The Email that Enraged Me and Why I Blame the Church

I received an email this week from a man stating that he and his wife were in need of some counseling and advice. He went on to say, however, that they were having trouble “gaining access to the leaders” at their own church and would I be able to direct them to some other resources.

My stomach dropped. I re-read the sentence 3 times for fear that I had read it incorrectly.

Trouble gaining access? How can this be? How is this happening within the church?

There is no door marked “leaders only.” There is no secret club of the “qualified,” no spiritual speakeasy.

The anger I felt while reading this email was palpable. Yet, I believe it angers the Lord even more to know that His people are daily made to feel that they have no power, authority, or place in the Body. To know that the people of God are made to feel ineffective, useless, and weak by other members of the Body.

There’s the rub and it is tragic.

And it is this convuluted warped thinking that enrages me almost more than anything within the church–the twisted lies we believe (often because of those in leadership) that tell us we cannot serve, cannot give, cannot impact the Kingdom, because we don’t wear the title of “leader,” or “pastor,” or carry a degree from the nearby seminary.

I’ve written this before, but I feel compelled to write it again:

You don’t need a degree or a certificate. You don’t need 3 years of off-site training or a letter from your pastor. You don’t need to attend seminars or conferences, write a book, or run a ministry.

You have everything you need.

His name is the Holy Spirit.

And it is Him, not man, that makes you approved, called, qualified, chosen, ready, equipped, sent, and full of power.

So, if you woke up today feeling powerless or desperately wanting to be used by God, know that you have everything you need. Ask of your Father. Forget what “they” have told you is or isn’t possible. The Creator of the Universe lives in you. He calls you home.

If you truly believe this, you cannot fear man. You can only set forth to please God.


Disclaimer: No, I do not know every detail abou this couple or their church. I do not know their pastor or the specifics regarding their need for counseling. Yes, I admit that there are two sides to every story and in no way am I trying to bad mouth a specific church. All that to say, this particular email struck a nerve with me and led me to write this post. 

26 thoughts on “The Email that Enraged Me and Why I Blame the Church”

  1. “You don’t need a degree or a certificate. You don’t need 3 years of off-site training or a letter from your pastor. You don’t need to attend seminars or conferences, write a book, or run a ministry.”
    Unhappily and unfortunately, a person does need one or more of these items in the current corporate church system. Fit the mold and be included or not and serve on the outside borders. Jesus was as enraged over the “changes” to his church as you are. He refused to fit their mold and they killed him.

  2. I tried calling my local church a few weeks ago to speak to our pastor, and I got an answering machine (or system); I redialed the number again because I thought I had the wrong number. The person on the recording was some woman named Carolyn, she said to leave your name and number and she’d get back with you…and she didn’t say the name of our church or anything! I realize that someone can’t be available 24/7 to speak with people on a personal level, but how about deacons on call or something like that? Plus, while we are on the subject, there are ENTIRELY too many people on the paid staff at churches. It seems to be the “in” thing, to work at a church and sit in an office all week. It’s sad…and wrong.

  3. This really makes me sad. You are right on the money, anyone who believes in Christ carries the power of his Holy Spirit and is as qualified as any “leader” to minister. That being said in a traditional church setting leadership should never be untouchable but there to support and guide people whether its through them personally or many other people in the body that are plenty capable or sometimes more than the “pastor” would be.

  4. YES !


    I think there is pressure to perform and employers do tend to look for “tickets”, but the most effective people are the ones who get on and do the job.

    I love this blog. Thank you.

  5. I fully agree with this in principle, but I don’t know the specifics in question, so that leaves me kinda iffy.

    Surely we can agree that there is a lot of bad advice out there. I don’t need someone with a specific title before I extend trust, but I do need someone with some experience, some insight and demonstrated character. I am absolutely not in favour of artificially restricting people and their gifting, but I do believe that one way God works is through training, education and qualifications. At the very least, this is one way that we demonstrate our own commitment to the callings we feel in our lives.

    I’m afraid that posts like this fuel resentment in youth who already feel marginalised for their lack of experience (I very clearly remember being 19!), without acknowledging that soliciting and taking advice from the inexperienced can be profoundly dangerous.

  6. My family and I are presently living out this truth. No degree, no fund-raising, no idea what we are doing, but God said follow me, so here we are (in India). It was a challenge to discern God’s voice over the advice of well-meaning friends but we learned to take everything, present it to Him and then trust that He was leading us in the way we should go. I’m learning so much about my Lord, His love, His grace, and His bride that it’s overwhelming at times. The reality of the Kingdom of God is so different from the fairy tale I was told growing up. Different but far richer, deeper and satisfying. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Whew! That’s a relief because that’s all we have to offer, and even that was given by Him.

  7. This is one of the reasons I started avoiding mega or semi- mega churches. With so many people, fellowship tends to be incredibly broken, so accountability fails. I love the church I’m part of now… it’s small (like 50 people), so that alone pretty much forces everyone to get to know each other. After every Sunday service, we all go out to eat lunch together as a way to fellowship, because church isn’t always the most comfortable place to really get to know a person. I’ve only been there for a few months, and I love these people. They are TRULY my brothers and sisters in Christ, and wish everyone else could feel that kind of thing! It’s REAL.

  8. I read, but comment very seldom. That breaks my heart, but I fear that in so many megachurches that’s they way it is. It may not even have to be a megachurch. I’m so glad that, like last night, I could go to church, eat a meal with my church family, and visit with my pastor and other members of our local gathering. When that ceases to be the norm, then we have a problem.

  9. Nicole, it makes sense that you are frustrated, but allow me to perhaps give you another perspective. I am a pastor. I am a full time employee of a church. I do have a seminary degree. So I suppose I am part of what is wrong with the church.

    But allow me to say that there are forces at work here that you may not think about. I pastor a church of maybe 200. Not a big church at all, and I know the whole congregation. They have my cell number. My Facebook. My email. My Twitter. And most churches I know are the same. 90% of churches in America have attendance under 150 (ours is right on that line), and this is not an issue. The pastor’s door is open. His phone is available. He answers his email. It is only a select few who don’t.

    I also have a friend who is a megachurch pastor. His church is many thousands. The pastoral needs are immense, and having him even answer all of his email is daunting. (I think he gets about 500 a week) So his assistant does a lot of that while passing him important correspondence. And his church tries hard to shepherd everyone there and be accessible. But they have to set their boundaries as well.

    So to this person’s email: they may have a poorly shepherded church. It’s certainly possible. Or to them, “accessing the leadership” may mean that they have to have counseling with the senior pastor, which he can’t do. (I’m in a small church and can do very little…I’m not qualified to help in a lot of situations) Sometimes they have personality disorders that the church eventually says enough and tells them to go get professional help, and so they cast about looking for someone else to bring into their disordered behavior. Without knowing the whole situation, of course, I can’t say, but don’t immediately think that the church (or the Church) must be at fault.

    Just my $0.02.

    1. I’m glad you responded, John. I don’t work in a church, but had the same thoughts. Perhaps this person is in a huge church or is one of those people who can never get enough, no matter how much is given to him. Then again, we don’t know the specifics. I understand your frustration, though, Nicole. We should never give anyone the idea that the pastors are above the congregation. In a good church, that doesn’t happen at all and humility is expressed over and over from the pulpit. But unfortunately, not all churches are that way.

    2. John,
      Your points are well-taken. However, as I have moved away from the traditional church setting and am now a part of an organic church, these types of situations become especially difficult for me to empathize with.

      I personally do not believe in the hierarchical form of leadership that exists within the church. This structure is what leaves many in the Body left feeling like they are less than because they are not on staff, are not an associate pastor, or are not “leaders.”

      I understand the plight of both small and mega-churches (and the millions in between) to shepherd their flock well. I simply come from a place now, where I understand shepherding one’s flock to look very different than what is practiced at most Sunday churches.

      If you’re interested, here is an eye-opening, Biblically grounded piece from Frank Viola called “The Myth of Christian Leadership.”

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments, John and your work in the Kingdom. Blessings.

  10. Your story reminds me of an era told by old-time pastors when there was little or no need for them to be “counselors.” It was an era when people spent more time in prayer at home and more time in prayer at the alter in their evangelical churches. In that era, people did not need counseling as we think of it now because the Great Counselor was their guide and prayer changed things.

    People have gotten too busy for prayer and too many church leaders have gone “professional,” relying on something other than the Holy Spirit and prayer. Both the people and the leaders would do well to return to a “fundamental” reliance upon prayer in the way Jesus taught: that we should always pray and not lose heart. (Luke 18:1)

  11. Oh thank you. At my last church if you wanted to serve you had to fill out all these papers and then if you were able to serve the judged and judged!! Pointed fingers, I was scared to death the help out in our youth with a new church, afraid of being judged but our new church isn’t like that they embrace you and love you were you are!! It is hard to let go of those “we are holier than Jesus leaders” so hard, thank you for writing and sharing

  12. Amen to that.

    On a slightly different angle, why is this guy having trouble accessing his so called “leaders?” When Moses tried to solve everyone’s problems, Israel was so big that the job wore him out (and probably left people grumbling that they had trouble getting access to Moses.) There is just no reason for it. Either the church has outstripped the “leadership’s” ability to lead, or they are purposefully making themselves unavailable.

  13. I’m one of those with no title, no office, no degree, no seminary…but the Holy Spirit has me in a place of shepherding His flock…the previous “leaders” walked away when their favored choice was not elected as pastor; I was going with them until the Lord stopped me, and reminded me that I am to follow HIM, not them! Thanks for the encouraging words, Nicole – there are many who would tell me to “go sit down and let the real leaders handle things”, but who are these “real leaders”, if not the ones called by God?

  14. Well… I see what you are getting at here and, in large part, I agree. However, there are two things I would like to address.

    1. It doesn’t seem like you have a complete grasp of what may be happening in the church at that moment that is making it hard for this couple to gain access to the leadership. So it might not be wise to throw stones yet.

    2. While I agree 1000% that the church should be unleashed to do the work of the ministry, it wouldn’t be wise to allow just anyone to do something as sensitive and fragile as marital counseling. While all Christians have the Holy Spirit, not all have the same gifts. The wrong person could give really bad advice and not understand the need for privacy. Although it really sucks, there is also the legal issue that if this couple should divorce, a lay person may be forced to testify in court when a pastor/counselor would not. The appropriate gifts should be developed, and the people should be equipped and unleashed to do the work of the ministry.

  15. This post is a good opportunity for good conversation and growth, so thanks for that! I think that personal and professional study of the Word are great and necessary and good for us because we learn so much from those who are able to dedicate so much time to study. However, I don’t think you necessarily need those things to start pastoral leadership, but eventually, some kind of formal or informal intense study of the Word is good. As far as any capacities of ministry (lay person, paid pastor, “tent-making” leadership, etc.) you are absolutely right. We have the Holy Spirit. Besides, God has given us “everything we need for life and godliness.” I enjoyed this post. Thank you for your encouragement there at the end in spite of a situation that seems frustrating.
    Also, right on John! I appreciated your insight into the pastoral role and boundaries that need to be set in churches.

  16. Found you via another writer from Prodigal Magazine. Liked what you had to say regarding the minister “hierarchy”. Want to read more about what you have to say. Thanks for your honesty.

  17. Hi Nicole, I feel your frustration but remember that St. John 10:11-14 NKJV says ”I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.” Many people are just ”hirelings” meaning they lead because they get paid to do it, but when the people need them they are turn their backs. I don’t have that problem, my Pastor gives out his home and cell numbers, it’s up to is to know he’s human and he can’t do everything. Sometimes we should call on Jesus, this is why a intimate relationship with Jesus is very important. My church is a sem mega church and it’s not perfect, I can reach my Pastor on his cell phone anytime I want to, but Jesus is always my first choice because He is my first love :-) ..

    God bless

  18. First, I have seen this happen before. In fact, we left a church a while back because the leadership offered NOTHING in way of support to the body outside of putting on a weekly service. No counseling, no pastoral care, no visiting the sick. They had a group of people working very hard to fill the gap through small groups, prayer ministry, etc. But the leadership was so wary of this group of untrained people (who they didn’t know personally, of course) that even getting an announcement into the bulletin was a chore. Unfortunately, I think there are a lot of churches where the leadership see their jobs as overseeing staff, doing service, handling money, hob-nobbing with other community leaders and pretty much nothing else.

    Secondly, this:
    “You don’t need a degree or a certificate. You don’t need 3 years of off-site training or a letter from your pastor. You don’t need to attend seminars or conferences, write a book, or run a ministry.”
    I’m sure these weren’t words for me alone, but I think God definitely wanted me to read them just this moment. Thank you.

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