an out of town family member of a person at church visits, no one else shows up? Why is the lowest attended service the one new people come to? This happens especially when I have an out of town visitor or family member of my own come! People pick that day to skip. How humiliating.

2. When I talk to other pastors.
Pastors, who should all be on the same team, love comparing our successes. As Paul would warn, “they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” Pastors, who should feel the most sensitive about pastoral depression, are one of the leading groups of people who make me feel terrible about myself and my church. Pastor conferences, books, blogs, podcasts, eventually all slip into the mentality that the only time God is present or blessing a place is when it is growing.

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3 Things This Pastor Never Says

In my twenty years of being a pastor, there are three things I’ve learned not to say.

1) “I’m busy.”
I hate these words. I hear these words so often, there’s no way I can possibly say them to another human being. No one is ever available for anything because they are “busy.” I later find out ”busy” meant doing something they thought was more fun, which is just about anything other than doing something associated with church

I also don’t say “I’m busy” because I’m not. I can make time for pretty much anything I want to do. I have gotten more used to simply saying “no” to things, rather than giving stupid excuses. I attempt to never give excuses. If I forgot to do something, I will say, “Oh, I’m sorry.” Rather than “Oh I didn’t do that because I was so busy.” Constantly getting blown off by people because they are “busy” makes a guy feel like a pile of mud. I don’t want to do that to other people.

I am also the pastor. If I tell people in my church I am too busy for them, that sort of defeats the purpose of my job. If the church keeps you too busy to be with the people in the church, things need to change. It also sounds like I’m complaining about my job, blaming the church for my busy-ness. That’s not a good look

2) “You’re saved.”
People want the assurance of salvation. The Bible pretty much says you will have the assurance of salvation to the degree your life is changed, new, becoming like Christ. 1 John hits the point pretty clearly. Seeing sin decline in your life is a great sign you’re saved. If you tell that to people, they will charge you with being legalistic and promoting works righteousness. People do not want to hear this.

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Top Three Pastor Insults

Insulting pastors is a good source of entertainment for many. The amazing thing is how many feel the need to actually stand in front of the pastor to level the insults. The brazenness of it all is amazing.

There’s a person in my church who has sworn at me and called me more names than anyone else on the planet. It’s unreal. There’s something about being a pastor that causes people to have to go overboard with disagreements, to just blast you in the face. I wonder if it’s an attempt to see if they can get a sinful reaction out of me? I don’t know. Perhaps car mechanics and plumbers deal with the same stuff. I believe they probably do, I just wonder if they get the same frequency.

I’ve never sworn at a mechanic or a plumber or another employee of anywhere. I was a janitor for years and was frequently complained about, but never to my face, it was always to my boss. This pastor gig has opened my eyes to the hostility residing in many people.

Of all the insults I’ve gotten about being a pastor, there are a couple areas that seem to show up most frequently. Here they are and my responses to them.

1) Lack of work

“You only work one day a week”

“What else to you do for a living?”

“This isn’t your real job is it?”

“What do you do all week?”

I’ve gotten this one a lot. In some cases I can’t blame the question. What do I do all week? There are weeks I wonder the same thing. There’s no product produced, there’s no tangible proof that I did anything, so in some ways I have the same question!

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