10 Things that Surprise Rookie Pastors

I’ve worked with students and graduates in their first pastorates for almost three decades. Over the years, I’ve often asked them, “What’s most surprised you about the work of pastoring?” In no order of priority, here are some of their responses: 

    1. “How hard it is to prepare a sermon week after week.” What was so exciting the first time young preachers prepared a sermon can quickly become a grind when Sundays just keep coming. Pastors seldom get a preaching break unless they intentionally take it.
    2. “How hard it is to maintain a consistent quiet time amid the work of pastoring.” The work is never-ending. There’s always someone else to visit, some other meeting to hold, some other counseling session to lead. Finding alone time with God is not always easy.
    3. “How much seemingly little things bother some people.” Sometimes church members have “pet issues” they fight for, argue against, or bring up with every successive pastor. Frankly, they’re often insignificant issues—but they’re important to those members.
    4. “How often pastoring requires doing things I had not expected.” Some days, pastoring might mean moving tables in preparation for a meal, helping a church member who’s moving to a new home, or running the vacuum when no one else is available. Those things aren’t usually on the job description.
    5. “How many long-term believers have not really been discipled.” The more pastors dig into the lives of church members, the more they realize that many churches have done a poor job of making disciples. Even some leaders in the church are still babes in Christ—though they probably don’t recognize that fact.
    6. “How much people really appreciate the clear preaching of God’s Word.” There are always exceptions, but people really do want to hear a word from the Lord during the preaching event. Some, in fact, are hungry for it because they haven’t received it in the past.
    7. “How powerful it is when I know some members are really praying for me.” Something just happens in your heart when you know faithful, godly church members are interceding for you. Pastors can face hard times and lead through difficult situations when they know others have covered them in prayer.
    8. “How little I know about the regular assignments of ministry.” Young pastors know these assignments are part of the role, but they’re still learning how to do things like counseling hurting people, officiating weddings, overseeing funerals, leading meetings, and guiding staff. Most of the time, rookie pastors learn on the job.
    9. “How easy it is to get so busy I give too little time to my spouse and family.” Even those young pastors who set out to avoid this problem still find themselves wrestling with it. Nobody sets out to prioritize ministry over family—but still it happens.
    10. “How much joy there is in pastoring.” Despite other issues on this list, most rookie pastors I’ve worked with are surprised by the fun, excitement, and fulfillment pastoring brings them. My prayer is they never lose that joy.

Pastors, what most surprised you in your early years of ministry?

Posted on August 29, 2023

Dr. Chuck Lawless is a leading expert in spiritual consultation, discipleship and mentoring. As a former pastor, he understands the challenges ministry presents and works with Church Answers to provide advice and counsel for church leaders.
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  • All of this are spot on!!

    A couple of other things:
    – how mean & ugly some people can be.
    – crazy & unrealistic expectations

    This ia all incredibly helpful and important information for a new pastor to at least keep in mind going into any pastoral situation, but especially a first church, or even a new church.

  • One more to add, that I need to be a psychologist because there are people (some who have a clinical diagnosis of everything from narcissism, to bipolar disorders, to post traumatic stress disorder) who I would interact with in my position as their pastor. Church members who had psychological needs and exhibited anti-social behavior but appear functional until things snap. No one tells pastors that they will be psychologists without benefit of psychological training. And will very likely get burned for it.

    Number 4 is my favorite. Among the bizarre things in my first years of ministry: fixing toilets, herding geese from the steps of the sanctuary, removing the live flying squirrel hunkered under the pew because the member was freaking out, corralling a 4′ black snake from the kitchen to the yard, and having to shut the water off to the building to stop a leak in the water meter.

    One piece of advice, which falls in the same category, is every pastor needs to know how to turn off all the utilities into the church buildings. Electricity, water, and gas (if available). The worst thing to have happen to a pastor is to be stuck in a situation they can’t fix, like a water line leaking in the ceiling in the kitchen (a friend had that issue), and not knowing how to stem the inflow of water.

    • Chuck Lawless says on

      Thanks, Les, for writing!

    • William A. Secrest says on

      I completely agree. When I did my undergraduate degree I specifically did it in psychology because I could see the need arising for counseling. I have been right. I am currently dealing with a couple in my church whose son is in trouble with the law and is bipolar. This is definitely one aspect of pastoral training that needs to be focused on in seminary. Our own personal health is influenced by the counseling that we do in or churches.