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

  • Thank you so much Dear Chuck for writing this perfect piece straight from your heart and experience. May you be blessed increasingly.

    No doubt, Pastors are always highly in love, living a life that serves as an example to all. It takes the Grace of God indeed.

    Therefore, I give God praise for his Grace that is forever sufficient for us all. I thank God that today we all remember our Pastors and of course the Elders as the case applies, for their various commitment to the course- as they labor in preaching and teaching.

    I am very grateful to Pastors. It is not an easy task. Lord God, thank you for your word, our pastors and elders are considered worthy of double honour. We pray that indeed they shall witness a double glory and honour in your name. Amen

    Please help us Lord as a person to continuously to submit, obey, and serve our authorities with joy without groaning.

    You made them Shepherd of the Flock. May you be their Shepherd always that they will not be found wanting. Guide them with your canopy filled with your Glory. May they abound with blessings, times, and seasons, and may their plans be established without hindrances from this world.

    Lord we trust you and plead with you that they will reap bountifully…

    This is your praise Lord. Take all the Glory. Bind us together with love that can not be broken.

    Thank you again Sir, and all God’s people. We are victorious forevermore. Amen.

    Faithfully,
    Anyaku Alicho.

  • I bring you good greetings from Nigeria. Season Greetings everyone.

    Thank you so much Dear Sir Chuck for writing this perfect piece straight from your heart and experience. May you be blessed increasingly.

    No doubt, Pastors are always on their feet and always passionate, living a life that serves as an example to all. It takes the Grace of God indeed.

    Therefore, I give God praise for his Grace that is forever sufficient for us all. I thank God that today we all remember our Pastors and of course the Elders as the case applies, for their various commitment to the course- as they labor in preaching and teaching.

    I am very grateful to Pastors. It is not an easy task. Lord God, thank you for your word, our pastors and elders are considered worthy of double double. We pray that indeed they shall witness a dou me honour in your name.

    Please help us Lord as a person to continuously to submit, obey, and serve our authorities with joy without groaning.

    You made them Shepherd of the Flock. May you be their Shepherd always that they will not be found wanting. Guide them with your canopy filled with your Glory. May they abound with blessings, times, and seasons, and may their plans be established without hindrances from this world.

    Lord we trust you and plead with you that they will reap bountifully…

    This is your praise Lord. Take all the Glory. Bind us together with love that can not be broken.

    Thank you again Sir, and all God’s people. We are victorious forevermore. Amen.

    Faithfully,
    Anyaku.
    (passionate about mankind and God)

  • I bring you good greetings from Nigeria. Season Greetings everyone.

    Thank you so much Dear Sir Chuck for writing this perfect piece straight from your heart and experience. May you be blessed increasingly.

    No doubt, Pastors are always highly in love, living a life that serves as an example to all. It takes the Grace of God indeed.

    Therefore, I give God praise for his Grace that is forever sufficient for us all. I thank God that today we all remember our Pastors and of course the Elders as the case applies, for their various commitment to the course- as they labor in preaching and teaching.

    I am very grateful to Pastors. It is not an easy task. Lord God, thank you for your word, our pastors and elders are considered worthy of double double. We pray that indeed they shall witness a dou me honour in your name.

    Please help us Lord as a person to continuously to submit, obey, and serve our authorities with joy without groaning.

    You made them Shepherd of the Flock. May you be their Shepherd always that they will not be found wanting. Guide them with your canopy filled with your Glory. May they abound with blessings, times, and seasons, and may their plans be established without hindrances from this world.

    Lord we trust you and plead with you that they will reap bountifully…

    This is your praise Lord. Take all the Glory. Bind us together with love that can not be broken.

    Thank you again Sir, and all God’s people. We are victorious forevermore. Amen.

    Faithfully,
    Anyaku.
    (passionate about mankind and God)

  • I discovered this article yesterday through Todd Rhoades (toddrhoades.com) and am so thankful for it. I am an associate pastor taking moving into a lead pastor role (within the same church) and so much of this resonates with me.
    The question I have is this, how do I put this list in front of the congregation without it seeming like a “poor me” exercise? I would love for them to discover this on their own, but I know that is unlikely. What might it look like to share this with others in a helpful way?

  • John Cotten says on

    7. Dealing with unsupportive staff – I have no doubt this is difficult. Here are four suggestions that I believe will make it easier.
    1) See staff not as hirelings/firelings, but as fellow ministers, each with their own gifts and weaknesses, joys and burdens. They may well be no less called to their own ministries than you are to yours. They are certainly not to be used and abused and uncared for.
    2) Pray with them often. Individually and collectively. Not just for them, but with them. A once a week staff meeting with a one size fits all prayer is insufficient.
    3) Be honestly transparent with them, respecting who you are deep inside as well as your unique role as pastor, together with who they are deep inside and their unique role.
    4) Remember what Jesus taught us in Matthew 18. No, not just how to deal with sin in the church, but also about being like a little child, about causing another to stumble, about wandering sheep, and about the unmerciful servant.

    BONUS: Refuse gossip. Do not pass it on to staff members, and train them not to pass it on to you. It has never been nor will ever be beneficial to the body. It’s destructive power is proportional to the level of the temptation to pass it on. “Some people are saying…” is an inappropriate comment, whether from a pastor, a staff member, deacon or friend.

    • Alas, it’s not always that simple. Some staff members lack integrity and are pursuing agendas of their own rather than working with the body.

  • You also didn’t mention personal financial stress. Many pastors are poorly paid and struggle to make ends meet.

  • Nick Sennert says on

    Over the years of regular teaching in a para-church organization, and preaching on a fill basis at my local church, my greatest dread is that the lesson/sermon went nowhere. That I have wasted God’s time in front of His people. Not because I have not prepared well, but because I am an imperfect vessel.

    That’s when I pray for God to send me enough encouragement to come back next week, but not so much that I would begin to believe it.

  • As a layperson, I appreciate this article. It reminds me of ways that I can better support and pray for my pastor. May I offer a reminder of my own? My pastor is a woman. Female clergy regularly deal with sexism in the workplace. When writing articles about clergy, the use of both masculine and feminine pronouns would increase awareness and demonstrate sensitivity to this issue. Thanks!

    • Dr. Lawless serves in a denomination that does not believe it is scriptural for women to serve as pastors. Since this is his blog, it seems to me you should show some respect for his convictions rather than the other way around.

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