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.
More from Thom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  • #7
    They forgot to tell you their agenda for your wife.

  • All these are true for sure. However, My biggest surprise was finding out how little discipleship had actually taken place in the past. Even the church leaders were not as far along in their spiritual journey as I had anticipated. It has made my first few years at the church mostly about discipling my leaders.

  • I have been a pastor for 7+ years and have experienced 1-4. It’s very frustrating when a pastor is blamed for lack of church growth, yet the key leaders (sometimes the deacons, but sometimes not; can be other people who influence direction) refuse to embrace/support any changes. I think it’s very important, before a pastor ever agrees to come and arrives on the field, that he vet the church very well. He should have a thorough discussion with the search committee and also the deacons. There is no way one can understand a church culture entirely from just 1 interview and also maybe 1-2 meetings with a deacon board, but it’s a move in the right direction. There are so many churches today that have no desire to get out into the communities and they are going to decline and eventually die in America over the next 20-30 years. It’s a tough time to be a pastor. No doubt that there have been more difficult times and settings down through the centuries. But we’re now in the “post-Christian age” in America and this has enormous impact on the churches that still exist. With gay marriage now acceptable and abortion on demand, America has taken more steps to move away from God. Judgment will be sure. I have had good DOMs in the associations in which I have served. Also good pastor friends. This is incredibly important if a man is going to stay in ministry over 20-30-40 years. Hard seasons will come. Critics who don’t support you. Members critical of your preaching, critical of lack of growth, critical of you maybe not putting in enough hours. Many churches have unregenerate, self-centered, unspiritual people in positions of power and pastors have to try to work with these persons. It is tough. If you’re a pastor and you have 4-5 strong deacons, who will support and back you, if you preach the Word, work hard, aren’t a dictator, you’re blessed. Our churches, today, are powerless because they’re prayerless. Pastors have to be prayerful, but they can’t do it alone. For a church to move forward, see growth, see God move, the members have to pray. Regularly. Fervently. And year-to-year. Seminary cannot prepare you on how to deal with church conflict, leading change, dealing with power politics, dealing with churches who are steeped in traditionalism and change resistant. You have to learn all of this the hard way. It’s a blessing to pastor a church, but it’s also very challenging in America today. There is still a remnant, but truth be told: The church in America today is dying. Won’t give up the fight, but this is unfolding right now.

  • I have learned that the best way to avoid this happening is to be me in the interview process. Let them see ME. At the same time, I try to figure out their hot buttons and ask questions to bring out the real them. I have learned to trust my gut (Holy Spirit) and if something feels off I pass. This has kept me in a place where I have yet to experience these 6 things in any meaningful way. (Prayer and patience for the right place are a big part of this)

  • Kent Anderson says on

    Can you have these posts “post earlier? Like around 7:00 am eastern time? I check you every morning. That would be great.

  • Jacob Valentine Malasha says on

    Greetings from Lusaka, Zambia.
    I am a student pastor at the Baptist Theological Seminary of Zambia expecting my graduation in 2020. It is my pleasure to read from you who are before me beloveds, because many times I hear stories whenever I ask many pastors concerning their ministries many say, it is well. But they don’t really share like some of these challenges you have shared.
    I am so encouraged not to expect rains without mud, but to expect both.

  • I think solution is to always have a true spirit filled people occupying this position and the pastor also should be led by the spirit and also detailed in leadership to avoid steering the ship into havoc.

  • Thank you for posting this. Yes, been there, done that. Some of these listed were more painful/personal than others, and in one church, just about all were true, despite a very thorough vetting process and praying through it with my wife, at least we thought it very, very thorough.

    It’s tough. I appreciate the post because in posting this, you let some pastors know they aren’t alone and their experience isn’t unique to them. I wish it were an uncommon thing. However, there are times when simply knowing that there are others going through the same things that we find a measure of encouragement. Your post provided that.

  • In my experience, the biggest issue new pastors have when they go to an established church is that they are impatient. Especially newer pastors who are younger in age. It is a fool’s errand to think that you can get hired by a church and start changing things relatively quickly. Building trust takes time! And churches that trust their pastor are more willing to follow his lead!

  • david clegg says on

    Fortunately, I have had very good experiences with new ministry positions, however I have not changed often: 8 years on staff at first full-time church and 23 years and counting as Assoc Pastor at my current church.

    BUT, I have seen other churches.
    As for #1, my observation is that often the Search Committee is comprised of people who are forward thinking and want the church to grow. They usually think they represent the views of the church body, but often don’t. So, they THINK they are being honest with the candidate.

  • John W Carlton says on

    It still hurts when I recall about one of my strongest (?) supporters stabbing me in the back in a personnel meeting that I was not invited or knew about until it was over. That has been over 40 years ago, and I still bleed from that wound.

    I have a pastor friend who has just been given his walking papers after 11 years. My heart grieves for him and his family.

  • Larry Fryling says on

    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.