Eight Areas Where Many Ministers Are Unprepared for Ministry

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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?


  1. Travis Bundrick says

    Great insights and unfortunately so true! You can add to these thoughts the fact that most church staff leaders, whether they are senior pastors or Executive staff, have no idea have to create and implement “leadership development” opportunities for their staff. Couple this with virtually no apprenticeship strategies to help young ministers after seminary and you have a recipe for failure. We are losing some very talented people because of this situation. Let’s do something about it!

      • Robert Myers says

        I’m late to this discussion, but would like to add another to the list; this goes along with number one, “Relational Intelligence” I would call it Regional Awareness. My home state is Colorado and I have served churches in Texas and New Mexico. Many times we have seen pastors from the southeast accept a church position in the west, but quickly leave because of not knowing what to expect in their new region (cold, dry, pioneer areas, different mindsets, etc.). I would think it would also often be true of westerners moving to the east or southeast or other unfamiliar regions. We used to joke, “He or she won’t be here long.”

  2. MarkTerry says

    Thom, this is a very helpful series of posts. I would add two items to your list. The first is time management. I believe many new pastors do not understand how to budget their time. The second is really a failure by our seminaries. The seminaries neglect courses on practical theology–church administration and pastoral ministry. It is not that these courses are not taught; they are. The problem is that they typically are elective courses, and the students gravitate toward Bible and theology courses. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard that a pastor was terminated because he was a poor Bible teacher or lacked biblical knowledge, but I know many who were terminated because they lacked leadership and administrative skills.

    • Thom Rainer says

      I totally agree Mark. Chuck Lawless did a great post on time management at this site a few weeks ago. Thanks for the good additions.

    • Chuck Lawless says

      Good words, Mark and Thom. At least among evangelicals, I have not heard of a minister’s being fired for heretical teachings for some time. I know it happens, but we have generally done a decent job guiding young ministers to know biblical truth. Where we’ve failed too often is teaching the practical “stuff” — and that omission on our part, in my opinion, leaves a young minister vulnerable to failure.

  3. says

    great thoughts. As a semnarty student it is always helpful to be instructed in things to expect when I am finally in full-time ministry. I hope to one day also to become an author of at least one book. So your blog is always helpful on many different fronts.

    Paul aka preach

  4. Joseph says

    I would specifically like to comment on the first of the eight points. The inability to relate to everyone is a normal thing but it can speak to problems with “theory of mind”. Those who struggle within relationships often do so for a reason and it may be as simple as being on a spectrum. I have met many pastors who had they gone to school in Toronto, in the last few years, would have been told they have a cognitive impairment causing this. There are no reason why such a person could not or should not be able to improve their social awareness. After all doing so will help them develop a greater ability to relate to those they are called to serve.

  5. G L Fredrick says

    During my time at seminary, both in the undergrad and graduate program, I was often dismayed by otherwise good men who had on rose colored glasses concerning the ministry. Perhaps because my own perspective was one of radical conversion from the quasi-atheistic culture of the world we are trying to reach and their perspective was one of sheltered “I intend to inherit my daddy’s church” life, our worlds seldom met. Further, there was a persistent concept in the concept of “Christian magic,” i.e., that one could claim a verse of Scripture and problems would just melt away. All this led me to believe that there would be a great furthering of the “religious” advancement of the church but little true “in the trenches” life-changing ministry to those in any given community who need it most. No seminary experience can truly change an individual who has led this sheltered church-only existence. That is not the fault of the seminary, per se, and many are quick to place blame in that regard. Rather, the blame, if there is blame, is found in the lack of true life experiences with the lost in any given ministry context, which drives the idea that church must be about something other than the “messy” church field.

  6. says

    Another area: dealing with city/county/state building codes, architects, and fundraising for building projects and remodeling projects.One more area: civic/political engagements learning to coexist with other denominations and the maze of city and regional politics.

  7. jim delong says

    Thank you for the insight. After reading the words of wisdom and wondering what else should be considered in the list, I realized that the set of parameters set forth was more than enough and would best be utilized in self-evaluation and not projected. Where is the God inside of me overwhelmed by the man inside of me in light of knowing self, accepting self, and being self? Maybe you are the Father some of never had! Thank you for caring . . . jd

  8. says

    Dr. R,

    This is right on, IMO. For the past 20 years I have focused my Family Counseling Ministry and Consulting on Christian Leaders and am appalled at how poorly they have been trained to actually lead a congregation. Maybe it is all the theory/theology and no practice. What little is done in the areas you mention such as interpersonal skills or interpersonal influence is clinical or diagnostic in nature.

    Pastors do NOT need to know how to do Clinical Counseling but they MUST know how to do PEER HELPING. At least 90% of a Pastor’s time is spent in trying to influence people in meetings, crises, complaints, family issues, sinning, etc. All people are messy.

    Are these things not covered in seminars and workshops after ordination? I and my friends have done workshops on stress, influence, stages of change, Pastoral Care, etc but few Baptists show up. Why?

    I would add to your list:1. Personal Family Life for the Pastor.2. Setting up small groups. 3.The Developmental Stages of Christian Spiritual Growth.


    Gary Sweeten

    • Celeste Gardner says

      Hear hear!! I was appalled that, at the seminary I attended, “CPE” was not required and neither were any classes that were specifically focused on pastoral counseling. I should say that “field ed” was required for the MDiv, however those experience’s ability to help you understand the relational aspects of ministry were dependent on the mentoring clergy person’s ability and desire to highlight that. Those who chose to do field ed in a hospital or jail setting, where there was an intentional focus on relational and psychological issues, raved about how transformative those experiences were – in contrast to their other field ed experiences in churches or other para-church settings. Having been highly trained and experienced in group dynamics through involvement in the Education for Ministry program (an Episcopal program for lay people), I am often stunned at the way clergy allow themselves to be triangulated by parishioners. They simply do not have even the most rudimentary training on how to recognize or deal with manipulators, time suckers, energy drainers, pot stirrers, etc… OR to recognize their own need to please and need for validation.

  9. says

    I’m not a pastor and I’ve never been to seminary, so I cannot really comment with any accuracy on what their education prepares them to do, nor on its shortcomings. But from the conditions I see among SBC churches, I observe one thing: seminary grads do not seem be trained, at all, in how to take people FROM standing at the altar, wanting to join, to actually BEING disciples. Beyond the usual statements (baptism, faith), there are no expectations and no requirements, as respects members.

    I don’t know many places, in the world, that such a lack of requirements or expectations would actually work. I wouldn’t think it would work with, say, a prospective Lifeway employee.

    • jonathon says

      Bob Clevland wrote:
      > seminary grads do not seem be trained, at all, in how to take people FROM standing at the altar, wanting to join, to actually BEING disciples.

      My impression was that half the reason _I Am a Church Member_ was written, was because seminaries didn’t even know that they should, much less actually teach pastors how to do that process.

      • Garry says

        I agree with your statement, yet the sad part is that most of the professors teaching Pastoral Ministry in the seminaries (especially the one I attend) are either currently serving as the Pastor of a local church, or have in the past. This should help them to teach more life skills for the ministry, but I think sometimes the seminary may put too many restrictions on the actual class. It would have been helpful for me to spend at least a year at the feet of a seasoned Pastor, so that he could really show me what ministry actually looks like. Book knowledge is great, but actual experience usually throws a lot of that out the window.

  10. David Zook says

    There is no substitute for well-rounded life experience. Because of today’s climate, I am becoming more convinced that a man shouldn’t become a solo or senior pastor until he is in his early 30’s. It seems like that’s when wisdom begins to take root and that’s what we need … wise and discerning pastors who walk closely with Jesus and are able to introduce Jesus to others in wine some ways.

  11. Barry Bishop says

    This post is not what I want to read on a Mon. morning. It’s hard enough being a pastor without others telling you that you are a failure or that you weren’t adequately prepared, etc.
    I don’t tell you how to do your job as president of Lifeway, so why do you keep telling me, small-church pastor, how to do mine?
    If you want my job then let’s switch places for a week. You can be an organizer, administrator, and leader of my small church. I am sure it would grow and flourish. In turn I can be a spiritual leader for the publishing arm of the SBC. I’m sure my seminary classes on spiritual formation, and theology will finally come in handy.

    • Thom Rainer says

      I’m sorry I offended you Barry. I am sure you are a better leader in your church than I am at LifeWay. I still have much to learn.

      • Barry Bishop says

        I accept your apology and I’m calmed down now. I know that my frustrations with ministry runs deeper than your post. I commented because I thought it would be a helpful critique and that you could take it. I was right. Thanks for your humility.
        Here’s a different question: Is it possible for a pastor to be prepared in all 8 areas? Using the missionary example, there is the time of preparation but the reality on the mission field can be very different. No one really knows until they get there. Similarly, when a pastor goes to serve in a church, it takes a while to even know who you can trust and what are the strengths and weaknesses of that local church. Many times the pulpit committee will present a skewed picture of the church. Pastors learn after a while what the local condition of that church is. Too often, if you are a pastor who is gifted in teaching, preaching, and people skills you will be tasked with administration, promotions, organization, leadership (which means leading a coup on the present leadership). “Well,” someone might say, “just get people to help you in the areas where you are weak.” Agreed. But look at point #6 you made in the article above.

        • Thom Rainer says

          Thanks Barry. I am on the road and will be home late. I hope to get to your comment tomorrow.

          By the way, a true leader readily accepts the sincere apology of someone who wronged him. You just demonstrated that leadership.

        • Scott says

          FWIW, and I know this particular comment drama has passed, so I don’t mean to open an old wound, but I’ve heard Dr Rainer speak, at least a good 2-3 times, of his years of pastoral ministry, some of which were in a small church. Just saying… I think he writes as an empathetic insider and not as a disengaged critic speaking merely pejoratively.

  12. Heartspeak says

    The church model with which our pastors and congregations have been thoroughly trained for the past several hundred years seems to me to be a significant issue. Where do we really expect to find these ‘super’ men? Does God not provide all ‘parts’ of the Body? We often have deacons and elders but they are either advisors or guardians and directors, not fellow team leader members and very seldom selected because of their giftings. More often it’s ‘their turn’ or ‘they always have’ or ‘no one else would take the slot’.

    While I am not opposed to supporting those who lead our local bodies, I do believe that when the ‘pastor’ is compensated but the elders and deacons are not, there is a natural divide that lead to all sorts of consequences. This is not to deviate to a compensation discussion but rather to comment that it does seem to set up, in part, a set of cascading expectations which lead us to desire and hire our ‘super’ men—and be disappointed when they fail to meet the expectations.

    As a layman in the Body, I’ve seen the ‘failures’ all too often, that Thom has described. God is sovreign in the lives of each man and woman and in the lives of our local bodies but that doesn’t mean that there can’t be a better way.
    I’m sure that even as we weep over the real and apparent failures we pray for God to do His work in them and in ourselves.

    I’ve watched several Pastors up close and personal as they ‘blew out’ and know of others which I can reasonably anticipate are well on their way to it. In each case, they’re trying to ‘do it themselves’ and despite having Godly men available, have chosen not to engage with them and not to seek them out. Shepherding and equipping the flock is not a singular job, it requires men and women who share the load and who each function as they have been gifted and embued with passion to serve those for whom they care.

    Admittedly, many congregations just want someone to rule over them and feed them but this is not and has never been, God’s way. I am ‘concerned’ (I was tempted to write, ‘afraid’) that until we really move into a different model for the Body, we will continue to see good men buckle under the load they were never meant to carry. And we wll see many hurt and wounded disciples as well.

    Yes, God has worked mightily over times past even with our broken system, but I keep thinking of how much more Kingdom impact might occur were we to try another way!

  13. says

    One problem is unrealistic expectations of what a pastor/minister should be, or perhaps wrong views of how a church should operate. For example, point No. 2, leadership skills. Too often churches operate under the single-pastor/lead pastor model no matter the size of the church. Asking one man to be the be all/end all of ministry is unrealistic. Some ministers excel in leadership, some excel in teaching, etc. This is not to say that we shouldn’t improve our weaknesses, but the plural elder model alleviates this problem as each minister brings his particular gifts to the unified whole. Another example, point No. 5, finances. Every Christian ought to have some knowledge of proper financial management, including pastors. But if a pastor needs to be a CPA to be a pastor, the church probably looks too much like a business and not enough like a spiritual gathering of baptized believers.

  14. Alex bell says

    Dr. Thom
    So where does a young minister find these answers and this training. I got sit under dr lawless at sbts a while and have been blessed with some mentors to ask. But not everyone is that blessed, so where do we go?

  15. Hector Franco says

    What books do you recommend in the area of Relational intelligence?

    What about inventories?

    I appreciate your ministry Tom.

    • Sandy Cormack says


      I find that clergy who are certified to administer some personality type assessment – for instance, Myers-Briggs -become quite adept at relationships, interaction and communication. Part of the training for these assessments involves interpreting how people of a certain personality interacts with others. They can administer the instruments and then coach their parishioners.

      On the other end of the spectrum, I have met clergy who don’t even understand their own personality type and how it impacts their relationship and communication styles. I think this sort of insight is an essential first step.

  16. says

    Hi Thom. You certainly are right on about the contents of this article.

    Like any job, being a pastor requires continuous learning AFTER one has graduated with a degree. I was 21 years old when the first church placed me in an elder role during which time I was trying to learn leadership from the other board members, who were in their 50’s and 60’s. I perceived that our church was in danger because the first two pastors who served during my tenure liked “helping people” so much that they never prepared decent messages that were needed to feed our congregation, so we could overcome our carnality, which was negatively impacting our walks with God, our families and our church fellowship. The board and the pastor resisted my desires to help the pastor structure his week, so he would have adequate preparation time. I decided to work with the pastor and the church staff directly to see this happen, and after a few months, the staff assured me, they too had tried to help the pastor structure his time so he could prep and provide a coherent sermon on Sunday, and he just refused to sit still in his office and do it. If the phone did not ring, he would find someone else to call and reach out to which occupied his time.

    What I discovered from this experience and now over more than 30 years of additional ones, is that most pastors I have known lack in gifts of leadership and preaching-teaching, but are strong in mercy. They often enter the ministry because they want to “help” people. The more they talk to people throughout the week, however, the less time they have to get alone with God and His word, so that it can speak to them, so they organize what the desperately needs when gathered together on Sunday mornings. Churches hire pastors, however, thinking that Bible school and seminary has equipped them with leadership and with executive management gifts/abilities that enable them to take charge of their schedules, so they do what is “best” by saying no to some of the many “good” things that can consume their time. Leaders establish expectations that enable pastors to be able to preach well on Sundays and mid-week if necessary.

    The pastors who have attend my leadership seminars or who have asked me to provide conferences for their churches, tell me they have tried to learn leadership. But most leadership training, however, provides little more than a repeating of the word “leadership” and often do not provide Biblical examples of what good and poor leadership is and how it applies to the church. Thus I believe God has given me Three-Dimensional Leadership from the book of Judges to fill a gap in leadership compendium and knowledge. Please use these two links to see in 333 words or less per article what I mean. (Read: Three Ways to Lead a Church: http://bit.ly/zB3890, Change Your Church to Change the World: http://tinyurl.com/ChangeChurch-World. I know God has given me a leadership technology to help pastors and churches. (Contact me, and reference testimonies will be provided.) I am asking God to open more doors so more can be helped with what I know He has given me.

    Perhaps Bible schools also will do well to incorporate some of the courses I have developed based upon The 3-D MRC leadership perspective and point of view. Downloading this PDF explains the 3-D philosophy found in the book of Judges. Links to EW’s Brochures:

    Learn Leadership from Judges:
    Download File


  17. Jason Miller says

    Many of us who went into pastoral ministry, read the latest books, attended the high-dollar lectures, and went into the pastorate expecting to be a CEO-type with multiple full-time staff members. We were going to have a great team, we were going to let them flourish, we were going to equip them and encourage them in their ministry, Then reality: we found ourselves in small churches, with no “staff”, and everything hangs on us. Most of my colleagues don’t even have a secretary, or a part-time one at best. You have to be careful to do what needs to be done organizationally without becoming the janitor. One colleague of mine decided to “help out” his struggling congregation by volunteering to take over the cleaning for a few weeks. “I like manual labor” he told them. They stopped even looking for a cleaning service — the pastor liked doing it, after all! Pastors of small congregations (and we are the majority of congregations) have to learn to pick the slots they are going to fill. They also do the equipping and encouraging, but not of anyone on the payroll. That takes a lot more time, because usually volunteers don’t have an office down the hall, just past the cappuccino machine. And if we’re going to work with volunteers, we need to be prepared to stay there for awhile. Many ministers are unprepared to stay someplace for a while, especially in the small churches. We can always sweat it our for a few years then jump to someplace a little bigger, working our way to the congregation where we can have a staff. Many times we don’t stay in the small churches because our expectations were so different, from the very lectures and books that excited us in the first place.

    • says

      Hi Jason. If I may, let me relate what I saw in two small churches that nearly tripled in size and then lost all the growth. Many churches remain small because some of the congregation members push people out the side and back doors almost as quickly as they come in the front. Sometimes this happens out of ignorance and sometimes it is done out of insecurity (I am afraid to trust “new” people, and at others it results from a spirit of self-control, “How dare these strangers think they can come in here and make this church their church!” Three-Dimensional Leader training based upon the book of Judges is effective at getting people to self-assess where they are and why they are doing what they do.

      Sessions often end with church participants sharing tears of repentance, forgiveness and hope that they are a new path for the future.

  18. zack b says

    Great insights. I have another one for you. For me, I have NEVER been given the opportunity to serve the Lord and the church in a ministry setting. This has left me INTENSELY frustrated and confused. I believe God has given me passion and ability, but I have had NO OPPORTUNITY to show that.
    In my view, if I can’t even get the opportunity to volunteer in ministry then count me out. I don’t want anything to do with it.
    God bless.

    • says

      Zack B. raises a point that I think many gifted people experience, and which I focus on in training programs, which is how church leaders should can establish processes for helping them to feel comfortable about delegating. I have spoken with pastors both as an elder and a consultant, and have asked, “Am I hearing you correctly that you have preached to these people for 15 years, and you don’t believe that God has poured into them anything that enables you to trust them?” If this is the case, then I would question what I am not teaching the people God gives me.

      Just yesterday, I met with a group of leaders who have started independent Bible studies because a church pastor told them he did not want to encourage small groups because he was unsure of what would be taught in them. If God has given people gifts, and the Holy Spirit is prompting them to use them, and if the church says no, then one of three things is taking place: 1) God is saying “wait.” 2) God is saying “No.” 3) God is saying, “I am calling you, and you just will have to do it someplace else.”

      In the latter case, if I have a gift and the church refuses to help me use it or gain experience, so I can grow in it, (understanding that few people do things exceptionally well the first time they try them – like Moses first failed to rescue Israel), then the church actually is asking me to come and admire what it refuses to do and does not enable to take happen. I believe these type of experiences are a tragedy for the church as the Body of Christ, which suffers maldevelopment as a result. Ephesians 4:16 “…the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in [due] measure of each several part, maketh the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love.”

  19. says

    Hi Thom…
    Thanks for this list. I think it will be very helpful for most pastors and future pastors. Do you have any recommendations (either personal advice or resources) for someone who hasn’t been to seminary, but who is considering taking a pastor position at a small church, specifically in terms of things to consider and what to expect that you wouldn’t normally think about?

    • jonathon says

      Stephen Shumate wrote:
      > in terms of things to consider and what to expect that you wouldn’t normally think about?

      Can your spouse take the strain of being “the pastor’s spouse”?
      Can you set, and enforce boundaries?

      It isn’t as common as it used to be, but two things will disrupt the family:
      * You aren’t home for meals, because you are tending the flock;
      * You are home for meals, but brought the flock with you;

      Instrinsically, there is nothing wrong with being the pastor of a small church.

      Extrinsically, individuals within and without the congregation will find fault with the church, because its resources are limited. That fault finding can range from the subtle “Can we afford it” to flat out in your face aggresion: “You are a pathetic church, because you don’t serve 10,000 meals per week, and shelter 500 homeless people per night. That failure to help those in need proves that you are not a Christ-like organization, but mere money grabbers”. FWIW, I did not make either example up.

  20. Randy Davenport says

    I am a former NAMB Church Planter in rural Nevada. I have often mentioned that I should write a book “101 things about church planting/pastoring that the do not teach you in seminary”.

    I would also add that pastors need training in child molestation and drug addiction. I had a meth addict come to church on day. All alone I talked to him and lead him to the Lord. I then found a counseling program for him. I later found out that you never meet with a meth addict alone. Another case, a mom, member of the church, asked what to do because one of the worst sex offenders, was released and moved next door. His home looked directly into the bedroom of her young boys. She asked what to do? The next day, the sheriff told me that this person was seen around the church. As a pastor, what should I do? After much prayer and research, I preached a sermon “No fear” and come up with a policy. A few months later a first grade girl was molested at school by another student. I was not prepared for this. Nobody asked me about Systematic Theology or church history, but real world questions. This areal needs more attention and studies.

    I wonder if Lifeway would help me with a book?

  21. says

    Great article, and one that I believe churches need to be aware of. New members aren’t always the only immature ones, and often a minister’s immaturity can be traced to lack of experience, which leads to arrogance to cover the inexperience.
    It would be nice to see more articles on ministers other than pastors, since there are tons of new ministers, youth, music, children, education, family, etc…and they are often young or inexperienced and need to be mentored well, before being thrown into the…’joy of ministry’…and it is that!

  22. Jake De Salis says

    Thanks Thom.

    In Sydney Australia and would agree with your points.

    Spiritual leaders can best serve when they are fully dedicated to the work of the Lord – to the study and teaching of God’s Word and ministering to the needs of the body of Christ. Most ministers I know are trained well. They are intelligent, driven and single-minded to work through God’s power in their church. Most of these people also know the true measures of biblical success: faithfulness; serving; loving; believing truth; prayer; holiness. They do measure things in ministry within the context of biblical success.

    I believe they are not trained well in the areas you have mentioned because those areas are assumed knowledge because of the qualities that drew them, or had them sent, into ministry in the first place. Perhaps these areas are all an oversight of self-expectations on the minister’s part.

    I would not blame the Bible college or seminary as training grounds. I would add another failure that precedes many of these issues and could counter them all.

    The skill of becoming a protégée. Everywhere I look this is something that is neglected too much. I have not met many ministers who think this is unnecessary however many of those are not in an intentional discipling relationship geared towards “iron sharpens iron and one man sharpens another” in the ministers life of faith for the ministry of the church. The right mentor can be an objective guide to take regular inventory of a minister’s whole life and work and develop these areas to become ‘grow points’ rather than weaknesses.

    Fight the pride, pray for the humility, make the time and find the right person. This is not just for young ministers.

    Yes this is discipling, however it is not just finding an ‘accountability partner’ or a ‘study buddy’ – it is finding an intentional influence of a Christ-like leader who does know the areas of failure for ministers. “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function.” As ministers we need to find those parts of the body that can develop us to “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”

    We need to find our Paul… and to those Paul’s out there, find a Timothy to set this right. Many minsters are looking and don’t know who to ask.

    YBIC, Jake

  23. Tom Covington says

    I entered ministry after a decade of working in business and state government while attending seminary part time. I have found that many of the lessons and experiences of my secular work have prepared me for ministry as much as my theological education. And yet it is amazing how many times I’ve heard a search time look at my resume and say how un-experienced and even in one instance “un-prepared for ministry” I was. We need a culture shift in churches to value those of us who bring both theological education and practical work experience into ministry.

    • Michael Roe says


      You are so right. I graduated from seminary this May after working in the secular market place as an insurance adjuster for 7 years while in seminary. Most of the lessons I learned in seminary were outside the classroom. Yet now that I am candidating, search committees don’t seem to value that. The minimum is 3 years associate, preferably senior pastoral experience.

      You are right, a shift is needed in how churches recruit and receive pastoral applicants.

      • says

        I learned the most about teaching, preaching, discipleship and equipping lay people from coaching and teaching elementary school. I also learned about dealing with school boards/church boards.

        It is ridiculous to think that we learn much from graduate school. Timothy was probably 40 or 45 when Paul said “Do not let anyone put you down because of your youth.”
        The guild system has always been the best system. It is based on Socialization not Schoolization. I follow a DREAMS acrostic to lead and equip.
        Didactic lectures and books
        Reflection- Thinking, discussions and application
        Experiential-Practice, Practice, Practice five hours for every hour in the game.
        Administration and Adversity-Dealing with reality not theroy
        Modeling-Watching better players do it several times
        Spiritual-The foundation is always the Holy Spirit, Prayer, The Bible
        That is a coach at work in discipleship and multiplication.

  24. says

    Some very good advice. The reality of pastor abuse (not abuse by pastors but absue of pastors) is under-reported today. So I’d add two things:
    1. The impact of generations of revivalism and lack of church discipline has resulted in many unconverted church members. See Jim Ellif’s excellent article: http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/ref-rev/08-2/8-2_elliff.pdf
    That means that there are members who aren’t just immature but who aren’t really new creatures at all and as such do no desire the things of God.

    2. The reality of wolves. Paul warns the Ephesians elders, in Acts 20, not simply to watch out for the immature sheep but to be careful of the “ravenous wolves”. Such people, by nature, will seek to destroy the ministry. They are a reality in churches that many people aren’t aware of and so aren’t preparing to deal with.

    • says

      The conclusion is: no pastor can cultivate spiritually dead people and no shepherd can manage wolves. I believe potential pastors are not being equipped by being warned to these dangers.

  25. says

    It is interesting to read the comments. I agree that many are not well equipped for the issues that are raised above while in seminary or church planting boot camps. It is also interesting to read the number of pastors who are lonely and all of the other issues that lead to pastoral “burnout.” It is just as interesting to watch pastors ignore the opportunities to gain insight from other pastors on a regular basis because “they don’t have the time to invest. They have too much to do.” Form a peer learning group for pastors, build Koinonia, share best practices about issues that you face, read about and are not prepared for. Learn from the experiences that many pastors are currently going through. I know that it takes time to do that, our ministry makes it possible for a great half day experience, w/ no homework and only 20 minutes of prep time for the pastor who leads/facilitates.

    • GL Fredrick says

      Greg, it is interesting that you mention pastor groups. I get multiple email invites from groups in my area both from our association and from local pastoral consortiums that I am sure might prove beneficial if during those events one could trust that pouring out ones heart would not lead to area-wide gossip. Of all people, pastors tend to go it alone because they know that saying most anything to most anyone will lead, eventually, to the demise of the pastor.

      Further, there are those such as myself, who are bi-vocational and who can only dream of having nothing else to do except lead and administer the flock. Oh, the freedom of that, that so many pastors take for granted. My secular job keeps me away from my ministry field by a 40-mile each way commute that sucks 10 hours out of my week. On top of the 40+ hours on the job I am writing my own lessons and sermons and am teaching on a high level. Add in the pastoral visits, fellowship, worship practice, committee meetings, etc., etc., etc., and there is not too much time left for me or family.

      But, our congregation is growing, we’ve gone from low 20s at my arrival 18 months ago to 70+ today. We are in process of starting live worship via a full band instead of music videos. We have a team of evangelists who faithfully witness in the community every week, headed up by Anthony Martin, the escape artist that just did that spectacular escape from a box tossed from a plane. We are blessed and we press ahead, plowing the ground for the seed of the gospel. But, how I wish I could do JUST that…

  26. says

    The list was spot on. I have often lamented that few undergrad or seminary graduates have received any substantive training in leadership and people skills. I would only add to this list, personal organization. Far too few pastors have a planned schedule to their week, the wherewithal to set and accomplish goals, or a good understanding of how to determine priorities in time management.

  27. Darryl Williams says

    I wouldn’t take any of the eight away. They all are things pastors need. Many are learned by experience, but the one I would still like more training is leadership. What a broad category. After 20 plus years in ministry I still see this as a great need. Especially in the area of developing leadership. We can lead programs and services and manage the day leadership of maintaining a church, but leading others to be leaders is so much harder. I see men who seem to do this so naturally. It is a learned skill for this pastor. Thank God for your thought provoking blog. Thank God for His calling and patience in our lives.

    • says

      Hi Michelle,
      Thanks. While everything in Mr. Rainier’s article is true, we also need to realize that not every problem can be “managed”. The Bible teaches that some of them have to be expelled from the church (Mt. 18:16ff, 1 Cor. 5). Trying to grow a church without church discipline is like trying to grow a garden without weeding. Eventually you’ll only have a patch of weeds.

  28. says


    You nailed it. I may have missed this in the comments but would add one more–Create a support community among colleagues (NOT parishioners). Many clergy are vulnerable to crossing boundaries with parishioners in order to have friends. It is a real shock to go from the active, stimulating, fun of a bunch of fellow seminarians and profs to the long, lonely days of parish ministry.

    As I approach my last month before retirement I would advice, cajole exhort every new clergy–find a colleague in ministry close enough to meet with weekly and make it a priority to do so.

    • says

      I don’t believe the idea of a “parish” or a “parishioner” fits the Biblical pattern of the church of a regenerate membership. A Biblical church is made of called-out “members” who have covenanted with fellow members. The idea of the “parish” admits the unregenerate functionally into the membership of the church.

  29. jpeckjr says

    Under Finance, I would add supervising and dealing with personnel issues, including how to fire a staff member legally and ethically, and how to conduct effective interviews. This is for both clergy staff and nonclergy staff. I learned those things in my pre-ministry life in government and the nonprofit sector. My seminary touched on it. Some of these things are learned only through experience, though. No seminar, workshop, class, or book could have prepared me for the “icky” feeling I had the first time I fired an employee (in business, not the church.)

    A key point about leadership: the first obligation of a leader is to listen. Becoming a better listener improves almost all of these areas. And with regard to trying to please everyone, well, that is the key to failure!

  30. says

    Spot on! And unfortunately we are stuck in a seminary model that refuses to teach them and ordination models that don’t test for them. I recently just started a second masters in business and am having a blast

  31. Jamie Z says

    I really liked this article. Sadly, it is not anything new to hear these concerns. It seems that I read articles all of the time that have many of your points listed in them. I am certainly guilty of them all at one time or another. One of my biggest concerns is in the area of church planting. It would seem as if this area of ministry is the “flavor of the month” in our Christian circles these days and I’m concerned that too many are getting into church planting and failing at most of what you mentioned in your post. Every church in this country was a church plant at one point but now many of them are dying so we decide to plant more. What, if anything, are we doing to prepare our church planters in such a way that their church plant doesn’t become a revitalization effort twenty-thirty years down the road? A lot of church planters get into this arena of ministry simply to avoid the stereotype of the older more traditional churches which leads them to believe that they don’t have to be concerned with some of the issues that you present in your article. In my three churches as serving as a youth and associate pastor I have sat under men who have not been concerned with becoming better leaders but rather were concerned about pleasing people while they rode off into retirement. Two of these pastors were voted out of their churches. It amazes me how our denominations don’t seem to have stronger protocol and oversight of our pastors in ways that would challenge them to be better. Thank you for your article. Great read!

  32. says

    Thom, thanks for your insights! Always appreciate your articles. I currently serve in the role as Staff Development Pastor for the exact reasons mentioned above – mentoring and coaching young leaders. When I was hired the elders said, “We want you to take 42 years of ministry experience and put it inside of them.” : )
    Lack of clarity and miscommunication always seem to be the two primary “enemies” in ministry. The two life experiences that helped prepare me the most were 1) serving on a local school board – art of negotiation; and 2) coaching high school football – clear words determine winning or losing.
    Letting matters slide, not following through, and “hoping for the best” always create tense ministry environments.
    Equipping pastors is not just a classroom experience and any young pastor entering ministry without a coach or mentoring leader is a prime target for failure. My best counsel to a young pastor – the best “leadership book” out there is the guy with gray hair around his muzzle who’s STILL in ministry. Sit down and read him.

  33. Jonathan Webb says

    You might consider dealing with traditionalism. Pilots, doctors, accountants, lawyers are expected to be and stay at the leading edge of their field. Ministers (in some churches) are constantly up against the ‘this is not the way it’s been done here’ mentality, especially when the congregation is predominantly elderly….

  34. says

    Add prayer to the list … not merely personal praying but especially facilitating meaningful corporate prayer experiences for the congregation. Teaching, preaching, leading all begin and flow through Holy Spirit led prayer.

  35. says

    Great article. Thank you for posting. And I would add to this list Biblical Peacemaking. Much of what I do that Seminary never prepared me for, is walking people through conflict. I am so very grateful to Peacemaker Ministries for what I have been blessed to learn through their efforts that I can now coach our congregants through. And I would also add to your list Spiritual Disciplines/rhythms. This was a two credit course in Seminary confined to journaling. Not enough to help me find what practices I needed to incorporate into my life to sustain my calling … especially in the challenging arena of being a female called. I am so very grateful for what I am learning from Ruth Haley Barton in Transforming Community. It is helping save my own soul as I continue on the ministerial journey.

  36. wayne burns says

    Thanks for an interesting article. While at seminary, I went to all J terms and took Religious Education courses. One of the best things I did as my ministry unfolded. And, I met some great religious education teachers. This is where you learn about the church functioning….keep up the good work.

  37. David Blair says

    At the risk of sounding humanistic I believe a great and unrecognized problem is the psychological framework of those of us in our society today. I am currently 67 yrs. old. I have come to believe one cannot see the forest for the trees. The Baptist Sunday School Board (Lifeway) at one time published a workbook entitled “UNTANGLING RELATIONSHIPS” a Christian Guide to Codependency”. It took me about three or four trips through it before I finally could see the problem was with me and not everybody else (including mu wife and family). The problem is that one doesn’t think there is anything wrong with “me”. It wasn’t until The LORD allowed me to be hobbled by a malignant, terminal, inoperable brain tumor that I began asking the hard questions. I was your typical “Type A” personality. (GOD healed me of the cancer, but, not the disability the tumor caused). So, I know how nearly impossible it is to stop long enough to be taught by our wondrous, magnificent, Heavenly FATHER. Until we AND the new pastors learn to love the LORD our GOD with all our minds, as well as our hearts, there will always be the problems our flesh tries to fix. (Romans 12:1).

  38. Emmanuel Adisa says

    Thank you Rainer. I am trained in The Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso, Nigeria, and currently pastors a church in Lagos. The Experienced shared above is not only peculiar to SBC graduates. It is a whole wide world issue. The African context that is colored with some forms of poverty also makes effectivel pastoral ministry difficult from the practical angles. The gap between the seminary and the world is widening every day. Some faculty members have not tasted life outside and so downdated about issues. Handling the matters of polity in the ares of “Congregationalism” is very difficult within a country who don’t practice real democracy. most pastors given at just one harassment from members. Can you pls work on post seminary online study that has market place impact and without certification? I hope hear from you. Thanks

  39. Denise says

    As a PK, I feel like I’ve seen it all, and in all denominations. I believe one sentence may sum up all parts…. We can become so heavenly minded, that we are no earthly good!

  40. Allen James says

    In addition to character issues, 2 huge areas that most are unprepared for in terms of ministry skills are:
    1. Personal Evangelism
    2. Discipling others
    This is an indictment on our churches as well as our seminaries. I do think our seminaries are doing better with training future leaders in personal evangelism. However I think we still fail greatly in equipping our leaders to make disciples (this is the primary task of the Great Commission isn’t it???). I know of very few seminary professors or pastors who understand and practice making disciples in their local ministry. Most think their preaching accomplishes this. If we are going to reach our country and the world, we must equip all future leaders with these essential skills.

  41. Scott says

    Sorry, don’t have time to read all the comments, and I’m sure someone has said this, but… I hear an inordinate amount of blame coming down on seminaries when the fundamental problem for most going into ministry is that they haven’t been discipled themselves and they certainly have little in the way of substantive and formative mentoring. If you don’t have relationships with those who have been in battle for years, you walk into the fight alone and unprepared. The reason so many pastors are ill-equipped is because leadership development, mentoring, and personal disciplemaking hasn’t been happening for a long, long time.

  42. says

    I would add dealing with Death and Grieving. How un-prepared we are to visit grieving families and helping them. Especially during times when we are brought in during the last moments. Being with and preparing families for what is to come.

  43. says

    I have observed that in the world the present moment, video games include the latest fad with kids of all ages. Often times it may be unattainable to drag young kids away from the video games. If you want the very best of both worlds, there are various educational activities for kids. Great post.

  44. says

    Hello Pastor Thomas Rainer. Your experience and insight definitely shows in the way you raise and address issues, such as the ones you raise here. I do not expect you to post this, but wanted to share it with you, so if people are looking for assistance and training, you might feel comfortable referring them to peruse my website or to contact me.

    I assist pastors and church leaders to improve their leadership Training in Three-Dimensional Leadership: Negotiating Your Mission, Resources and Context (3 -D MRC) details several different personality profiles to educate us on how to understand their impact on people relations in organizational settings. It helps us to self-assess our ranking within the three leadership dimensions based upon templates of how leaders respond to focus themselves and others on the mission that matters most in all kinds of situations and perspectives. Examples are provided from decades of experiences on both sides of the pulpit as a preacher, elder, worship leader and youth group director, and also from achieving unusual accomplishments in secular work. People are the same whether they are in the church or involved in “secular” work.

    It provides three different models for assessing and evaluating both employees and volunteers, and show them how to self-assess their own behaviors on a four category (quadrant) matrix. Leaders learn the needs of both the three types of volunteers and the 4 types of employees, and how to effectively listen and respond to, and focus to work and serve with them, throughout the inevitable changes of their life-paths.

    Most significantly, 3-D MRC training teaches a perspective on the Body of Christ that assists leaders to understand how to obtain synergy from their team’s diversity. Synergy is when the fruitful output is greater than the sum of the individual parts.

    Here is a link to some free downloads that explains elements of the programs. Once on that page, look at the brochure with the following title:


    You and others may reach me by my cell phone at 518-396-9457.

    • says

      This sounds very helpful to all people in ministry. I met last week with eight men who were veterans in ministry. None had learned anything about the relationship skills it takes to survive in ministry. They never had a single class in personalities, management, how to motivate others, stages of change, etc.

      Ministers do NOT need Clinical Pastoral Education. That is overkill. But communication, conflict management, problem solving are essential.

      It is educational malpractice by the denominations. I hope many sign up for your training.I can save their marriage and ministry.

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