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.
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  • This barely scratches the surface of what causes a pastor’s pain. What about the searing loneliness, the lack of friends, the sense of failure, the betrayals they experience, and the crises of faith they struggle with?

  • This barely scratches the surface of what causes a pastor’s pain. What about the searing loneliness, the lack of friends, the sense of failure, the betrayals they experience, and the closest of faith they struggle with?

  • The “State of the Church” from a ‘natural’ or human perspective is fearfully appalling. It is not a church ‘of the people and by the people’. It is God’s Church – it is the Bride of Jesus. But, it is being run by ‘the people’ by their own interpretations of scriptures or most usually just by their own imaginations, likes and fancies at best and by their own machinations at worst.

    Honestly – and please – read Revelation chapters 2 and 3, and think! Then continue reading with the awareness that judgement is at hand and those who DO the will of God and endure in His Will to the end will be saved.

    Pastors: Carefully select the Elders and deacons ACCORDING TO SCRIPTURES. Then, you lead by the example of Jesus and His Word and teach and do only what is right is God’s sight.

    Church: Lovingly adhere to scriptural teachings, command and mandates and require the same from your pastors. Then you live by the example of Jesus and His Word – period.

    I am telling you (and myself) that any deliberate deviation will put you in the category of the wicked servant who buried his talent or the wicked slave who decided His Master would not return any time soon, so he drank and ate and mistreated his fellow servants – and when The Master returned, he was cut into pieced and sent into the outer darkness where that is wailing and gnashing of teeth.

  • Michael Norris says on

    When they openly challenge the doctrinally and biblically correct pastor over his sermon content.

  • Keith Benjamin says on

    In my years as a pastor, I’ve had firsthand experience with all the content of the post. I was considering quitting some 25 years ago, and was privileged to go on a tour through Greece and its islands. We visited the monastery on Patmos and a young Orthodox priest came to me (out of all the people) and offered me a piece of the sacramental bread. An argument ensued with a Nun (I think) and his response was, “I don’t know why, but the Spirit told me to give him bread.” That affirmed my calling ever since and though I’ve had my hurtful experiences, I always draw comfort from that profound (for me) experience. It hurts, yes, but I am humbled that I can suffer for the Gospel and my Lord. When people tell me it was a good sermon, I ask them how they are going to apply it; or, I say the glory is God’s, I’m just the messenger. I cannot see my life being lived out anywhere but in ministry. The challenges keep me humble, the hurt keeps me rooted in Christ. And it is in knowing that there are far more who see my ministry as positive who keep me from being crushed.
    Thank you for these insightful blogs. They remind me that I am not alone. Be blessed

  • Rev. Oliver Burns, Jr. says on

    I am going through some of this right now. And it is hurting, but I refuse to give up or give-in. I believe that God has put me here to show His LOVE. So, my question to you is: Instead of quitting, what can pastors do to change these attitudes and to build strong support?

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Oliver –

      Ask a few church members to pray for you for a short time every day. Find people you trust and give them the specifics of your challnengs.

  • Sandra Souza says on

    My husband and I have been in ministry since 1980. He is the pastor and I was church secretary (recently retired. I can honestly tell you that we have seen and heard it all. It is very frustrating at times and very hurtful. We knew it would be difficult but there has also been many rewards. We are now in our late 70’s and will continue to serve until God calls us home.

  • The thing I’ve never understood is how would church members feel if any one of these were directed towards them? Of course, they would be irate! Yet somehow it’s alright to say these things to your pastor? Hypocrisy much?

    I’m currently dealing with a member who instead of taking his dislike about a decision I made directly to me, he’s chosen to enlist a few more to share his feelings with. On top of that, he’s told outright lies about me. Nothing like sowing discord!

    After so many decades of this I guess I’ve hardened to the point where I choose to focus my efforts on those areas I can control and leave the rest to the Lord. After all, He alone knows their motivation and can change their heart.

  • Rob Varela says on

    How could any reasonable thinking pastor be offended by Item #1?

    We as believers are the most learning dependent humans that walk the earth. There is no other people or group of people, professional or otherwise, who’s future so greatly depends on properly understanding a written work or ideology.

    For us believers, it’s only the accurate and complete understanding of the oracles of the one true God that can provide us with the eternal security that we are promised and desperately seek.

    The very status and quality of that eternal future for us all depends on men who believe that they are called to prepare us properly according to biblical standards.

    I will contend that most if not all of the issues that are negatively affecting the church today can be directly attributable to the lack of proper preaching.

    “The central Import of expository preaching cannot be ignored or underestimated. Not only should it be considered the remedial solution to today’s ailing church but is the one true hope for the world at large”

    Do not be offended. Open your heart. If God has truly called you, He will make a way for you.

    • Most often, #1 offends because that is the parting shot. “I’m not being fed…” has a dismissive tone and implies – I’m done listening to you. As I mentioned earlier, when there is conversation akin to “I’m not getting where you are going…” or “…it is hard to follow your point…” there is room for conversation. The tenor of “I’m not being fed…” tends to be consumerist – like saying “watching that movie was a waste of $15.”

      Most pastors would love someone to push back and to dig deeper. Honestly, I would rather have someone tell me that my sermon touched them or challenged them than to have them “like” it. Because the message of Christ is counter-culture and can be properly upsetting.

    • Bob Myers says on

      It may be true that some pastors do not have the right gifting to be in the pulpit or it may be the rare case when the pastor is not doing due diligence in preparation. I know there are situations like that. More likely, however, what causes people to turn off their listening ears and desire to be taught by a pastor is that they already have a theological system of belief and the pastor is not supporting what they want to hear. It may also be a case of preaching style that simply isn’t resonating with the person.

      In any case, such assertions are always arrogant, hurtful, and rude. Virtually every church has those kinds of people in them. It’s a blessing when they leave.

    • Emmanuel says on

      “ I will contend that most if not all of the issues that are negatively affecting the church today can be directly attributable to the lack of proper preaching.” Respectfully, I disagree with this comment. It is very subjective, oversimplifying a serious topic and you cannot claim that “most of not all”. If members are not spending time with the Lord and in the word, the tend to complaint the most about “not being fed” at church. As a pastor I take preaching seriously and prepare vigorously. If members only hear from God once a week, they cannot be well nourished.

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