“Autopsy of a Deceased Pastor”

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About a month ago I had the privilege of speaking with Thom Rainer on the phone for almost an hour, sharing with him how the Lord sustained a 20 year relationship between me and the church that I pastor (see previous post). I suggested to him that he should write a book on the subject of pastors dying, that is, why pastors have such short tenures with their church and end up either leaving the church or the ministry altogether. He told me that he would write a post on this. Below is the result. For more information of his ministry, click here: http://thomrainer.com

“They are the walking dead.

They are dead emotionally.

Their vision and passion is dead.

Their spiritual life has little life at all.

They are burned out.

Many have died vocationally. Others are waiting for burial.

Autopsies are not a pleasant topic. I get that. But I would be negligent if I did not share with you about the numbers of pastors who are dead in ministry. You need to know. You need to grasp this reality. You need to pray for them. You need to walk alongside them.

How did these pastors die? My figurative autopsies uncovered eight common patterns. Some pastors manifest four or five of them. Many manifest all of them.

  1. They said “yes” to too many members. In order to avoid conflict and criticism, these pastors tried to please most church members. Their path was not sustainable. Their path was unhealthy, leading to death.
  2. They said “no” to their families. For many of these pastors, their families became an afterthought or no thought at all. Many of their children are now grown and resent the church. They have pledged never to return. Their spouses felt betrayed, as if they were no longer loved, desired, or wanted. Some of these pastors have lost their families to divorce and estrangement.
  3. They got too busy to remain in the Word and in prayer. Simply stated, they got too busy for God. Read Acts 6:4 again in the context of all of Acts 6:1-7. The early church leaders saw this danger, and they took a courageous path to avoid the trap.
  4. They died a slow death from the steady drip of criticisms. Pastors are human. Yeah, I know; that’s an obvious statement. We sometimes expect them to take the ongoing criticisms from members as if they were rocks. But a steady drip can destroy even the most solid rocks.
  5. They were attacked by the cartel. Not all churches have cartels, but many do. A church cartel is an alliance of bullies, bully-followers, carnal Christians, and even non-Christians in the church. Their goal is power. Their obstacle is the pastor. Many pastors have died because cartels killed them.
  6. They lost their vision and their passion. This cause of death is both a symptom and a cause. Like high blood pressure is a symptom of other problems, it can also lead to death. Pastors without vision and passion are dying pastors.
  7. They sought to please others before God. People-pleasing pastors can fast become dying pastors. The problem is that you can never please all the members all the time. If pastors try, they die.
  8. They had no defenders in the church. Imagine a dying person with no medical intervention. That person will die. Imagine pastors without members who will stand by these leaders. Imagine pastors where members are too cowardly to stand up to cartels. If you can imagine that, then you can imagine a dying pastor. By the way, this form of death is often the most painful. The pastor is dying without anyone to help or intervene.

Autopsies are not fun. Talking about dying is not fun.

But if you are a church member, you can be a part of the solution.

Will you?”

Thom Rainer

Autopsy of a Nearly Deceased Pastor and 20 years of pastoring one church

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By God’s good grace and because of his love for the local church and his gospel, God has chosen to give our church a 20 year celebration of a pastor/church relationship. This past Sunday Grace Community Church of Yorkville, IL gave me some books – the ones stacked on the bottom. Now, to be honest, when they were given to me gift-wrapped, upon opening them I felt bummed because I had read nearly all of them and still owned several copies to boot. But, when asked to open the book to its entry page: “Wow!!” Each book has been signed by its author with a word of congratulations to me for surviving 20 years at the same church – and these guys are just a few of my heroes of the faith (of course, the one on the bottom is not signed by its author:).

But as you can see the title to this post is a play off of the top left book: “Autopsy of a Deceased Church.” Last week, I had the privilege to spend nearly an hour on the phone with the author, Thom Rainer. I conveyed to him that he could have written his book by watching our church for the past 20 years. I expressed my appreciation for his timely book (2014) that helped our church avoid what he has observed too many times: churches are dying at an alarming rate in America and almost always due to the same diseases. One of the unfortunate consequences is a short tenure for the pastor – and that often harms, not helps the church (short pastoral tenures is a red flag for a church – it may be on its way to its own funeral). As Thom asked more questions about our history, I expressed to him that when I read his book that I thought he should write a book called, “Autopsy of a Nearly Deceased Pastor”; a couple of times I nearly gave up pastoring because of “cartel members” in the church. Yes, that’s Mark Devine’s and Darren Patrick’s description, not mine (top book on the right, “Replant: how a dying church can grow again”. But if the shoe fits, wear it!

I thank the Lord for a loving church . . .

  • that loves the gospel of God told-out in the person and work of Jesus Christ;
  • who sees a covenant made with his people in the scriptures, carried along by a single story-line that is all about Jesus Christ “saving his people from their sins”;
  • who expects expository preaching through books of the bible on Sunday morning;
  • who enjoys a blend of some of the best old and new songs with a variety of music genres, avoiding the segregation of its members by putting the old folk with the organ in one service, and the young folk with the Fender amps in another;
  • whose liturgy includes confession of sin with rejoicing in the forgiveness from Christ on Sunday morning;
  • that seeks to not idolize the past with its man-made traditions;
  • that seeks to engage and work with the community instead of enticing them to come to church or get saved before we mingle with them;
  • that seeks to put its money on the street, not in its pocket;
  • that does not allow personal preferences to become holy cows;
  • that seeks to fellowship with each other, pray with each other, encourage each other – all in a variety of venues not always held on church property;
  • seeks to share the gospel with the lost the way Jesus and the early church did – in the everyday encounters that we already have with dozens of people each day;
  • finally, though not exhaustively, that has chosen to love me and my family through thick and thin – much like a marriage, “to death do us part”. Thank you for your words, cards and gifts. I’m so blessed.

Our church continues to struggle in many ways. But the struggle is also part of what it means to follow a crucified, publicly disgraced, counter-culture risen Savior. And Jesus is worth every bit of it.