Book Review: Ten Ways to Kill a Pastor

Ten Ways to Kill a PastorTEN WAYS TO KILL A PASTOR
By Reverend Christopher I. Thoma
102 pp. Grail Quest Books. Available from

Rev. Chris Thoma’s book, Ten Ways to Kill a Pastor, contains a series of bleak sketches that chronicle unspeakable cruelty in Christ’s own church. After the tenth vignette you’ll understand why so many churches have adopted corporate structures where the pastor is a CEO with a contract rather than a mere called and ordained shepherd.

The book is partially autobiographical, but amounts to a small repertoire of gruesome stories that most pastors are all too familiar with. Just one Winkel could likely produce 100 additional stories about the creative ways in which pastors and their families are tortured and maimed by their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

“Invisible” wives, scrutinized children, pathological parishioners, supercilious supervisors, greedy congregations, destitute parsonages, anonymous bomb throwers, punishing schedules, ungodly church leadership, thoughtless peers, and general dishonesty — it’s all in the book, which can be read in a couple of hours.

Sadly, the church militant is frontier territory with plenty of rough characters dishing out retribution whilst singing hymns and filling the offering plate. Many parishioners will surely recognize local versions of the stories, and perhaps even find themselves in them. Unless, however, you are, or have been a pastor / pastor’s family, it is impossible to fully empathize with the victims.

Pastors and their families occupy a no-man’s land in their calls. The pastor is supposed to be focused on stewarding the mysteries of God so that poor, miserable sinners might be sure of victory over sin, death, and the Devil. What really happens is that we demand men who are expert theologians, academics, administrators, logisticians, friends, confidantes, counsellors, confessors, trouble-shooters, psychologists, law-givers, disciplinarians, entertainers, peace-makers, politicians, dispute resolvers, and many dozens more roles and vocations.

Since the pastor is always preparing you for death, you can never be his BFF, no matter how congenial he is. The office is simply unapproachable at a certain point unless you are a fellow pastor. So it is an office also burdened with a measure of loneliness. When you pile all the other stresses onto it, it is clearly only by God’s grace that any of these faithful men survive to retire in the pulpit.

Pr. Thoma notes that he was never prepared for the “trial, strife, discord, anger, venom, and yes, even violence,” during his Seminary training. Fortunately, there are organizations like Doxology, which provide spiritual care and counsel to pastors and their families.

Since your pastor can’t always be on retreat, your first duty is to not be a twit. Treat him with the dignity and respect he deserves because of the Office he occupies. Hold him in awe because he stands in the stead and by the command of Christ, able to grant and withhold forgiveness. Take time to understand his family’s welfare and happiness, and treat them with special consideration. Why? Because they often feel like orphans to the late night phone calls, unnecessarily long meetings, counseling sessions benefitting strangers, weddings, funerals, Synod bureaucracy, isolation from friends and family, and many more stresses.

More than anything, make sure that your pastor also gets to regularly hear the Gospel for himself. Help his wife and children to hear the Gospel, and not just the words of a husband and father on just another day of the week.

Note: the author is an owner of


Book Review: Ten Ways to Kill a Pastor — 22 Comments

  1. I am sorry for all that pastor’s go through. I know from my own experience their are issues in churches but I believe that their are many good laypeople who care for their pastor. I hope this book includes those stories as well.

  2. When Pastors are badly treated, it isn’t only the Pastor and family who suffer from the dysfunctional congregation. Anyone who isn’t an “insider” is ‘surplus’, too.

    That is not meant to argue against the thesis at all (although I haven’t read the book). My son was an LCMS Pastor and at 44 years, he was dead of an apparent heart attack.

  3. “Hold him in awe….”

    I cannot imagine my own pastor desiring this, and I truly believe that I can be more helpful if I do not put him on a pedestal. I think it far better to hold in awe the God who entrusts with such spiritual responsibility flawed and frail men like myself.

    Paul and Barnabas “tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, ‘Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news….'” Acts 14:14-15

  4. Carl –

    No one but you mentioned “pedestal.”

    In Acts 14 the pericope you cite, who was it Paul and Barnabas were addressing? The paqan priest of Zeus, and his followers who were calling Paul “Zeus” and and Barnabas “Hermes” – trying even after Paul and Barnabas said what they said, to offer gifts to them as if they were incarnate dieties/gods.. Paul and Barnabas were not then addressing the Pastoral office, but heresy and false worship.

    Quite in another context and tone (again, no pedestal), the same Paul in the Pastoral Epistles – I Timothy 5:17-18 – speaking of Pastors using the term “Elders” (not meaning anything near the way we use the term today), wrote the following:

    “17Elders who lead effectively are worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. 18For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and, “The worker is worthy of his wages…”

    Carl – a good measure of that practiced by flocks (without pedestals, mind you) would go a long way toward alleviating many of the issues about which Pastor Thoma writes, before they happen.

    We are all priests, to be sure, but only a select few are called by Christ through the Holy Spirit, to be Pastors. Paul is saying bluntly – “Treat them as such.”

    + + +

    Helen – I did not know that. My sincerest condolences, and rest assured, your son is now enjoying the fruits of his labor.



  5. @jb #4

    Thank you, jb. I do know that.
    [It’s not something I usually mention on line.
    I only wanted the author to know I understood him.]

    God bless you!

  6. True statement: “The church is the only army that shoots the wounded”. Besides Doxology, Shepherd’s Canyon Retreat provides week-long counseling retreats for men and women in full-time ministry who are in various stages of burnout, stress, depression, compassion fatigue, and conflicts of all kinds”. Our October 18-25 retreat, # 58, has an opening for a couple or an individual. Upcoming retreats are listed on our SCR website. Each retreat is led by two licensed Christian (Lutheran) counselors and our retreat chaplain. Retreats are held at Standing Stones Retreat Center, Wickenburg, Arizona

  7. @Carl H #3 This is why we learn to read and comprehend whole sentences. Go back to that sentence, and read on from “because”…

    Thank you, Helen and JB.

  8. @helen #5

    Helen, thank you for sharing such a personal and painful part of your life with those of us who may not understand the pain accompanying the Office. God grant you His peace and comfort in your loss.

    I am also so very sorry for those still suffering for the sake of the Church. Please know that there are among the sheep those who hold you in highest regard.

    Having gone through some very difficult years with an erring child who was caught up in modern psychological therapy, I also warn pastors to beware of looking for healing and restoration outside of the means of grace. Having said this, I still believe the Doxology retreat can be a wonderful place for renewal in the ministry to which you have been called.

  9. @LadyL #8

    I am also so very sorry for those still suffering for the sake of the Church. Please know that there are among the sheep those who hold you in highest regard.

    In a long and nomadic life, I have twice been the “member who didn’t really ‘belong’ here” in congregations which removed a pastor for no Lutheran (or any other good) reason. Having privately/publicly objected to that behavior, I was no longer welcome (and wouldn’t have stayed if I was).

    If you knew two dozen confessional pastors in the first decade of this century, you probably knew more than one or two with a story to tell. [For now, I’ll read Pr. Thoma’s version.]

    Thank you for bringing it to our attention, Tim Wood!

  10. I have not read the book, but I wonder if there are pastors out there on this list who might offer some insights as to how they manage to stay “above the water” and not drown from any of the “10 Ways”? It seems to me that one possibility may be to actually use the Keys and not just one of them, if you get my point.

  11. I don’t think it is helpful to generalize for the entire Synod the negative experiences of some pastors. It is the old adage about no one ever reporting the planes that don’t crash. I just celebrated the 30th anniversary of my ordination, and I do realize what a great blessing from the Lord it is that I have never endured such a situation as described in this book. I have known some men, classmates or neighboring pastors, who have had negative experiences. But they are vastly outnumbered by the pastors who experience great blessings and joy in the ministry. But they are vastly outnumbered by the pastors who experience great blessings and joy in the ministry. And we must also admit sometimes pastors bring such problems upon themselves. I was wisely advised by my Greek professor in college, “Boys, when you get to a new church don’t change anything for a year. Even if your study is painted pink with purple polka dots, don’t change it.” I think many pastors do not realize how much is changed simply by their very presence as the new pastor. Intentionally adding unnecessary changes on top of that is the cause for many of these difficulties. I have found that after a year or two things which at first seemed something I would change immediately — not talking about doctrinal issues but adiaphora — actually made sense or no longer seemed so important. I do think a new pastor can make one or two such major changes, but he needs to choose carefully what they are, what he feels it important to expend that honeymoon capital on. Again not talking about doctrinal issues, pastors need to learn the wisdom of choosing “what hill to die on.”

  12. @Rev. Kevin Vogts #11

    not talking about doctrinal issues but adiaphora

    I would add to this fine opinion, that even if an issue is doctrinally based, extra care must be taken – especially if it involves a long-standing practice in the congregation. Too often, new pastors are quick to jump in and seek to correct error, thinking that is what they are called to do. But, they do so without earning the trust of the congregation or teaching on the basis of the change they are proposing. Additionally, some pastors exhibit the characteristics of low ’emotional intelligence,’ coming off to congregational members as aloof or intellectuals – indifferent to their feelings. My professors said the same thing to me, and while I have not been spared from suffering difficulties in my 36 year stint, I have learned the value of those words – the hard way!

  13. @RevJimO #12 Ignoring doctrinal issues for the sake of first earning the trust of the congregation would be a dereliction, Pastor. If the parish is in the grip of a Satanic delusion, your job is to immediately go to war, not stand by and hope that not too many people go to hell until you feel you’ve made a connection.

  14. @Rev. Kevin Vogts #11 Pastor Thoma has not generalized for the Synod. He has provided 10 vignettes of the crushing of pastors and their families. Nor has he said negative experiences are the norm for all pastors.

  15. @helen #5
    Dear Helen,
    And may the Lord Bless you and Keep you, may the Lord look upon you with His favor, and may the Lord provide you with consolation and abundant hope in the glorious bodily resurrection of all the faithful that have gone before. I offer you these words over your loss mentioned.
    Pastor Prentice

  16. @Tim Wood #13

    Ignoring doctrinal issues

    Tim, I’m not advocating that anyone should “ignore” doctrinal issues. Ignoring and building trust are two different things, in my view. I’m advocating for the idea that not jumping in immediately and beginning to correct errors – without carefully discerning what is going on – is a mistake that many new and eager pastors make. I suspect that each pastor would have to discern what “Satanic delusion” consists of, as well. All I’m saying is the pastor would do well to “go to war” thoughtfully, perhaps building a cohesive, spiritually-driven army first.

  17. Certainly some pastors have been truly mistreated. But in all fairness, perhaps there should be a companion volume for pastors, too:

    How to Look Like a Martyr: The Art of Convincing Others (and Yourself) that You Are Doing Nothing that Might be Contributing Unnecessarily to Your Difficulties with People

    Or something like that.

  18. Carl H, I think the companion volume should be How to Kill a Congregation. I know many pastors who have been destroyed by congregations, yet I also know of many congregations whose Pastors were hirelings and not shepherds and who abused their flocks.

  19. Steve; Carl –

    Sadly, this is always how any attempt to address the issue of pastoral abuse by congregations turns sour.

    Tim wrote of Pr. Thoma’s book and a very specific subject. Carl immediately jumped in with his obvious ant-clericalism. You now have put yourself out front, and not by clarifying a thing about the book, which was not written to go where you are trying to take this thread. I couldn’t be more specific.

    Besides – I sincerely doubt your “many” is anything more than a few; but to paint with such a large swath of your opinionated brush represents much of the mentality that has led to the instances to which Pr. Thoma Kloha lists in his book – specific instances under the one heading.

    The book, and Tim Wood’s words, are not addressing what you and Carl are, and with which you are, as always and a day happens on this very subject, attempting to derail and neutralize the book and Wood’s words.

    That simply doesn’t wash. If it says anything, it says you and Carl needed to get busy – you have a duty now – to combine your thoughts and the “many” congregations you know of, and write your own book about that. Writing here and trying to wrench Thoma’s and Wood’s words completely out of context is both improper and inappropriate, and your efforts do not serve to foster genuine conversation about the very topic at hand.

    I would encourage both of you men to cease commenting in light of your attempts of “re-direction” of the topic into another altogether, and concentrate your efforts to exposing the problem the two of you have with your “own issue.” Do so on your own nickel or band-with, unless you two pen a particularly engaging piece – well, then – even Norm can be persuaded to publish a well-written and well-reasoned piece.

    What I am saying is not at all unreasonable. The book and Wood’s article’s are not about what you and Carl are saying, and thus, and have no part in this discussion.

    Stick to the topic at hand. If you wish to make your thoughts known on another topic, do so in your own column, or set up you own site and tell us of the many instances regarding your subject matter. You would certainly find an audience.

    Pax – jb

  20. I’ve often felt in a bit of a conundrum this; on one hand, I hesitate to seek my Pastor’s counsel for fear of taking up his valuable time, like the article seems to say. On the other hand, I have heard other pastors say that they wish their parishioners would seek them out more.

  21. Becca –

    No pastor would ever consider a member seeking his counsel as “taking up his valuable time.” On the contrary – your seeking out our counsel is one of our sacred responsibilities to respond to, every bit as much as proper preaching and administration of the Sacraments. You give great honor to Our Lord Christ when you do so!

    Peace – jb

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