Nine Heartfelt Things Pastors Would Like to Say to Their Church Members

In an earlier article this week, I noted nine things church members would like to say to their pastors. In this article, I represent the pastors. Please hear me clearly. Most pastors love church members dearly. They truly care for those they serve.

But pastors are human.

And there are times they would like church members to know some things about them. In my conversations with pastors via social media, in person, by phone, and by email, here are the nine most common themes.

  1. “When you criticize a family member, you hurt me deeply.” Please understand that neither my spouse nor my children are employed by the church. Do your best to treat them as regular church members, and do not place unreasonable expectations on them.
  2. “I will have bad days, and it will show at times.” A pastor is supposed to be “on” all the time. But it is difficult. I know there are times I speak out of turn. I know there are times when I’m too tired to listen well. I will try not to show my bad days, but I will slip at times.
  3. “Not all of my sermons will be ‘home runs.’” I wish they were. But with the number of different messages I have to prepare and preach in a year, I won’t always be the stellar preacher you want me to be. Indeed, I won’t always be the stellar preacher I want to be.
  4. “I am sensitive about my salary.” There are few people who work in a place where everyone in the organization is the boss. That is the nature of church work. But when you make disparaging comments about my pay and my related work, it cuts me to the core.
  5. “I struggle when the church numbers are down.” I know I shouldn’t. I know I shouldn’t derive my worth based on attendance and offerings. But when attendance declines or offerings drop, I question my own leadership at the church.
  6. “I would love a true friend in the church.” I’m talking about someone who would let me be myself, someone who wouldn’t mind if I let my hair down. It seems like everyone wants me to put on my pastor face all the time.
  7. “Please don’t criticize me or ask me to do something right before I preach.” I put many hours into sermon preparation. I have prayed with intensity about the message. Please don’t tell me the worship center is too cold right before I preach.
  8. “I cannot show up at every place all of you would like me to be.” I jokingly told a pastor friend that I wish I could be omnipresent, and he laughed and agreed. I love you church members, but it is physically impossible to be all the places you expect me to be.
  9. “I hurt deeply when good people don’t defend me.” Every leader will have his or her critics; and that is certainly the case with pastors. I don’t expect to be immune from criticisms. But what hurts me the most is the silence of “good” members when I am attacked unfairly. Please say a kind word about me in response to the negativity you hear. Don’t let the few critics dominate the conversation.

Most pastors do indeed love their church members. But most pastors have a challenging work, one that is impossible without God’s strength.

Pastors, what would you add or change on this list? Church members, what do you think about these nine items?

Posted on May 24, 2014

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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  • Tommy Mitchell says on

    The article is dead on! Concerning #7, I have some pastor friends who insist that the pastor must be out in the congregation welcoming, greeting, and loving on folks before the worship service starts. I used to do that – and it was mostly good. However, through the years and churches, people have become less mature and will voice their complaints during that time. So, for the last several years I stay in my study praying for the people and the service until the 5 minutes to start time. Then I stay very close to the stage or on stage during that 5 minutes. After the service I am glad to stay until the lights go out! Complaints are not as distracting then, and most people would rather get to lunch than complain!


  • Dr. Rainer, what strikes me most glaringly is that I’ve never heard a pastor say any of those things to his church. And I have to wonder why not……

  • James Callender says on

    Thank you for this article. I have found it to be so true of so many of my colleagues. On the other hand I myself feel so fortunate to not have to deal with most of this. Wish I could share the secret but I don’t even know it. Perhaps it is in longevity. I have been in my current pastorate going on 26 years. I imagine the reason I have stayed so long is because my time here has been void of the issues you raise. I have very close friends in my congregation and have not been burnt but I am a very relational person and can’t imagine not having close friends. Hopefully those who have been burnt by close friends will not give up trying. Blessings!

    • Thom Rainer says on

      James: You have weathered the storms and earned the members’ trust with your longevity. May your tribe increase!

      • This is the Deacon, again…you hit on a real issue just now. You noticed that this Pastor had “weathered the storms” and “EARNED THE MEMBERS TRUST”. As membership, we owe our Shepherd respect…but an entirely different kind of respect comes after having proved that it doesn’t matter how big the wolf is or how nasty the weather is…the Shepherd will not forsake his sheep. (Gee, that almost sounds Biblical).

        Try this…if your people treated the storms and wolves at their work…people they do not like and work they can not stand…if they had the same level of commitment as their Pastor, what kind of congregation would you have? The average Evangelical Pastor stays in a given position for less than four years before “God calls him someplace else”. At that rate, the issues, whether sheep issues or Shepherd issues, never get resolved…and we have serial leavers…hirelings instead of Shepherds.

        Not that all Pastors are at fault…there are some really difficult (stupid) sheep out there.

        Sometimes unruly sheep just haven’t been taught to behave.

        Sometimes unruly sheep have been taught to misbehave by their Shepherd.

        Full disclosure here…my Church has been here for 58 years. We have had 18 Pastors. You can’t run any kind of organization with that kind of turnover in the Leadership. Most of our Pastors recently have left for career advancement opportunities…bigger flocks, better pay. Almost all of them blamed the sheep for their leaving. We have been working together for 58 years…can we really be all that cantankerous? I suppose.

      • ServantHeart says on

        Wow! 18 pastors in 58 years is an average longevity of only 3.2 years. I’m sure some have lasted longer and some not as long, but you are correct in that with that kind of turn over, nothing ever really gets done. I’m assuming your church “calls” its pastors rather than them being “sent” by a governing body. With that in mind, perhaps the folks tasked with selecting/hiring your pastors are well intended, but lacking the skill set needed to “call” the right person to pastor YOUR church. Churches often appoint a “pulpit committee” based on things like membership longevity, regular attendance, participation in church life, and other criteria that don’t really mean a thing. They would be better served by selecting committee members who have at least some of those traits, but are also have some practical life skills such as human resource management, teaching, business management, and finance. They all must desire not to just “get the job done” by hiring someone within a certain time frame, but to seek God’s will in their process and hire a pastor who is the wisest choice among the candidates.
        One more thing, please please PLEASE . . . DON’T hire a new pastor and expect them to come in and “reboot” the entire operation. To do so is to set them AND your church up for continued failure. Establish a long term mission and vision for your church. Continually cast the vision among your members. Make sure your mission is understood and embraced by each. Cast your vision to every single pastoral candidate early in the selection process and make sure they understand their role, if hired, will be to support (and cast) that vision going forward. If they are agreeable, great! If not, thank them for applying and move on!
        Churches who allow every new pastor to establish their own mission and vision soon lose credibility with their members. However, if the mission and vision transcends personnel changes no matter how often those changes take place, the church grows stronger and is much more credible and predictable. Pastors will stay longer and become true shepherds of the flock, rather than just another passing through.

      • We were started as a mission church in a remote (then) area of a developing State. The mission cycled the Missionary/Pastors through fairly frequently. On the order of 17 months to 3 years. The church was closed for a number of years while,the mission placed more emphasis on the next town over.

        When the church was opened…the missionary was caught in the wrong bed and removed…three years.

        The mission sent in a really neat man to repair, which he did and the church went self supporting in a couple of years.

        The new Pastor was neat and the church grew. Then the quarrels started with the Deacon board and he quit…twice. He has since stepped out in his wife, divorced her and married his secretary. Evidence suggests he was “experimenting” while he was our pastor.

        The new Pastor came to us from a Bible College, Pastored for four years, and went back to College with a Pastorate on his resume. He left because the church was “hard hearted”.

        The new Pastor came to us from the East Coast and was a great teacher. His wife was a meddler and set about breaking up long standing friendships and relationships…even family units. The situation deteriorated and the Pastor lied repeatedly, would not work with the board (over 12 months) and went about polarizing the church before he walked out on a business meeting and quit.

        We hired a professional interim pastor to help us fix ourselves and get ready to move ahead. He pronounced us a great group of people, well taught and cohesive.

        The next Pastor was younger. Had been a youth pastor for a number of years and was ready to take his first church. He was fun, used the Word well and taught us well. His wife hated being here and just wouldn’t settle. They left after six years.

        The next Pastor, our current Pastor, is a young man. He’d been a youth pastor for some years and was ready to move into hai first Pastorate. They both seem to like being here, they are popular and well liked. They have been here six years.

        I hope and pray that we have a much longer run..We crave the stability and continuity.

        I don’t know how we could do the pulpit committee any better or more studiously. Ultimately we have to vest our vote with the authority of God and trust his judgement and leading. It seems the breakdown comes when our Pastors and our Leadership can’t figure out how to play nice in the same sandbox. We have a large board for our churches size to prevent the focus of personality. The board is elected by the membership. Quite honestly, it would be awesome to be able to come to a board meeting and expect all the parties to use their people skills and be able to discuss agreeably instead of getting their feeling hurts and pouting when their idea doesn’t pass muster for whatever reason. The same skills we all have to use at work, or even in our homes.

      • Pastors are called by God to shepherd sheep, not goats and vipers.

        There is a God defined symbiosis that exists between shepherds and sheep that will simply not work with any other composition.

        A closely related pair of characteristics attributed to sheep in the Biblical sense is that they are teachable, and they follow (albeit with the occasional innocent wandering one out of one hundred).

        Are you sure this church is actually populated by sheep?

        Pastors may be called to a congregation of goats in order to preach the Gospel in a uniquely targeted way, but those efforts usually run their course in a couple of years. God then moves His man along to a pasture of sheep or another goat pen.

        In all things we should follow God’s direction, no? How many churches follow the model of Acts 6:2 in how the pastorate and the deaconite are structured (or even more importantly: defined)?

        Deacons (literally “through the dust”) are named after the most mundane household servants in Ancient Rome. They are the servants to the church elders (a completely different group) of which the Overseer (pastor) is one member.

        If we have churches where the deacons are in a position of authority then I think expecting God’s blessing given such an unBiblical model would be a bit far fetched.

        I have seen many pastors brought in as “employees”. Far less have I seen pastors retained as what God has directed them to be: spiritual leaders whose needs are to be met by the church through a direct command of Christ.

        Given the poor state of the church in general I can tell you that it would take a lot to move a shepherd away from sheep. But getting him to leave goats after the Gospel has been delivered and God releases him is easy.

      • Ah…thanks for clearing that up for me.

        Goats and vipers. Drat those goats and vipers driving good men out of pulpits everywhere.

        Your example completely absolves the Shepherd from any responsibility. It truly is the peoples fault.

        And he moves on…and finds himself in another “goat pen”.

        So.the Cause of Christ is lost. The Church has failed in her mission.

  • Thom,
    Most of your blogs make me feel like you are following me around and then write about my life. It’s very encouraging to know that other pastors are in the same boat that I’m in. Thanks for all you do. And Roll Tide!

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Stay encouraged in His work, Ben. RTR!

      • Well, Dr. Rainer, I’ve always had a lot of respect for you, until you put in those last three letters. Everyone knows that no REAL Christian would ever root for Ala–… Ala… (I can’t even bring myself to print it!). We true Christians (Tennessee fans) will be praying for your salvation. 😀

      • P.S. To those of you that aren’t familiar with the SEC, we tend to take our sports rivalries rather personally. 😉

  • I would add to #1 – And please don’t go to my family with your criticisms about me. It hurts them, alienates them from the church, and you may find them coming after you!

    I would add to #7 – And please have the courtesy and Christian integrity to come to me first with your concerns/criticisms before you start making phone calls, emailing, posting on social media, holding private conversions or secret meetings with others about those concerns/criticisms.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Excellent adds.

    • I as a church member have been laughed at and ignored when I have approached my pastor with questions ad/or concerns. So it should come as no surprise when I went further. If a pastor doesn’t want his laity to air their issues with his lack of pastoral commitment with the rest of the folk, he should never treat a member’s questions and/or concerns as if they are total gibberish. The members DO pay his salary, and he would be wise not to forget it.

      • It is parishioner’s like you that make me want to scream. God has a hundred ways to support his pastor’s without people like you thinking that God cannot do without your tithe/offering. Churches would be better off without people like you who have the attitude that you have. I have zero patience for people like you.

  • Mark Lindsay says on

    Dr. Rainer,

    Great post! The ball just left the park! It also applies mostly to ministerial staff as well.

    We live in a very busy world. There is no way that one human can process all the information coming at them at any given time. Therefore, I would say also: “If I fail to respond to your communication, please know that it doesn’t imply a lack of respect for you or your thoughts. I’ll earnestly seek to do the same for you the next time you miss an important meeting that I reminded you of.”

    Press on, brother!


  • Gregory Kirk says on

    My favorite comment after 20+ years of parroting is “you don’t understand my husband is not like your husband HE WORKS FOR A LIVING”

    And as the son of a pastor who can ever forget having your families energy usage in the patronage discussed at the monthly businesses meeting.

    People we love you but can we get a small amount of respect?

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Gregory: When my family lived in a parsonage, the church treasurer made an unannounced visit to tell us to stop using our clothes dryer, and only to use the clothes line.

      • Thom and Gregory,
        I still live in a parsonage, but the utility expenses are not paid by the church; they are my responsibility. I did have a pastor friend who told me that since the church could not afford to increase his salary they determined to pay his utilities for him. What a blessing! I don’t believe they ever came back and demanded more conservation practices, though.

      • Thom Rainer says on

        Thanks Robert.

    • Gregory Kirk says on

      By the way I am a Pastor not a parrot 🙂 But times I do feel like one

    • Jaime Potter Alvarez says on

      When I was a District Superintendent (United Methodist Church), one Charge actually tried to pass a resolution that would have allowed every member of the parsonage family only three toilet flushes a day. I ruled it out of order, but to this day I cannot believe they had the nerve to do that.

  • I’m giving 100% to this ministry. I wish I saw more effort and commitment to the ministry from you.

  • Herman says on

    I love my ministry but not my work . . . and it’s your fault.
    As a youth pastor, I was hired to have a positive spiritual influence on students. Giving me responsibilities that have nothing to do with the job I was hired for makes me choose between the urgent and the important. I often have to choose the urgent, but teenagers are more important.
    Expecting me to spend 40 hours a week in the office means I have to choose between your family and mine during my “free time”. I choose mine.
    Turning in registration forms at the very last minute, or worse, late, makes me stress, cost me money out of my budget, and makes me feel like a bad guy when I have to say, “Your kid cannot go”.
    Free me up to do the ministry you hired me to do.

  • Jeff Glenn says on

    I struggle with Number 5. There are times I feel that if I were a better pastor and/or preacher more people would attend and get more involved.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      You are not alone, Jeff. I am taking a few moments right now to pray for you and your ministry. I will trust that great days are ahead!

    • But the best thing for you and your congregation is serve up what God puts on your heart. Anything else will be a clanging symbol. And you can please some of the people some of the time…….

    • Esther Uwaegbulam says on


      It’s not that you are a bad pastor. You have to pray about the situation to God to see what you are doing wrong. I’m not a pastor, but I feel that it is a calling on my life. The thing is, I don’t know which way to turn. Pastors can have friends in the church. I have a discernment and I can tell a good spirit from a bad spirit. God will lead you and guide you in the right direction. You must believe and have the faith that everything will work out for the good. Don’t be discouraged.

  • Scott Cassel says on

    Dr. Rainer: It’s funny how much we are all alike in this ministry for Jesus Christ. Of the 9 points you made. I actually have spoken about 5 of them – this week. This week!

    It does beg the question though: if these are so common and shared, why aren’t they addressed? One example would be no. 6. Although I long for just a regular friend I will never seek one out and I will discourage it if it happens in the church I serve. Why? I’ve been badly burned by trying, more than once. Since the community I grew up in is 4 churches back, there is no external support system beyond the church. So, it becomes a part of the cost of the calling.

    He never said it would be easy.

    Thanks for your insightful work.


    • Thom Rainer says on

      Scott – Thank you. One of the purposes of my blog is to get issues out in the open that are often unspoken. We can’t act on challenges until we confront them with brutal honesty.

      • Rev. Ernest R. Flores says on

        Dr. Rainer, have you done any research on clergy friendships? I have listened to a lecture about this topic years ago and would love to see if there is anything more on the importance of clergy maintaining friendships in the congregation, amongst clergy persons, and with non-church related individuals. And what is the danger of clergy having so few friends?

      • Thom Rainer says on

        No I have not. Sounds fascinating.

      • I would absolutely love it if you were to provide research/advice/etc on this topic as well! It would be great if you also provided guide nice for a pastors wife and children as well. This is a difficult are where we have been badly hurt more than once.

      • The few clergy friends I have made have been invaluable. We can speak in confidence, knowing that our wives may be the only ones we might share with. Misery loves company. It cruel, but true. After hearing similar stories my clergy friends share their experiences and that leads me to a deeper level of discernment.

    • I’m a 54 year old, Deacon for 25 of the last 30 years under four Pastors, adult teacher. If you don’t have friends, and won’t try to have friends…doesn’t that become a self fulfilling prophecy? Sure, friends hurt you…welcome to the real world! Even friends of deacons hurt them sometimes….nobody can irritate you more than your closest friends…and nobody will stand tougher for you either. To deny yourself friends, is to set yourself up for loneliness, and a lack of tough, go-to -the-wall friends. Of course nobody understands you…they don’t know you. Ultimately, to deny yourself friends in your Church is an insult to the flock you Pastor…does not God promise to supply that which we need? I know you’ve preached that. You cannot be an effective shepherd if you do not trust your sheep. If it is not a lack of trust…then it is probably a pride issue…

      Not all of them will be close friends…of course not. A man only has room for one or two…maybe three close friends in total. Give your people the chance to know you. Yes, that will require transparency, vulnerability and effort on your part…just like it does for a Deacon.

      I hope I wasn’t too abrupt…

      • I have too many deacons talk exactly like you, and that is the reason I do not count deacons as my friend. My flock are more connected to me than the deacons because they understand my difficulties more than the leaders.

      • Did I say something wrong?

        It’s a real shame if you can’t trust your deacons…the men who your trusted and understanding congregation chose to work with you.

        It’s a real shame if there is a built-in adversarial relationship between you and your churches deacons.

      • Trusting the deacons, it’s an issue in many churches because the “deacons” are not always spiritual leaders, just popular guys, or worse family. This makes for a very bad mix, and honestly in 90% of Southern Baptist Churches the deacons “run” things which is not at all what their role is as defined in scripture. Pastors can make friends in the church but almost always have to be protective because “friends hurt you”, and in church this can cost one their ministry both there and in the future. The attitude “we were here when you came and we’ll be here when you are gone” is always the guide when the strife begins. A friend who grew up in the church has family or in lawas in the church will not stand beside a friend who will move on to other places. This is just the simple fact of human nature. Unless the pastor started the church, that mentality will always prevail.

      • Slim-

        It seems that this can be a slippery slope with deacon/elder role and expecting a friendship, and the title of Deacon or elder does not automatically mean friend.

        I do agree that we as pastors need to not insulate ourselves from our congregation, but sadly, the role of the elder/deacon sometimes is seen as more of the overall benefit and direction of the church and not for the care of the pastor or his heart.

        If I may give an example, if you have a pastor who has come into a church and has inherited his elder/deacon board from a previous pastor, he could be walking into bitterness, mistrust, and a sense of having to prove himself to a group of men who have been there for a long time. That’s hard. He may be a bit scared to be transparent because there will be those who will look for a weakness and exploit it. I know that this is sad and not true for all churches, but for many it is.

        My hope is that for all of us who call ourselves pastor, elder or deacon-that we take off the titles and the church politics, and we start caring about the hearts of each other and not exploit the weaknesses of each other.

        But be careful about thinking elder/deacon=Friend.

      • I don’t believe that every Deacon is going to be a close friend of their Pastor…that would be an unreasonable expectation. A man usually only has three or four close fiends…that’s the nature of the beast.

        I do believe that every Deacon should be friendly to their Pastor. Obviously this will manifest in degrees of relationship.

        I so believe that every Pastor should be friendly to his Deacons. Obviously this will manifest in degrees of relationship.

        Now…on to reality. Pastors and Deacons, or anybody for that matter, will have history, experiences, baggage, preferences and personality. It is not reasonable to expect that all of the people in the mix are going to be buddies, but they ought to be able to be adults and work together without suspicion and prejudice.

        Some of the posts to this blog state very clearly the prejudice of some Pastors toward their leadership. They believe, and act, on the assumption that all of the leadership is against them, is unfairly judgemental, and uncooperative. They believe and act on the assumption that they cannot and will not ever have friends in their ministry. They believe, and act, on the assumption that they will be miserable, mistreated and lonely as long as they endure under the heavy cross that Christ has asked them to bear.

        Even if the leadership set high marks for saintliness, the situation will be fraught with suspicion and frustration for lack of trust and openness.

        Personal example. My Pastor was told by his former pastor…the one he was a youth pastor for…that he should never trust his deacons, that he should never expect to have friends outside the ministry, that he should expect to be desperately lonely all of his ministry try life. My Pastor brought that prejudice to our Church. Fortunately we were able to see it and work through it with him. His former pasted nearly cost my Pastor his ministry…or at least the joy and reward of it. That former pastor should be spanked for propagating his own prejudice and hurt onto another,

    • Scott,

      Please understand the critical need to locate and reach out to other pastors in your area and build a support group. Even though I do have those I consider to be friends in the congregation I serve, I will always be “the pastor” in even the most informal or social times with someone who is a member of the church! I know many pastors who have been hurt by other clergy, but if you can locate a group of genuinely caring men with whom you can be yourself and share the common concerns and frustrations only another pastor can understand, it will make all the difference. I have been part of a group of about 4 men I meet with once a week for over 5 years now. We are there to literally support and pray for one another, and not “fix” each other. The men in the group have varied as some move out of and into the area, and currently I am the only pastor of my denomination in the group. But we have developed a closeness that makes this regular meeting one none of us desire to miss! Some meetings together we talk about nothing in particular and other times one in the group is really dealing with a deep hurt or issue and we center in on that person almost completely for that meeting. It is exciting to see us genuinely care for one another and genuinely be able to rejoice with each other when God blesses a church one of us serves in some special way. It takes time to develop this level of trust and confidentiality among peers, but is well worth it.

  • “Hey I just don’t send e-mails and post articles for my health, do you read them, do you see them? It would be nice to actually dialogue. Maybe I have the wrong e-mail addresses and some folks overseas are getting them.”

    • Thom Rainer says on


      • Doug B says on

        Before I comment, I would like to share that this is the 8th church I have served in the past 34 years, 3 (including this church) have provided a parsonage for me and my family.

        I have been blessed to be here for the past 17 months. The people are loving, caring to me and my family.; They appreciate me and the ministry the Lord has called me to and they take care of me and my family quite well. I am extremely blessed to work with these wonderful people but in other churches, I have not always been so blessed.

        As a full time, ordained staff member for 34 years, I can also relate to #5.
        In the past, I have had people hatefully come up to me and say: “You are going do what I say because I pay your salary and you work for me!” I have calmly replied: “That’s funny, I do too; I am a tither, are you?” None of these people have said yes. They make up excuses why they are not tithers. In these past 34 years, I have found that the people who give the least gripe the most. Which brings me to another pastor’s financial topic:

        The parsonage where the church pays all the utilities!

        “Hey, turn those lights out, quit running your air conditioner so much, stop watering the lawn and washing your car pastor; the utilities were too high last month.” Doesn’t this just want to make you pull someone’s hair out?
        Yes, but I asked the Lord for strength and for the calm words to say.

        Thanks for reading my 2 Cents worth 🙂

        Once again, thank you, Lord for the wonderful church you have me serving in 🙂

      • Love the comment about tithing! Likewise, I’ve often found that the people who complain loudest about the church attendance are the ones that are “too busy” to come to visitation or to work in Sunday school.

    • I hear you. When I post on our facebook page questions that I would like to have input from it would be nice to actually have someone comment.

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