Five Ways to Hurt Your Pastor Deeply


The times sure have changed.

Yes, the statement is cliché, but it is one I often make about the challenge of pastors today versus several years ago. When I was a pastor, I had my challenges. But they pale in comparison to what pastors face today.

Why is pastoring so challenging today? There are several reasons. Social media did not exist when I was a pastor. It is now weaponized to hurt pastors. Culture has shifted to being mostly adversarial to Christianity in general, and to local churches and pastors in particular. And we are undoubtedly in the midst of a great polarization in our nation and many parts of the world. 

The recent study by the Barna Group should come as no surprise then. Four out of ten pastors are considering quitting! That should be a sobering reality. 

For pastors, though, the greatest pain comes from within the church instead of the culture outside the church. One pastor told me that he used to refer to it as “friendly fire” until he realized there was nothing friendly about it. 

I recently asked pastors how church members hurt them the most. It was amazing to hear these five responses repeatedly. 

1. When church members say they are not being fed. These words are used to attack the pastor’s preaching. Think about it. Many pastors work on their sermons 15 or more hours each week only to be told that their preaching is weak. A number of these pastors indicated that the members who used this attack most frequently are the ones who attend the least frequently. One pastor responded to an infrequent attendee who told him they were not getting fed with this retort: “You can’t be fed if you hardly ever come to the dining table.”

2. When church members say, “People are saying . . . “ Of course, “people” are rarely identified, so the pastor can’t go to them and speak with them directly. A number of pastors said that they get complaints about something they did or did not do, and they have no idea when or if this alleged offense took place. Some people like to hide behind a keyboard on social media; others like to claim “people” are saying. 

3. When church members stop giving. Most pastors do not know what their members give, but word usually gets to them about someone who had decided to protest through withheld giving. These members obviously think it’s their money, not God’s money. 

4. When church members say, “I love you, pastor but . . . “ Pastors told me that they only hear what is said after “but.” They would rather the church member simply speak negatively rather than couch the complaint or criticism in pseudo-love. 

5. When church members complain about the pastor’s family. Pastors know that their spouses and children aren’t perfect. And if something needs correction, they are willing to hear about it. But most of these complaints are petty and unfounded. And because you are talking about the pastor’s family, the attack is particularly painful.

When your pastor resigns this year, you probably will not hear any of these five issues in their reasons for departure. But you can be assured that the ongoing complaints, criticisms, and attacks have taken their toll.

Posted on July 17, 2023

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.
More from Thom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  • Cotton Mathis says on

    Hurt # 6 –
    The pastor is preaching reruns.

    # 7 – I have heard all the pastor’s sermons. I don’t want to hear any more.

    # 8 – “I think I heard someone say” is the beginning of a lie.

    When it gets back to the source, he/she says, “Well, I didn’t say it was true, just that I thought I heard someone say it.”

  • Numbers 1 and 2 are HUGE pet peeves of mine. Thank you for addressing them.

  • The retort in #1 tried to slip out of my mouth when the person who attended once a month said they weren’t getting fed or they couldn’t follow my preaching. Go figure.

    One that you miss and is probably less obvious in most situations is when people just disappear. They stop attending and they stop giving. Speaking for myself, if a person wants to stop attending a church I won’t beg them to come back. I try to ask people, “if you are going to stop attending for any reason please tell me. I might ask you if there is something missing – preaching style, content, etc. – so that I can continue to hone my profession.” Even with 12 years experience, I’m still a neophyte because my former career wasn’t the same as being a minister.

    I don’t take criticism personally unless the criticism is personal, but if someone offers the critique “I have trouble following your preaching…” I can learn what they perceive is wrong and see if there’s a way to improve my practice.

  • I have been trying to preach God’s Word since 1953.ching I am retired but still preaching. It seems to me
    that Christians that are not in fellowship with God can be downright mean and cruel. After I cool down a little after some of these remarks I try to see if there is any truth in the rem ark that would help me.
    My other response is that I refuse to allow a person like that to determine what God wants me to do.
    I also am so grateful for what you do for pastors!

  • “People are saying,” is probably the most common statement that I have heard in ministry from members. I sometimes wonder what is the best way to respond when they refuse to identify the person making the complaint. Thank you for your great support and love for pastors.

  • If you’ve experienced all five of these, try wearing it as a badge of honor. It means you’re likely doing your job! If you haven’t experienced all five, just give it some time. It will happen. When any of these do happen, pray and self-examine. Then pray again before confronting the offender(s). If the offender(s) refuse to change, then pray for God’s mercy upon them. I’ve witnessed it happen more than once. I’ve witnessed an antagonistic person apologize to her pastor on her death bed. It was the first kind words she ever spoke to him. In her mind, her deteriorating health was the outcome of her destructive behavior.

  • Troy Richards says on

    After experiencing all of these over the years, I’ve realized these are practices of people who lack the courage to be honest. Sometimes they blame the pastor for the church not being what they think it should be, but feel guilty about firing him (especially over something unjustified) so they just pick away hoping he will become discouraged and leave. Church members need to remember their pastor is not just human, but their brother in Christ. Pastors need to open the door for honest, loving communication and members need to take advantage of it and share compassionately.

  • -When secret meetings, the “parking lot meeting,” or the “meeting after the meeting” are the norm.
    -When biblical qualifications and requirements for officebearers are redefined or blatantly (and publicly) ignored. “We won’t have anyone to fill the position if we worry about all that.”
    -When malcontents who do not fear God are given an ear and a platform by leadership.
    -When leadership concerns themselves with man-pleasing because they are man-fearing.
    -When the polity or structure of the church is used to stifle/suppress biblically-required change.
    -When faithful theology is despised and rejected.
    -When modern revisionist views of Jesus are cherished (as social worker, nice teacher, political revolutionary, relativistic moralist, etc.) and championed despite a church’s confession stating classical, faithful views.
    -When “God told me” trumps “God’s Word says.”
    -When “I think we should ___” trumps “God’s Word says.”
    -When “I don’t like ___” trumps “God’s Word says.”
    -When “That will never work” trumps “God’s Word says.”
    -When “That won’t grow the church” trumps “God’s Word says.”

    Profoundly thankful these things are not the case at our church; they were, though, for 21 years prior to planting Reformation. May the Lord continue to show us his mercy here, and may we be found faithful.

  • Thank you for sharing all that you do Thom. It’s validating and an encouragement to know we’re not alone.

  • dave matthias says on

    It sounds like they don’t like accountability.


  • troy wilkinson says on

    I have been pastoring for a short time and I am strongly considering quitting. Neither seminary, book reading, or counsel has prepared me for the indifferent attitudes, the endless grumbling, or the cruelty of church goers.

  • Bob Myers says on

    Indeed, these do add up. I’ve experienced them all. In some ways, Jesus experienced them all – and then some! Pastors have the privilege of “sharing in Christ’s sufferings.” Still hurts and can be incredibly lonely.

    One of the most powerful ways a member can encourage their pastor is to pray for them in person. Not just saying, “I’ll pray for you pastor” (yes, that is encouraging), but actually praying for their pastor in person. It is one of the most profound and honest expressions of love that I have experienced.

    Thanks for being an advocate for pastors in these challenging days.

1 2