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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  • Michelle Ray says on

    I agree with John Carpenter.

    • Hi Michelle,
      Thanks. While everything in Mr. Rainier’s article is true, we also need to realize that not every problem can be “managed”. The Bible teaches that some of them have to be expelled from the church (Mt. 18:16ff, 1 Cor. 5). Trying to grow a church without church discipline is like trying to grow a garden without weeding. Eventually you’ll only have a patch of weeds.

  • Darryl Williams says on

    I wouldn’t take any of the eight away. They all are things pastors need. Many are learned by experience, but the one I would still like more training is leadership. What a broad category. After 20 plus years in ministry I still see this as a great need. Especially in the area of developing leadership. We can lead programs and services and manage the day leadership of maintaining a church, but leading others to be leaders is so much harder. I see men who seem to do this so naturally. It is a learned skill for this pastor. Thank God for your thought provoking blog. Thank God for His calling and patience in our lives.

  • The list was spot on. I have often lamented that few undergrad or seminary graduates have received any substantive training in leadership and people skills. I would only add to this list, personal organization. Far too few pastors have a planned schedule to their week, the wherewithal to set and accomplish goals, or a good understanding of how to determine priorities in time management.

  • It is interesting to read the comments. I agree that many are not well equipped for the issues that are raised above while in seminary or church planting boot camps. It is also interesting to read the number of pastors who are lonely and all of the other issues that lead to pastoral “burnout.” It is just as interesting to watch pastors ignore the opportunities to gain insight from other pastors on a regular basis because “they don’t have the time to invest. They have too much to do.” Form a peer learning group for pastors, build Koinonia, share best practices about issues that you face, read about and are not prepared for. Learn from the experiences that many pastors are currently going through. I know that it takes time to do that, our ministry makes it possible for a great half day experience, w/ no homework and only 20 minutes of prep time for the pastor who leads/facilitates.

    • GL Fredrick says on

      Greg, it is interesting that you mention pastor groups. I get multiple email invites from groups in my area both from our association and from local pastoral consortiums that I am sure might prove beneficial if during those events one could trust that pouring out ones heart would not lead to area-wide gossip. Of all people, pastors tend to go it alone because they know that saying most anything to most anyone will lead, eventually, to the demise of the pastor.

      Further, there are those such as myself, who are bi-vocational and who can only dream of having nothing else to do except lead and administer the flock. Oh, the freedom of that, that so many pastors take for granted. My secular job keeps me away from my ministry field by a 40-mile each way commute that sucks 10 hours out of my week. On top of the 40+ hours on the job I am writing my own lessons and sermons and am teaching on a high level. Add in the pastoral visits, fellowship, worship practice, committee meetings, etc., etc., etc., and there is not too much time left for me or family.

      But, our congregation is growing, we’ve gone from low 20s at my arrival 18 months ago to 70+ today. We are in process of starting live worship via a full band instead of music videos. We have a team of evangelists who faithfully witness in the community every week, headed up by Anthony Martin, the escape artist that just did that spectacular escape from a box tossed from a plane. We are blessed and we press ahead, plowing the ground for the seed of the gospel. But, how I wish I could do JUST that…

  • Some very good advice. The reality of pastor abuse (not abuse by pastors but absue of pastors) is under-reported today. So I’d add two things:
    1. The impact of generations of revivalism and lack of church discipline has resulted in many unconverted church members. See Jim Ellif’s excellent article: http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/ref-rev/08-2/8-2_elliff.pdf
    That means that there are members who aren’t just immature but who aren’t really new creatures at all and as such do no desire the things of God.

    2. The reality of wolves. Paul warns the Ephesians elders, in Acts 20, not simply to watch out for the immature sheep but to be careful of the “ravenous wolves”. Such people, by nature, will seek to destroy the ministry. They are a reality in churches that many people aren’t aware of and so aren’t preparing to deal with.

    • The conclusion is: no pastor can cultivate spiritually dead people and no shepherd can manage wolves. I believe potential pastors are not being equipped by being warned to these dangers.

  • Tom Covington says on

    I entered ministry after a decade of working in business and state government while attending seminary part time. I have found that many of the lessons and experiences of my secular work have prepared me for ministry as much as my theological education. And yet it is amazing how many times I’ve heard a search time look at my resume and say how un-experienced and even in one instance “un-prepared for ministry” I was. We need a culture shift in churches to value those of us who bring both theological education and practical work experience into ministry.

    • Michael Roe says on


      You are so right. I graduated from seminary this May after working in the secular market place as an insurance adjuster for 7 years while in seminary. Most of the lessons I learned in seminary were outside the classroom. Yet now that I am candidating, search committees don’t seem to value that. The minimum is 3 years associate, preferably senior pastoral experience.

      You are right, a shift is needed in how churches recruit and receive pastoral applicants.

      • I learned the most about teaching, preaching, discipleship and equipping lay people from coaching and teaching elementary school. I also learned about dealing with school boards/church boards.

        It is ridiculous to think that we learn much from graduate school. Timothy was probably 40 or 45 when Paul said “Do not let anyone put you down because of your youth.”
        The guild system has always been the best system. It is based on Socialization not Schoolization. I follow a DREAMS acrostic to lead and equip.
        Didactic lectures and books
        Reflection- Thinking, discussions and application
        Experiential-Practice, Practice, Practice five hours for every hour in the game.
        Administration and Adversity-Dealing with reality not theroy
        Modeling-Watching better players do it several times
        Spiritual-The foundation is always the Holy Spirit, Prayer, The Bible
        That is a coach at work in discipleship and multiplication.

  • Jake De Salis says on

    Thanks Thom.

    In Sydney Australia and would agree with your points.

    Spiritual leaders can best serve when they are fully dedicated to the work of the Lord – to the study and teaching of God’s Word and ministering to the needs of the body of Christ. Most ministers I know are trained well. They are intelligent, driven and single-minded to work through God’s power in their church. Most of these people also know the true measures of biblical success: faithfulness; serving; loving; believing truth; prayer; holiness. They do measure things in ministry within the context of biblical success.

    I believe they are not trained well in the areas you have mentioned because those areas are assumed knowledge because of the qualities that drew them, or had them sent, into ministry in the first place. Perhaps these areas are all an oversight of self-expectations on the minister’s part.

    I would not blame the Bible college or seminary as training grounds. I would add another failure that precedes many of these issues and could counter them all.

    The skill of becoming a protégée. Everywhere I look this is something that is neglected too much. I have not met many ministers who think this is unnecessary however many of those are not in an intentional discipling relationship geared towards “iron sharpens iron and one man sharpens another” in the ministers life of faith for the ministry of the church. The right mentor can be an objective guide to take regular inventory of a minister’s whole life and work and develop these areas to become ‘grow points’ rather than weaknesses.

    Fight the pride, pray for the humility, make the time and find the right person. This is not just for young ministers.

    Yes this is discipling, however it is not just finding an ‘accountability partner’ or a ‘study buddy’ – it is finding an intentional influence of a Christ-like leader who does know the areas of failure for ministers. “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function.” As ministers we need to find those parts of the body that can develop us to “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”

    We need to find our Paul… and to those Paul’s out there, find a Timothy to set this right. Many minsters are looking and don’t know who to ask.

    YBIC, Jake

  • Great article, and one that I believe churches need to be aware of. New members aren’t always the only immature ones, and often a minister’s immaturity can be traced to lack of experience, which leads to arrogance to cover the inexperience.
    It would be nice to see more articles on ministers other than pastors, since there are tons of new ministers, youth, music, children, education, family, etc…and they are often young or inexperienced and need to be mentored well, before being thrown into the…’joy of ministry’…and it is that!

  • Randy Davenport says on

    I am a former NAMB Church Planter in rural Nevada. I have often mentioned that I should write a book “101 things about church planting/pastoring that the do not teach you in seminary”.

    I would also add that pastors need training in child molestation and drug addiction. I had a meth addict come to church on day. All alone I talked to him and lead him to the Lord. I then found a counseling program for him. I later found out that you never meet with a meth addict alone. Another case, a mom, member of the church, asked what to do because one of the worst sex offenders, was released and moved next door. His home looked directly into the bedroom of her young boys. She asked what to do? The next day, the sheriff told me that this person was seen around the church. As a pastor, what should I do? After much prayer and research, I preached a sermon “No fear” and come up with a policy. A few months later a first grade girl was molested at school by another student. I was not prepared for this. Nobody asked me about Systematic Theology or church history, but real world questions. This areal needs more attention and studies.

    I wonder if Lifeway would help me with a book?