Five Secrets Pastors Refuse to Tell

By their very nature, pastors are a confidential lot. They counsel numbers of people who share their deepest secrets and problems. They know things about families that could hurt and embarrass them if they shared information freely. So pastors tend to keep secrets and confidential information well. In most cases, you can feel comfortable that your confidence will not be breached when you talk to a pastor.

But most people don’t realize pastors have their own secrets. These spiritual leaders refuse to share their thoughts or pains for fear that their own ministries will be damaged.

So they keep the secrets.

And they hold the pain to themselves.

As I have spoken to pastors across the land, many have confided in me their hurts and secrets. I don’t think they would mind that I share these secrets with you, as long as I don’t identify them with any one pastor by name.

  1. “My marriage is struggling.”
    Pastors are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Oftentimes family meals are interrupted by a call. A planned date with a wife is put on hold because of an emergency related to a church member. Pastors’ wives sometimes wonder if their husbands are married to them or to the church. Resentment and marital fights are not uncommon.
  2. “I fear my kids will grow up hating the church.”
    One pastor told me in tears the story of a church member criticizing the pastor’s wife to the pastor in front of his 12-year-old son. The young boy went home insisting he hated the church and never wanted to return. Children are often exposed to the dark side of church life. Pastors worry that they won’t recover.
  3. “I let a handful of critics control me.”
    These pastors wish the squeaky wheel didn’t always get oiled, but such is the reality in many churches. “If I ignore them (the critics), “ one pastor told me, “they will make life miserable for me and my family. Sometimes it’s just best to give them their way.”
  4. “I often have anger toward the supportive church members who don’t defend me to my critics.”
    “It’s not my critics who bother me personally,” the pastor shared with me. “It’s the so-called supportive members who refuse to come to my defense when I’m attacked by a critic. Going into a business meeting, one of these supporters told me how much he loved me, and how he would always have my back. Fifteen minutes later, I’m being castigated by three members who hardly ever attend church. What does my supporter do or say? Absolutely nothing. That’s what really hurts.”
  5. “I’ve thought about quitting several times.”
    These pastors are truly called men of God. They really do love their congregations. Most of them will endure the criticisms aimed at them personally. But when supportive members really don’t support them, or when family members are hurt, many pastors think about quitting. “Only one thing has stopped me from quitting,” the pastor said. “It’s the call of God. That’s what keeps me hanging on.”

Through this blog and through other venues, I intend to do everything I can in God’s power to be the pastor’s advocate. The pastorate is one of the toughest jobs in the world. Indeed, it’s an impossible job in human power alone.

Pastors, how can we best help you? Church members, what can we do to be the best pastor advocate possible?

Pastor to Pastor is the Saturday blog series at Pastors and staff, if we can help in any way, contact Steve Drake, our director of pastoral relations, at [email protected]. We also welcome contacts from laypersons in churches asking questions about pastors, churches, or the pastor search process.

Posted on June 2, 2012

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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  • John Wolford says on

    Steve and Philip,
    We need to somehow bring this subject, as well as a few others, into the national convention spotlight. Too many of our pastors feel alone in their suffering and they believe they will be shunned for speaking out on these subjects. If our convention’s leaders were to make these conversations a common place, it would trickle down to the local church. I truly believe this is starting to happen because of Dr. Rainer’s leadership as well as others such as Dr. Johnny Hunt.
    I believe there needs to be speakers sent out to the state and local conventions to address these subjects. It has been my experience that Directors of Missions lean more towards the churches and less towards the pastors. This may be because they themselves are hesitant to speak out on these subjects for fear of jeopardizing their ministries. If these SBC or Lifeway speakers were not directly dependent upon the local churches, they would have a greater impact.
    I am encouraged that we are openly discussing these issues. Let’s continue to do so for His Glory.

  • Denise Moore says on

    I am a pastor’s wife. This is spot on. Thank you.

  • Steve Drake says on

    You question is “spot on.” If you would like to pursue the thought, let’s talk. Email me at [email protected].

  • Thom Rainer says on

    Philip –
    Good point and question. I know that my blogs will not reach most church members or pastors for that matter. It is my prayer that these type articles will have a small influence on church members, and that the word will spread.

  • Thom Rainer says on

    Mark –
    Though I can’t answer your question with definitive markers, your point is well made. Sometimes a church’s culture becomes so toxic that it’s time to leave. A church can effectively stop being a church.

  • Philip says on

    To answer the question, “Pastors, how can we best help you?” one main way for me is to get this information to the church. If I as pastor send this article to the church, it comes across that I am complaining or incompetent. I really don’t know the answer, but maybe you can ask yourself, “How am I getting this to the congregation?”

  • You might find it relevant that Pastor Philip Caminiti now sits in prison in Wisconsin, convicted of conspiracy to commit child abuse. His crime was teaching corporal punishment of disobedient children, specifically, spanking with a wooden spoon. I believe he needs our support. Although his opinion may be controversial, it is protected speech under the First Amendment. He laid hands on no one. If he ended up in prison for an opinion, we should expect the same treatment for ourselves shortly.

  • Thom Rainer says on

    Steve –
    You have a great opportunity to help pastors. May God bless you as you seek ways to do so.

  • Question: at what point do you say that the culture of a particular local church is so toxic that one person cannot change it? Jesus told his disciples to brush the dust off their feet if a town rejected them. I think there may be some situations in which it would be appropriate to walk away. This would not be walking away from ministry, but walking away from ministering there.

  • Thanks Thom for creating a venue for pastors who are struggling. I know there are scores of pastor’s in the Northwest who are fighting difficult battles to stay at the task…I hope to use my time as president to communicate with as many as I can- encouraging and pointing them to resources such as your blog and others…

  • Thom Rainer says on

    Pastor M –
    You are right. You are not alone.
    Please contact us at anytime at [email protected]. You can share anything in total confidence.

  • Pastor M in Wisconsin says on

    I have to say, this blog scared me. Are you a mind reader? I really had all five thoughts on my mind, and I was really contemplating #5, quitting the church. I can take the pain, but it’s not right to put my family through the mess I experience. I never dreamed the dark side of serving a church would be so dark.
    I do owe you my thanks, Dr. Rainer, for being willing to post what most people and pastors refuse to talk about. At least I know I’m not alone. God is with me, and others are traveling the same path I’m on.

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