Guest Post- Why I Am No Longer A Pastor- By Steve Crosby
Once there was a man who wanted to grow strawberries. He bought the best seed, learned the best gardening practices, and was committed to working hard. He walked out his back door and started to throw seed on his concrete patio. He watered it faithfully. After months of effort, one or two weeds managed to sprout up in a few cracks in the patio. He was so excited that he called his neighbor over to see the fruit of his efforts. His confused neighbor suggested that he would have better results if he sowed his seed in good soil instead of concrete. He accused his neighbor of being judgmental against concrete and not understanding how to grow strawberries and never spoke to him again. He was sure if he just had better seed, better practices, and worked harder that he could get his patio to produce strawberries.
The moral of the story is: Being irrationally committed to a context that is constitutionally incapable of producing a desired result is delusional. Here are some of the ingredients of Westernized Christian concrete that motivated me to sow seed elsewhere.
1. The Corrupting Influence of Money
Jesus said mammon is the god of this world and it is impossible to serve both Him and it. You would never know it based on the values and practices in many places. Imagine if preaching and teaching of Christ-crucified and His reconciling, non-retributive way caused more and more people to leave, taking their money with them. What would be the topic of the “elder’s meetings?” I will say it plainly: the money. Immoral and obscene amounts of money are spent in churches in the West on buildings and salaries. I have seen differing data indicating between 87-97% of the gross income of Western churches is spent on maintaining their own existence: real estate costs and salaries.
The most effective pastoring and evangelism that I know in the world today occurs in churches where there are no buildings, professional clergy nor staff salaries. We are easily devoted to things thought necessities of Christian existence which are not. Fighting against these things in a typical church is a Sisyphean task.
2. Collusion With Caesar
We are odd people. A typical church wants the government to stay out of its business. Many fundamental-type churches have a statement in their bylaws along the lines of: “the Bible is our sole guide for faith and practice.” Well, apparently not where money is concerned. I am referring to the ubiquitous and unquestioned alleged necessity of being a 501 C 3, government-ruled corporation. The hypocrisy is palpable. Rationalizations about “what the Bible does not explicitly prohibit we are free to practice” are self-serving and disingenuous. Can you imagine Jesus going to Caesar and asking for a little help? Of course not.
The church of Jesus Christ got along just fine for 1,954 years without a 501 C 3 designation. Most pastors, (and even more parishioners) do not understand how and why it came about and cannot imagine existing as a church without one. It is just the way we do business. That’s the problem. It is just business.
You can say all you want about being “governed by the Bible.” But if you are a public corporation, you are governed by your bylaws and answerable to the state. I was involved in a lawsuit in a local church that went to the state Supreme Court. I can assure you they were not interested in our convictions about what the “Bible says”. The corporate bylaws were the measuring stick, not the Bible.
People are in fear-based denial about this. If our time, talents, and treasure are not given freely from love--with no expectation of return--we are to be pitied. If giving of our resources has to be enticed by a legalized kickback from the state, we are to be pitied.
3. Politics: The Unholy Three-Fold Cord of Domination and Power
Denominational (or “Non-Denominational!”) Politics
I was once on a board of a local church that belonged to a large, worldwide, Pentecostal denomination. One of the board members, who was very popular in the church and a financial heavy-hitter, was engaging in practices that were both unbiblical and in violation of the bylaws of that denomination. We were told by the district superintendent:
We know what you guys are trying to do here is right. But if you go forward with discipline, it will split the church. We don’t care about what happens to the people. We just want you to know that if you split the church over this, we keep the building.
We were aghast but decided to formally proceed with church discipline anyway. We scheduled a board meeting. The offending member walked in with a sealed envelope and dropped it on the table, turned around, and walked out. We opened the letter. It was signed by the Superintendent/President of the entire denomination exempting him from complying with both Scripture and the denominational bylaws—utterly corrupt. It’s always about the money.
Local Church Politics
Imagine you are a forty-ish pastor with a spouse and three children for whom you are responsible. You have tens of thousands of dollars of personal education debt. You know that if you preach on a certain topic, the largest financial heavy-hitter/influencer in the congregation will get offended. You will either get fired, or the heavy-hitter will leave and take all his relatives and friends (and their cash) with him. You will lose your income and/or the church. You have no other job skills. Your resume is 100% church-related. You know you will not be able to find a decent job at forty years old.
The pressure to compromise in these situations is virtually unbearable. Western religion can demand your soul, conscience, and family. It takes an exceptionally strong/graced individual to resist these pressures—to choose the uncertainties of no income on a point of principle.
We live in an era of polarized cultural politics. It is not necessarily worse or more hostile than any other era, it is just more present and unrelenting because of social media and the 24-hour news cycle. The local church has become a stealth-advocacy vehicle for political candidates.
For folks on the political right, the pressure to turn Jesus into Rambo with a Bible, gun, and flag is unrelenting. The folks on the left co-opt Jesus and turn him into Che Guevera with a Bible, gun, and flag. In the politicized atmosphere in which we currently live, people are incapable of differentiating their identity as followers of Jesus from their political persuasions. We abuse the Scriptures and violate the Spirit to justify our relationally reprehensible behavior. I know believers who were friends for over forty years who no longer talk to each other because the climate in their local church has been utterly politicized, compromised, and poisoned.
4. Antichrist Values
The hand-in-glove partner to the love of money is success defined by cultural values rather than cruciform values. American capitalistic beliefs regarding success—more money, more people, more fame, more assets, etc., equals progress, and “God’s blessing” effectively seduces Western believers. It is all antichrist.
How someone who dies crucified and alone suddenly becomes the advocate for Madison Avenue values of success is incredulous to me: “Build your brand.” “Build your tribe.” “Reach your demographic.” Lay down your life for your neighbor, radically forgive them, suffer with them, and be benevolent toward those who do you harm is impossible to overlay onto antichrist cultural values. There were no crowds at the Incarnation, the Wilderness, the Transfiguration, Gethsemane, Calvary, the Resurrection, and the Ascension. All of the most significant events in Jesus’ life and the history of the cosmos were “crowd-less”. Yet we turn His message into a formula for personal greatness and culturally-defined status. It is an existential betrayal of the Gospel.
Radical individual autonomy upon which all Western philosophy, politics, and religion are based, is incompatible with the values of being a follower of Jesus. There are fifty-eight one-another exhortations in Scripture. There is nothing kingdom-compatible in a room full of people with an attitude of: “My personal, private relationship with Jesus and the Bible are all I need and no one is going to tell me what to think, believe or do.” The love and life of Jesus will never be realized on the scraps and margins of the time and resources people have left over after they have exhausted themselves pursuing the “American Dream.”
5. Culturally Defined Function
A pastor is someone uniquely endowed by God to care for people. Being a gifted orator and fund-raising machine is not in the Biblical job description. It is a cultural expectation. Oh, it is sometimes dodged by creating an “administrative pastor” upon whom the financial burden falls. Now, it may be managerially a great idea in a business or an organization to have such a person, but an “administrative pastor” is a Scriptural phantom.
Some of the finest pastors I know cannot preach or teach their way out of a paper bag. These same people are often deeply discouraged because in the church world the only way they can fulfill their calling is to be a pulpit wizard. There is neither recognition, value nor outlet for their gift because they are not preaching every Sunday. In the flawed church-consciousness of the West, you are not a “real pastor” unless you preach. That simply does not define “pastoring.” (But if you can draw people and their money, we might be willing to overlook quite a bit of pulpit-ineptitude. Money talks. Rhetoric walks.)
Caring for people extends more broadly and deeply than lecturing them once or twice a week. Being “apt to teach” does not mean being a brilliant exegete. It means simply to be able to practically demonstrate the Jesus-Way by example! Follow me as I follow the Lord! It does not mean listen to my wonderful lectures week after week!
6. The Illegitimacy and Ineffectiveness of Pulpit Centrality
A lecture is one of the most ineffective means of communication. It is a physiological fact that after about 10-20 minutes of lecture, most people are “gone.” Their retention drops dramatically, and it gets worse with age. When I used to pastor in a traditional setting, I would ask the congregation if anyone could tell me the essence of the sermon from six weeks ago (peeking at notes was not allowed!)? No response. Three weeks ago? No response. Two weeks ago? No response. No one could remember any significant points of my rhetorically sharp and homiletically-crafted brilliance. On occasion, I might get someone who could remember a thought or two from the previous week, which would soon migrate into their dustbin of forgetfulness.
Again, we are an odd people. We say we believe the Bible. We say we follow Jesus and proceed to not do anything He did:
Jesus began to both do and teach . . . (Acts 1:1)
Note the order! This is a normal Semitic way: do it, then teach about it—it is how to make disciples. That is not our way at all. Our expression of Church-life is a perennial classroom. An unusually honest pastor once described himself and his church to me as overseeing a perpetual nursery of passive listeners. Refreshingly honest and accurate!
That is why, that other than primarily Luke 4, we have no record of Jesus giving full-blown public sermons. He told engaging stories and parables. The sermon-every-Sunday-and Wednesday modality is simply an ineffective tradition from Greek philosophy and European Renaissance humanism/rationalism. A demonstrated life of costly love is self-giving and co-suffering service is long-remembered. As long as the paycheck is tied to the sermon, we will never see the results we preach about. Upton Sinclair said: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”
7. Spiritual Abuse Flows Both Ways
Authority-intoxicated, ego-driven, empire-building pastors abuse and manipulate people. Manipulative and controlling people abuse their leaders. Pain flows both ways. There is neither the will, resources, nor the courage necessary to stop these dynamics if stopping them means the end of the status quo and the end of private fiefdoms of domination. That includes shutting down/dissolving congregations if necessary. Again, we are back to money and power. There is too much money, power, and ego involved to even consider these options. The beast must be fed.
The dreadful statistics regarding the misery and pain of those in professional ministry are well-documented from any number of multiple sources. Many therapists I know have told me that their #1 category of their clients are either pastors, ex-pastors, or Christians.
So, what is one to do?
This Western Christian concrete is not going away. It will resist reform and dissolution with the rigor of a drowning man gasping for his last breath. Pretending that a weed in a crack of cement is a harvest of faithfulness is simply delusional. However, being called to shepherd people can be done quite well without the barnacles of Western cultural religion. You just might not experience the fame, riches, and success that the culture promises and your ego and subconscious desire. I made my decision almost twenty years ago and have enjoyed the most effective and spiritually fruitful time of my mortality ever since. You will have to make yours. There is life after pastoring.
Steve and Rita Crosby have been married for 47 years and have been engaged in various forms of Christian ministry during that time. Their passion is to see God’s people set free from things that obscure the abounding love and grace of God that is in Jesus Christ. Steve has published fourteen books and many articles. He disciples/mentors younger generation leaders as well as conducting in-person and video seminars.
If you are a pastor who wants to contribute to Pastor’s Corner, please send me up to 3,000 words. firstname.lastname@example.org