Six Challenges New Pastors Did Not See Coming


Many of you have been there and done that. You’ve accepted the call to a new church. You are excited about the possibilities. Your mind is filled with energizing ideas. You are ready to move forward.

Then it happens.

“It” refers to the event that takes you by surprise. You really did not see it coming. Even if it happened to you in a previous church, you viewed it as an exception. But here you go again.

I have been working with local church pastors for over three decades. I love these leaders. I love their hearts. And I hurt with them when they tell me these stories. Six of these stories are so common, I can almost predict them for new pastors. Of course, I hope they don’t take place; but too often they do. Here are the six challenges new pastors did not see coming:

  1. The search committee really does not want the church to change. But they told you they were looking for a pastor to lead change in the church. What happened? Why have their minds changed? To be fair, the search committee members (or their equivalent) aren’t liars. They really wanted the church to change . . . as long as it didn’t affect them.
  2. The deacons/elders really don’t want you to lead. Again, they told you they were looking for a strong leader. They told you they were ready to follow you. And they were ready to follow you . . . until you started leading them somewhere they didn’t want to go.
  3. Your biggest supporter became your most vocal critic. He was there when the moving van pulled up to your church. He wanted to be the first to welcome you to the community and to the church. He let you know he loved you. And he let you know he had your back. But now you feel the knife he placed in your back.
  4. The church is not really excited about evangelizing the community. When you had the town hall meeting with the congregation, the excitement was palpable. So many of the members talked about moving forward reaching people with the gospel. Then God blessed the church, and a number were reached with the gospel. Those same members then began to complain about “those new people messing up our church.”
  5. The budget cannot be changed. But the treasurer told you the church would be flexible. She said to let her know if you saw a need not in the budget, and she would find a way to make it happen. That was shortly before you became pastor. Now you are discovering the budget is more set than dried concrete. She really didn’t expect you to ask for her help.
  6. The denomination is not really there for you. Your arrival came with great fanfare. Some of the denominational leaders showed up at your installation service. They told you with great aplomb to call on them “if you ever need anything.” Now you need something. And they won’t respond to your emails and calls.

To be clear, not all of the experiences of new pastors are negatives. Not all expectations are unmet. But a number are. These are six of the most common.

Posted on April 1, 2019

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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  • My experience is that the search team really wanted change and convinced me to accept the call to the church. However, after I accepted the call, I discovered that the search team no longer existed as their work was finished. I was left with elders and deacons who did not want any change. Advice: listen to the search team and interview the elders and deacons. Make sure they are both singing from the same page.

  • The existence of these points, which really do have the ring of truth, tells me Seminary training is woefully inadequate. They ought to cover these point in the very first year, so pastors-in-training won’t be surprised. And maybe they’ll be prepared to handle them. Or leave that career track.

    Reminds me of the old mantra “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re of no earthly good”.

  • I greatly admire your education, experience, wisdom and faith~ always taking away something new that I have learned.

    But, today, I am disappointed~ not with the content. But the theme and image
    are plagiarism unless you have the expressed consent of Carey Nieuwhof~ in that
    case~ it should then be noted.

    You have a plethora of resources and do not need to *lift* someone else’s work.

    Shame on you!


    • I’m not the web developer, but I suspect all the images on this site are purchased from a stock photo website. This means anyone has permission to use the image so long as they pay for the rights. I doubt this image is original to Carey Nieuwhof, but in fact was purchased by him as well. When purchasing rights, you are not obligated to note where the image came from.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Candice –

      James is correct. Shame on you for assuming guilt when there is none.

      • Candice says on

        Dr Rainer~

        When I posted my comment above (1 April 2019, 10:25a) I believed there was enough rank similarity of content between the use of the title and binoculars to that of Carey Nieuwhof’s recent book~ enough that I called-out Dr Rainer as having plagiarized.

        Carey Nieuwhof~ the rightful person to have made the call and not me~ clarified the use of those two elements from last Monday’s blog and corrected me. I was wrong in making the assumption that Dr Rainer’s use of the binoculars and a similar title constituted plagiarism.

        Therefore, I stand corrected, and I apologize to Dr Rainer~ whose work I have long followed without ever having been a contrarian.

        I also apologize to anyone else who I might have offended.


      • Thank you, Candice. Apology accepted.

    • Hey Guys,

      Carey here. First, I appreciate your concern for copyright concerns.

      Please let me assure you that Thom did not in any way violate copyright or my intellectual property.

      His ideas are fresh and didn’t come from my book or blog. And I don’t own a copyright on binoculars or the phrase Didn’t See It Coming. And the stock photo here doesn’t like anything like my book cover.

      Back story: I actually chose Didn’t See It Coming as the title for my book because it was so frequently used in conversation. Hence, Thom using is is a great example of why the phrase is so helpful.

      A final word, although Thom’s post really doesn’t overlap with my content (it’s excellent), those of us who write often riff off of other ideas and concepts. Solomon was right…there’s nothing new under the sun.

      That said, there’s nothing derivative about this post.

      I cherish Dr. Rainer’s leadership and friendship and learn so much from him as I know all of you do.

      Carey Nieuwhof

    • Marguerite Colson says on

      Candice –

      First, shame on me. I knew the moment you wrote your comment that you were way off base on your accusation. I should have spoken up. Blog posts get decreasing views each day. So, I am certain your accusation against Thom got a lot of views, while your apology did not. I am grateful James spoke up. I should have as well.

      Second, I am grateful for your apology. They are rare in blogs and on social media. Those are usually the places for trolls who rant. I assumed you were a troll, and I wish Thom had not approved your comment. It was an unnecessary distraction based on wildly inaccurate information. But, at least you apologized.

      Finally, I hope this exchange is a lesson for all of us. We often post things before getting clarity or the facts. Blogs and social media are poor forums to vent or to make accusations. There are better, more biblical ways to confront or ask questions.

  • Hello brother … Greetings from Brazil.

    Textomuito good. Indeed what I Peter 5: 9 says about afflictions is real in this regard as well. Here in Brazil is no different. Nothing different. By reading this I was taken to every bad moment I’ve been through these last 2 years. I’ve been through this, it’s not easy. Be discarded as junk. No one who does this to another person could be a Christian indeed. Today, I try not to be spent from where I live and have the basics to feed my wife and two young children. I’m afraid to go back to the pastorate of a church again, I do not think I’ll ever come back, I’m afraid. Today I try to re-enforce myself … My requests to help the denomination have been in vain, they have joined the reputed assassins to destroy my life, unfortunately. I am a Presbyterian minister yet, but I am no longer a shepherd, a shepherd needs sheep, and I have no more sheep to look after, I have had some, but always the goats that stab the back seem to make the biggest marks. God bless the brothers. I hope heaven will happen soon. God bless you all.

  • I am the church business administrator, but I wonder if the pastor candidate failed to interview correctly. As lay -leader during a meeting, I quantified the “Change” that everyone wanted. I asked would they be happy with 50% new people, 75% new people, etc. Then I added racial and age distinctions. Then I asked what changes they were willing to make – additions of 2nd service, music changes. These type of questions would help prevent disappointment. By the way – we made a lot of these changes successfully.

  • Would love to hear your thought on a response to some of these. Gordon Pendold has a unique approach of writing a detailed contract/agreement with the church. Sounds very business like, which the church is not, yet sounds like a helpful tool in holding the leader’s feet to the fire.

  • Howard Huddle says on

    In my, almost, 34 years of Pastoral ministry I have experienced most of these challenges! But, don’t allow these individuals to hinder the ministry that God has called you to. God is not shocked, nor caught off guard, when these things happen. Remain faithful to His call on your life, because not all individuals/churches are like these mentioned above! For as many stories I could tell like the ones mentioned, I can also tell you stories of how God used people to meet our needs, give us words of encouragement, and give us faithful support! Keep Looking Up!! Ministry is not for the faint of heart!!

  • Eric Luedtke says on

    While I have experienced aspects of most of these in the churches I have pastored, I have not experienced number 6 to be true at all – in fact quite the opposite.

    To Item 1, I will say that my experience has been that often the people on the search/call team are fired-up for change and truly want to see what they promise, but they don’t always reflect the majority of the congregation and so those promised changes get thwarted by the “silent” majority.

  • Some do not realize that a part of the congregation did not want them called/hired and would have preferred another candidate.

    The unofficial power structure is going to rewrite your job description and may not inform you about doing so for a while.

    The leadership has a case of “group think.”

  • I am a transitional Worship Pastor…I have transitioned three churches since 1995 from where they were (all three very traditional in system and style) to a contemporary system and style, after a all three had a Church VOTE. This is on the nose, spot on, hit the nail on the head, Three pointer, touchdown! Many people want change but only on their terms. In fact, most people love change if they get to choose the change. For us, we try to keep vision in front of them often and have good healthy conversations as we redesign our selves. Vision and Goal…. to lead that 30 something with kids into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. Our barometer is salvations and plugging them into a LifeGroup. We do that by creating atmospheres that they will encounter Jesus, an atmosphere fertile for the Holy Spirit to move and draw. With in this we have a wide birth to be creative, but everyone has a point were they are uncomfortable with the move, consequently it takes lots of conversations about where God found them and where God will find this new generation.

  • William Galloska says on

    At some level I have experienced all but the last one in the church I am in now. I was even told , “you are the quarterback”. That lasted until I challenged what that individual was doing. But God is good, I am in the fifth year and beginning to see the upturn that many describe. I now see the wisdom to Dr. Rodney Harrison’s suggestion that one commit to ten years before starting!! God Bless

  • Ralph Jordan says on

    Sad but true and after being a pastor for 31 years and then retiring, I have found that I can be a true supporter of our pastor. I try and help him when and where I can. He has many times shown me thankfulness for knowing how to combat many of the points you made in this morning’s blog. The only draw back is I am now retired but find myself doing more productive ministry than ever before. I therefore will suppress all the negatives I had to endure thru those 31 years. One thing that I would mention though, if you are searching for a church make sure you ask other pastors in the area what have you heard about the church that you are considering good and bad. I found out only too late that my very first church was known in the area as a pastor eater church…