Six Main Traits of Preacher Eater Churches


Preacher eater churches?

I had never heard the term until I became a pastor.

While I was serving as a pastor at a church, a search committee representative from another church called me. She wanted to know if I would prayerfully consider coming to her church.

Immediately after the call, I got on the phone with a friend who served as pastor at another church in the same town. What did he know about the other church in his town? His words were, at least at the time, strange and enigmatic to me.

“Don’t even consider it. That is a preacher eater church.”

I would soon learn what he meant. A preacher eater church has a series of short-term pastors, and those departing pastors have few positive words to say about them. As my pastor friend noted, “That church will eat you alive.”

Over the past three decades, I have learned much about preacher eater churches. Most of the time, they can be described with six main traits:

  1. Their pastors don’t stick around long. These churches hardly get to know their pastors before they are gone. Some pastors leave voluntarily but unhappy. Others feel coerced to leave. And many are fired.
  2. The church has bullies and power groups. Those bullies and power group members see their roles as primarily to get the pastor to do their bidding. When the pastor refuses, it’s time to get the pastor to move on. Often the power group is connected to a single family.
  3. The church is in perpetual conflict. Even non-believers in the community know about the “fighting church.” Church business meetings become war zones. Pastors often receive enemy fire and friendly fire.
  4. The church has non-biblical expectations of the pastor. Pastors are welcome to stay as long as they are omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. But if they fail to make one visit, their time is up.
  5. The church does not believe pastors should be compensated adequately. I have actually heard a form of this direct quote at least a dozen times: “If we pay our pastor as little as possible, it will teach him humility.” Of course, the speaker of those words has no intention of practicing the same humility.
  6. The pastor’s family is not supported. I had this conversation with a pastor this week. He said, “I had to leave the church because they were so mean to my family. If my wife did not show up when they demanded she did, they talked about her incessantly. And they had expectations of my kids they never expect of their own.”

I know. Pastors are not perfect either. But this post is not really about pastors. It’s about those churches that run their pastors off every few years.

They are called preacher eater churches. Many of those churches are having difficulty finding pastors these days.

I wonder why.

Posted on February 22, 2017

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Thom, I grew up in that church. I watched it eat pastors alive every few years with some of them just leaving ministry altogether. When I became a deacon/elder in that church I tried to change it till I too was driven off. As a pastor myself today I am thoroughly committed to a long term pastorate as a partial cure. After 18 years at my first church I have fought those hard fights, prayed those long nights, and survived.
    I remain convinced that IF possible, a tenacious long term pastor can outlive the evil. It’s not easy at all. It is probably a special calling from God, or at least a special grace.

  • When I came to my current assignment, several people at an assembly where I was introduced as the incoming pastor asked me later, “Which church are you going to?”. When I told them, their faces suddenly went dark and they said, “Oh . . . I’ll be praying for you.” Not very reassuring, to say the least. That was 16.5 years ago. It has not always been easy, and I’ve experienced much of what you describe. But those innocents who have observed the struggles know that I’m still here FOR THEM.
    The former power brokers have exposed themselves, and as a result have lost their grip on the reigns. There have been losses, which is very sad. But the church is much healthier than it was. And this is one pastor that refused to be eaten.
    Important point, I have done all I could to avoid retaliation. I have simply stayed the course, responded with soft words, kept my frustrations very private, and pressed on. Focusing on objectives, rather than negative, sometimes openly hostile, people has helped immensely.
    Seeing attacks on me as distractions to be avoided has helped me stay focused on the true goals.
    Note: I am a people-pleaser by nature, so by biggest battles have been with myself. But constantly reminding myself that I am here to please one person only, the Lord; and of the impossibility of pleasing everyone at any moment have served me well.

  • Number 7 could be that the time between pastors tends to be longer. If its been a year, with out a pastor they probably have issues. Great Article!!

  • I arrived at my current church about 18 months ago as an associate pastor. Every pastor on staff has since left, and the church bullies have now turned on me. Every one of these rings true.

  • After reading these comments I’m so thankful I’m in a loving church, whose pastor has been here going on 38 years and he is still relatively young

  • PREACH!!!!

    Having grown up in a parsonage, I have first hand experience of every one of those traits.

    Thanks for all you do.

    • Thank you, Tim. I am so grateful for our partnership with Cool Solutions. Readers: Click on the top banner to find out about an incredible organization that could really help your church.

  • Thom, someone has to see a church and lead them through it. The cycle does not have to be unending.
    When a church grows some
    Of these issues have to be dealt with. Pastor if you are there now, keep your eyes on Jesus as hard as it seems.

  • Trait Number 7 – If your pastor’s name is written on the sign out front with dry-erase marker.

  • I see many of these in the rear view mirror of my church. O, Lord thank you for your transforming grace!

  • Victor McQuade says on

    Great article. Looking forward to the follow up “The member eating church”.

    • Now that’s a thought.

      • Minister TL Rodgers says on


        I will call them, “The Gathering Place”…I had never seen a pastor in my 30 years of being a Christian beg his congregation to share and invite our friends and coworkers to his “Gathering Place”…notice I am not utilizing the holy word “CHURCH”…this pastor who only wanted to be called “Servant” would beg and beg for us to invite new people, the new people would come and like it and once they showed a sign of deliverance, salvation, longevity, the “servant” from the pulpit would “signify” start attacking them; some private counseling he had with them he would now blast it over the pulpit; and of course with only 20people in the “gathering place” WE ALL KNEW what he was talking about and who…JESUS CHRIST SUPER STAR!!! After months of me trying to start an Evangelism team to canvas the neighborhood, no one wanted to witness, so it donned on me…. OH…they already ate these people up and chewed them and spit them out…OH, please excuse me, and with my church finger in the air as if I was trying to get to the bathroom and please excuse me I made a B-line for my car and never looked back. The emails and telephones I received were nice to get me to talk and respond and then the chewing commenced…Look, my Bible states to rebuke, reproof, love, teach, encourage…I DID and then hung up and blocked them, they actually followed me to my new church and sat in a little cluster, when I noticed the “Servant’s mother’s hat”…I started laughing and looked up at the ceiling in the new sanctuary and said… JESUS. They eventually stopped coming to my new church to sit in a cluster to stare at me and I have been laughing at my time at “The Gathering Place” for years.

        I believe GOD allows us as his sheep to be under the RIGHT pastor/shepherd and we as pastors/shepherds better get it right because we will give a DOUBLE ACCOUNT on this earth…A DOUBLE ACCOUNT BEFORE THE LORD.

  • One book I highly recommend is “Leading Your Church Through Conflict and Resolution”, edited by Marshall Shelley. I particularly recommend a chapter in the book called “Wars You Can’t Win”. The writer makes two important points: (1) Some wars are not winnable, and (2) if you’re in an unwinnable war, it’s no disgrace to get out while you can.

    • Yes. Excellent resource.

    • Carl Heberg says on

      Another good book…”Clergy Killers” by G. Lloyd Reddiger.

      I once pastored a church known as “The throne of Satan” and “The place where Jezabell and her whole family lived”. We survived it! But just barely!

      • That’s a great book. A fellow pastor loned me the book while I was in the digestive tract of a church in the UK. I laughed all the way through it as I realised that Satan had no new tricks up his sleeve. Now church planting and laying my own foundations.

  • Holy terror says on

    Been there. I would add a friendly amendment:preacher eating churches are self absorbed, not God absorbed or mission absorbed. The church I gave 4 years to had previously had 7 pastors in13 years and had zero tolerance for guests. In spite of this, the church grew, but the only people who joined were equally hostile as the congregation. Sometime I’ll comment about the contract hit a church member paid for on his wife, the organist. Nobody went to jail, and nobody left the church.

    • Wow. That is a mean church to the extreme.

      • I have been a full time, ordained minister of music for over 36 years and it is not easy either. We fight the same battles as most pastors.

        For the past several years, we MM’s have fought the “worship wars” battle along with personality cliques and sometimes downright abuse. I could share several stories of abuse my family and I have endured through the 8 churches I have served.

        After the first few years, I decided that abuse of the pastor and staff was just part of being in the ministry and goes with the territory. I had to learn to go to my knees daily and ask the Lord for patience and guidance.

        I retired at the end of 2016 due to another church situation. I was unable to find another one due to my age. I am now 62 and our state music director says that most churches are looking for someone younger.

        We really don’t have the money to retire for long but we are trusting the Lord to take care of our needs. Thanks for reading my story 🙂

      • I not only read, Don. I prayed for incredible open doors.

      • Thank you my brother 🙂

      • Dan, my father went through much of the same – pushed out of a church because of the great 80’s-90’s CCM-search exodus (he wasn’t anti-CCM, but anti-unBiblical-CCM). Pushed out of another because of personality conflicts handled unbiblically. Finally pushed out of one because he tried to bring the Bible to bear on a couple issues and the interim senior pastor resented that. Resented. the. Bible. Daddy got to go Home within a year of that, and he’ll never be pushed out again, praise the Lord!

        What he went through made me terrified of marrying a pastor, and I married a man who wasn’t going to be one (that’s not why; it wasn’t even a factor – but it WAS a relief). When he came home from meeting with our pastor one day and told me our pastor wanted him to come on pastoral staff, I burst into tears. We now serve as missionaries and my husband is a pastor with a domestic church-strengthening organization. The Lord has a well-developed and ironic sense of humor.

        We’re in a fairly healthy church now, but I’m tempted to think, Thom, that you were describing another we served directly here. It was a brutal, toxic time, and I’ve never been so thankful for rescue. The Lord is faithful every day, and that time of attack slammed us to our knees and strengthened our resolve to hold steadfastly to HIM more than anything else ever has. Serving in that community and church was a time of bitter providence, it seemed, full of grief and grace. I’m not glad for it, but I am thankful.

      • Sorry, meant Don. Not sure why I typed Dan. Forgive me.

      • That is not a church that is a devilish perversion of Jesus’ church.

    • Tim Aagard says on

      These stories are all a “holy terror”. You are correct about about your assessment of “self absorbed”. But something is missing – no one is examining the system of church practiced in all these cases. According to Leadership Journals stats on “normal” church giving, 84% will be consumed to mostly benefit the givers buying special facilities for a large group, and hiring staff to deliver a weekly Bible lecture and other misc. services. Only 16% is left to serve the needy and send the gospel to those who have no one to tell them. When the system leads believers to consume most of their own “giving” they will be “self absorbed”. Jesus said, “where your treasure is there will your heart be also…”. If your giving will not go beyond yourself, your heart will not either. There is a way to practice all of church instructions and send 100% of giving beyond the givers. You only have to give up 2 things. Special buildings for a crowd of people in one room, and meetings dominated by strict one way communication by one man. Yes, there are 58 “one another” instructions and several include “teaching and admonishing one another”. None of these 58 instructions will be practiced when believers face a pulpit. This is another shut down of selflessness. God’s formula for increasing “love and good works” requires “stirring up one another on to love and good works and encouraging one another…”

      I realize there are churches who consume 84% of their giving and don’t eat their pastor. But they are self absorbed in other ways. A large percentage will never serve with diligence. A large percentage will never share their faith in the marketplace. A large percent will never disciple anyone. They will just be nice and warm with their pastor. This may be nice for the pastor but Jesus, the Great Shepherd, has much higher expectations than this for His people.

      I have just pointed out an unreformed, systemic corruption in the church that must be resolved before “pastor eating” will come to an end. I know you may not like my point but do you understand it and see the consuming going on?

      • Website
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        MARCH, 2017

        Dear Fellow Believer in Christ:
        Greetings in the name of our Lord!
        We pray that you are in good health and that God is with you daily!

        1 Timothy 5:17 ESV Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.

        “We need to support our Pastor”
        Mar 11:22 And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God.
        Mar 11:23 For verily I (JESUS)say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.
        Mar 11:24 Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.
        Mar 11:25 And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.
        The reason for these scriptures is that we are not to doubt, but believe, and to forgive.

        I am so thankful that our Jesus would seek me out and accept me as one of his children when I was young. I was a dreamer yet I always felt that I was not good enough to take on the dreams that Jesus would tell me to perform. When people would tell me that it could not be done, I would get upset at this. Don’t tell me I can’t do this but instead, help me to accomplish this task. I want to be able to dream the dream that our Lord gives me and then see it done.

        Jesus also has helped me not only to get that task accomplished, but to find more capable people then I am to get the dream to come to fruition and to get it done the right way. I also learned from a comedian that if you want to have a friend, asks him to help or do things for you. This did not hinder my ministry at all.

        I remember a wonderful mother and daughter-in-law in our church who asked if they to help me to promote the ministry and work of Faith Assembly. I said, Oh yes, please. They went to work on writing articles about our Men’s, Women’s, Youth, Children’s, Nursery, etc. and placed them in the newspapers, radio Stations, T.V. stations. Before long we were running up to 300 in our two services. This only cost them time and every article they wrote was given free what they did.

        The more people we allow to be busy for our Lord Jesus, also gives them the excitement and feeling proud that I am helping my pastor and the thrill of being a part of the church ministry. We either promote our Lord’s work or we do nothing. With our mouth we can promote or destroy God’s Mission.

        Recently, I was told that I could not help a student financially in college. I found out that I had to go another route to do this. I got upset about this, but found out I could do it another way, the right way. I could have eliminated all my stress if I prayed more and I would not have to plead for forgiveness for my attitude. It is wonderful to know that we can be forgiven by man and God. But what precious time was wasted in the process.

        Not long ago I heard a married man say, “When I want to get something done, even if my wife don’t agree with me, I will do it anyway.” Remember, Mr. Married Man, when you are married, the two of you become one and you both must come in agreement. When I was 17 years of age and came down with polio, Jesus called me into Mission ministry. After Bonnie Lou and I were married, I felt so strong that I had to obey this calling. However, I had to wait till Bonnie Lou felt this calling too. I remember while visiting her parents on their farm, Bonnie Lou was upstairs and called down to me, crying, Billy come here, she told me, God has just told me that we are going to Hawaii as Missionaries.
        Now two become one and after 65 years married, and 50 years in Hawaii, we have seen great mountains removed, we are able to not doubt and believe and be forgiven-all because we obeyed the Call of God.

        This same Miracle will also happen to you.
        Give and it shall be given you. First, give of yourself.

        William Ashpole

        Pastor William Ashpole
        Cell: 808-228-1357
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        57 Ilima St.
        Wahiawa, Hawaii 96786

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