Eight of the Most Significant Struggles Pastors Face

March 1, 2014
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Before me are handwritten notes that I took over a few weeks from various social media interactions, emails, and a few phone calls. The total is nearly 200 separate communications to me. I kept a record of them for one simple reason: I wanted to identify the greatest pain points of pastors today.

In many ways, there are no surprises. Indeed, I doubt most of you will be surprised at my findings. If nothing else, it is a good reminder of how we can help our pastors, and how we can pray for them. Of course, you will quickly see that they are not mutually exclusive. They are listed in the order of frequency I noted.

  1. Criticism and conflict. I do have a few observations about this number one issue. First, it seems to be growing, and pastors seem to be experiencing greater challenges. Second, most of the issues of conflict are not doctrinal issues. Indeed, most are trivial issues. Finally, very few pastors are equipped and trained to deal with the steady stream of critics and crises.
  2. Family problems. Many pastors struggle with expectations by church members of their spouses or children. Others struggle with finding time for their families. Many pastors’ families struggle with the “glass house” syndrome.
  3. Stress. The pastor’s life is one of emotional highs and lows. It includes critics and adoring fans. Expectations from church members can be unreasonable. The very nature of a pastor’s call into ministry can lend itself to seemingly unending stress.
  4. Depression. Every time I write about this topic, I hear from countless pastors and staff. Depression is pervasive in pastoral ministry. And it is often the “secret” problem.
  5. Burnout. Local church ministry can attract two broad types of persons: the lazy and the workaholic. Accountability is often low, and it can be easy to get away with little work, or to work 70 plus hours a week. I see more of the latter than the former.
  6. Sexual problems. These problems are most often in one of two categories: pornography or marital unfaithfulness.
  7. Financial problems. Most of the world hears about the few pastors who make huge salaries. The reality is that the majority of pastors struggle financially.
  8. Time management. Expectations of pastors can be unrealistic. Pastors are often expected to attend multiple meetings, to visit countless congregants, to prepare sermons with excellence, to provide ongoing strategic leadership, to conduct weddings and funerals, and to be involved in the community. Many pastors don’t know how or when to say “no.” And many are not good at delegating, or they really don’t have anyone who can handle some of their responsibilities.

Most pastors love their callings. Most pastors enjoy most of what they do in ministry. And most pastors wouldn’t change their role if they could. Still, many pastors have ongoing challenges and struggles. And many would gladly receive help from church members, a word of encouragement from most anyone, and the knowledge that others are praying for them.

What do you think of the eight struggles I noted? What would you add to this list?

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138 Comments

  • This was in 2014 well 5 yrs later I find myself baring the load of great heaviness as a pastor.
    I’m at the lowest point I have ever been in my ministry. I am drained spiritually and emotionally I have be hit with discouragement, I’m afraid my faith is beat up.
    I’m preaching I 4 hours, I’m giving people hope, that I don’t believe for myself. I pray, I worship I read I love God and my wife but the past 3 years our ministry has slowly yet alarming shifted. I’m a bi vocational pastor of 55 people used to be 130 we lost 25 people this year. A larger church has come in to take over and we have to vacate in two months. I don’t know what to do! I feel like no one cares! And there is no one to go to. Thom I disparately need your help.

  • Matson Mathias says on

    Good one dear, so many Pastors are suffering of this issue of pornograph, the pornographic appearance of some careless members by exposing the sensitive part of their bodies should be checked by our ladies to help the Pastors from the struggles of pornograph. Thank

  • I would add one as well:
    Satans attacks – Satan hates everyone, he attacks Pastor’s and their families – I have seen so many Pastor’s lose their children to sin or worldliness or etc… We have counseled many who are simply under an attack of the Devil. Don’t misunderstand, we reap what we sow – many of these problems are cause by the Pastor’s ignoring his family, some are caused by bad friends, etc. But the bottom line that we have found over 17 years of counseling Pastors is that the Devil hates them and has a plan to destroy them…

  • Fambai Shasha says on

    I think its a great article Thom. Now , may be we need further research on how these problems can be countered , or how we can survive with them.

  • Donald l Thompson says on

    Thanks Thom for this post. i agree with these eight struggles. Approaching 15 years of Pastoral ministry and feeling a lot of these struggles intensifying. At a point where it just feels like it’s time to move on from this assignment. I do believe burn-out is certainly wearing on me. Spiritual growth is stagnant. i was at a point of leaving 3 years ago but promised to stay through the completion of a building project which is now complete. But there are times when I wonder if I stayed 3 years too long.

  • Hi Thom,

    Fully agree with all your points and I am glad that you shared it.. it helps. Other thing I wanted to add was:
    #Controlling: Congregation/board wants Pastor and family to behave according to their dictum.
    #Victirm of gossiping and Slandering
    #Tolerate group-ism within the Church
    #Emotionally led rather than by truth..
    #….
    the list goes on…

  • hi sir, actually im a seminary student and im trying to make a research paper about pastors’ struggles and i found this post helpful. i just want to know sir if how this struggles affect pastos’ ministry and family and ofcourse how it affects him personally

  • You are truly doing a good job.

  • Have been pastoring a certain church in one of the suburbs in Nairobi. My greatest challenge has been the financial obligation from the pastor into the church. when we are send for the ministry by our superiors, we are expected to perform and this has been my greatest challenge. Its difficult to see a family suffering and you just ignore. One time I had to use the small cash I had from my tent making leaving my family with nothing. But God is faithful. When we faithfully do our part, He will sort out His part.
    Be encouraged brethren as we serve our God

  • What resources are available to address these issues?

  • John Wilcox says on

    Your list has helped me understand my father, a Baptist minister. I only wish I had known these things years ago. Thank you.

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