Reposting this from a couple of years back. This story, sadly, is becoming far too common. I will use this to kick off a new discussion about the training pastors need in a post-christendom day.
Three. In one day.
On Monday, I heard of three of my pastor friends who all resigned this week. No affairs, no scandal, no one is renouncing faith. But three, really good, experienced, pastors all turned in resignations and walked away. Two are leaving church ministry all together.
The details are as different as the pastors themselves, but the common thread is that they finally got worn down by trying to bring change to a church system that was stuck.
I have been hearing from more pastors these days. Some of it is related to my work with TAG Consulting, a lot of it is because I am, well, one of them. We chat and email and text and the common thread is always the same: “The church is stuck and we don’t know what to do.”
Stuck and declining. Stuck and clinging to the past. Stuck and lurching to quick fixes, trying to find an easy answer for what is clearly a systemic challenge. (“If only you could preach better, pastor!” “If only you were more ‘pastoral’ and caring, pastor!” “If only our worship was more dynamic, pastor!” “Please, pastor, DO something…That is what we pay you for isn’t it?”)
In some cases, the leaders of the church had turned on the pastor making him the scapegoat. In others, there was a sense that the church just wanted to stop any change process. For some, they are early in their tenures and are trying to get at the core issues early and bravely, looking squarely at what Jim Colllins calls “the brutal facts.” But most of them are so far into their ministry at the church that it seems like whatever they do is too little too late. After trying so hard, it seems that the church just gave up and hunkered down. As one of my friends said, “This church has gone deaf to my voice.” And soon after the finger-pointing begins, immediately followed by a big severance, a disillusioned pastor and a crippled church.
Most of my pastor friends acknowledge that they contributed in some way to the very circumstances that are forcing them out of the calling they love. All of us acknowledge that seminary didn’t prepare us for this. But, trying to rise to the occasion, they find themselves facing a wall of resistance that quickly turns into a voice of rejection. The underlying, unspoken issue seems to be: “If only the pastor would stop trying to lead us and just pastor us, then we’d be fine.”
Except we are not fine. The culture is changing, the world is changing and churches are facing change on an unprecedented scale. We are heading into uncharted territory and pastors and lay leaders need to learn to lead a mission together where there are real obstacles, real challenges and where the future is nothing like the past.
Until we do, we’ll keep bleeding pastors and we will watch our churches wither away.