What is a preacher eater church?

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Bert Perry's picture

An interesting list, but lost there is the cause of why a church becomes a preacher-eater church.  Why do you get cliques that covertly run the church?  Why do members decide the pastor shouldn't be paid adequately? Why is everybody fighting all the time?  I've been in a church or two that fits Rainer's description, and from what I learned of the history, they had a pattern going back a while--we might infer that bad behavior prevented them from getting a good pastor, and a mediocre pastor would then fail to address the besetting sins of the congregation, leading to more bad behavior and mediocre pastors in a vicious spiral.  Or the spiral might have started with a truly poor pastor.

If we truly believe that God's Word does not return void, a lot of this really goes back to leadership, especially the guys who have filled the pulpit.  And we would infer as well that there are some churches simply need a rather thick-skinned "turnaround artist" who understands toxic churches well enough to understand that he'll start by renting in any place he serves, and then give them the Scripture they've been ignoring for years if not decades.

(note; thick-skinned, not ham-handed!)

TylerR's picture

Let them die. It's not worth the harm it will do to your own family. Die. Die. Die. The people who are actually regenerate in the church can go to other, healthy congregations. This kind of church will destroy the Pastor, it will destroy his wife, and it will destroy the Christians in that church who just want to serve the Lord. Let them have their toxic club, and roll out. Die church, die.

I'll come back and tell you what I really think later Smile

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Ron Bean's picture

Pastors at ______ Baptist Church usually stayed for about 2 years. When Bill came to the church he wanted to break that pattern and gave himself to loving the people and being faithful to his work as pastor. After 18 months a small but influential group started criticizing Pastor Bill and told him that they wanted to have a vote of confidence. Pastor Bill proceeded to visit every church member to see where he stood with them and walked into the business meeting confident that the majority supported him. He lost the vote! When he went to the members who had professed support, one of them said, "We love you but we have to live with them."

I have a theory that in many of these preacher eater churches (and maybe some other churches as well) there are three groups of people. There's a group that wants to do the right thing. There's a group that want to run the church and promote their agenda and usually have more persuasive power than group one. Then there's the largest group who just want the church to be there so they can worship and avoid conflict.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

TylerR's picture

You wrote:

I have a theory that in many of these preacher eater churches (and maybe some other churches as well) there are three groups of people. There's a group that wants to do the right thing. There's a group that want to run the church and promote their agenda and usually have more persuasive power than group one. Then there's the largest group who just want the church to be there so they can worship and avoid conflict.

You just described my last Pastorate. It's almost as if you've been around the block a few times before . . . ! Smile

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Ron Bean's picture

Not only have I been there, I have a drawer full of tee shirts! The three group pattern is something I noticed the last time I was candidating.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Kevin Miller's picture

I know of an individual who has a real passion for helping troubled churches. He calls himself a "redevelopment transitional pastor." He moves from interim pastor position to interim pastor position, and doesn't just "hold down the fort" until the church gets a new pastor, but he helps the elders/deacons and search committee identify areas in the church that are like the ones on the list. He has written a couple of books about the process and he has a website with quite a few articles about church health.

http://www.churchwhisperers.org/

TylerR's picture

Lord bless him. He's a much better man than I am. The Pastorate can be a wonderful blessing, and it can also destroy you. This pattern of "preacher eater churches" is probably due to a combination of factors:

  • The American church is pampered and expects far too much. "Church" has morphed into a monstrosity of Christian cultural baggage and expectations that go far beyond the NT. I was listening to a lecture by Carl Trueman the other day, and he remarked that Luther said (I'm paraphrasing) that pastoral ministry was just about (1) preaching the Gospel, (2) observing the ordinances, and (3) burying the departed saints. Everything else is window dressing. I'd add "discipling the saints" to that list, but you get the basic point. I think many congregations need to strip this monster down to bare essentials and focus time and energy on what really matters.
  • Some established congregations have so much baggage, traditionalism and outright idolatry tied to their buildings that they'd be better off to sell the thing. It would never happen, but still - people worship the building. When I resigned, the first thing the power faction did was restore the furniture arrangement on he platform to the exact way it had been before I came. It had bothered them I removed one chair. It bothered them I put a standing lamp in the foyer for extra light. It really made them mad. They came more for the memories and nostalgia of the building than for Christ. My wife used to joke that she dreamed of blowing the building up - she said it'd be the most spiritual thing we could do for the congregation.
  • A notable proportion of the people in Christian churches (yes, even Baptist ones) are not saved. This is especially true in the rural Mid-West, where Christian Americana is still strong. They aren't Christians, but they think they are, and guess what - they don't act like Christians, either. They can pretend with the bvest of them, but the knives and tomahawks are there - waiting. I learned at that church to always preach the Gospel forcefully and unapologetically. Don't ever assume, "Well, it's just the good 'ole crowd tonight!" No, we all need to be reminded of the Gospel regularly - because some of us are still rejecting it.  

A sidenote - I think every Baptist minister should read John Hammett's wonderful book Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches. His suggestions on making the ordinances central in church life again were a revelation to me (no pun intended). He is honest about problems in Baptist churches, and calls us to faithfulness to a glorious heritage. The best book on polity I've ever read.

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

rpruitt's picture

Tyler,

I've never met any of the men on Sharper Iron, but both enjoy and learn from reading the blog.  On this topic, your final factor listed as a cause for "preacher eater churches" is, I fear, perhaps the primary cause.  I've said for years that if someone claims to be a Christian and does not have a hunger for the Word of God he is at best sick, and at worst dead.  I know that a pastor has to do more than just preach the Word of God, but when he is faithful to preach that Word, and people show no appetite for it, there may be "death in the pot." 

Robert P. Pruitt

Mark_Smith's picture

I hope you realize that your experience was a buzz saw that most people don't experience. I have never seen what you experienced, for example.So, try to keep your hopes up!

Jonathan Charles's picture

The church I presently pastor has been in existence for 175 years and except for three exceptions, never had a pastor stay longer then 4-5 years.  I am one of those exceptions.  It was a church entrenched in the past, a church that had nearly 20 boards (making decisions was difficult), and a church with some strong personalities in its lay leadership.  One thing I learned is that such a church becomes a preacher-eater if a pastor comes expecting to make huge changes in a short period of time.  I have been here 20 years, and most people who would stand in the way of some decisions we've made recently have gone to be with the Lord, or they've come to trust my leadership.  Some preacher-eater churches can be changed if a pastor would commit to staying there an above-average amount of time.   

Bert Perry's picture

I am not quite sure what conclusions to draw from Jonathan's comment, as the average tenure for an evangelical pastor these days is apparently a little less than four years.  So is the church he pastors not quite among the preacher eaters, or is the average "fundagelical" church a preacher-eater?  Food for thought at least.  And here's a bit more from Rainer about the third year dilemma.

One thing I can be sure about with Jonathan's comment is that 20 boards will make things difficult.  I remember my first time as a deacon, one of the first things I did was to attend the "finance committee" meeting.  I came out of that meeting and instantly said to the head deacon "we have two deacon boards." To this day I'm not sure how he persuaded them to disband, but we lost none of them.

TylerR's picture

Every problem church has a different dynamic and different problems. My church had issues primarily because the beloved retired Pastor decided to stay to "keep an eye on things." He encouraged factions, encouraged criticism about me, interrupted sermons to accuse me of heresy and argue theological points, accused me of not actually immersing people in the baptistry, and made rounds to his cronies' homes to explain what I was doing "wrong" and why I was "destroying the church," and all sorts of other similar silliness. After being very patient, we had to go the church discipline route. It became clear the church would split down the line if we went further. We resigned.

I'm not bitter - I'm long past the stage where I feel sorry for myself. I'm just being matter of fact. The church could have made it if he had left immediately. That is the most heartbreaking thing about my former church. It could have worked - if he had just left us all alone.

Regardless, though - this is symptomatic of a larger issue. Follow Christ, not the Pastor. Follow Christ, not the stupid building. Follow Christ, not your stupid traditions. I knew a Pastor who resigned because the power faction at his church rebuked him for cleaning out a dusty supply closet, and throwing out Sunday School curriculum from the 1950s. They accused him of waste. They said the material "was still good." It was the last straw on a long road. He went back to the mission field.  

In this kind of situation, steer clear and don't even try it. Don't go. There are other churches. There are other Pastors. That particular church isn't worth it. Save yourself. Let it die.

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Mark_Smith's picture

TylerR wrote:

I knew a Pastor who resigned because the power faction at his church rebuked him for cleaning out a dusty supply closet, and throwing out Sunday School curriculum from the 1950s. They accused him of waste. They said the material "was still good." It was the last straw on a long road. He went back to the mission field.  

At this blog, the great SharperIron, I was called out for relating a story of a pastor who painted a bathroom a certain color, and the deacons complained because he didn't clear it with them. Now, I suppose the people who called me out would tell you that your friend should have gone to the appropriate committee to get permission to clean out the closet!

TylerR's picture

Whoever "called you out" on that comment was being foolish! Smile  

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

T Howard's picture

The cause is the former pastor(s). Every example of "pastor-eater" churches I know of got its "pastor-eating" start from poor pastoral leadership sometime in the past.

One church's founding pastor had to resign because of issues with his children. Before he resigned, he established a plurality of elder system to replace the founding pastor system, but chose as elders men who weren't qualified to be the elders. When the founding pastor stepped down, he recommended another man to become the pastor who didn't believe in the plurality of elders. As a result, he and the unqualified elders continually fought over the direction of the church. They finally fired him. Then, they hired an unqualified man to be the next pastor of the church, and the fun started all over again. The lay elders thought it was their responsibility to keep the paid elder in check.

Another church had to fire its senior pastor because of embezzlement. After that, the deacons took complete control of the church and kept all future pastors on a very tight leash. He wasn't allow to spend any money (on copy paper, etc) unless the deacons held a business meeting to discuss.

Another church had to fire its senior pastor because of immorality. After that, the church became suspicious of all its future pastors. It demanded they keep track of their hours and where they were at all times. The church basically micro-managed their pastor's time and his appointments.

Another church hired a new pastor after their former pastor retired. The new pastor immediately began making significant changes within the church. This resulted in resentment and resistance within the congregation, which eventually led to a church split (about 40% of the church left). The people who left started another church, which severely curtailed the role/authority of the pastor.

So, again, it seems to me that pastor-eater churches are the consequence of poor pastoral leadership.

G. N. Barkman's picture

This is a good thread, and much wisdom is displayed.  The only thing I would add, to reinforce what Jonathan said, is that change usually comes slowly.  If it is rushed, serious problems result.  When moving slowly, not all problems are eliminated, but the likelihood of success is much greater.  Most of us, pastors included, get in too much of a hurry and then become overly discouraged when things don't move quickly enough.  My advice?  Slow down.  Concentrate on a solid word-centered pulpit ministry and let God change people's hearts through His Word.  If it takes twenty years, so what?  We answer to God for our faithfulness to His Word, not for the visible "success" of the church.  People will evaluate by outward results, but not God.  We have to keep reminding ourselves that we are serving Him, and laboring for His approval, not that of people.  (This is much harder to do than to say, but it must be done.)  

​Also, we must resist peer pressure from other pastors, and bruised egos from pastoring a small church.  That's not our concern.  Preach the Word, and leave the results to the Lord.

G. N. Barkman

Bert Perry's picture

....it is worth noting that if we take the diaconate seriously, as well as the position of older widows, there is a place where a man has to delegate.  There is a balance between having 20 boards (with no real leadership) and having the pastor do everything from preaching to mowing the lawn and fixing the toilet.  

Really, if my spiritual gift is shown in plowing snow (a gift I will probably exercise on Friday), then one thing my pastor owes me is, really, the opportunity to plow the snow.  And there is also a position where one ought to go slower rather than faster.

A supply closet example; a former church of mine had decided to store paint and other supplies in the closet below the stairs--the same closet where the electrical panel was located.  Big fire hazard pointed out in every edition of the National Electrical Code since 1899.  But instead of just throwing stuff out, I went to the owners and asked them where they'd like it--explaining the NEC issue and how they wouldn't want to have firefighters fighting not just fire, but also 110V AC as well.  It got done pretty quickly.

Another example; after VBS, a former church was storing stuff in the attic--the room was basically full of old cardboard and such--and a deacon asked me what I thought of it.  While helping to store items, I answered "it's a fire hazard" and didn't think much of it, nor did I press the issue.  A couple of weeks later, when I came to mow the lawn (another spiritual gift of mine), I saw that deacon with his 28' trailer and a bunch of others helping to empty that attic.  They loved their old VBS decorations--they'd put a lot of work into them--but they realized that if the furnace ignited them, they'd lose a lot more than just decorations.

One can use the love of that building--though it can be idolatrous--to help people exercise their gifts.  I would suggest (along with others I think) that the job of the pastor is not as much to "get things done", but rather to make disciples.  Delegating helps this.

pvawter's picture

My dad shared some advice from an old friend when I first became a pastor. In the hollows of West Virginia he said they'd clear out farmland by cutting down trees. Most of the stumps they'd pull out, but the ones they could pull they would just plow around and wait for them to rot. He said that being a pastor sometimes required the same thing.

Larry Nelson's picture

 

A lot of the common themes & issues being mentioned that I'm seeing throughtout the comments in this thread are brought out in an article Tim Keller wrote a few years ago: 

http://seniorpastorcentral.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2016/04/Tim-Keller-Size-Dynamics.pdf

I am fascinated by the whole article (and I'd encourage reading it in its entirety), but it strikes me that Keller often gets to the heart of what I'm seeing and hearing in the comments of this thread. 

EXCERPTS:

"The smaller church by its nature gives immature, outspoken, opinionated, and broken members a
significant degree of power over the whole body. Since everyone knows everyone else, when members
of a family or small group express strong opposition to the direction set by the pastor and
leaders, their misery can hold the whole congregation hostage
. If they threaten to leave, the
majority of people will urge the leaders to desist in their project. It is extremely difficult to get
complete consensus about programs and direction in a group of 50–150 people, especially in today’s
diverse, fragmented society, and yet smaller churches have an unwritten rule that for any new
initiative to be implemented nearly everyone must be happy with it. Leaders of small churches must
be brave enough to lead and to confront immature members, in spite of the unpleasantness involved."

-----------------------------------

"The larger the church, the more it loses members because of changes. Why? Smaller churches seek at
all costs to avoid losing members. As a result, certain individuals and small groups often come to
exercise power disproportionate to their numbers.
If a change were made, someone invariably would
experience it as a loss, and since the smaller church has a great fear of conflict, it usually will
not institute a change that might result in lost members. Thus smaller churches tend to have a more
stable membership than large churches do."

-----------------------------------

In a "House Church" (of under 40 people): "Lay leaders are extremely powerful and they emerge relationally—they are not appointed or elected. They are usually the people who have been at the church the longest and have devoted the most time and money to the work."

-----------------------------------

In a "Small Church" (of 40 - 200 people): "And while there are now appointed and elected leaders, the informal leadership system remains extremely strong. There are several laypeople—regardless of their official status—who are “opinion leaders.” If they don’t approve of new measures the rest of the members will not support the changes."

Jonathan Charles's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

Most of us, pastors included, get in too much of a hurry and then become overly discouraged when things don't move quickly enough.  My advice?  Slow down. 

I think a problem often is that a pastor doesn't intend to stay at a church longer than 4-5 years, he wants to come in, make his mark quickly, change things, see some growth that will serve as a rung on which he can climb to his next church.  Now lets say you are in a smaller church that has had a few pastors in a row like, I'm sure you quickly get tired of that.  Yet, when a pastor leaves such a church he complains that the people were stuck in the past, apathetic, had no vision, wouldn't follow his leadership, etc.  I'm convinced from my own experience, having pastored the same church for 19 years, that if a pastor will stay long enough, he can bring about most legitimate change that he wants.  But if he tries too quickly, he will find that his relationship with the church sours, and eventually he leaves labeling the church a pastor-eater church.

TylerR's picture

Jonathan Charles wrote:

I'm convinced from my own experience, having pastored the same church for 19 years, that if a pastor will stay long enough, he can bring about most legitimate change that he wants.  But if he tries too quickly, he will find that his relationship with the church sours, and eventually he leaves labeling the church a pastor-eater church.

I think you're right - sometimes. Other times, the church just needs to die, and it deserves to die.  

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Mark_Smith's picture

Thanks for posting a link to the Keller article. It was interesting and useful.

Larry Nelson's picture

 

You've been very open on SI about the circumstances at your past church. 

Since you're publicly shared details of that situation, and since they would seem to parallel some of my highlighted excerpts from Keller's article (see my last post above), I'm going to direct this question to you:

Do you think that his observations have merit?

TylerR's picture

Not in my case. My case was extraordinarily bizarre. I was doomed the moment the former Pastor decided to stay. Of course, that's easy for me to say, and nobody here knows whether that's true, or not. I can tell you that I didn't go into that church as a fire-breathing, young Pastor on a crusade to "fix things." I wasn't a young kid, and I'd been in leadership positions before, in ministry and the military. I know you need to go slow, or risk destroying yourself.

I actually changed nothing. All services stayed the same. All service times stayed the same. Everything stayed the same. I added AWANA. I sent kids to the GARBC summer camp. That's it. Any 22-yr old Bible College grad who'd gone to that church would have been run over by a Mack truck - four times over. I changed . . . nothing. I tried to ditch an afternoon service for an evening service, spoke to all the church members about it individually, and even let them vote on it. It got turned down. No worries - I soldiered on.

What Jonathan said has a lot of merit, in certain circumstances. I think many Pastors go way too fast. I know a man who tried to turn his church Reformed, and quit in frustration after four very bad years.  

Every church is different, with different people, different issues, and different dynamics. My problem stemmed entirely from a bitter, angry retired Pastor who is likely unregenerate. He encouraged a power faction and effectively hijacked the church back, and installed himself back as Pastor when I resigned.   

It's difficult to get this across without sounding bitter, but let me assure everybody that I am being very honest here - some churches need to die. I'm past bitterness. Time has healed wounds, and all that good stuff. I'm real trying to be upfront and honest. Younger guys:

  • Don't do it. Run. Sprint. Flee.
  • Don't try and be a turn-around artist.
  • If there are faint alarm bells in your head, don't do it.
  • If the former Pastor wants to stay, no matter how nice he is, how Godly he is, how sweet he is, and how swell he is - don't take the church. DO. NOT. TAKE. THE. CHURCH. We all have pride - even the sweet retired Pastor. Satan will use that pride and seek to destroy the church, and perhaps even your wife and yourself.

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Jay's picture

You've been very open on SI about the circumstances at your past church. 

Since you're publicly shared details of that situation, and since they would seem to parallel some of my highlighted excerpts from Keller's article (see my last post above), I'm going to direct this question to you:

Do you think that his observations have merit?

I'll hop in here.  

I took a very small church (about 10-12 people) as an interim a few years ago.  Everything that Keller touched on in his article was true (at least from the excerpts that I have read here).  There was a tiny group of lay members that essentially ran the church and told the others what to do, and they tried to do that with me.  Some of it I could go with, and some of it I could not do and I explained why.  Conducting the business of the church became difficult very quickly.

I stayed for about seven months, and that was probably about three months too long; I resigned and left.  They later hired another minister - an Assemblies of God person, from what I remember - and the church has grown since and I think is somewhere around 80-100. 

I took the church because I knew there was no one else that was doctrinally grounded and I was available.  I would do it again in a heartbeat because they had been planning on bringing in a female PCUSA pastor before I was invited to help, but it did carry a significant cost and it was obvious very quickly that we were on different pages and maybe different books entirely.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Ron Bean's picture

I was preaching in a small church where the previous long-term pastor had remained after his retirement. In was a hot July morning and I asked if anyone minded if I removed my coat. EVERY EYE turned toward the retired pastor and he gave me his approval.

 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

TylerR's picture

You frighten me. It's like you have some sort of crystal ball, and are recounting actual experiences from my Pastorate. Stop it! Sad

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Bert Perry's picture

I'm not Tyler, but I've had to leave a couple of small churches, and in one case, it was clear that a small group of people were running things behind the scenes.  I had some objections to the use of a popular teacher employed by Moody, and it was interesting that the response was more or less "we like this and that's that."  No serious discussion of my objections to using this material was allowed.  

On the flip side, is that so much different from that teacher's church--Harvest Bible Chapel--and the pastor's claim that congregationalism is of the Devil, while he took a 50% vote on the elder board and gave the right boot of fellowship to elders who refused to sign off on the budget until they actually saw it?

Which is to say that Keller's point about the relational dynamics is well taken, but I don't think that small churches are necessarily more prone to small groups taking control.  Many people who have been at Harvest, or Mars Hill, or First Baptist of Hammond, or a host of other churches would note that while the identities of the ruling class are different, many churches of all sizes are plagued by this problem.

Big question in my mind, really, is how one overcomes the "leadership of men" to get the "leadership of God" to a reasonable degree.  This is a big part of what Tyler and others have noted about unregenerate members (and even leaders), and it also matters quite a bit whether the pastor sees himself as the authority, or as the steward.  

jreeseSr's picture

      When the Apostolic period ended and ushered in the Church age the Apostle called the elders together upon his departure and gave them authority and responsibility to "watch" with much diligence for those that would come from within to corrupt the church..There was more than ample opportunity to endorse "one"  position to take over the sole leadership position as an "under sheppard" or "God's Man"  role in the church...but it simply is not in the scriptures...yes I am aware of Paul's endorsement of Timothy to serve but never in some exclusive position , again nothing in that discourse condones the eradication of the plurality of leadership endorsed by the scripture and practiced by the early church for the first 100 -165 years.  We are told by early church historians that it became "expedient" for Rome to recognize one "Bishop" for each church as a matter of control..I believe Rome has been replaced by "Seminaries" or Fundamentalist schools for the same reason...Thus the terms "that is "John Smith's" church ... 

     We have turned "Priest hood" of the believer into the "Sheep hood" of the flock...When Jesus told Peter to feed his flock ...he did not mean "Peter's flock" !!  We have driven out every lay person with leadership gifts as "trouble makers" if they did not fall in line with the Pope..or even questioned a decision.  Then we wonder where are the "Men" in church ...We want them as long as the act as women..

    Yes there are secular men that rise to positions of leadership or influence in every congregation or pulpit withj personal agendas..Paul tells us such will rise,,and yes it would be much easier if the Church merely rolled over and accepted them as some sort of "vicker of Christ"  but brothers it is just not biblical... 

    Today most seminaries must not even teach common leadership principles to their graduates..and its no wonder the congregation eats them.. As a career military man I must say I have never seen such poor leadership skills exhibited by leaders in our fundamental churches and schools. But when you are indoctrinated that you are "God's Man"  for that church and you will is God's will... you are just not open for council .

    Just take a look around the landscape of fundamentalism over the last 3 decades of the men who were convinced of their "exclusive"  unction from God as the sole caretaker of his bride...and notice how they have fallen.. And gifted, called young men are being misled everyday into this false doctrine still,

 

Jim