I thank God for pastors. They are often criticized, second-guessed, underpaid, and expected to do too many things. Pastors would be perfect if they were simply omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent.
Indeed, the expectations of pastors can be overwhelming. In that light, I asked seasoned pastors to share with me the areas they wish they could be better prepared and better equipped. The results were voluminous, and the needs are great. Here are the top eight:
- Leading the church in evangelism/reaching the community. Many pastors felt as if evangelism and healthy growth are neglected topics. They admitted their own sense of inadequacy in leading their churches to reach more people with the gospel.
- Leadership development. Pastors know they can’t do the work of ministry alone. But many of them shared poignantly how they wish they could become better at developing leaders in the church. They understand both biblically and intuitively that more leaders are imperative for a church to be healthy.
- Finances/business issues/administration. “I never considered how much of church life is running an organization,” one pastor shared with us. “I was never trained for that aspect of ministry, and it has come back to haunt me again and again.” Another pastor confessed that he had never learned to balance his checkbook, but he was expected to lead a church with a half-million-dollar budget.
- Leading staff. We heard it again and again: “I have no idea how to lead my staff. I have no idea how to evaluate my staff. I have no idea how to deal with conflict among my staff.” In fact, one pastor told me he joined Church Answers for one reason: so he could ask questions about dealing with staff.
- Counseling. Many pastors shared how much their congregations demand in counseling. They also said the demand seems to grow every year. They not only lack the training to know how to counsel, they often don’t know when to refer people to professionals.
- Dealing with change and conflict. It is a common theme among pastors. They were told to expect conflict before they became pastors, but the reality was consistently worse than the warnings. They long to know how to lead change and deal with conflict better, but they often feel inadequate in those areas.
- Dealing with their own depression. A number of pastors admitted surprise when depression hit them. They simply did not expect it to happen to them. Many also admitted shame and embarrassment in talking to others about their struggles. Some even shared confidentially with me their own thoughts of suicide in the past.
- Equipping others. This particular need is similar to number two, leadership development. But in this case, pastors desire to equip the entire body of Christ, not just leaders. But many pastors feel woefully inadequate in doing so.
It was fascinating to see what topics did not make the list: Bible, theology, ethics, and preaching, to name a few. The pastors expressed gratitude to the Bible colleges, seminaries, and books that prepared them well in the classical disciplines. But the cries were for better preparation in practical issues and practical ministries.
How about you? Where do you think pastors need to be better equipped? What would you add?
Let me hear from you.
Posted on August 6, 2018
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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I couldn’t agree more with these list. God has changed my life through the ministry of Evangelism Explosion International. I was a lay person desperately wanting to share the Gospel with family, friends, and anyone else I had the opportunity with. I thank God my church offered a small group that was an EE class to learn how to share your faith in a loving and relational way. God has even called me on staff with EE and I absolutely love walking with pastors to help equip their churches to share the Gospel! I am the XEE coordinator for EE USA which is our most current tool. My role is to assist pastors and leaders to effectively reach people for Christ in a postmodern culture. If your interested I would love to chat. Email me at [email protected] and I will get back to you ASAP. I can also help arrange evangelism trainings for children, deaf, prisoners, and more. God bless
Our church recently started using EE for its primary evangelism tool/training. As a pastor, I can’t even begin to describe how helpful it’s been to have a trusted organization guide us along how to set everything up. One of the greatest things is that the approach/materials include spiritual formation for new and growing believers. It’s a win-win solution for me as a pastor and for us as a church.
I have to agree with your assessment of those 8 areas. After serving in churches for more than 4 and half decades serving on every possible committee from the local church to international committees I have found pastor’s to be warm, caring and dedicated servants of our Lord. What they are not is leaders! They are not trained anywhere in the business of making the tough decisions required to lead people. Look at the problems every leader in scripture had dealing with people. Pastor’s want to be liked by all. Not going to happen if you want advance the Kingdom of God. There will always be wolves among the flock that you have to guard against. Pastor’s can’t bring themselves to do what it takes to guard against them, so after much bitterness they usually resign and go elsewhere to serve. However, some never recover from such spiritual battles.
I just want to give a word of encouragement to all of my fellow pastors. I know the temptation to quit arises often; I’ve been battling it myself recently. Yesterday, though, I had one of those days that makes it all worthwhile. You’re probably making a bigger impact on people than you realize, so hang in there!
Seminary education, at least back in the 80’s prepared the Pastor to preach. There was little, if any, training in administration, counseling, leadership, finance and development. Which is why when I was on staff with Tom Bary and wanted to pursue additional graduate studies, I went for a Master’s in Management and Leadership and am now finishing a PhD in Nonprofit Management. The amazing aspect is that even faculty did not make the correlation of the church as a nonprofit agency until I started writing about it in class and making the curriculum applications to the church.
Isn’t it ironic that most of this list is dealing with “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry” (Eph 4:12), yet our seminaries are neglecting these disciplines in their curriculum?
I get it, Hugh. But I am not quick to blame the seminaries. It is exceedingly difficult to cover all needed classical and practical disciplines in the relatively short period of the degree programs as most are structured today.
These are all valid points but ones that are easily overcome. “Leaders don’t do everything. They do what they can and ask others to do what God has called them to do.” Unfortunately, I see many pastors who are great at ministry but aren’t leveraging their leadership gifts to grow church leaders and thus draw in the people.
Pastors, just as with CEOs of companies, are not expected to do everything. They know how to bring in the talent they don’t have to form a powerful team. Churches can learn and implement best practices from well-run businesses. Churches should have a powerful edge—God and the power of prayer as additional resources.
If you can dream it and achieve it, it’s not God’s dream, because God doesn’t dream that small. I encourage pastors to engage a leadership coach.
You are right.
Such is the reason more and more pastors are seeking outside resources like coaches.
The pendulum swings to extremes regarding what the seminaries and conferences emphasize. In the 80’s and early 90’s, these 8 areas were emphasized more while Bible and theological knowledge took a backseat…not absent but backseat. In recent years, the pendulum swung to emphasis on Bible, history, and theology with practical matters in backseat. These 8 accurately reflect a current need. But more specifics could include how to delegate, how to utilize a secretary/assistant, and how to utilize deacons. Resources for equipping others seemed to go out the door with the Baptist Sunday School Board’s “Equipping Module” boxes, the HMB witness training and the Sunday evening Training Hour in churches.
I would suggest that number 6 and number 7 go together. Change and conflict are a part of ministry. I admit that the one thing that I really need to get better at is “how I deal with conflict.” I admit that I am too “thin-skinned” and that is part of the problem. I dealt with depression recently and I put it before my church. I did not tell them that it was depression but that I was struggling. My church loved me and prayed for me. I thank God that I feel as if I have turned the corner. It is so important for pastors to have a group of pastors or an individual that they can talk to when things get tough. Ministry will always get tough and pastors just have to know that it is going to happen eventually.
I’m a pastor and a farmer and to be honest I can deal with cattle better than people. I never understood depression until it hit me. But praise the lord my church family prayed for me and help me overcome it. Sometimes I think we need to just tell our church what’s going on
I am so grateful for churches like yours, Tim. And for pastors like you.
Great article. I would say that most of those represent my life in some way as a Pastor. Sometimes seeing the problem helps to correct the problem.
Thank you for serving faithfully, Kevin.
Pastors in Cincinnati feel isolated and alone. We have formed 10 regions to address fellowship and equipping. However, the biggest untapped area is ministering to bivocational pastors. I did a study and found the average bivo pastor in Cincy invests at least 20 hours ever week to ministry and often the majority of that time is in sermon prep. The Cincinnati Area Baptist Association started this year providing a professional church coach, quarterly fellowships, scholarships for mission trips, and assistance in addressing lostness through church planting (lay, bivo, and multisite for the rest of us).
Thankful for all of on the front lines, Mark.
I received little to no training in any of these areas during my ministerial education. Anything I learned was learned the hard way, buy trial and error; wish I could go back in time and get a redo on some huge mistakes 🙂 An even greater challenge (I see it this way after 30 years of pastoral ministry) is that within my ministry context something like leader development isn’t a real core value, especially with governing church boards and equipping the congregation is seen only as as the transfer of information.
Very well said, Rodney.
My seminary education prepared me quite well for the ministry, but still, some things can only be learned by personal experience. I think anyone who has been a pastor for ten years or more can probably write an entire book on “Things They Never Taught Me in Seminary.”
Hi Ken, I would agree that seminary prepared me well for ministry. I have come to a place where I question what I perceive to be the pervasive thinking that seminaries are the primary training grounds for ministry preparation. I guess I’m wondering when the church stopped being the training ground for ministry with seminary coming alongside the church. Seminary prepared me for ministry, but not how to be a pastor. An older pastor did that. It’s called discipleship and it’s as vital as a good education.
Competent pastors need to have 3 things to function well: education, training, and experience. A good seminary excels at providing one of those, another less so and the 3rd little to none at all. Seminaries by themselves don’t make good pastors. Seminaries working with churches do.
Just my $0.000002.
I have written before and never got a response. I am Chair of World Evangelism at Hope International University; I teach an online class and travel around the world teaching Relational Evangelism to Christians. I constantly have pastors, elders, missionaries, men and women take the training and end up saying “I have never gotten this kind of training before. I now know how to do personal evangelism and train others in it.” I would love to talk to someone there about what I have. Josh McDowell and Loren Cunningham have endorsed it. Luis Palau recently said ‘it is the best evangelism material I have seen since Bill Bright came out with his 40 years ago.” I don’t see that in all the wonderful things you offer that you have a strong, effective model and method to train people in personal evangelism. I’m here. [email protected]
I wish I could get to all the requests that come my way. I typically get about 50 a week.