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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  • Some pastors go to one or two “preacher eater” churches right off the bat and think about quitting the ministry because they assume that all churches must be like this. Please don’t. I’m glad I hung in there after my initial pastorate. The Lord blessed me with a church that could not love me more or treat my family better. Not saying that will happen for everyone, but know that there really are a lot of churches out there that are a blessing to serve. Either way, God’s grace is sufficient.

  • Pastor Mike says on

    It’s never easy when you’re forced out. If you’re a pastor somewhere and you’ve never had to experience a forced termination, you’re blessed. But as one looks at the OT prophets, Paul, and others, we see that they were often criticized, opposed, and ran out of town. Some groups are not churches. I’m just gonna give it straight. They’re country clubs with the “wealthy and long-timers” in control. The pain is real if you’ve been through a forced termination, but if you’re called, you shouldn’t walk away from pastoral ministry. Dust yourself off, shake the dust off of your shoes, and keep going. Be faithful. Preach. Help people. That’s what a pastor is called to do. I lasted a little over five and a half years. I don’t know that I would have made it the last year there had it not been for the prayers of many. Unhealthy churches can create both emotional stress and physical problems. Sometimes, you just have to walk away. And seek another place to serve.

  • Rev. Juan C. Rivera says on

    An amazing article. I was FIRED from my last church after barely serving for 3 months. The “New Beginnings Team” (a morphed call-committee that controls the church) created a hysterical campaign against me filled with manufactured lies and all sorts of extremely rapid, unconstitutional proceedings. Thanks be to God that Council Members dissented, forcing the church to continue paying my salary for the following 3 months while I was living in the parsonage. My vocation as a Lutheran Pastor has been destroyed- but our faith in God has been strengthened. As we discern the denominational spectrum, we see that the Church of Christ (from Catholic to Non-denominational) is one big mess…

  • “I am now 62 and our state music director says that most churches are looking for someone younger”

    The saddest indictment on churches. Cookie cutter churches don’t develop anything but a mirror worship atmosphere full of synthesized spirit worship.

  • Albert Coburn says on

    sadly I understand, I am a member at a toxic country Church because of my wife (her “home church”). I had said that a younger Pastor would be chewed up and spit out. When part of the clique can threaten a Pastor with his job and threaten to pull their money out (quit giving) and that is ok (the one before and the present one), it makes me think that I am misinterpreting or misunderstanding the Bible.

  • D.A. Williams says on

    I am currently recovering from such a church. The pain and grief are deep.

  • I really appreciate this article especially because I’m in a preacher eater church right now. So, I have a question. Any help would be appreciated. WHAT DO I DO NOW? Do I just get out while I can or see if God changes the heart of the people? I don’t want to waste my time either. Thanks for any input out there!

    • Dustin Long says on

      ST3, I am sorry to hear that you are going through this right now. I understand seeking advice to, because there is so much about the problem and not much about the solution. I do not know you, nor do I know your situation. And I would never try to play the part of the Holy Spirit. However, if was asked this question directly, here would be my answer. You need to look at your situation and examine it from three perspectives:
      1. How deep is the sin of “preacher eating?”Is it a handful among hundreds, or is it half the congregation? The answer to this brings the next question- “How influential are the eaters?”
      2. Am I gifted with the ability to confront, and or, stand up to the bullies in the church? Will I be supported if I do so? Would the church rather lose its pastor or its bullies? This isn’t as cut and dry as it seems like it should be.
      3. What affect is this going to have on my family? Are they harassing my wife and/or children?
      4. If I am not called to stay, how much of this can I solve for the next pastor? Can I blow up the situation and break down the walls so that the next guy has success? Am I willing to do that?
      5. Do I have anywhere to go?
      6. Where is my heart? On leaving or staying? Has God permitted my leaving or staying?

      Those are just some questions I would ask in this situation. Your answers can give you a lot of wisdom. Seek out advice from mentors, or associational leaders if possible. PRAY PRAY PRAY. God Bless your decision.


  • I am inclined to believe, based on the Apostle John’s first epistle, that such congregations are not churches, but groups of people that call themselves a church and have deceived themselves into thinking they are Christians when they are not.

    • Daryl Drew says on

      I could not agree more with what you just wrote. Most”churches” are just social clubs looking for a director of entertainment. You better not EVER talk about sin and hell. Just speak on mercy and grace. Tell me God loves me as I fornicate. Tell me God loves me when I beat my wife every two weeks. Tell me all the blessings of God will pour out on me when a give the “baptist” offering of ONE dollar.

  • Mark Boroff says on

    Went though a few churchs like these with my father one church had a lady who could insult you and you would not know it for an hour or so and then it would hit you hey that was an insult!!

  • Thom, What a telling post with unfortunately a lot of truth to it across multiple types of churches. I think you could easily write a blog post on “Church eating Preachers.”

    Unfortunately the list for them could be eerily similar:
    1. The Pastor’s Resume reflects that they don’t stay anywhere long.
    2. They lead out of a posture of prideful positional leadership and not one of humble persuasive leadership.
    3. Their past churches were left in greater turmoil than when they began.
    4. They have set unrealistic expectations for the church. “They over estimated what they could do in one year, and underestimated what they could have done in 10.”
    5. They evidently moved up a ladder in their pastorates to the churches with more financial resources and supposed influence.
    6. The pastor’s family was put on the altar for their professional aspirations and always took a back burner to “His Ministry.”

  • I heard of a preacher who got eaten by a church but on his way out of town he changed the pastor’s name on the sign to read the name of the head of the cartel that ran him off, then he threw away the key to the sign so it took them forever to change it. Maybe not the right way to go about things, but kinda funny.

  • Kent Crockett, wrote a great book called “Pastor Abusers: When Sheep Attack the Shepherd.” It is a great resource for every Pastor.