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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  • Franklin Hairston says on

    Wow gentlemen, I am currently at a preacher eater Church. This is my first Church and it was built by my great great grandfather. Our minister of music has a stronghold on the Church and what he says goes. Therefore, it has been an uphill battle trying to move this church toward the mission of Christ. We are centrally located in a poor neighborhood and one of the member’s shouted we do not want any poor people here, because we are a prestigious Church! So brothers keep me in your prayers. We have 30 members and we are financially struggling.

  • So how do you know if a church you’re interviewing/candidating at is a preacher eater?

    • K,

      That is the biggest challenge. I would look at their pastoral history. How long have other pastors stayed at the church? Has the church statistics changed any in the past 5, 10, 15, or 20 years? Are these changes positive or negative?

      I would ask for the contact names and numbers of the past several pastors. If a church is going to call your references, you should call theirs also. I would talk to the local Associational Missionary or regional director, or judicatory leader, depending on the denomination. I would also call pastors of churches from the same denomination or similar denomination if none of the same are around. Ask these external references for as much information as possible, especially Associational leaders.

      And last but not least, if you are moving to a new area, ask around at different public places (grocery stores, parks, etc.) in a casual way. Say you are looking at moving to the area and has anyone heard of such and such church. This will be telling in rural communities. But even in urban or suburban, asking random people in places of business or public access lets you know if there is a reputation, either good or bad. It also lets you know if the church has any ministry presence in the area. If it is in a rural community or close knit suburban or urban neighborhood, and no one has ever heard of it, that might not be a good sign either.

      Hope this helps,


  • I pastored two churches, one for 26 years. The other for six. Both churches had long standing conflicts. One church perceived itself as conservative. The other as liberal. Neither was biblically literate or willing learners. Both had key leaders who felt entitled to determine the course of the congregation without considering whether they were being faithful to Jesus Christ. One church was driven by Unitarian Universalism and a Gospel without the Cross. The other church was driven by ambition of elders and a musical worship leader. Both church councils were unwilling to back the leadership of the pastor. Both congregations openly criticized my wife and mocked her spirituality. I believed I was called to lead both toward reaching people for Christ. Neither ended up being interested. Lay leaders protected malcontents in both situations from pastoral confrontations. Denial and avoidance by lay leaders led both congregations toward division. The ministry has been tragic. Nevertheless, I believe that in all situations God is working for Good for those called according to His purpose. My children and their husbands still attend church, and my grandchildren. I never did receive support from the communion in which I serve for my family. They avoided my family’s pain and have conducted processes in both congregations that failed to confront the systemic culture that resists change.

  • These churches can be healed. Many of them abuse because they feel abused. If a pastor is willing to endure the suffering, some of these churches will turn around with time and genuine love. This road is much harder than it sounds but is possible if the pastor walks closely with Jesus and finds his identity in Christ alone. However, there has to be a significant portion of the church that wants to change or it becomes an exercise in futility.

  • It saddens me to hear about the state of the church, by and large, being so unhealthy in places. I find most of these traits of a pastor eating true of the church I serve. How did the church get this way?

    I realize opposition has been taking place since the times of Moses (Numbers 10-11). But now the attitudes towards leadership can be so negative–and the church appears to be filled with the unsaved or spiritually immature. Is this linked to the conforming of churches to liberal theology at the beginning of the 20th century and the fall out from that? Conformity to secular society…or all of this?

  • Tim Whalen says on

    When I arrived here 25 years ago the church was run by four women two of who were lovers (they taught the Sunday School class) and guess what? They all hated men. We had no “honeymoon period” that was supposed to happen. It was war at the outset. I had a dream where I cut one of their heads off and it was on the nightstand next to my bed talking to me all night long! Good grief! What a night arguing with her!
    My church is not as large as I want it but I am still here by His grace! “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily as unto the Lord and not unto men;” Col 3:23

  • What a sad, but true commentary on so many churches. I have been in pastoral ministry for 30+ years and am currently overseeing the final death throws of such a church. The power-brokers revealed themselves within the first six months and the following four years were ones of constant conflict, with me confronting the long-entrenched abusive attitudes. The previous two pastors were run off, neither are in ministry any longer and both have ongoing emotional and physical struggles that I believe are the direct result of abuse. It’s a sad fact that many churches will say, when calling a new pastor, that there are ready for change when in actual fact the only change they desire is a change of pastor.
    Looooong story short – the power-brokers made good on their promises to “take their money elsewhere” and left. So, financially the church was left in an untenable situation.
    As we come to the end of our sixth year here it has become painfully obvious that there is going to be a funeral but the date has yet to be announced. Those who have remained are simply too drained and tired to continue trying to keep it alive.
    I would like to think that I am no quitter but I have come to the place where I believe that some ministries simply need to be allowed to die and be given a decent burial.
    As an aside, I can relate to previous posts about 62 being considered by may as being too old to be called to another church. I see a desire for younger men (and that’s OK, I was one once) who have become mere clones of the perceived go-getters within each denomination.
    I trust the Lord implicitly and He knows I will go wherever He asks and do whatever He asks – I just want to let others who are struggling know that you are not alone, that you are in the most difficult and yet most blessed of all “occupations” – after all, who else gets to open the word of God and dig up the treasures it contains and share them with others? At the end of the day it is God who calls us and His only desire is that we stay faithful to that call no matter where it may take us.
    Stay the course everyone, remain true to your calling and see what God might do.

  • My first church was preacher eater. The church had about 40 pastors in its 70 year history. I was there 3 years and experienced all of the above criteria and then some. I was fired one year in, rehired because my firing was splitting the church. I then resigned two years later under duress.

    A few years after I left, I ran into one of the members. The pastor who succeeded me had just resigned. Her words: “Well, we just ran off another pastor.” Thankfully, my next church was the most loving and appreciative church with which I have ever been involved. I still miss being there.

  • Bob Heritage says on

    What a fascinating thread! Our church staff just finished a day long retreat called “Shift” – basically a discussion of what the paradigm shift will be for the post modern era church. Questions like “is your faith journey best described by ‘I am a member at —-church’ or ‘I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.'” Taking to heart the words of Jesus -“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
    It could be that being a Christ follower soon comes with a greater desire towards love and service and much less exhibition of control/maintaining status quo/ obsession with buildings and styles.
    My deepest sympathies for those who have suffered from these situations.

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