When Ministers Lose Their Faith

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Following is excerpted from my recent Heretic’s Guide to the Bible, a weekly lectionary study. To read more, or to subscribe, CLICK HERE or on the banners above or below.

The pastors I know are some of the most burned out folks you’ll ever meet. They’re overworked, overtired, and it’s really no surprise to me that a significant number of them end up walking away from their calling to ministry in time, if not their faith all together.

One pastor that I know lasted only three years in his final ministerial position. In that time, he lost about forty pounds, along with his faith. When he resigned as pastor, he decided to move to Hawaii and start practicing reiki. Not that there’s anything wrong with this particular style of quasi-mystical massage, but it ain’t exactly downtown Christian church ministry.

Why is this? Aren’t our religious leaders supposed to be the ones who are faithful in spite of, well…everything? Aren’t they the ones who are supposed to help us through our hard times by leaning on their own faith and wisdom? But this is pretty much what is happening to the religious leader portrayed in Ecclesiastes. It wouldn’t surprise e to find out that, just past the end of this book, he took off for Hawaii to do reiki.

But ministers, like most everyone else, fall victim to the same kind of earthly traps as anyone else. They get preoccupied with making the budget, building an endowment, expanding the membership rolls, putting on the perfect worship service. But in the end, people come and go, they are born and die, they find faith and they lose it. Does it all really make a difference?

When Amy and I finally decided it was time to leave Pueblo, Colorado, where we plated and nurtured a new church to life for eight years, she was terrified by the prospect that it might wither and die in our absence.

And what if it does? I asked. Does that mean that the experience we had, the moments in which we felt so close to Got we could nearly taste it, were all for nothing? After all, if we measured Jesus’ ministry the way we measure most of ours, he was a total failure. There has to be more to life, it seems. And yet we’re so easily tempted back into the same old ways of thinking and acting, even in the church.

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About Christian Piatt

Christian Piatt is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

  • Cliff Cole

    Okay, you’ve stated the problem in broad strokes, now what are the nitty-gritty answers that may range from ‘don’t enter the ministry’ to here are my suggestions…go for it!

    • Christian Piatt

      pray more and skip board meetings :-)

      • Doug Amend

        Actually the board meetings aren’t so bad. It is the Stewardship and Finance Meetings that tear me down.

  • David Machon

    Emotionally destroyed at a board meeting in the fall and then in the spring and left ministry June 15.

    • Christian Piatt

      Case in point.

  • Lothat

    According to my experience, most pastors who lost their faith were former fundamentalists who grew disgusted by the violence in the Bible.

    Do you also know cases of progressive pastors who backslide?

    Lothar’s son – Lothars Sohn
    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/

  • Hanging on

    After founding a church, my marriage to the pastor foundered. The loss of fellowship with those 400 people broke my heart and nearly my faith. My ex husband said his faith was destroyed, but he has stayed on in ministry, retired in place. I seek a church where my knowledge and experience can be used to advance the kingdom, but many cannot bear my story. Our church died several years later, but I maintain the work of God done there is eternal. It is a work of faith to keep my faith, but the truth of Christ cannot be denied. My zest is gone. I am a somber person. Even without feeling the love, I keep the truth of the promises mine in spite of my failures. I say to those suffering as I have, when we are faithless, God is faithful. Thank God.

    • Lynne

      I’m so sorry for your experience. I was a worship leader who was asked to step down after my estranged husband came to my home and caused a ruckus in the street that involved two police cars, a fire truck and am ambulance. I got a restraining order that day, but apparently the “problem” was assumed to be my fault. We’re now divorced, he was appointed to a men’s ministry leader position and continues in the church, while I have been on my own, still seeking a church where I can trust again. Like you, my faith has been hanging in the balance for almost three years, and I have also come to the conclusion that the truth and love of Christ cannot be denied. I pray for you, as I pray for myself, that the zeal and joy and trust can somehow be reborn again as we continue to heal. Blessings to you.


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