Archive for the ‘Problems Preachers Face’ Category

Bruce Gerencser begins his 7th post in his My Journey series, What Should We Do About Bruce?, with a lament about earning a living as a pastor.

As a preacher and the son of a pastor, I’ve gained a few insights into what pastors go through. Bruce points out the highlights, beginning with the application process:

“While I had many opportunities to pastor again I was no longer willing to go to go through the dog and pony show required to get a Church…”

Here’s the deal: Most churches want a pastor who fits a certain ideal. They want a self-starter, an enthusiastic revivalist, a preacher who preaches the sermon with a belly full of fire and a tear in his eye. In essence, they want someone who will do the work of the Church… all by himself. Well, all by himself and with his family’s help, of course. They’re looking for someone to feed them their Bible, to offer good counseling and to reach the lost. So they pick someone based on their enthusiasm level, the positive tenor of their messages, and their pleasantness at the after-church buffet. The problem is that a pastor’s job, according to the Bible, is to equip folks for the working of the ministry. He leads you to green pasture, but if your belly’s not full by day’s end it’s because you didn’t do your part. Likewise, sheep begat sheep, so the work of evangelism belongs to everyone. We shouldn’t be expecting someone to do it all. No one can. In fact, even the Apostles felt overwhelmed trying to do it all, which is where we first got deacons.

In case you’re wondering, I don’t really put on a show for anyone, even if they’re considering for pastor… perhaps especially so.

Bruce’s next few objections deal with the dirty little subject of money:

“I came to see that I sold my services too cheap. I allowed Churches to take advantage of my family and I and I came to see that Churches were quite willing to keep me in the poor house for the sake of the kingdom of God.

I came to the conclusion that many Churches deserved to die, and, quite frankly, many of the Churches that contacted me about pastoring their Churches didn’t deserve the dedication and effort I would give them. I was a good pastor. A hard-working pastor. A selfless pastor. I always put the Church first. The Church bills always got paid before I did. I worked seven days a week for poverty wages. No benefits. No insurance. Not ONE Church I pastored in 25 years offered any form of benefit package or insurance.

Granted, I did this willingly. No one forced me to live this way. I CHOSE to do so. (to the degree that anyone who feels they are called by God can choose to do so)”

We’ve already touched upon how Bruce made the all-too-common error of putting Church before his family, so I’ll refer you to that post for a fuller treatment.

Yet I want to note that he does point out two problems that pastor’s face:

  1. They put in a lot of time and sacrifice that is generally unappreciated, if noted at all. It’s sort of taken for granted that a pastor will teach, preach, pray, marry, bury, counsel, help, visit and otherwise serve his flock. What’s not generally considered is where he gets the time to do that AND take care of his family.
  2. Churches expect a well-educated, ordained minister, but do not expect to pay him according to his educational level. Not all churches can. Here in Appalachia, a pastor can pretty much count on being bi-vocational, with few exceptions. I know pastors who receive a percentage of the tithes, a small fixed monthly amount that no one else in the church could expect to live on, their health insurance paid but nothing else, or, inevitably, no pay at all. Oh, they want several services and Bible studies a week, plus weddings, baptisms, funerals, camps, small groups, revivals, visitations [evangelistic, hospital, shut-ins, and prisons, respectively], and all the rest, but they have no problem with breaking the Scriptural commandment not to muzzle the ox that treads the corn [metaphorically speaking].

He’s right to note that churches want a minister with a degree in, say, pastoral studies, yet they do not pay that minister enough to get by on, much less to pay off his educational debts. This is a miserable situation, especially since a college degree is not really necessary for ministry.

Yes, you read that right. When we come down to brass tacks, all that is required for ministry is unction, serious attention to Bible study and prayer, and a willingness to serve. That’s it. Education can be beneficial, of course, but I’ve seen country preachers with an 8th grade education aflame with Holy Ghost unction leading vibrant, missions-minded congregations, and endured the well-prepared, intelligently crafted sermons of dry, unction-less doctors of theology with churches that more resembled social clubs or living museums. Likewise, I’ve heard clever, even entertaining speakers with relevant, engaging topics who yet lacked unction; they were nothing more than good motivational speakers. And of course, I’ve also heard the impressive thunderings of fiery preachers who were nonetheless clearly full of hot air and a double portion of plain ignorance. It should be considered a sin to make the preaching of the Word of God boring, or a spectacle, or a mere moralizing homily. Worse still, these so-called preachers who try to make it a means of worldly gain and spiritualized materialism.

What makes all the difference is a man of God who preaches with unction, serves with love and humility, and studies the Word to show himself approved. Nothing more is required.

I digress.

It should be noted that these articles admit what is pretty much common knowledge: that there is a difference between the Biblical ideal and the reality of what a pastor is paid. While this should not be so, it is the stark reality of the situation and a man called to pastor should expect to be ready for this state of affairs.

Still, the root of bitterness would have had no place to take hold in Bruce Gerencser’s ministry if the churches he served had been more careful to obey the Bible in this area.

If you’d like more information on the sorts of salaries a pastor can expect, the expenses he will incur as a part of the ministry, or suggestions on what to pay a pastor and how even a poor parish can provide benefits, you should check out these two articles:

A Pastor’s Salary

http://www.crown.org/library/viewarticle.aspx?articleid=148

What To Pay The Pastor

http://www.christianitytoday.com/cbg/2000/mayjun/3.22.html

God bless you, and God bless your pastor,

Tony Breeden

 

Bruce Gerencser has noticed this blog and he has dubbed my judgments regarding his life “misguided and naïve.” I didn’t exactly expect him to be pleased with everything I write here, but I cannot address his concerns if he has nothing more than sweeping generalizations to make.

As a result of this notice, his fan club have made a point of peppering this new-born site with derogatory comments, questioning my intelligence, my motives and my temerity. More than one commenter has made the accusation that Bruce’s posts must’ve shook my faith in order for me to dedicate a blog to hashing through his journey. This is a ridiculous non sequitur, of course; Those who know me likewise know that I deeply care for those who have fallen from the faith and that I am keenly interested in why people fall away, partly because most of my generation likewise abandoned the faith of our youth and, unlike myself, very few returned.

I seek to understand, because I wish to do what I can to prevent this from occurring in future generations, and to understand the fallen so that I might help them reclaim return, God willing.

Of course, I expected backlash and misunderstanding when I began this endeavor, so I’m hardly surprised. Our decisions have consequences, as Bruce learned when he sent a series of letters explaining his new-found apostasy to his friends, family and former parishioners. Or perhaps he didn’t learn this lesson. I dunno. Judge for yourself.

You see, Bruce Gerencser’s fourth post in the My Journey series, Letter To My Friends, Family And Former Parishioners Update, is something of a pity party:

“Almost two years ago I sent my friends, family and former parishioners a letter concerning my decision to deconvert from Christianity. I wish I could say my letter was well received. I wish I could say that people told me they supported my decision. I wish I could say I have been treated in a kind and respectful manner.

But I can’t.”

I thought he reactions to his letter were predictable enough: One guy drobe 3 hours to talk him out of it. Others wrote letters and emails, either attempting to change his mind or condemning him. Some apparently gossipped behind his back.

I personally cannot stand gossips. Why there should exist the level of pervasive gossip within Christendom when the Bible plainly condemns it is beyond me. Granted, I cannot recall the last time I heard another preacher mention it. Nor can i recall the last time I heard of a minister putting a mmeber under church discipline for spreading rumors and gossip. The general impression we get is that it’s something of a necessary evil.

The Bible has a completely different view of gossipping. Leviticus 19:16 forbids it with an all-too-familiar “Thou shalt not…” Proverbs 26:20 pretty much sums up why the Church should refuse and condemn gossip when they hear it:

“Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no tale-bearer, the strife ceaseth.”

Wanna know why a lot of churches aren’t united? Wanna know why a lot of them are full of strife and back-biting? Because they’ve a gossip among them, usually more than one. My advise is to resist the Devil and watch him [or her] flee from you. If we made churches less inviting to gossips, well, let’s face it: most gossips like to stir up trouble and watch what happens, but it’s no fun without a fan club to appreciate it. Our actions have consequences; likewise, our lack of action where it concerns these gossips has consequences as well. As we mentioned when commenting on Bruce’s 2nd post, Bruce admitted the following:

“This is one of the reasons I ultimately rejected the Christian faith.

I couldn’t square my day to day experience in the Church with:

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. John 13:34, 35

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! Psalm 133:1

Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: John 17:2-22

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 1 John 4:7

It was anything but love and unity.”

This ought to give us reason enough to commit ourselves to preventing gossip in our churches, starting with stopping our own mouths.

Nevertheless, I think Bruce has missed the point that his own actions have consequences. No man is an island. Yet he pretends as if his decision should not affected anyone except himself. For example, he gives the following illustration of the woes that have befallen him since he made his decision public:

“Last Christmas, the patriarch of the family, a pastor of 40 plus years, was intent on confronting me about my apostasy. I am grateful my mother-in-law quashed his plan to confront me. It would have been ugly. I mean ugly, ugly.

My wife decided that we would not do Christmas at her parent’s home any more. The stress and undercurrent are such that it is impossible to “enjoy” time with the family during the Christmas holiday.

Did you notice I said my wife decided?” [empasis his]

He pretends as if his wife made the decision to spend Christmas without their family to avoid the strife his decision had created of her accord. She made the decision because his decision had consequences for her and her relationship with him and her family. She was forced to deal with the backlash his decision resulted in. Not him. I get a bit ruffled when I see grown men abdicating responsibility for their own actions, yet this has become common for many in America, especially those of the Baby Boomer generation. Nothing is ever their fault. It’s always someone else’s. Everybody else’s reactions to their narcicism is always unexpected and unreasonable.

For example, Bruce laments that he had hoped that his letter would be well-received and that folks would support him in his decision. Why? Why would he reasonably expect that?

He knew their beliefs, for he helped instill some of them. He knew that they believe that Bible-denying, Christ denying apostates go to hell. If he knew them at all, he should have expected those whom he taught and those he labored alongside to feel betrayed, at the very least. He should have expected them to feel they should try to convince him otherwise if they loved him at all. By stating that he did not wish them to try and convince him he was wrong, he was asking for their apathy, not their love. Apathy can sit by and allow someone to destroy themselves; love cannot!

Our decisions, actions and inactions have consequences. If the church could make this simple revelation, we could actually begin being the church God always intended. Why do I say that? Because meekness, a fruit of the Spirit no less, is the ability to put other people’s best interests and needs above your own. Jesus and Moses [no push-overs, mind you] were exemplars of meekness, according to the Bible. I submit that it is impossible to display or actualize meekness if you cannot fathom that what you do affects others. Personal accountability is absolutely essential for genuine meekness, and genuine unity.

God bless,

Preacher

Bruce Gerencser’s second post in the My Journey series, My Testimony, deals with two separate issues:

1. The pointlessness of much of what we call church ministry

2. His conclusions on the Bible

This post explores some of his thoughts on the first issue. God willing, we’ll deal with the second issue in the next post.

Bruce has some rather strong criticisms of much of what we call church ministry. In fact, he introduced this complaint in his first installment of the My Journey series, Why I Retired From The Ministry, citing one of his reasons for leaving the church as:

  • The meaninglessness of vast parts of American Christianity. I have come to realize that most of what we do in Christianity doesn’t amount to much of anything. We seem to spend most of our time and effort making sure we have things to spend most of our time and effort on. We collect money so we can spend the money so we can collect money so we can spend the money…..It seems that much of our work is simply done to keep the Titanic floating . Little progress is made in truly making a difference in the world.

In My Testimony, he relates how he began to search for a church that reflected the ideals of the Bible:

“I left the ministry as a tired, worn out,abused preacher. When I left the ministry I was still a believer. I thought that the problem was the churches I pastored or perhaps me personally. If I just found the right church to attend the ship could be righted and all would be well. For four years, and five states, I looked for that one church that took Christianity seriously and practiced teachings of Jesus. After visiting over 125 churches, attending some of them for months, especially those in the community I lived in at the time, I came to the conclusion that no matter what the name was on the door every church was the same.

My crisis of faith did not begin as a theological struggle. It began as I looked at the Christian Church as a whole and came to the conclusion that, for the most part, the Christian church was a meaningless social club. While I certainly realized there were probably some exceptions out there somewhere I didn’t find any.”

He has a point: we’re hardly turning the world upside-down. Many of us are merely weekend warriors. I speak this to our shame.

He continues this thread in another post called Does the Church Matter?:

“I know this sounds harsh, even mean, but it is the truth, Most people AREN’T in Church on any given Sunday. Most Churches rarely venture outside of the four walls of their building. For the most part their impact on the day today lives of most people is nonexistent.

Certainly Churches are a source of comfort, encouragement, support, inspiration and instruction for many of the people who attend on Sunday. Certainly each Church members has the potential to make a big difference in the world. To the degree that the individual finds what they need at Church I say Good for them. But, to suggest that the Church makes a huge difference in our society is a gross overstatement.

Outside of a one night a week youth outreach in an abandoned lumberyard building there is no visible demonstration of the Church outside the four walls of the Churches.

What we have is convenient,nice, polite, meaningless Christianity. What is absent is the life changing, counter-cultural, subversive message of the man named Jesus.”

Think about it. What is missing from society is a Christianity that engages the culture with good works and the message of Jesus! Did you know that, according to Barna Research, the majority of Christians go through their entire lives without ever leading even one single person to Christ? How can this be? How can we have come so far from the Great Commission? How can we have come so far from engaging the world with the life-changing message of Christ? The early Church prayed for boldness in the face of opposition; the modern church stays safely and irrelevantly behind Church walls and unconvincingly laments that the lost do not come to hear the message we were sent to preach in words and works.

Bruce’s concluding remarks from Does the Church Matter are chilling, but I think his assessment is unfortunately accurate:

“This is one of the reasons I ultimately rejected the Christian faith.

I couldn’t square my day to day experience in the Church with:

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. John 13:34, 35

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! Psalm 133:1

Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: John 17:2-22

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 1 John 4:7

It was anything but love and unity.”

Now I know this is a silly reason to quit Christ; after all, all the burnt-edged, runny-middled, egg shell-riddled omelets in the world do not invalidate the recipe for the perfect omelete. They just show why it’s important to follow the directions! But let’s face it: people are turned off by the hypocrisy and irrelevance of much of modern church. People want to be a part of something that has purpose. They want action, not lipservice. Works, not just words. They wants something authentic and compelling.

They want Christ in us, the hope of glory, even if they do not yet know it! They need someone to show them the way, and this is why we are commanded to let our light so shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven [Matthew 5:16]. How long will we hide our lamps under a basket, shuttered within the safety of our church walls? When will we be bold enough to shine bright for Christ, outside the church walls in the fields that are ripe for harvest?

Men and women of God, may Christ find your lamps trimmed and brightly burning when He comes!

God bless you,

Preacher

As I finished reading Bruce Gerencser’s first post in the My Journey series, Why I Retired From The Ministry, I was left with two distinct impressions:

1. This guy undeniably had a mid-life crisis:

“I have become progressive in my thinking and I identify with more liberal causes and beliefs. I am not the man I once was but neither am I the man I want to me. As my friend Tammy Schoch told me recently “it is normal in mid-age to revaluate one’s beliefs and to readjust or change your beliefs accordingly.””

2. He somehow got God and Church backwards. It’s a common error. From Billy Graham to the preacher next door, clergy get it in their heads that since God is first in their lives, Church or ministry needs to be first as well. But that just ain’t what the Good Book says.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Bruce’s sobering post lists many reasons for why he left the ministry, but we get the not-so-subtle impression that it was affecting his health, physical and mental…

“I have numbness in my face , hands, and legs. My doctor ruefully told me that he is uncertain as to what my actual neurological problem is. I’ll just have to wait to see what “breaks.” I am a type A, perfectionist work-a-holic. I worked myself into a physical collapse thinking all the while that anyone cared how hard I worked. God didn’t and neither did the people I pastored.”

“I came to the realization that I was was full of fear and regret. I feared God and I regretted wasting my life serving a deity I only served out of fear. No matter how perfect I was, no matter how much I did, I simply couldn’t meet God’s (or men who spoke for God) standard. I despaired for my life.”

…his marriage and family…

“I sacrificed my family and my marriage for a mistress called the Church. I lived for the Church. I was willing to die for the Church. I worked long hours for lousy pay. I allowed my family and my wife to become an appendage to the work I was doing. They were the default clean-up, tear down crew and did all the jobs no one else wanted to do. Our family was so wrapped up in the Church that we lost our self-identity. I want my children to know me for more than just being a pastor. I want my wife to have a husband who doesn’t always put her second to the Church. Whoever said “you must sacrifice your family for the sake of your calling” is not only wrong but also a destroyer of families. If there is one thing I have learned it is that family comes first.”

“I want to know my kids and grandkids. I want to be more than just a religious guru to them. I want to be able to enjoy THIS life with them without everything revolving around the NEXT life”

…and his finances:

“Thousands of Churches are without pastors. Most of them don’t deserve to have another pastor. They have chewed up and spit on the previous 20 pastors and they will do the same to the next one. Quite frankly many Churches just need to die. As I look back at how willing I was to sacrifice so small Churches could have a “full time” pastor I am ashamed of myself. Living on food stamps and my kids wearing hand-me-down clothes all so people could say “we have a pastor and he has kids” The most I ever made in the ministry, counting housing,salary and reimbursements, was 26,000.00. While everyone one else progressed economically my family was supposed to settle for welfare wages and a chicken or two. I never had the Church (any Church) on their own volition offer a raise to me. I had to ask, and most often plead and beg. I saw their cars and houses. I saw their material stores and yet I was just supposed to sing “Oh how I love Jesus, thank you for keeping me poor.”’

He right, of course, when he laments that a great many churches treat their pastors to salaries that they could never live on, but somehow expect them to! My dad was a pastor and I don’t anyone ever considered how hard it was to do full-time ministry and work a full-time job as well, simply to make ends meet for a family of five. A lot of Appalachian churches cannot pay their ministers much, and I suspect that there are poor churches across the US who are in the same boat. So this comes with the turf for most ministers in my neck of the woods. Of course, everyone still expects that preacher to visit the sick and imprisoned, preach on Sunday and officiate weddings, baptisms and funerals regardless of his work schedule. And, yes, this comes with the turf, whether folks appreciate it or not. I’m simply stating that I can empathize with his aggravation at seeing his family do without while church members blithely offered Bless Yous. Ye rich, howl and weep… [James 5:1]

The Bible plainly condemns the apathy that many well-off Christians show to those in their churches [including their pastors] who barely scrape by:

“If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled, notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body, what doth it profit?” James 2:15-16

“But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” 1 John 3:17-18

It even speaks specifically against this where clergy are concerned:

“Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his hire.” 1 Timothy 5:17-18

But some of Bruce’s problems were his own fault. God never intended for any minister [or any of the laity for that matter] to sacrifice their families upon the altar of church business or even ministry. Speaking of those who oversee the churches, the Bible plainly states the following necessary qualification:

“One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)” 1 Timothy 3:4-5

This brings up an interesting insight. If you cannot manage your own household, you cannot be expected to manage the household of God; therefore, a man’s ministry to his family comes before his ministry to the church. It has to, because it is the barometer of his fitness for ministry. If his family is a wreck, he’s not fit for ministry, so how then can he be expeced to sacrifice his family on the altar of ministry??

The answer is, of course, that he can’t and that he shouldn’t. Yet so many Christians, clergy and laity alike, fall into this trap, where they suppose they are putting God first by placing their families after ministry. This should not be so. The very fact that the church is called the family of God is because God patterned his church after the family, the very first institution He established.

Bruce strained his marriage, his relationship with his children and his family’s well-being for a noble purpose. But it was wrong. God cares about the family. God is not Molech that He should desire the sacrifice of our children! Ministry together and mutual sacrifice for a greater cause is one thing, but if we put church before God, we’ve got our priorities out of whack.

I think a lot of us could learn from Bruce’s all-too-common mistake in this area.

God bless you,

Preacher