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?

Posted on September 2, 2013

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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  • David Zook says on

    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.

  • 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.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Total agreement Bob.

    • 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.

      • Jonathon,
        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.

  • One more thing. Does Lifeway have any books and videos on relationships?

  • 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

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Good points and good questions Gary. I’ll let the commenters respond.

    • Celeste Gardner says on

      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.

  • jim delong says on

    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

  • 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.

  • G L Fredrick says on

    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.

  • Great article! As a new minister fresh out of seminary, I found this article very beneficial. Thanks for sharing!

  • 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.

  • Thom,
    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

  • 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 on

      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 on

      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.

  • Travis Bundrick says on

    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!

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Great insights yourself Travis. Thank you.

      • Robert Myers says on

        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.”

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