Eight of the Most Significant Struggles Pastors Face

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?

Posted on March 1, 2014

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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  • Shelby Pearcy says on

    It seems that chaplain/pastors face much of the above. My background is VA Medical Center, Military and resently Prison and Nursing Home. It is easy to fall into the trap of depression. I remind myself: “At the end of each day you leave wounded but no more then those you have provided pastoral care.” Truly we are wounded healers.

  • Excellent and accurate list, Dr. Rainer. Thank you for sharing this. You wrote in #1, “…very few pastors are equipped and trained to deal with the steady stream of critics and crises.” I agree wholeheartedly. What resources can you suggest to help equip pastors in this area?

  • I was going to respond, but it turned into a blog post.
    I would love to look at the role of the Christian leader throughout history and see what the differences would be. No doubt they all worked hard, but i doubt they were as divided in their attention as we are now. Anyway, here’s the link to my blog in case you are interested in my thoughts.
    Thanks for the post and the following responses. It’s good to not feel alone in this, but it also makes me wonder if there isn’t something structural and systemic about all this that won’t necessarily be cured by individual choice.

  • I would add on the sexual problem that if the pastor (he or she) is over worked they really could be “bone tired” every night and not able to be intimate with his or her spouse but just comes home and goes right to bed…. its not always just or only porn and adultry – its also lack of intimacy due to exhaustion.

  • I think one I the most difficult things to bear is that pastors rarely have anyone to defend them against unjust criticism and/or accusations. This must’ve part of what carrying ones own cross means.

  • It’s a pretty good list, but I think 4 and 6 could be expanded. Depression and it’s close cousin Anxiety are both crushing. Sexual problems certainly include pornography and marital unfaithfulness, but there are a host of other complex sexual issues beyond these two: from intimacy, personal image, mundane dysfunctions, questions such as what is ok and what is not ok within the marriage bed, to dealing with the often culturally expected image of “sexless clergy.”

  • I agree with your article. Speaking as someone who had a pastor commit suicide because of a combination of these reasons its good to see someone put this down.

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