warnings-affair

Before me are handwritten notes that I took over a few weeks from various social media interactions, emails, and a few phone calls. The total is nearly 200 separate communications to me. I kept a record of them for one simple reason: I wanted to identify the greatest pain points of pastors today.

In many ways, there are no surprises. Indeed, I doubt most of you will be surprised at my findings. If nothing else, it is a good reminder of how we can help our pastors, and how we can pray for them. Of course, you will quickly see that they are not mutually exclusive. They are listed in the order of frequency I noted.

  1. Criticism and conflict. I do have a few observations about this number one issue. First, it seems to be growing, and pastors seem to be experiencing greater challenges. Second, most of the issues of conflict are not doctrinal issues. Indeed, most are trivial issues. Finally, very few pastors are equipped and trained to deal with the steady stream of critics and crises.
  2. Family problems. Many pastors struggle with expectations by church members of their spouses or children. Others struggle with finding time for their families. Many pastors’ families struggle with the “glass house” syndrome.
  3. Stress. The pastor’s life is one of emotional highs and lows. It includes critics and adoring fans. Expectations from church members can be unreasonable. The very nature of a pastor’s call into ministry can lend itself to seemingly unending stress.
  4. Depression. Every time I write about this topic, I hear from countless pastors and staff. Depression is pervasive in pastoral ministry. And it is often the “secret” problem.
  5. Burnout. Local church ministry can attract two broad types of persons: the lazy and the workaholic. Accountability is often low, and it can be easy to get away with little work, or to work 70 plus hours a week. I see more of the latter than the former.
  6. Sexual problems. These problems are most often in one of two categories: pornography or marital unfaithfulness.
  7. Financial problems. Most of the world hears about the few pastors who make huge salaries. The reality is that the majority of pastors struggle financially.
  8. Time management. Expectations of pastors can be unrealistic. Pastors are often expected to attend multiple meetings, to visit countless congregants, to prepare sermons with excellence, to provide ongoing strategic leadership, to conduct weddings and funerals, and to be involved in the community. Many pastors don’t know how or when to say “no.” And many are not good at delegating, or they really don’t have anyone who can handle some of their responsibilities.

Most pastors love their callings. Most pastors enjoy most of what they do in ministry. And most pastors wouldn’t change their role if they could. Still, many pastors have ongoing challenges and struggles. And many would gladly receive help from church members, a word of encouragement from most anyone, and the knowledge that others are praying for them.

What do you think of the eight struggles I noted? What would you add to this list?

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Comments

  1. says

    I agree with all 8 Thom! These are great. For me burnout was a major conflict that has happened in my ministry and one that I want to help other church leaders overcome. One that I might include with your list is friends. I’ve heard a statistic before that 70% of pastors don’t have any close friends which goes with another statistic that 25% of pastors don’t know who to turn to when they have a personal or family conflict. I think pastors can be very lonely people which is a paradox since we can be surrounded by 100′s of people. Having a few deep, meaningful friends can be a struggle that I see among church leaders. Great post!

    • Thom Rainer says

      Well said Brett. I pray this blog site will be a place where pastors can see the need to connect with each other.

    • Lemuel Billingsley says

      I too agree w/ all of your comments. I often do what I can to position certain of the church members to be in prayer for me in specific ways. In addition to this, I use the scriptures to lead them in praying for me. Does this help, of course it does, but there are still various struggles such as not being prepared for certain crisis. And I think sometimes we forget that we are dealing w/ a dirty devil in which many pastors are not equipped to fight. What I have done to keep myself going is surrounding myself w/ a few pastors in which meet for prayer daily by phone. We too use the scriptures for praying for our families and church. I have seen that it keeps us refreshed in the Spirit of our God. Again, I thank you for your insight.

      Lemuel Billingsley

  2. says

    Blessings Thom! These posts are very helpful to me. I have experienced some of the struggles you list. But the greatest struggle I face (and have faced) in 30+ years of ministry is seeing so little spiritual growth in people, including me. I served for ten years as a Pastor, sixteen years as a DOM, and have now been pastoring a wonderful Church for the last six years. I have rarely found anyone truly interested in sacrifice and spiritual transformation.

  3. Ken Jerome says

    Thank you for making this list — you are ever so correct in every point — The most important point of the “pastor job descripton” should be — Stay alive spiritually and make sure your marriage is healthy. With all the stress that is “self imposed” we pastors have don’t handle our time very well. I am thankful for a few strong friends and a healthy marriage. Not always had that. –

  4. Tony Wolfe says

    Thanks for posting this, Thom. I certainly appreciate all of your hard work for our convention, and your heart for pastors. What a blessing you are, brother.

  5. says

    Thom,
    I thank you greatly for addressing these issues. I have surely faced many of them through the years. I am grateful for wise counsel from caring members and mentors who helped me walk through the balance of family and church, the humility and determination needed to stick it out through the criticism, and the need for accountability and encouragement.
    I’ve often said, “They didn’t teach me that in seminary.” The three years to get an M.Div. or some other degree to prepare a person for ministry are busy ones spent with Hebrew, Greek, weighty theology texts, etc., but I have often thought there needs to be some “welcome to reality” course using visiting pastors who have been in the trenches. Perhaps that type of course exists now.
    Thanks for the always timely posts.

    • Mark says

      Among some denominations, there is a mandatory year of seminary spent in a congregation or chaplaincy doing real work under the ordained clergy. This way everyone gets a year of exposure to the real side of ministry, not just seminary courses and chapel with one’s colleagues and the faculty. Perhaps some of the seminaries need to rethink their policies and some of the big churches need to talk to the seminary deans about the need for ministerial candidates to have some real world experience and then be willing to take some of these students and put them to work in the big churches where they can get some experience.

  6. says

    As Dr Rainer noted, this list is not exhaustive, rather the most frequently mentioned struggles to him. Your input on this blog has already expanded the conversation to include friendships (Brett), spiritual transformation (Lanny) and marriage (Ken). Keep the conversation going pastor friends so that we can “carry one another’s burdens.” Gal 6:2

  7. Tammy says

    Pastor Rainer,

    I just want to say thank you for posting this and the mental health post. I am thankful for social media and your openness. It helps so much when praying for my own Pastor. I am sure sometimes it must feel like you have the burden of the world on your shoulders. God Bless and thanks for your faithfulness.
    Tammy

  8. Brian says

    Personally, the problem I face is competency. With the complexity of moral, ethical and social problems this generation is facing, and bringing to our desks for counsel on, it is overwhelming and intimidating, and often leaves me struggling to know where to start. Add in the factor that such a large number of people around us are weighed down by so many issues, and the fact that our churches have limited time and resources within, it can leave a pastor wondering “what good are we doing?” Of course, I know as we all do the answer is Christ, and His word and the preaching of the gospel does not return void. I know that we do for a few people what we wish we could do for them all. I know that with man this is impossible and with God all things are possible. That is my firm hope and trust. But there is still the human frailty factor and at times where at least I feel incompetent. That is my struggle.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Thank you for your comment and transparency Brian. I have heard from a number of pastors with similar concerns.

  9. Bill says

    After growing up in ministry and then my personal interaction with pastors for the past 20 years, I have seen all of these issues in churches. Don’t think not my pastor or not my church, If I were a gambling man, I would bet the house on the fact that at leased one of these points is an issue in every church. I am a workaholic! Just like my dad (who is also a pastor). My previous ministry had me serving with a lazy sr. pastor that had an extra relationship (Woman) in his life. This caused even more work to fall on me. I was headed for burnout. I got fired for addressing his inappropriate relationship (Matt 18). I am looking for a new ministry to serve in, but this has left some emotional scars both in me and my family.

  10. Michael Cooper says

    Thom,

    Well said and very helpful. I am back in the local church after over a decade if denominational work.

    Regular meetings with fellow pastors an my own experience point to the validity of these insights.

    Thanks for your commitment to encouraging and empowering local church leadership.

    Mike

  11. says

    Many pastor deal with expectations to grow their church or preach like so and so. This can lead to insecurity in their calling as a pastor when those expectations aren’t met. It all comes down following the Lord’s leading and timing and faithfully serving the congregation he has placed you in.

  12. says

    Thank you, Dr. Rainer, for your continued heart beat for the church & the pastors that lead them. These too is one of my great concerns & passions. Continue the great work, sir! Blessings to you & your family.

  13. says

    Thom thanks for your post and you’re right on target! After 35 years in ministry and presently serving in a local body that cares for us as ministers and with a Senior Pastor that cares deeply and does his best to look out for his Team is such a blessing. I hurt for those that do not have a network or accountability to lean on in times of struggles. So thankful as well for my son who also serves in a church ministry that accountability and network is established. Thx Thom for reminding for us I trust each of us will heed your words. Every blessing…

  14. Tom Rush says

    Thanks Thom, well said. I’m grateful to pastor a congregation that understands this for the most part and they are very supportive. That has not been the case in previous ministries. The expectations are always high (and should be) but sometimes very unrealistic. I once counseled a fellow pastor who had ended his ministry on the heels of having an adulterous relationship. He said he was “glad” because now that he was out of the ministry he’d have more time to spend with his children (of course that turned out not to be the case). A church should give the time to a pastor to care for his family but if they don’t the pastor must “take” that time anyway. God Bless, Tom

  15. Steve Pryor says

    Great job. From a nonpastor, can I ask if #4 is woven into most of the rest? In other words, is it either a root cause, outcome, or coincidal with the other issues? If so, does the SBC offer counseling specifically aimed @ pastors struggling w depression?

    I would think being an effective pastor would be incredibly difficult, when depression is in the mix.
    Thanks

    • Thom Rainer says

      Thanks Steve. You are right. In fact, several of the struggled are interrelated. Some state levels of the SBC offer such help, and it is getting more attention at the national level.

      • Mark Dance says

        Steve – As Dr Rainer mentioned here, there are some SBC initiatives under development to help pastors and members with mental illness in general and depression in particular. I explained some of it in the comments in Wednesdays blog about depression. There is much work to do. Stay tuned friends.

  16. Bobby says

    Sometimes words cannot express what the heart is going through. Thank you for this fresh reminder that our struggles are not foreign to others.

  17. FaithatFaith says

    This also applies to the other pastors at the church as well as the Senior pastor. The youth, children, preschool and college pastors have as many if not more expected from them whether anyone realizes it or not. They need to all be prayed for and led.

    • Linda says

      So true! Speaking from experience not only do youth pastors and their wives have to deal with expectations of the flock but more so the heavy burden of dealing with the expectations and criticisms of the lead pastor. Congregations are often clueless to what their youth pastor and wife is having to deal with behind the scenes in that regard.

  18. Jeannette Solimine says

    I agree with all eight, Thom. I would add the complications for many of us of moving (uprooting) ourselves from one community to another, and then trying to become a part of the new community as we break ties with the old. This can be especially hard when we move into small towns and small churches. It takes time (years) to fit in, and our congregations don’t always give us the time we need to establish ourselves in the community before demanding that we “grow” the church, influence the community, and return them to what they were 40 years ago.

  19. Mark says

    Thom,
    As long as we continue to operate on the “heroic leader” paradigm with pastoral leadership these actions/reactions will continue to be a debilitating issue for them (and their staff). A great article by long-time leadership professor, Margaret Wheatley, describes the effect of this issue (http://www.margaretwheatley.com/articles/Leadership-in-Age-of-Complexity.pdf) on both leaders and followers. While it occurs in the business world all too often, in the church comprised of Spirit-led believers who need to express spiritual leadership it is truly tragic. Good leaders are being decimated by this and good potential leaders are being underutilized or even ignored. This is particularly true for millennials today.

  20. Mark Dance says

    One theme that is woven throughout Dr Rainer’s blog and our comments is EXPECTATIONS. I wonder how much of this pressure comes from the pews and how much of it comes from the pulpit (ie: self-imposed)? Although every church and pastor is different, I wonder if we (pastors) are not creating the vortex of workaholism that we are getting sucked into? I personally have created more unrealistic expectations for myself and ministry than my members have? Anybody else have that problem??

      • Bill says

        It may be that as pastors we know from an operational standpoint what needs to be done in order to promote a “lead by example” atmosphere. A saying I had in my office was “a pastor doesn’t merely point the way he leads you in it” If the church doesn’t see a sense of urgency and work ethic in their pastor, they will not sense the urgency to be involved. The problem comes when we as pastors bite off more than we can chew. IMO

    • Mark says

      Mark,
      Once again, I believe the “heroic leader” paradigm plays into this. Why do we set those expectations? Perhaps two reasons: First, we likely know are considered the “hero,” and that we are expected to have all the answers to all the problems, or at least now where to go to fix them. “It comes with the turf,” so to speak. This is untenable on the surface, but it is a standard operating principle of most churches I’ve been associated with over the past 30 years. Second, and in ways more problematic, we pastors (and staff) have a felt need to be the ‘hero.” Our servant gifts ping off the charts when we do fix something, our pastor gifts ping off the charts when we successfully protect the flock, and our mercy gifts ping off the charts when we hold a dying hand. These are all good things that pastors do, but the spiritual rush can be intoxicating. We bring it on ourselves by not training our people that shared ministry is the best ministry. I don’t have to be the one to fix everything, protect every person, or hold every hand if I’ve trained my flock to do so effectively. Perhaps we fail to do this because of the intoxicating rush we feel when we do it ourselves. Perhaps we just need the words of appreciation that follow. In response to your question, Mark, perhaps the issue comes from both directions linked to our peoples’ image of the hero-pastor and our own self image as “heroes.”

      • Mark Dance says

        You are right about the intoxicating effect of ministry.

        Maybe that is why RG3 keeps getting hurt so often? He is better than his own running backs, so he tries to run in too many plays.

    • David Swofford says

      Mark,
      You are right about this. I went through burnout after serving a church for fifteen years. During that time we relocated and went through transitions in our worship style, our discipleship strategy, and our decision-making process. It took everything I had to give. The church nearly tripled in attendance, but I left feeling like failure. I have been away from that situation now for more than two years, and I am realizing that I put a lot more pressure on myself than anyone else put on me. Through the help of my wife and a good Christian counselor I am learning that my value is not in what I do but in who I am- a child of God. Ephesians 4 teaches that God gives pastors as gifts to the church. My hope and prayer is that more churches will learn to treasure their pastors.

      • Mark Dance says

        Thank you for sharing that David. That unfortunately is a common self-curse among pastors like us, and is not easy to see when you are in the middle of ministry.

  21. Jeff Glenn says

    I struggle with Number 4 on this list. The reason has already been mentioned: spiritual apathy; outside and inside the church.

  22. Jess Alford says

    For me, I think stress is the ruthless killer. I always thought I could handle anything, but after 35 years of stress in the ministry I think I have finally fallen victim to this invisible foe. I never want to ever pastor again, but if God lays it on my heart to pastor again, I will. So far he hasn’t, and I will not. After being on the battlefield for 35 years wallowing in the mud, blood, and beer not counting all the death and sickness I’ve had to face, I will at every opportunity run from stress, but many times, I just don’t have the opportunity. I always thought I was trained well enough to deal with stress, I’ve discovered if you truly care about people and the ministry you will have stress and a lot of it. After the first five years in the ministry, I had to toss my training out the window. LOL

  23. Allen Calkins says

    If your number one issue (criticism from within the church based on unrealistic expectations) was less prevalent, I believe all the other six would be greatly diminished.

  24. Tim Batchelor says

    I think many pastors can identify with your list. I know I certainly could.

    What does it mean to be equipped and trained to deal with critics and crises?

    I really enjoy your blog.

  25. Ami says

    I’d add personal finances. Many churches want or can only afford to pay a certain dollar amount. Rarely is it enough. We were given a gift from the church via the elders to help with some additional expenses, so of course it showed up in the budge to which one person remarked it was “excessive”. Excessive? When I shop at discount food stores, buy second hand and our car is over a decade old? One doesn’t join ministry to make money and I am happy as his wife to do what needs to be done by handling the finances shrewdly, but when you know the financial worth of your husband’s education and you are both trying to commit to a church and make the small budget work and people are ready to comment about “excessive” (when making twice the amount in their own field of work), it’s discouraging. Thankfully the people who love us are also in charge of the church budget so they do what they can to make sure we’re okay, but I know that’s not true in many places.

  26. David says

    Dr Rainer, I agreed very much with your list. I’ve experienced most of these at some point in my 32 years of ministry in our church. Where I am now in my walk is learning to understand just how much the Holy Spirit really wants to fill every part of my life. We pastors (I’ve served as youth pastor most of those years) get so caught up in the “doing” of planning, leading, teaching, equipping and pleasing people that the human effort gets exhausted and we’ve forgotten what it means to abide in Christ and wait on the Lord. Pastors, lay leaders and members all contribute to the mounting expectations that we try to meet each day. It’s a battle, but I’ve got to know the fullness of the Spirit in order to keep serving and pursuing people who need Him.

  27. says

    Thom,
    The “glass house” issue is often far more grave than any of us realize.
    As difficult as it is for the pastors, it is equally stressful for their wives and children. And bi-vocational pastors are probably under much more stress and scrutiny than fully supported pastors.

    While serving as a Mission Service Corps volunteer consultant at the association and state level for many years, I was more often invited by bi-vos to find volunteers to help them because they did not really know how to “equip” their members to do the work of the ministry. Those churches could not afford to put me up in a motel, so I usually was a guest in their home during my visit.

    I cannot tell you how many nights their wives kept me up throughout the night after their (pastor) husbands went to bed, simply because they had such burdens on their hearts that they could not even articulate to their husbands.

    The primary one was that they never felt truly safe and secure confiding in anyone (other women) in their church. The women all wanted her as their best friend and confidantet and jealousy prevailed if anyone felt slighted. They all sought to be her confidante so they could be the one who felt superior to the other women if they knew all her secrets and there were cliques that existed long before she arrived who never quite accepted her and held her at arm’s length while criticizing her for not being aware of all their customs, traditions and histories.

    Basically, they needed someone who would listen who they knew they would not have to face at church on Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night who might betray their innermost fears and secrets and they latched on to me like a lifeline, knowing when I left their secrets and fears left with me and they would not have to worry about me gossiping to the other women and revealing their vulnerabilities.

    In a perfect world, their husbands should fill that role, but these precious women were more often than not just trying to protect him from more stress…OR…he was the source of their resentment because all his compassion, time and energy was spent “pastoring” the church while unintentionally neglecting his family. There was nothing left for them.

    My overt purpose was to go and consult with the pastors to help recruit long-term volunteers to come help them and encourage them in the process, but after a while, it was clear that these bi-vocational wives were just as much, if not more, God’s purpose for me being in their homes. They have all the same struggles of their husbands…plus the burden of supporting him day in and day out…and often helping supporting him (and therefore) the ministry of the church by holding down jobs of their own outside the home. All the while, trying to present to the world, their church and the community (including their workplace) the appearance of a perfect wife, perfect helpmate, perfect parent, perfect family life, perfect citizen, perfect employee and generally the perfect example of Christ to everyone who thinks pastors and their wives are…well…PERFECT…and have all the wisdom, all the answers and have it all together in their own lives!

    They are under all the scrutiny he is under and MORE and have few close relationships they can trust who will love them despite their flaws. They, as well as their husbands, cannot allow themselves to be truly transparent with any other human being because we, as congregants EXPECT them to be perfect…because if they are not…what hope do we have?

    It’s a big ‘ole Catch-22 that perpetuates an unbearably false obligation by imperfect pastors and their families to set a perfect example for imperfect people. Somewhere in the process of trying to point them to the ONLY example of perfection, Christ, Himself, they fall victim to the lie (a subtle, unintentional. hypocritical Christ-complex) that if their congregants do not see Christ’s perfection in them, they will never see it at all.

    That burden is too great for any human being to live up to year after year after year and eventually leads to burn-out, depression, despair and desertion of their calling, their churches and unfortunately, often even their own families.

    I wish I had an easy answer for these wives and pastors. We are all responsible for the conundrum, but churches (the collective congregants) rarely acknowledge their own flaws and shoot their wounded shepherds…or worse exile him and his whole family to a desert of depression and despair because they did not meet an expectation of perfection.

    Thank you, Thom, for bringing to light this hidden and uncomfortable problem few have the courage to face.
    BLESSINGS!

    • Thom Rainer says

      Deb: What an incredible contribution you’ve made to this topic! Thank you for taking the time to write. I know many will benefit when they read your comments.

  28. says

    Thom, I truly appreciate what you do to bring attention to the stresses that ministers face. I remember reading that the three most stressful jobs in the world are doctor, lawyer, and pastor! I realize that you and I might not agree on a lot of things, but I think it is hugely important to get ministers the support network they need. I’ve had minister friends who really suffered in silence because their “loving” flocks would have ripped them to shreds at the first sign of human weakness. It produces a culture wherein it is *FAR* more likely for scandals and improprieties to occur as ministers hold out as long as they can, then crack. And I don’t want that any more than you do. It’s just not healthy for anybody–not for the minister, not for his or her family, not for the people they are trying to guide along this crazy thing we call life, not for society.

    I would only add “isolation” to the list you’ve outlined here. I feel so hugely for the ministers I’ve known who just felt totally alone, all the time, and could not even go to a therapist or get a massage or whatever because if someone from church found out, it’d be all over–they might lose their job, their house, their everything! It’s not like a job, where you can go out and do stuff your boss wouldn’t maybe approve but who cares, it’s your free time. In ministry, you’re “on” 24/7, and the culture just totally frowns on ministers needing anything. They must be SUPERCHRISTIAN, all the time. Thank you for letting me post here, btw, and best wishes on this series –

  29. says

    Dr. Rainer,

    Thanks for compiling this list–it’s spot on. I would add “stuck” to the list. Many Pastors find themselves trapped by their own shame over living in a way that goes contrary to what they proclaim to the congregation. Some wrongly believe that an honest confession of their real condition may jeopardize their job or the trust of the congregation. We’re all broken, sinful and in need of Jesus. When we all realize that truth transformation can begin to take place.

    I pray that your blog will help point the way to freedom and health for all of us engaged in Gospel ministry.

  30. Dan says

    another one you could add to the list – the inability to be able to handle the condemnation, judgement, and rejecton when you fail. The church at large speaks about understandng, coming along side of, and restoration, but when the “professionals” fall, it’s not to be found.

  31. Bernice Hofer says

    After years of being out of ministry two of our adult children still do not attend church because of the glass house situation. We pray for them all the time. Reentry stress after living in another culture is a tough one, if ministry was done in another country. Please pray for Tom and Michelle.

  32. Mark says

    Someone mentioned the stress of being a physician. I know quite a few surgeons who perform very risky procedures. I know one who tragically took his own life. Others learn now to cope with stress by going on vacation, having hobbies unrelated to medicine, and retiring early and switching to less stressful positions, like professor or just taking clinic. They also usually have a physician friend in whom they can confide who also looks out for them. If that person sees something strange, he will get him aside and talk to him.

    If you are minister having coping issues, find someone to talk to. Go to someone who is clergy in a different denomination if you don’t feel like you can trust one in your own denomination.

  33. Diane Durham says

    I’ve been a pastor’s wife for over 20 years. Every body struggles with these issues not just pastors. The main problem is that people put pastors’s on a pedestal. It’s when the pastor steps UP on the pedestal where the problem starts. I was called “First Lady” the other day. I am not a first lady, I am a sinner just like you, my connection with God is no different than yours. It’s your choice, do you want to become a mature christian or sit on a pedestal? Go God!! Be transparent & be the same person at church that you are at home!!

  34. Ken says

    Regarding church conflict, I highly recommend three books that have helped me: “Antagonists in the Church”, by Kenneth Haughk, “Well-Intentioned Dragons”, by Marshall Shelley”, and “Leading Your Church Through Conflict and Resolution”, edited by Marshall Shelley. They give helpful advice on how to identify causes of conflict and deal with them in a firm but loving manner. The third book I mentioned has a very informative chapter by Andre Bustanoby entitled, “Wars You Can’t Win”. It’s a good reminder that some situations are simply beyond the pastor’s control.

  35. Pastor Scott says

    Those 8 are very significant in the life of a pastor. My father is a pastor (83 yrs old) and gave very wise counsel when God called me into the ministry. He said I would face many struggles & temptations but that I should remember who was leading my life. Regardless of what I would face, always stay focused on the ministry of God’s kingdom and pray for the strength that only He can give. That little bit of fatherly advice has gone a long way in helping me through many issues in pastoral ministry. Remember, Jesus’ statement in Luke 9, …take up your cross…, it’s not easy but I believe the rewards far outweigh our struggles.

  36. says

    For me, depression sets in amidst conflict and criticism. There is one person, in particular, that toxic. I cannot please them. Every visit or conversation with them will start with 10-15 minutes of angry criticism, followed by life stories, and ends with me praying for them and telling them I love them. But for 2-3 days afterwards I contemplate resigning. But God has been faithful. I am criticized no more than He was and his graces to me in the form of an awesome wife and gospel friends work. He is worth it.

  37. Pastor Roy says

    As a pastor that is older, 70, in a smaller church, 25-30, I find times where I lack support. I have been at the same church for 10 years and we are experiencing some small growth. Years ago, when I first went into the pastorate, I had older men that served as mentors. Now that I am older, all of the mentors are gone. It seem that there is no one to “bounce” things off of. The church I pastor is part of a very liberal denomination but I am able to faithfully proclaim God’s Word. The church seldom gives to denominational headquarters. I am licensed as a SBC pastor but not part of any SBC activities.

  38. Don Matthews says

    Stress is the common component. Life in the ministry is a life of emotional stress. How you deal with stress in a healthy way is essential. It would be a great discussion to consider practical ways a pastor can be proactive to overcome the effects of stress. Just being “spiritual” may not be enough. There are some psychological issues that must be stressed. My question to the readers is what daily habits can a pastor develop to build on stress rather than be destroyed by it.

  39. says

    I haven’t read all the responses, but I agree and identify with all 8. I would add one – creating space and time for meaningful prayer. This has been a 30 yr struggle for me and I am still trying to figure out how to pray in a meaningful way – more than just the unending list of sickness and struggle.

  40. Dwight says

    You mention that “very few pastors are equipped and trained to deal with the steady stream of critics. . . .” Can you recommend some resources to help equip us pastors in this area?

    • Thom Rainer says

      Dwight: i was speaking of formal training. Do you readers have any favorite books or other resources to help Dwight?

      • Ken says

        I mentioned three books in my comment posted at 7;07 this morning (just a little ways above these comments). These books have very useful advice on how to respond to critics and how to pick your battles in ministry.

  41. Steve Egidio says

    Thanks for the timely insights. I also see these same struggles taking place in ministers who have denominational and ecclesiastical offices, as well. The idea that we place such great responsibility upon one person, and then expect them to perform at the same high level of proficiency and effectiveness all of the time is absolutely absurd. It so easily becomes a tool that the enemy of the soul can use against God’s servants in great measure. We must strongly urge our churches and leaders to find the best ways for them to gain balance in their life, and then we must stop expecting perfection from them.

  42. Kofi-Kakraba Afful says

    Thanks Senior Pastor Thom,
    Thanks for defining these . Sometimes we don’t know or cannot clarify what is wrong with us.You are right on all eight.

  43. Robert Lawrence says

    I enjoy your articles. They provide valuable insight into the struggles many in ministry face today. I do believe one other struggle that many face is the ability to carve out time for personal time with God. A time for individual spiritual growth. Thanks for your thoughts.

  44. Kevin Dodd says

    Dr. Rainer,
    Thanks for compiling this poignant list, as well as creating a forum that lets pastors (and their wives) not only identify with those areas, but also add their prevalent struggles.
    I was a senior (aka “solo” in spite of other staff) pastor, and some of these things really resonate with me. Now, however, I’m experiencing the blessing of plurality and parity of pastor/elders, and while there are (and will be) struggles that we each face, we have this paradigm that helps us intentionally invest in and even intrude upon each other. I believe that one of the biggest boons, however, is that none of us are burdened with flying solo when it comes to the preaching, teaching, and shepherding of the flock, even though we are all bi-vocational with the associated time-management challenges that any pastor faces.
    I believe a key principle within this is accountability, and I strongly echo the sentiment that was expressed earlier. Accountability doesn’t just have to mean someone checks up on your internet activity or asks if you’ve had a daily quiet time this week. My prayer is that every pastor would find one person who would push them, prod them, pray for them, and intentionally purpose to help protect their honor and, subsequently, their family and their ministry.
    It’s not easy. It requires an intentional effort to even find another pastor (preferably) who’d be willing to deal with your eventual transparency and (hopefully) reciprocate. But it’s extremely important, because, as has been echoed throughout this stream, our sanity is worth it, our wives are worth it, our families are worth it, and our God who calls us, compels us, and keeps us as His own is worth it.

  45. Becky Gilbert says

    A ninth problem could be a lack of accountability itself. Some see this word with a negative connotation, but a pastor (or any believer, for that matter) who loves/values his spiritual walk, his calling, and his destiny would be doing himself a favor by seeking out those who will speak truth into his life and hold him accountability regularly (not once a month), even eyeball to eyeball where words and speech are more easily parsed and discerned. (Skype is a wonderful tool for practicing this!) Accountability doesn’t mean someone is policing or monitoring your life, but rather helping to hold you responsible and keep you on track to fulfill your charge and ministry. It’s a GOOD thing!

  46. says

    Thom,
    Thank you for your contributions to the ministry of so many pastors and staff.
    I’m a staff member and have served either part time, volunteer or full-time for almost 50 years. I think one of the greatest problems is having a close friend with whom we can simply be ourselves and can count on that person to pray for us, be our friend and help hold us accountable without being judgmental! I know someone else has already addressed this but I need someone with whom I can be honest and they will help me balance the issues with a different perspective. I have a great relationship with my spouse of almost 49 years but I need someone else to be myself with other than her. Too often she has the same perspective I have.
    Thank you again for your ministry!

  47. Dave Wallace says

    Thom,
    I so appreciate this article and the comments. Hundreds of churches die every year. Many years ago I was pastor of a slowly declining congregation. No matter what I tried it just got worse. Surely you speak to many pastors who are right now living through the same thing. Not many pastors even want to admit that it is happening to them. What would you say to them?

    • Thom Rainer says

      Thanks Dave. I hope my upcoming book, “Autopsy of a Deceased Church,” will help address those issues.

  48. Hal says

    We ARE in the middle of spiritual warfare, after all. We need to keep that in mind as we pray, study, prepare messages, marry and bury, preach and teach. And this is why we need to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness.

  49. Dave says

    As a pastor w 3 decades of experience, I have learned not to say, “I disagree” because it’s too terse, but in the interest of time I will simply say that having struggled w 1-4, 7 &8, I conclude that they were not my biggest struggles, in retrospect.

    The most significant struggle is connected with a lack of self-awareness. I was handed a script that contained so many good things that I failed to realize that it wasn’t tailored to me I became angry over the “people” who gave me a script and angry with myself for accepting it.

    “This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength. But you would have none of it.’”

  50. Deb Killeffer says

    Here’s another piece to add: The increasing amounts of mental illness in a church membership. I can’t under-emphasize that it’s a huge burden to those in ministry (I’m a PW) and how difficult it makes for any kind of genuine discipleship to occur. Also, please add the cultural changes that have occurred in our country which devalues the call to ministry AND the cost of remaining faithful to Christ in all areas of our lives.

    • Renee says

      Deb, would you please elaborate on your comment
      regarding mental illness? My pastor asked me to
      start a ministry for people with mental health issues just today.

  51. Tim says

    I agree with your article. Speaking as someone who had a pastor commit suicide because of a combination of these reasons its good to see someone put this down.

  52. says

    It’s a pretty good list, but I think 4 and 6 could be expanded. Depression and it’s close cousin Anxiety are both crushing. Sexual problems certainly include pornography and marital unfaithfulness, but there are a host of other complex sexual issues beyond these two: from intimacy, personal image, mundane dysfunctions, questions such as what is ok and what is not ok within the marriage bed, to dealing with the often culturally expected image of “sexless clergy.”

  53. Rick says

    I think one I the most difficult things to bear is that pastors rarely have anyone to defend them against unjust criticism and/or accusations. This must’ve part of what carrying ones own cross means.

  54. says

    I would add on the sexual problem that if the pastor (he or she) is over worked they really could be “bone tired” every night and not able to be intimate with his or her spouse but just comes home and goes right to bed…. its not always just or only porn and adultry – its also lack of intimacy due to exhaustion.

  55. says

    I was going to respond, but it turned into a blog post.
    I would love to look at the role of the Christian leader throughout history and see what the differences would be. No doubt they all worked hard, but i doubt they were as divided in their attention as we are now. Anyway, here’s the link to my blog in case you are interested in my thoughts.
    Thanks for the post and the following responses. It’s good to not feel alone in this, but it also makes me wonder if there isn’t something structural and systemic about all this that won’t necessarily be cured by individual choice.
    peace
    http://revchrisroth.blogspot.ca/2014/03/the-challenge-of-being-priest-today.html

  56. says

    Thom,

    What do you think about hosting a conference (as if we haven’t put enough on you already!) that addresses these specific issues (or others) for pastors? Or do you know of one?

    I am sure that a 2-3 day getaway to pray, worship, and be encouraged as we work through our personal issues in ministry would benefit many of those who frequent your site… Most of our conferences are focused on preaching, methods, and networking… but what about one that focuses on pressing on in the midst of serous struggles?

    Rob

  57. Thom Rainer says

    Rob: We are looking at addressing these issues more fully in 2015. Thanks for your ideas. Very good input.

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