March 28, 2023
This may be another case of “nobody asked me, but...” I recently read an article posted on a popular ministry job search website where the author asserted that the reason many pastors are thinking about leaving ministry is because they “have forgotten the basics.”
Since there's no way to comment on that article, I thought I'd respond here.
I do take issue with the author's assertion.
Pastors have forgotten the basics? That's not it.
It’s not that we’re spending so much time wearing so many hats that we’ve forgotten the basics.
It’s not that we’ve forgotten to share the gospel using the simplicity of teaching the Word of God.
No, we haven’t forgotten the basics.
Want to know why so many pastors are thinking of leaving ministry?
It’s that we’re spending so much time getting beat down by people within the church throwing stones at us that we can no longer spend time on the basics.
It's that many pastors are being abused by the toxic environment that the church at large has become. Silently suffering from the constant onslaught of attacks by narcissistic leaders, mob mentality members, toxic elder teams, entrenched NIMBY's, power families... so many broken things that all serve to tear down not only the pastors but their families as well.
Trust me, we know the basics. The basics don't fix this.
The basics don't tend to get people unstuck from unhealthy worldly attitudes of selfishness/what's in it for me/it's the way we've always done it/I'm right and never wrong/pride and arrogance, because even though the basics of the gospel force people to face the reality that they are sick and in need of a doctor (exactly one of the reasons Jesus says he came), the basics still involve these people bending their will and their knees to bow at Jesus' feet, and take themselves off the thrones of the little kingdoms they've created.
No matter how faithfully we preach the Bible week after week, teaching these people who occupy seats in the church week after week about how we are supposed to love one another, be compassionate to one another, be gentle with one another, be forgiving of one another, be kind to one another, these people have hardened hearts and they are unwilling to follow Jesus. They may know a lot about God, but they do not know God. Sure, not all of them – there are some dear people I have met that truly strive to live out these goals on the daily, but there are a lot of pew sitters that exhibit the polar opposites of these ideals. Living for themselves, putting their own self interests ahead of others, insisting on their own way, judging others, being mean spirited and duplicitous, all the while saying they’re doing so in the name of Biblical Christianity.
Trust me, that is anything but Biblical Christianity.
And even though these people supposedly have already done so, if they claim to be believers, even when confronted lovingly and appropriately by the truth of Scripture, many are not willing yet to cast their crowns at the feet of Jesus. They love their crowns. They love themselves more than they love others.
Sometimes it takes years or decades of sustained effort to fight that, and it's not that we've forgotten the basics, it's that many pastors like me that have been fighting that fight for years, and we are tired of being beat up, marginalized, abused, neglected, and tired of our families suffering at the hands of mean spirited, legalistic, judgy modern day Pharisees that claim to be Christians while they throw stones at others.
I don't think they really are Christians. I know for a fact that there are lots of people who go to church, who know a lot about God but they don't know God. If they’re believers, it’s in the same sense that Jesus says even the demons believe… and tremble. But the demons are not following Jesus, not seeking to obey His Word and carry it out in their lives, and neither are these people that often name the name of Christ as their Savior, but have not made Him their Lord. It's clearly evident by their fruit. Some of them really think they are doing the Lord's work by mistreating others in the name of God, throwing stones as hard as they can. Especially at pastors. Even if they are themselves “pastors”… aka fierce wolves in shepherds’ clothing.
Being real, it's not us getting back to “the basics” that leads to transformation… it takes Jesus.
Whenever someone says “What Would Jesus Do?” just remember that making a whip and striking people with it while flipping over tables and chasing people out of a place that they’d dishonored (and become completely oblivious to how they’d done so) is absolutely on the table for discussion. You can bet the people who experienced Jesus at that event went away transformed.
Sometimes transformation takes Jesus stepping out from the crowd, causing them to confront their own sin, kneeling down next to the one being attacked, writing in the dirt next to them, rescuing them from the mob that has it in for them.
Sometimes transformation takes Jesus abruptly throwing someone off their horse, blinding them, and speaking to them in a clear voice that demands they listen as they lay helpless. Like he did with Paul.
Trust me, I'd love to see a lot more instances of Jesus knocking people to the ground and causing them to radically change their lives. I think we'd have a lot fewer pastors wanting to quit if we saw lives transformed by the Lord more often.
But more often we are too occupied by the bruises, lacerations and broken bones from getting stones thrown at us by fellow believers while we're trying to love them, serve them, teach them, and help them, to be thinking about the one person in the crowd throwing stones at us that Jesus may soon put through that Damascus Road experience. And that is not supposed to be part of the basics.
It’s not “getting back to the basics” that is going to prevent us from wanting to leave ministry.
Unless you count “the basics” as normalizing a healthy community where pastors and their families are treated well by fellow believers as they love and serve others.
That’s the sort of back to basics we should get behind.