My email inbox is full of tragic examples. They entered into vocational ministry with hope and healthy idealism. They had been prepared well in the study of the Bible, theology, Church history, and other classical disciplines. They were bright, eager, and ready to change the world in God’s power.
And they failed.
Let me say it more clearly: From their perspective they failed.
They began leading that first or second church and they were blindsided by what hit them. Some are still walking wounded in ministry today. Some moved quickly to the next church, only to find that you can’t run from messy ministry. Some are still serving, but they are bitter and disillusioned. And too many quit ministry altogether.
Over time I began to see a pattern or group of patterns. I saw where many ministers were very unprepared for ministry. Indeed, some of the lessons were my own experiences and my own failures. Allow me to share eight of the most common areas where ministers, particularly in America, are often unprepared for ministry.
- Relational intelligence. I wish every minister could somehow take some type of relational intelligence inventory. I wish they could be coached on how to relate to all types of people. Many ministers crash because they have never learned how to relate well to others.
- Leadership skills. A minister who leads a church of 100 members is leading a relatively large organization, more than many in the secular world will ever lead. In addition, the minister is leading a large number of volunteers. Leadership is tough in any setting, but particularly this one.
- Dealing with critics. There is an obvious overlap with this issue and the previous two. One of the most unsettling times of a minister’s ministry is the discovery that some people don’t like him or agree with him. Some ministers never learn to deal well with critics.
- Family matters. The unprepared minister often lives a life of trying to please everyone. Those who often get left out of this effort are spouses and children. Many ministers fail because they failed their families.
- Finances. A minister is often thrust into an organization where there is an expectation of knowledge of budgets, balance sheets, and banking. Too many ministers are unprepared in both church finance and personal finance.
- Consumer mentality. Countless ministers have told me they entered local church ministry expecting to find members who were sacrificial and others-centered. Instead they found members who were selfish and me-centered. Ministers are too often unprepared for this congregational mindset.
- Uneven expectations. I recently wrote a post on how many hours a minister was expected to work each week. It created a lot of buzz, because too many ministers don’t know how to deal with these various expectations from church members.
- Uneven spiritual growth. I encourage you to read Sam Rainer’s article on messy churches. He reminds us that it is really positive if we have some level of immature believers in our congregations. That is an indication that we are reaching new people for Christ. Of course, we don’t want baby Christians to remain babies, but we do pray for a regular inflow of new Christians. Immature believers present their own unique challenges where many ministers are unprepared.
When a missionary is sent to another part of the world, we typically spend hundreds of hours preparing him or her for a new culture and a new language. They must understand the context where they will serve or they will be ineffective. They must be prepared for the new culture or they will suffer culture shock and often fail.
American congregations in the twenty-first century represent new challenges and new cultures. Too many ministers are often unprepared for the mission field where they will serve and lead. Too many ministers thus become walking wounded or AWOL altogether.
What do you think about these eight areas? What would you change or add?