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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.