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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  • Just because some people gather in a building with a cross on it doesn’t declare them the church. They might just be a religious social outlet in that community…most are. God is doing amazing things. Get out there and join Him!!!

  • I am blessed to have never been in such a church. Yes, I count those blessings.

    I am convinced every church needs a crusty old curmudgeon who is not afraid to speak up and call out the power brokers and empire builders in the church, and defend the leaders when they need defending. And the church needs more people who enjoy church, and it’s a lot of fun to be that old curmudgeon…..

    Kudos for addressing this, Dr. Rainer.

  • I used to attend one of these churches. They actually bragged that no preacher could last more than two years. In my opinion this in indicative of multiple failures involving leadership. Either use the disciplinary process to bring about repentance and restoration,or the denominational leadership should put a lock on the door. To allow such churches to continue a pattern of abuse like this is far worse than disbanding the fellowship.

    Abuse festers because it is allowed to,and to label a church as a “pastor eater” seems to be saying we acknowledge there is a big problem but we aren’t going to do anything about it.

    As I see it,churches that have the mindset of doing what they can to control the pastor have ceased to be representative of Christ.

  • This may sound umbilical and to some even unchristian, but from my perspective we need to stand toe to toe with evil and trust God for the victory.My encouragement to any pastor is not to run, stay the course and see the glory.
    I am persuaded that the BULLY of the church has never been rebuked by anyone.The Lord has not given us a spirit of timidity but of power.May we rest in Him trust him and again see the glory.
    In 1981 I stood and said “this is over” If you can’t be Godly and follow the leadership The Lord has given you….. “look right back there….. the same doors that let you in let you out”.
    Three deacons resigned, some left but two weeks later we had 11 visitors, six weeks later we had 24 additions one Sunday 4 saved and 20 by letter. Within a year we had gone from 113 in attendance to 240 in worship.We baptized 54 in that time morecthan any other year of the churches history.
    Was it painful ? Absolutely…. was it worth it absolutely.Would I do it again absolutely .
    I Corinthians 15:58

    • I think Mr. Ed had the right idea…People like that don’t go to church to worship the Lord, they have their own agenda, we need more pastors that stand up to these bullies and show them the doors if they came to church with other ideas, instead of worshipping our Lord! Thank you pastor Ed, for standing up for what’s right!!!

  • Pastor Mike says on

    I am a pastor in central Virginia and experienced this. I did nothing morally wrong. But in August of last year, I was pressured out by the 3 key families. This in a church of 50-60 people. The majority of the congregation supported me. As a pastor, I am not perfect, but I did nothing to warrant being pressured out. I ended up my tenure at just a little over five and a half years. This is not new for the church I served. They forced out the previous 2 pastors. My predecessor was there for five years. The guy before him was there for a little less than three. The people in the community told me that the group, who forced me out, is self-centered and it’s “all about them.” They couldn’t be more right. The last few months I was there, I called out “the power group.” I told a few in the church that the bullies controlled the church. The word got back to them and they weren’t happy. I didn’t care. They needed to be called out. They expected my kids to be involved in church activities. They didn’t ask them. They just expected it. The same with my wife. I was bi-vocational and worked on the side. For most of my tenure, this was no problem. Then, the last year, a bully (a woman), who was critical, mean, and, at times, even disrespectful, accused me of not spending enough time on my sermons. A ridiculous charge. She said I spent too much time on my other job. They didn’t pay me what I needed so I had to do some work on the side. My salary was not even what a beginning teacher made in the county. This church did annual pastor evaluations and it was a tough five and a half years there. The bullies were self-centered, unfairly critical, and often disrespectful. When I resigned, it felt a huge burden had been lifted off of my shoulders. I will pastor again. But I am more savvy than I was six years ago and if at all possible, will not step back into an unhealthy church.

  • A church contacted me and I received the same warnings. “Don’t go! They will destroy you!”

    That was 22 years ago. It is not easy, but it can be changed.

  • Pastor John says on

    Sometimes the Dragon wins

  • Joe Pastor says on

    My sincere sympathy and love to my pastor friends who are, or have been, in pastor eating churches. The wounds are often so deep. I’ve been in the ministry for 30 years. I, too, have had several of these horrendous experiences. In fact, I don’t know if I know a pastor or church staff minister who has been in the ministry any length of time who does NOT have at least one of these horror stories. Sometimes, leaving is the only real option. And at other times, God gives the grace to endure. I’ve been in my present church for 14 years–a testament to God’s grace. But even here, it hasn’t been easy. One consideration: It may be that at least in some cases, the biggest mistake is not being thorough enough on the front end–when a church and a minister are considering one another. Ask lots and lots of questions. If you see a possible issue or red flag, especially ask questions in that area. Definitely get references to call on the church (like from the former pastor/staff member). I’m not sure it’s possible to be too thorough. And if you’re thorough, you might just save yourself a lot of grief in the months and years to come.

  • Scott Andrews says on

    I served such a church for 16 months, years ago. 1-3 were true. 4-6 not so much. In fact they paid very well, I found out after the fact, because they had to, to get anyone to come. Their big issue was that they refused to receive Biblical teaching. They literally refused to hear it. They were so accustomed to the feel good “nice” gospel that they reacted angrily to the teachings of Scripture.

  • Many years ago, I was asked to meet with a deacon board to advise them and help them get a new pastor. Their pastors would seldom stay more than a few years and often left the ministry after leaving this church. An angry and elderly deacon said that there just not many good pastors available any more and that they had been having problems retaining a pastor for the last thirty years. Another pastor with me in advisory capacity asked the old deacon how long he had been a deacon there. He said, “about thirty years” with no apparent connection of the dots to the reality of their church’s problem.

  • I am serving a pastor eater church now which have started eating on me. I am probably going to be pastor number four that has been forced out of the church. One pastor was only here nine months before be forced out. The power control people are wanting their power people back in positions of authority, so pastor must go.

  • Zavaan Johnson says on

    As a church musician, I feel very strongly that you could substitute “musician” in each and every place you put the word “preacher” in this post. I was once a musician at such a church.