One Thing Pastors Have Never Learned

June 3, 2011

I learned a lot in seminary.

It’s a good thing too, because it cost a lot of money.  Chances are, your pastor paid a lot of money to go to seminary too.

During that time, I learned how to read the Bible.  I learned how to perform weddings and baptisms.  I learned how to protect my church from scam artists.  I learned how to counsel couples, singles, and addicts.  I learned how to B.S. a research paper whose topic I found trite and useless and still earn an “A.”  I learned how to serve communion, give a three point sermon, deal with conflict, and visit a sick person in the hospital.

All in all, I learned a lot about how to be a good pastor.

But there was one thing I did not learn.  Not after three years, ninety credit hours, and thousands of dollars, the one thing that would make being a pastor a complete cakewalk…

The one thing I didn’t learn

…I never learned how to go to church and force people to have a deep spiritual experience.

There were no lectures or class notes on how to call down God from heaven and make him change your life.

I have still not figured out how to make God strike your brain with lightning and give you a life altering epiphany.

At best, I can try to scare you, or attempt to make you feel emotional or sentimental for a few moments.  But I can’t do anything beyond that.

Seminary seems like kind of a ripoff when you think about it that way.

You Can’t Make Me!

Things would sure be tidier if running a church was less like herding cats.  But your teachers could never make you learn, could they?  No, they could make you do the work, but if you were bound and determined to remain an ignorant little cuss, that was your choice.  And your parents could never make you like vegetables.  You’d have to eat them, but you didn’t have to like them.  And your coaches could never impart talent to you, right?  I found that out through many years of P.E. classes.  I learned on probably Day Two of my marriage that I couldn’t make my wife do one thing I wanted.  Despite everyone trying to control you from the day you were born, most everything about who you are has been completely up to you.

The Most Important Part

Maybe your pastor can actually call down fire from heaven or heal people or walk on water.  He’s probably spending the next twenty-four hours preparing his message and coordinating with the worship leaders and making sure everything is just right…

…But he can’t make you care one ounce about any of it.  He can’t make you believe what he says, or do what he says you ought to.

The most important part of worship, more important than the singing, the preaching, the money, the communion, the coffee, the side-hugs, is the one thing the pastor can’t influence or control.  Only you and God can change your life.  Maybe we’d solve some problems in our lives just by believing that church can’t change our lives.  Plenty of churches want you to think they will change your life.  They are lying.  Churches can change your schedule, and that’s about all.

You’ve probably told someone you can’t do something for them: a child, a spouse, a co-worker.  Someone wanted you to do something that they just had to do themselves.  So, fun Friday game: complete this sentence that you’ve said to someone: “I can’t _____________ for you.”

39 responses to One Thing Pastors Have Never Learned

  1. “I can’t _____have faith________ for you.”

  2. I can’t __waste my life___ for you”

  3. I can’t help you. (If you don’t want help.) Even Jesus asked some of those he healed what they wanted. Others he told them what to do to receive healing. (IE: John 9) There is no formula but obedience to what Jesus says.

    More importantly, I don’ think pastoring is all about training; without a call it can’t happen. If going to church is the same as going to Walmart, something has got to be missing!

    Thanks for the emphasis on us relating to God, not following (or not following a pastor). :)
    David recently posted..5 1-2 What I Wish I Knew All Those Years Ago

  4. I can’t __make excuses__ for you.
    Sarahbeth recently posted..Memorable Memorial Day

  5. I can’t Kick that freaking loser of a boyfriend of yours in the face for you! …. or could I?….
    Arny recently posted..If My 3 Year Old Son Had a Facebook

  6. I can’t ___want to change for you___ you have you change your own life.
    Darrell recently posted..Stewarding Ideas

  7. SO glad my pastor can’t call down fire from heaven. That little incident with the remote-controlled fart machine would have been the end of me for sure!

    Seriously, this is a great, great article. As a small group leader, I often try to force people to spiritual heights by the sheer force of my will. So far … uh, not so much.


    • That’s a battle you cannot win! You have to stop trying to own everyone else’s stuff, and just take care of what you’re supposed to take care of. If more pastors realized that, they’d be a lot happier.

      • You are so right Matt, you cannot own everyone else’s stuff. One thing I have learned as an Intercessor is I must not hold it for it must to directly to God. Otherwise I start to think I’m the one doing it. Big No-No. Hey, Mike who responded under my FIRST response? He’s a good guy, make him join up.

  8. Matt, you should write a followup about how it’s good to say “I can’t _____ for you”

    Because I’ve also noticed most pastors and many people have a hard time saying no. I clicked the link thinking “this will be about not doing everything, not burning out.” I was pleasantly surprised.

    As a pastor though there are times where I so badly want to do somethings for people. I want to fix their marriage, I want to make them understand.

    PS – I cheered outloud when I read “Churches can change your schedule, and that’s about all.”

    Great stuff.
    SethC recently posted..Encourager

  9. I can’t get over your addiction for you.

  10. Paul Sundberg June 3, 2011 at 9:38 am

    Matt this was one of your best I loved It. I used to get so frustrated trying to do just that from the pulpit. Then I just decided, recently actually, that I was going to do something whether anyone else did or not. I wonder if God will actually use a person who has the only ability he actually requires, availability
    Paul from Saudi Arabia, We sat next to each other on a plane from Pittsburgh to Atlanta about 8 months ago, remember?

  11. I can’t ___play your internal church politics__ for you.
    Jason recently posted..Day 153- Seeing the step forward

  12. I can’t___Grow up!_____for you.

    I’m so glad I never became a pastor…it’s like somewhere along the line people forgot how to think for themselves…..
    Jenn recently posted..These are my thoughts on The Practice of Love the book

  13. I can’t make you hear from God.

    Although I can shut up and not try and drown His voice out.
    tandemingtroll recently posted..Oh yeah! The Boy can Play!

  14. I used to be a teacher.

    I can’t pay attention for you.
    I can’t do your assignment for you.
    Helen recently posted..Perspective

  15. I’ve a friend who knows my husband and i very much want to be parents. But i also am disabled and not able to care for children. Our path lies along another path. My reality does not encompass the desires of my heart.

    Yet i have a friend who has twice now called me, telling me of babies she knows of for adoption. I’ve asked her not to. Each time i grieve anew.

    She cannot give me health! She cannot (as she said most recently) “make me a mama.”

    And, I ________ cannot ________ make her ___________ hear me!

    Kathryn recently posted..Title

  16. “churches can change your schedule, not your life.”

    Wow. I have never thought of that before. I think you may be on to something there. So maybe churches should focus more on having people and structures in place to help the people who want to change their lives actually do it.

  17. I can’t run your relationship for you.
    Charlie Chang recently posted..294 Blacktop patience

  18. I can’t _make good decisions_ for you.

    I can’t_keep trying to prevent your mistakes_ for you.

    I can’t__be a Savior__for you. (only Jesus can)

    I can’t__enable your bad choices__for you.

    I can’t__fill your emptiness__for you.
    Carla recently posted..Piss off! Ive got this Putting the DIS in Disciple

  19. “I can’t learn Koine greek for you!!” Actually that was what my Greek professor said to me…..often….when I was in Seminary.

  20. Being a youth pastor, I think I say, “I can’t raise your child for you,” is my most commonly used phrase, and I’ve had to tell the same parents at least three times.
    Jeff recently posted..dancing in the outfield

  21. I have faced this a bit in ministry, but I have faced it constantly with my kids. I have a 25 year old son to whom I have said repeatedly, “I cannot fix this for you.” Ugh!
    Joani Wilson recently posted..Graduation Memories

  22. I can’t force circumstances to fit your agenda.
    I can’t make you willing, make you think, make you care.
    I can’t change your mood or make your judgements fair.

    This is a good thing to understand in marriage, that’s for sure.
    Karenee recently posted..Misty Light

  23. I can’t REPENT for you.
    Anna recently posted..A Powerful Love Story

  24. I can’t___save your marriage___for you.

  25. I think it’s probably better that people DON’T have deep emotional experiences in church.

    Well, if they have them (I have had them), then ok. But that ought not be the aim of church.

    A good church should show people how sinful they really are. Announce the forgiveness of people’s sins. And distribute the Sacrament (Holy Communion). If people get emotional about that…or not…that’s ok. But God’s promises are being put forth. and that is all that matters. The Spirit will do with that, what He will do.
    Steve Martin recently posted..Here’s a way- designed by God- to get us off of the spiritual ladder climbing project

  26. I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to get “you can’t make people do or feel things!” through to one friend in crisis- how can I phrase the meta-I can’t make you ______?

    Personally, I think things would be a lot easier if I could even call down the epiphanies for MYSELF on command, let alone for anyone else! But nope, bolts of lightning are all on God’s schedule, and it’s up to us to just sit under a flagpole in a field until he decides to call up a storm. Faith and patience, all we have to cling to sometimes.
    Layne recently posted..trust30 Day 10- Your Personal Message

  27. That’s the difference between being in a cult and a real Christian church.

    I can’t fight your battles for you

  28. My pastor teaches a sermon on the people you can not help. It’s depressing and liberating at the same time. If God can’t make them do what He wants than how can I? It has to be walked out daily. There are days I fall into the trap of feeling like if I only did this, or said this that I could make a person see…I’m so glad that its the Holy Spirit’s job to draw all men to Himself, and not mine! :)

  29. I can’t __take a Sabbath__ for you.

    Ironically, a lot of pastors never learned how to actually take a full day of Sabbath rest. I think that’s why a lot of burnout happens. Got too much to do, too many people to visit, and after all I’m doing God’s work — why should I rest when God never does? Oh, wait…. :-)

    I suspected that might be the topic of this post when I read the title, but the actual topic is very good too, and something we all need to keep in mind (laypeople too).

  30. So far … uh, not so much. But nope, bolts of lightning are all on God’s schedule, and it’s up to us to just sit under a flagpole in a field until he decides to call up a storm. There are days I fall into the trap of feeling like if I only did this, or said this that I could make a person see…I’m so glad that its the Holy Spirit’s job to draw all men to Himself, and not mine!