Eight Areas Where Many Ministers Are Unprepared for Ministry

September 2, 2013

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?

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94 Comments

  • 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:

    earl_wallace_3-d_brochure_2pg_learn_leadership_from_judges.pdf

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

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Allen James says on

    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.

  • 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!

  • Emmanuel Adisa says on

    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

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