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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Preaching Against Things Feels Good, but is it Good?

I like to put emotion in my preaching, not over the top, I’m not skipping and jumping and trying to stir up emotion. I just mean I want to have an emotional attachment to my subject.

Anytime I struggle to come up with another sermon idea (preaching three times a week for 20 years and not doing reruns causes this problem occasionally), my fallback is to talk about subjects I’m passionate about.

However, one thing I’ve noticed is that “passion” usually means “disgust.” I generally revert to preaching about things I despise, doctrines that are wrong, and frequently I call out theologians, churches, and denominations that promote such things.

Now, this is fun and will allow you to write a quick sermon. The audience eats it up too. There are laughs and nodding of heads. Everyone leaves feeling good about themselves and their church.

But is this good? Is it good for people to leave church feeling better about US than we do about THEM? Does this foster love?

The longer I’m a pastor the less appealing this approach becomes to me. I still fall into it from time to time, old habits die hard, but I’m making a concerted effort to eliminate bashing on others in my preaching.

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Pastoral Incompetence, Incompetent Advice, and Prayer Chains

“You know, your church should really have a . . .”

Every pastor has heard sentences begin like this. Who knows how the sentence will end, but probably with you doing something you’re intentionally not doing after much thought and counsel. Most people assume you’re not doing it because you’re a moron.

“You know, our church should have a prayer chain.” This is one I’ve heard countless times. “The last church I went to had a prayer chain and I just loved it, I could keep up with everything and everyone.”

“Yeah, I know, that’s why we don’t have one.” Now listen, if your church does a prayer chain, great, go for it. I am not seeking to dictate what your church does.

I and the board of our church have discussed this issue many times. We don’t have a prayer chain. Here is a brief list of reasons why:

They promote gossip.
They too often share things people don’t want shared.
I’d rather have people in my church talk to each other and be friends and find out what to pray for.
They promote gossip.
Our church isn’t that big; it’s not hard to keep up.
Anything the whole church needs to know is announced at church. Want to know what’s going on at church? Here’s an idea: go to church and you’ll know.
They promote gossip.

I’m not interested in any arguments on these points. This is not up for debate. Nothing you can say to me will change my mind.

Prayer chains are not biblically mandated. Prayer for each other is; but I believe prayer is centered on love. Love would be friends with people and know how to pray for people.

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Dealing With Feelings of Pastoral Inadequacy

If you were to ask me the top five reasons why I feel like a failing pastor I would say:

  1. People don’t come to my church; even “regulars” don’t come very “regular.”
  2. The testimony of the families in our church is, shall we say, sub-par.
  3. I never feel entirely sure what I’m supposed to do with people.
  4. Surely if I were succeeding I would not be crying over this church as much as I do.
  5. Minuscule levels of what is termed “successful evangelism” are taking place.

I’ve heard people confirm my failure in regard to these issues. Many happy pastors would immediately condemn my pastoring based on these five things, (probably with the exception of the crying thing because that sounds very spiritual and “should be that way,” but you probably don’t fully understand the source of those tears, which is mostly just complete pain and agony rather than intercession).

I’ve heard many non-pastors say in relation to these things, “You should quit then.” Perhaps, but these same people will trot out the “Nothing worthwhile is every easy” line if I dare discuss quitting.

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Serving Uncaring, Sanctimonious Jerks

“Hello, pastor, how are you today?”

“Got a little bit of a sore throat.”

“The prayer of faith can heal. Why didn’t you try that?”

This is how one individual greeted me one Sunday morning. The following Sunday, the greeting went like this:

“Hello, pastor, how are you today?”

“Oh, pretty good. My sore throat is better this week.”

“That’s good. You know, you shouldn’t complain, God probably gave you that cold for a reason.”

Now, for reference, this individual skips at least one Sunday a month due to some sort of sickness, injury, mechanical problem, or some other disaster. Yet any time I mention anything remotely not perfect, I get a sanctimonious response from him.

This, in and of itself, is not that big of a deal. But here’s the thing: many people who talk to me (since I’ve become a pastor) feel a need to shame me or lecture me or quote Scripture at me to correct some comment I made.

Without fail these same people will have more problems than the average church attender and will also complain about their problems quite regularly.

Yet I mention that it’s raining outside and I will get a lecture on not complaining about God’s provision for flowers.

I wasn’t complaining, I just said it was raining.

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How do you Know if the Holy Spirit is in Your Ministry?

I’ve been told many times that if the Holy Spirit is involved in my church there will be growth in numbers. I’ve been told that the Holy Spirit will always provide money, resources, volunteers, and anything else to carry out the ministry. If the Spirit is in your church, your church will be the awesomest church ever!

When people start telling me that the Holy Spirit guarantees external, material, measurable success, I wonder if they’ve ever read the Bible.

The Spirit called a number of prophets to go talk to a group of people who were not going to listen. They were told up front: Go talk to them, but understand that they aren’t going to listen to you. They’ll probably try to kill you.

Jesus Christ had no place to lay His head. He had 72 disciples, then 12, then 11, then zero for a bit. The Apostle Paul said he was left alone, no man stood with him. He learned to be content even when he was in famine, nakedness, and distress.

There is nothing in the Bible that leads me to believe that when the Holy Spirit shows up everything is externally, measurably awesome. Hebrews 11, people. Some believers were sawn in pieces!

We want to determine the Spirit’s effectiveness by measures of human effectiveness. Lately the church has been led to believe we must have success like businesses do: more money, bigger buildings, sprawling campuses, more people/employees, etc. If your church looks like Amazon and Apple, then God has blessed you and the Spirit is doing amazing things (Just like He is at Amazon and Apple apparently).

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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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