August 25, 2014

Losing your voice: 4 ways pastors lose pulpits

by Clint Archer

There are many ways to leave a church honorably. You could die in the pulpit. You might gracefully retire so a younger man can fill your shoes. Perhaps you feel called to another ministry, and your current elders support you in that endeavor. But there are some ways no pastor wants to be ejected from his ministry.

candle burnt out1. Burn out.

Some men don’t last in the ministry because, as Maverick was warned in Top Gun, “You ego’s writing checks your body can’t cash.” In their defense, most pastors who burn out are demanding more from their bodies, not out of ego, but out of zeal for the ministry.

George Whitefield, for example, was told by his doctor to take it easy and refrain from preaching to preserve his extremely precarious health. That night he was invited to preach the gospel to an audience in the house in which he was convalescing. He promptly hauled himself out of bed, and preached his guts out at full tilt to a packed house until the candle burned out. He then retired to bed and died.

Whitfield had responded to the chiding of his doctor, “I’d rather burn out than rust out.” Which brings us to another way pastors lose their pulpits.

2. Rust out.

Laziness is an occupational hazard in ministries where pastors are encouraged to flit from flock to flock every four years or so. When a man is faced with a completely fresh congregation every few years he may be tempted to recycle all his previously prepared sermons. Just yank an old sermon out the file, reheat it in the microwave of night-before preparation, perhaps spruce up the garnish with some newish illustrations, and violà. A freeze-dry sermon can taste like a freshly cooked meal to a starved flock.rusted out

The problem is that the preacher hasn’t re-wrestled with the text, fed all week on the meat, and marinated it daily in prayer. They say never to trust a skinny chef. Well, never trust a spiritually lean preacher either.

I have been at my church for nine years, preaching twice on Sundays. That’s about 900 sermons. If I found a ministry with only one service, I could go eighteen years without preparing a sermon. (Of course, I’d need a church without internet access, thanks to I could play a lot of golf in that time. But rusting out is a pathetic way to go—wasting away from spiritual anorexia while serving others with a banquet.

3. Kicked out.

Pastors get asked to leave churches all the time. Sometimes it is because the church rejects the preaching of God’s word. They can’t abide the constant challenge to their conscience. But there are also times the pastor is asked to leave by a flock who does respect God’s word and wants a preacher who does the same. Some pastors undermine their ministry with a lifestyle that is not commensurate with their sermons, like an obese dietician. Or they are caught in a disqualifying sin. Examples are supplied in 1 Tim 3:1-7, and include flirtatiousness, drug abuse, picking quarrels, money-grubbing. An under-cited disqualification is the lack of self-control, for example in their appetite for food, their addiction to porn, or their temper tantrums. Some pastors are unable or unwilling to keep their children under control. These are all sad cases and can be devastating to the pastor, his family, and of course his flock. No church likes having to force their pastor out for sin. The godly response from a repentant but disqualified pastor is to step out of ministry gracefully, as a parting example of humility and respect for God’s standards.

4. Fall out.

There are also times when pastors have a falling out with their elders or the congregation, which is not necessarily over sinful behavior, but over preference issues. Examples may include the style of preaching or leadership, use of inappropriate humor, inability to connect socially, incompetence in counselling, or a gross lack of judgment.

Poor judgment is a broad category covered in 1 Timothy 3 under the nuanced terms: “above reproach, sober minded, dignified, respectable.” While sometimes lack of judgment isn’t sinful, just silly, it often leads to sinful behavior. I’ve heard of pastors being fired for skinny-dipping with young men from the church youth group, for smoking, for inappropriate texting, for speaking disparagingly about homeschoolers, for secretly using the church’s money to bail a congregant out of a gambling debt, for using the church’s money to pay a marketing firm to promote his books in order to make the bestseller list, and for getting massages from another elder’s wife.facepalm

Though some of these are clearly sinful, there is much behavior a skilled trial lawyer could defend in court as technically not a violation of any particular biblical command, and yet churches know instinctually how they want their spiritual leaders to behave. Sometimes it takes the church a while to get fed up with hypocrisy. I’m a fan of patience; but eventually a godly church will quit staring at the pastor’s flat lining spiritual life and call the time of death. This kind of intra-church falling out is sad, but it can have a purifying effect on a local body. It’s not as drastic as amputation; it’s more like vomiting. Both rid the body of toxic infection, but one is done from outside, the other is a spontaneous convulsion from the body itself.

If you have a pastor who is striving to be faithful to God’s standards, perhaps this is a good week to express your gratitude. (You may even want to buy him a copy of The Preacher’s Payday; Hey, go easy on me, I don’t have money for a marketing firm).

If you are a pastor who is feeling the pressure of the ministry, be encouraged that we serve a gracious Master whose smile we will relish in the day we hear “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter the joy of your master.”

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
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  • Sammy L

    This one is really good. Just reading this makes me think about my pastor and how difficult his job really is. I need to pray more for my pastor.

    • Mission accomplished. Pastors need prayer like deserts need rain.

  • d

    How about “Never was qualified in the first place?”

    • Johnny

      I’ve seen plenty of this as well, sadly

    • Unfortunately this is a good point too.

  • Johnny

    Definitely a reminder here to pray daily for your pastor

    • Good application.

  • Judy Parker

    I most certainly have a pastor who is striving to be faithful to God’s standards and to whom I would love to express my gratitude….Clint – eternally grateful for you..:)

    • Thanks Judy. Some flocks make it easier than others.

  • “…using the church’s money to pay a marketing firm to get his books on the bestseller list….” Hmm. I wonder who this may be referring to? 🙂

    • 😉

      • Mark

        Are you sure he used church funds? Also, has he actually been fired as your article states?

  • Quick Question: Do you think pastors or elders ought to be loving towards members of their body as a requirement for their position? Loving and investing in the lives of the members (instead of just rushing to your car after the service and going home) should be an evident characteristic of a pastor but I’m not sure how to prove that with the lists mentioned in 1 timothy and titus. Any thoughts?

    • I absolutely think that pastors should be loving toward their flock. The term poimēn (pastor) carries that connotation, and is modelled by Paul himself in 2 Corinthians especially and mentioned in 1 Thess 2:7. However, I wouldn’t want to impose what that love looks like, e.g. staying after the service to sip coffee, kiss babies, and press the flesh. I can’t see why a pastor would want to jet away from the flock after a service, except that some flocks bite their preachers with petty complaints about the sermon, which could be discouraging if he has to preach again later that day. But the primary way the pastor loves his flock, according to all the pastoral epistles, is to know, live, teach, and defend the truth. Part of living the truth will be the exemplary life of love and service of the flock. But remember that different people have different gifts. Jonathan Edwards was accused of being cold and aloof at times, but he was gifted in other ways, and certainly seemed to love his flock the best he knew how. Hope that helps. Good question.

      • Thanks, that gives me a fresh new perspective of the pastor’s love for the church! And the tidbit on Edwards was very interesting as I wasn’t aware of that.

    • a.

      post mentions ‘flock’ a number of times, thinking studying shepherd Scriptures helpful

      • Thanks for the advice. great idea.

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  • 4Commencefiring4

    Ever hear of a case where the pastor is asked to leave because the congregation gets fed up with his list of ways to live that he imposes on them? I know a fellow who pastored a small church for awhile in New England until he was finally asked to go because he insisted that everyone only use the King James; all the women had to cover their heads and keep quiet when they came to church; divorced people were told not to return until they had remarried their ex, etc. His fan club consisted of one member, himself. Or two, if you include his (silent, or else) wife.

    I’m not sure how all this sort of thing didn’t come out during the interview process, but I guess he just assumed any “serious” church would know these things. Alas, they didn’t agree in the end, and he was shown the door. Now he’s headed to Florida for another senior pastor position. I hope he laid it all out this time in advance.

    • I put that under the rubric of “abuse of power” that comes from a person who doesn’t quite understand sanctifiction well enough to pastor, but with good intentions tries to make people live according to the standards he believes are biblical…but without effectively shepherding the flock to see that for themselves. Luke 22 calls it “lording it over” the flock instead of leading through teaching and modelling.

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  • Jon

    Underneath your reason for losing the pulpit, kicked out, you said, “Some pastors are unable or unwilling to keep their children under control.” What does that mean? Go further into dicourse on this.

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