Ten Common Pastoral Care Challenges Pastors Face

Most pastors are amazing. I am honored to serve them, and my appreciation for pastors grows every day.

For example, I recently conducted a social media survey where I asked pastors to share their most common pastoral care challenges. The volume of responses was huge, a very impressive number. But even more impressive were the stories of love and concern these pastors have for their congregations. They want to care for them. They want the best for them. They want to help ease their pains.

So, for the most part, the challenges are not the members themselves, but the capacity to meet all the pastoral needs members have. Here are how the pastors expressed ten of their greatest pastoral care challenges.

  1. Time. The pastoral care needs are always greater than the time available to meet those needs. A number of pastors expressed the tensions of meeting the needs of their own families while trying to meet the needs of the church members.
  2. Expectations. It doesn’t take a new pastor long to discover you can’t meet all the expectations of church members for pastoral care. Pastors always disappoint someone. They typically get criticized for not meeting needs. It is a burden and frustration for these church leaders.
  3. Emotional fatigue. Pastors see a lot of emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual needs. They see the deepest pains and the direst situations. They are often unable to detach from the hurt they see almost every day.
  4. The fix-it syndrome. Many pastors are fixers by nature and personality. But many pastoral care situations defy fixing, at least in the short-term. Pastors, as a consequence, feel both frustrated and hopeless.
  5. Dealing with toxic members. One pastor told me that half his week is spent dealing with toxic church members and the church members hurt by the toxic people. Pastoral care of this nature has little reward to it.
  6. Aging congregations. To be clear, no pastor said anything negative about the pastoral needs of older adults. Their challenge is the increasing number of needs as members age. Many of the pastors are serving congregations where over three-fourths of the active members are 70 and older.
  7. Communication failures. Pastors are sometimes expected to be omniscient. They will obviously miss a hospital visit if they don’t know the person is in the hospital. When one pastor was confronted for missing a visit due to his own lack of knowledge, the church member responded, “Well, you should have known.” Sigh.
  8. Pastor-only pastoral care. Some church members still believe pastors are supposed to do all the pastoral care ministry. The infamous sentence is repeated too often, “That’s what we pay the pastor to do.” Many pastors would like to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry, but those saints will have nothing of the kind.
  9. Hospital visits. Depending on the demographic context, some pastors have to spend most of the day for a single hospital visit. One pastor shared that most of his members go to a hospital in a city almost two hours away. He lamented how little time he had for sermon preparation because he was in the car so much going to the hospital.
  10. The special situation of the bi-vocational pastors. These challenges are exacerbated when the pastor is bi-vocational. Most churches are willing to pay a pastor part-time pay while expecting full-time work.

I love pastors. I love their hearts. I love how they love their churches. Next time you see your pastors involved in some aspect of pastoral care, let them know how much you appreciate them. Many often don’t hear such words of affirmation and encouragement. Your words can make a huge difference to those who serve us so well.

Posted on May 22, 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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  • I am doing a micro research project in Pastor Theology and one of the questions we are studying is the biggest challenges in pastoral ministry today. Is it possible to find out how many responses you had and are the ones listed in order based on the number of responses? Did you also ask what their greatest joys were?

  • I started preaching in 1999, and then in 2009 God lead me to be a Pastor for an unloved community. Sunday worship, Monday Street Ministry, Tuesday Door to Door, Wednesday Food Pantry, Thursday Bible Study, Friday and Saturday was for everything else. It was just my wife and I and we were paid $50 a week. A woman contacted me by phone. We had never met, but she followed me on a few places online. Her Mom was dying in a hospital and wanted her minister to pray with her Mom, but he would not, so she called me. I explained I had never done that, but would be happy to pray about it and get back to her. I prayed and called her the next day. he said she could not be there, but just tell the nurses what is going on. I gathered up all my paperwork to say who I was, and off to the hospital. I laid my paperwork on the desk, and they all had a good chuckle and pointed me to the room. I entered the room, there was just one bed, and the woman liked like she had been scared to death. I got a nurse to check on her. The nurse said she was still alive, but unresponsive. I told the woman who I was and that her daughter asked me to pray with her. I told her who I was, and who Jesus was and what he had done for all of us. After having a one way conversation with her for about 30 minutes, I prayed with her 10 maybe 15 minutes. I left hoping she had heard what I said. a few weeks latter, the daughter called me. They had removed her mom from ICU and were going to keep her a while at a nursing home. But the Mom was talking and said she listen to what I had said but could not react, The daughter tried to tell me the difference I had made. I told her I had no skill other than to pray with her Mom like any Christian, it was God that made a difference. Perhaps I will never experience that kind of change again, but as long as there is a chance, I will do all I can to be there. So now when I am offered a chance, I am very excited to see what God is going to do. (Sorry this was long)

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