I entered the ministry at the age of nineteen. I have continued in the ministry these past 43 years. What I find disheartening is the number of those who started this journey the same time I did. Many had high hopes of doing great things or the Lord. The ministry, sad to say is not always under the control of the LORD. This has been proven tragically over the years by the number of ministers who have left the ministry. Young pastors and ministers have found themselves on the short end of church politics and then out on the street without an income or place to live.
Many of my friends listened to our homiletic professor who said, “If God called you to be minister don’t stoop to do secular work”. The advice given to me by my father-in-law was, “If you are going to marry my daughter you will need to learn a trade.” By the way, my father-in-law was a minister, having served as a pastor most of his life. I learned a trade and it has provided my family with the security the church would never have given us.
What I have noticed over the years is that those who depend entirely upon the church for their financial support are at the mercy of those who have not been Spirit-led in years. Church board members who are more concerned about ruling the church than allowing the Holy Spirit to direct their paths. The “Diotrephes” have ruined the lives of many good men of God. Furthermore, the damage done by controlling members within the church has destroyed the confidence of the pastor’s children and often the spouse as well. The petty actions of the church “Diotrephes” is nothing short of devastating to the pastor’s family.
(OK, for those who have no idea who I am talking about 3 John 9-11 KJV -I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church. Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God.)
Many ministers are left to simply survive and make it through the next season of life financially, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. They are no more than the foot mat to be trampled upon by the spiritual abusers within the church. Some have been mistreated so severely they are left thinking that God has abandoned them. The scars can run especially deep with the children of these pastors and some of them fall away from the Church “if that’s the way the Church really is I want nothing to do with it.” I have witnessed this first hand with friends and relatives. The stress, both economically and emotionally, often precipitates the collapse of a marriage. Several of my friends in Bible College have broken marriages and destroyed families. Embarrassment and humiliation are, at times, mountains that are never overcome it is better to get out than to continue the suffering. Many have walked away from the church for good; they have chosen a different vocation altogether.
An observation that I have made over the years is that it is not the majority of people who make the pastors life a living hell; it is only a small fraction and often only one “Diotrephes”.
Over the years I have come to the end of my rope and would come home telling my wife our time was up. I could no longer lead those who refused to listen. Her reply was she did not feel it was time for her to go-- so we stayed. Then, she would come home after a meeting and say she was ready to leave she was tired of being ignored, mistreated, and taken for granted. My reply, I don’t feel it is time for me to leave—so we stayed. I don’t know what would have happened had we both agreed at the same time to leave. (We have been at our present church 24 consecutive years.)
The one sustaining factor in my ministry is that I did not depend upon the financial support of the church alone. I have held a secular job my entire ministry and retired from public education after twenty-eight years of teaching. It was my choice. I have had several offers that could have been very enticing, but knowing the fickleness of churches there would be no long range future. Then where would I be? I have been determined to fulfill my call regardless of what others do. I truly believe the call of the ministry is for life-- not just for a period of time in my life. I am convinced God will provide as long as I do not give away the authority of the calling from God to anyone. I believe the call is divinely ordained and just as valid whether you “have a church” or not.
My advice to young preachers is become bi-vocational. Learn a trade that you can use no matter where you live. Having an outside income will remove some of the stress of, what do I do if I am asked to leave? Or, if some member says, “We have hired you and you will do as we say, or you will not be paid.” You must look out for the care of your family. There is no church worth the sacrifice of your marriage or children. God did not call you to the ministry to destroy your family.
Another observation has been when I tell people I am a pastor they look at me in disbelief. Occasionally, some “Bible scholar” will say, O, you are a tent-maker like Paul!” Yes, I am a “tent-maker”. What makes my ministry different than most ministers I know is at the end of a long day of work I do not want to spend my time in a committee meeting or board meeting just talking. Most members in the church feel the same way, they have worked all day, and they are tired and want to get home. I know what they deal with and I know what they need to hear from the Bible for encouragement. Being able to empathize with the members makes a connection that full time ministers never seem to understand. The ministry is not a profession that I choose to enter into it is a calling from God. No doubt the many young minsters that have left the ministry never really had a calling. They were seeking a profession and did not have the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit to direct their paths.
So where have all the pastors gone? Many have left not only the ministry but their faith as well. They were left on the battlefield of life wounded and bleeding with no one to care for them. If you have a pastor, treat him or her as the servant of the Most High God. Your respect for God is mirrored in you treatment of his servant. Don't become a Diotrephes- The Destroyer of Ministers.