By their very nature, pastors are a confidential lot. They counsel numbers of people who share their deepest secrets and problems. They know things about families that could hurt and embarrass them if they shared information freely. So pastors tend to keep secrets and confidential information well. In most cases, you can feel comfortable that your confidence will not be breached when you talk to a pastor.

But most people don’t realize pastors have their own secrets. These spiritual leaders refuse to share their thoughts or pains for fear that their own ministries will be damaged.

So they keep the secrets.

And they hold the pain to themselves.

As I have spoken to pastors across the land, many have confided in me their hurts and secrets. I don’t think they would mind that I share these secrets with you, as long as I don’t identify them with any one pastor by name.

  1. “My marriage is struggling.”
    Pastors are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Oftentimes family meals are interrupted by a call. A planned date with a wife is put on hold because of an emergency related to a church member. Pastors’ wives sometimes wonder if their husbands are married to them or to the church. Resentment and marital fights are not uncommon.
     
  2. “I fear my kids will grow up hating the church.”
    One pastor told me in tears the story of a church member criticizing the pastor’s wife to the pastor in front of his 12-year-old son. The young boy went home insisting he hated the church and never wanted to return. Children are often exposed to the dark side of church life. Pastors worry that they won’t recover.
     
  3. “I let a handful of critics control me.”
    These pastors wish the squeaky wheel didn’t always get oiled, but such is the reality in many churches. “If I ignore them (the critics), “ one pastor told me, “they will make life miserable for me and my family. Sometimes it’s just best to give them their way.”
     
  4. “I often have anger toward the supportive church members who don’t defend me to my critics.”
    “It’s not my critics who bother me personally,” the pastor shared with me. “It’s the so-called supportive members who refuse to come to my defense when I’m attacked by a critic. Going into a business meeting, one of these supporters told me how much he loved me, and how he would always have my back. Fifteen minutes later, I’m being castigated by three members who hardly ever attend church. What does my supporter do or say? Absolutely nothing. That’s what really hurts.”
     
  5. “I’ve thought about quitting several times.”
    These pastors are truly called men of God. They really do love their congregations. Most of them will endure the criticisms aimed at them personally. But when supportive members really don’t support them, or when family members are hurt, many pastors think about quitting. “Only one thing has stopped me from quitting,” the pastor said. “It’s the call of God. That’s what keeps me hanging on.”

Through this blog and through other venues, I intend to do everything I can in God’s power to be the pastor’s advocate. The pastorate is one of the toughest jobs in the world. Indeed, it’s an impossible job in human power alone.

Pastors, how can we best help you? Church members, what can we do to be the best pastor advocate possible?


Pastor to Pastor is the Saturday blog series at ThomRainer.com. Pastors and staff, if we can help in any way, contact Steve Drake, our director of pastoral relations, at Steve.Drake@LifeWay.com. We also welcome contacts from laypersons in churches asking questions about pastors, churches, or the pastor search process.

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Comments

  1. Pastor M in Wisconsin says

    I have to say, this blog scared me. Are you a mind reader? I really had all five thoughts on my mind, and I was really contemplating #5, quitting the church. I can take the pain, but it’s not right to put my family through the mess I experience. I never dreamed the dark side of serving a church would be so dark.
    I do owe you my thanks, Dr. Rainer, for being willing to post what most people and pastors refuse to talk about. At least I know I’m not alone. God is with me, and others are traveling the same path I’m on.

  2. says

    Thanks Thom for creating a venue for pastors who are struggling. I know there are scores of pastor’s in the Northwest who are fighting difficult battles to stay at the task…I hope to use my time as president to communicate with as many as I can- encouraging and pointing them to resources such as your blog and others…
    Steve

  3. says

    Question: at what point do you say that the culture of a particular local church is so toxic that one person cannot change it? Jesus told his disciples to brush the dust off their feet if a town rejected them. I think there may be some situations in which it would be appropriate to walk away. This would not be walking away from ministry, but walking away from ministering there.

  4. Thom Rainer says

    Steve –
    You have a great opportunity to help pastors. May God bless you as you seek ways to do so.

  5. says

    You might find it relevant that Pastor Philip Caminiti now sits in prison in Wisconsin, convicted of conspiracy to commit child abuse. His crime was teaching corporal punishment of disobedient children, specifically, spanking with a wooden spoon. I believe he needs our support. Although his opinion may be controversial, it is protected speech under the First Amendment. He laid hands on no one. If he ended up in prison for an opinion, we should expect the same treatment for ourselves shortly.

  6. Philip says

    To answer the question, “Pastors, how can we best help you?” one main way for me is to get this information to the church. If I as pastor send this article to the church, it comes across that I am complaining or incompetent. I really don’t know the answer, but maybe you can ask yourself, “How am I getting this to the congregation?”

  7. Thom Rainer says

    Mark –
    Though I can’t answer your question with definitive markers, your point is well made. Sometimes a church’s culture becomes so toxic that it’s time to leave. A church can effectively stop being a church.

  8. Thom Rainer says

    Philip –
    Good point and question. I know that my blogs will not reach most church members or pastors for that matter. It is my prayer that these type articles will have a small influence on church members, and that the word will spread.

  9. John Wolford says

    Steve and Philip,
    We need to somehow bring this subject, as well as a few others, into the national convention spotlight. Too many of our pastors feel alone in their suffering and they believe they will be shunned for speaking out on these subjects. If our convention’s leaders were to make these conversations a common place, it would trickle down to the local church. I truly believe this is starting to happen because of Dr. Rainer’s leadership as well as others such as Dr. Johnny Hunt.
    I believe there needs to be speakers sent out to the state and local conventions to address these subjects. It has been my experience that Directors of Missions lean more towards the churches and less towards the pastors. This may be because they themselves are hesitant to speak out on these subjects for fear of jeopardizing their ministries. If these SBC or Lifeway speakers were not directly dependent upon the local churches, they would have a greater impact.
    I am encouraged that we are openly discussing these issues. Let’s continue to do so for His Glory.

  10. Joe R says

    As a youth pastor, I know many of these feelings and stresses myself (granted maybe not to the degree of a senior pastor). However I know the stresses my pastor faces and I try to be as open and available to him as possible. While my main focus is the youth, I never forget that the youth are simply a part of the church family. I believe that while many of our church members might feel uncomfortable knowing that their pastor is having marriage problems, doubts or fears, a pastor should be able to rely upon his staff and be able to “step away” from time to time. For those who serve on a staff, but not the Sr Pastor, we need to be sure to communicate with our pastor and understand he has many of the same problems we do. We need to be available and trustworthy. For churches with only the pastor and no staff, the deacons or elders of the church should step into this role. Perhaps we should even reach outside of our own churches. One of my best friends is a youth minister from a church across town. He and I have both at times been there to lift eachother up in times of need. Again I realize I’m only a youth pastor, but I just wanted to throw my two cents in.

  11. JR says

    As a youth pastor, I know many of these feelings and stresses myself (granted maybe not to the degree of a senior pastor). However I know the stresses my pastor faces and I try to be as open and available to him as possible. While my main focus is the youth, I never forget that the youth are simply a part of the church family. I believe that while many of our church members might feel uncomfortable knowing that their pastor is having marriage problems, doubts or fears, a pastor should be able to rely upon his staff and be able to “step away” from time to time. For those who serve on a staff, but not the Sr Pastor, we need to be sure to communicate with our pastor and understand he has many of the same problems we do. We need to be available and trustworthy. For churches with only the pastor and no staff, the deacons or elders of the church should step into this role. Perhaps we should even reach outside of our own churches. One of my best friends is a youth minister from a church across town. He and I have both at times been there to lift eachother up in times of need. Again I realize I’m only a youth pastor, but I just wanted to throw my two cents in.

  12. says

    How to reach church members with this info.? Two suggestions:
    1. Get into the habit of recommending godly books and resources to your congregation. Then, if a good number of your church members are internet savvy, recommend that they subscribe to Dr. Rainer’s blog (and others– “Practical Shepherding” and “Ordinary Pastor” are also good) and/or like him on Facebook.
    2. Reach the DOMs (directors) of the local associations with this info. I don’t know about other DOMs, but ours seems to be preaching in a different church in our association almost every week. It would be great to have the DOMs speaking to church members about how they can support their pastors.

  13. says

    Thanks, Thom, for shining a light with this. I was one of those who struggled in my marriage. It really impacted my ministry, but we both wore masks effectively – and to our detriment. When we decided to begin our marriage mission, we determined that supporting couples in ministry would be one of the goals.

  14. Dwight Watson says

    Another secret pastors won’t reveal is “I’m struggling with pornography/lust.” For years in ministry, this was the one secret that I was unwilling to share with anyone. Three years ago this dominating secret led me into a deep shame-based depression that left me barely functional and eventually led to confessing my sin and leaving ministry. God graciously allowed my family to experience restoration through a ministry called City of Refuge, and we now sense God leading us into a ministry of restoration through Biblical community, as we have experienced here. A key part of the ministry to which I feel God is directing us is providing a platform for pastors and leaders to intentionally connect honestly and authentically.

  15. Tommy G. says

    I have adult children who love Jesus and the church. They grew up in a parsonage and sometimes were exposed to the ugly side of churches, but my children NEVER attended a church business meeting. My wife doesn’t attend business meetings either.

  16. RF says

    I am leaving the ministry as a broken man after more than forty years of serving the Lord. Over these years I have been greatly blessed, seen many come to Christ and seen churches double quickly in size. For some reason, wherever I have been, I always became the pastor to whom other pastors came to lean on. I also serve as a NAMB endorsed law enforcement and DR chaplain. So, why am I a broken man? I think I have learned to sum it up in two sentences. First, I am tired of attempting to get people to do what they don’t want to do (give biblically, visit intentionally, evangelize enthusiasticaly, and serve wholeheartedly). Secondly, I have grown weary of all the years of constant criticism; it has broken me.

  17. PK says

    WOW it’s like you’ve had hidden cameras at my church, home & around town!!! PRAYER PRAYER PRAYER!!!

  18. Dwight Watson says

    RF,
    It breaks my heart to see a faithful servant leave the ministry broken rather than honored as the hero that you are. You and your family will be in my prayers in the days ahead.

  19. Dave Griffith says

    It’s hard sometimes. Every church that I have served at, there has always been someone who critisized. But I learned now with my spouses help to just ignore people and to ask God for his help. We can please everyone.

  20. says

    You are absolutely right about every point, except one…not all pastors are “called men of God”…some are called women. And women who are pastors deal with these exact same problems, so thank you for leveling the playing field. Peace.

  21. thesecretlifeofapastorswife says

    WOW this is spot on. This is kind of why i blog in secret. We do need an outlet for sure.
    Its true what you said. We have secrets of people that will or could destroy them, embarrass them and all that stuff. If we had the wicked heart to share those things. Even when the same people hurt us we still remain silent.
    Its our job to keep secrets (unless they crimes of coarse) but we can never trust them with ours. We are there create a safe environment for others. We however dont get to benefit from that :(

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