The Most Frequent Burdens Pastors Face

January 29, 2015

By Chuck Lawless

In my years of church consulting, I have spent hours talking to local church pastors. Much of the conversation revolves around church structure, vision, etc., but seldom does the conversation stay at that level. Pastors, it seems, long for someone to listen to them. They want someone to share their burdens, even if only for a few minutes.

Listen to the topics of pain I often hear, and take a minute to pray for your church leaders.

  1. Declining church growth – No pastor I know wants his congregation to be plateaued or in decline; however, the majority of churches in North America are in that state. A pastor may put a hopeful veneer on that truth publicly, but I’ve wept with pastors who grieve privately over their church’s decline.
  2. Losing the support of friends – Losing the backing of a Christian brother or sister is a unique pain. God-centered relationships are a miraculous gift, the melding of hearts at a level the world cannot understand. When those bonds are severed, particularly over matters that are seldom eternally significant, the anguish is deep.
  3. Grieving a fall – Pastoral love is not a guarantee against failure. In fact, even Jesus had close followers who fell into sin and rebellion. When our pastoral calls for repentance go unheeded, it’s difficult not to take that rejection personally.
  4. Sensing that the sermon went nowhere – For many of us, our ministry is centered around the Sunday sermon. Ideally, hours of preparation end in focused exposition that leads to life transformation—but that result doesn’t always happen. Few pastors have a safe place to express candid concerns about their own preaching.
  5. Losing vision – A pastor who has lost his vision for the church is leading on fumes. To admit that condition, though, is risky. Not to admit that reality is even more dangerous. Little will change until that pastor can honestly share his lack of focus.
  6. Being lonely – Pastors bear others’ burdens, but they do so confidentially. They share both the struggles and the joys of life, from birth to death. Sometimes, previous pain has made it difficult for them to open up to others. Consequently, they carry the weight of many on the shoulders of one.
  7. Dealing with unsupportive staff – Facing contrary members weekly is hard enough, but facing unsupportive staff every day is an ongoing angst. Correction is difficult, and firing can be agonizing. Some pastors simply hope for change while not knowing the best next steps to take.
  8. Remembering failures – Not many of us easily forget that disorganized sermon, that rotten counseling advice, that disruptive team meeting, or that hasty staff hire. Perhaps we can laugh at some of yesterday’s failures, but others still haunt us because we never want to fail God or His people.
  9. Dealing with death recurrently – Few responsibilities are as serious as officiating at a funeral. Even when burying a believer, pastors, too, grieve the loss of friends. Burying someone who was apparently not a believer is even more gut wrenching. Ministry amid such pain without becoming calloused is difficult indeed.
  10. Facing personal jealousies – I wish no pastor dealt with personal or professional jealousies, but I know better – both because of my own sinfulness and my pastoral conversations. Coming to grips with the rawness of our depravity is never easy.
  11. Balancing family and ministry priorities – No pastor sets out to lose his family. Few leap into the inattentiveness that often precedes adultery; instead, they almost imperceptibly slide into sin. One reason for that failure is their lack of mentors and colleagues who help them prioritize family while fulfilling ministry responsibilities.
  12. Responding to criticism – Continual criticism is wearying. Learning how to hear any sliver of truth in criticism while not growing angry is challenging. We can indeed be better ministers through healthy criticism, but few of us learn that truth in the midst of controversy.

I love pastors. I have been a pastor. I would return to the pastorate with excitement if the Lord so called me. Accordingly, I challenge us to pray for pastors today.


Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary. You can connect with Dr. Lawless on both Twitter and Facebook.

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78 Comments

  • Stephen Posey says on

    Sermon not demon I did not fully reread my post before submitted auto type is not blame my forgetfulness to read over it is though.

  • Stephen Posey says on

    I am Catholic but was raised Catholic and Church of Christ. And it have me the insight that no matter who or where you attend when the sermon/homily is given, now tv expands ones reach to lost souls, gives hope to lift burdens, heal the broken spirits and show kindness/love of Christ for us all.

    Personal note I am forever thankful for the demon I watched on TV Aug 24, 2014. It might I even been a rerun because it was about 1-3 pm that Sunday. I was recovering from a bout stomach flu or something similar which kept me from attending mass that day. My wife and kids went swim at her mother’s house. I turned the tv on and was flipping through the tv and stopped on local tv channel and a pastor was giving his sermon about our days are numbered and what if you knew what your day was, what you do with it? How would live with that knowledge? That message I took to heart and that week turned out to be the best week ever bc at the end of it my wife passed away on our home with us in the house and my kids watched as I tried to revive her, which she did comeback for forty five minutes enough time time for her to tell my son that she loved him. If it were not for gods grace and that pastor I would not be able to even be able to function. I believe in the higher power of god and is in each one us but sometimes we put up barriers/walls and do not fully open ourselves up to receive his grace and love for us.

  • pastor nat says on

    Pastor Wayne, Your shallow, simplistic response of being a true disciple was not very well thought out and lacked any sort of compassion. I trust that most every God called pastor considers themself a disciple. The heart wrenching pain and stress of ministering and pastoring comes from that deep call of ministry and responsibility. It is not supposed to be easy. Parts of a church need to be run like a business but I know no pastors who run the ministry side as such. If it is so easy and carefree maybe you should examine your call. Regardless of how “successful” my church is I feel pain and even grief when I lose a single person, by way of transfer or death. I do agonize often times over what may seem to be trivial to the uncalled. Very similar to Jesus in Gethsemane I labor over prodigals, broken marriages and homes, wasted lives, untimely deaths and a grocery list of other things. Minus my deep sense of call I would probably play golf 3 days a week and take many more extended vacations but I do not because I am called and I am a true disciple. Great article and I say all of this in love and from a pastors heart.

  • Thank you Dr. Lawless! And, I just prayed for you!

  • Michelle Ray says on

    Thank you for posting this. I am a pastor’s wife of 22 years and everyone of these resonated. The one that hit home the most was losing the support of a friend. What you said is true. It is rarely over anything of eternal significance and the anguish is deep.

  • Why are people so often allowed to run amok in churches? Gossip, hostility, dishonesty, immorality in some cases. If leadership would crack down more, would be willing to lovingly but firmly confront people who drag down ministries and ministry leaders, maybe the church could actually make some inroads in our culture. A lot of people need parameters, including and especially in the way they relate to others, and the church could be the perfect place for them to learn relational maturity, but leadership has to be willing to draw the lines. When an individual or household or whatever is a problem in the church, for whatever reason, deal with it, confront it lovingly and Biblically, and get it reined in, before the pastor has a breakdown, or the ministry becomes completely weak and ineffective.

  • Pastor Corey says on

    Dr. Lawless, it’s 2015. Pastors should know longer solely be referred to as “he”. No matter what your tradition says, we exist.

    • Chuck Lawless says on

      Thanks for your thoughts, Corey.

    • Read the Text says on

      I think you meant to say, “No matter what the Bible says, we exist.”

      • >I think you meant to say, “No matter what the Bible says, we exist.”

        Spend at least a thousand hours studying Romans 16.

        Then do an intensive study of _each_ individual mentioned in that chapter.
        “Intensive Study” means _be able to write a 25,000 word biography of each individual_.
        FWIW, most of the extra-biblical source material is written in Greek or Latin.

    • Dr. Lawless, like Dr. Rainer, serves in a denomination that does not believe it is scriptural for women to serve as pastors. Since this is his blog, why should his convictions yield to those of his readers?

  • Martie Mangum says on

    This post is painful to read. Although I have struggled with most of these at some point, God has been so kind and patient with me. Unfortunately many times it was when I was at my weakest that the Lord reminded me apart from Him I can do nothing. Abiding in Christ would often follow and joy would return.

    Thanks for the needed reminder to pray for pastors.

  • As a former pastor, I resonate with this post. Sadly, I am a statistic who opted for remarriage.
    I wish one day the maturity of faith extends grace to individuals like me who yearn to return to ministry.

  • I appreciate the insight you have shared in this. I am so grateful for the wonderful Pastors who have been a part of my life and I pray for them so much! Thanks for reminding us of the importance of praying for them!