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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  • When appropriate, I have begun visiting members in their homes the day before a surgery. The comfort of their homes provides security for spiritual conversations and the 2 hr round trip time can be devoted to more conversation, instead of a drive to the hospital. But in the end, sometimes you just have to make the drive.

  • Late one evening, weary after a long day at the church, I stopped at the hospital to visit a nearly 100-year-old church member. After a brief visit, I quipped as I left, ‘what can I bring you?’ Her eyes lit up as she replied, ‘A cone from Dairy Queen!’ It took another 45 minutes but she got her cone and I went home rejuvenated and full of the joy of serving this precious saint and her God, reminded once again that Pastoral care is a privilege.

  • Richard H says on

    These sound mighty familiar. We have a small hospital in our rural community, but usually when people are in the hospital, they go to one in the town an hour and half to the north east, the big cities an hour and a half to the north, the town an hour and a half to the west, the town two hours to the west south west, or the big city 2+ hours to the south. And sometimes there are multiple people in different cities at the same time. It does get wearing sometimes. Fortunately (?) they come in spurts, so it’s not an every day or every week occurrence.

  • Training small group leaders to do pastoral care is a great way to lighten the load. The pastor will still have to deal with the major issues but a small group can cover everything else.

  • Lora Campbell says on

    As a PK and now married to a man in the ministry, I have seen all these struggles played out firsthand. I appreciate this article as it brings an awareness of the urgency to be praying for the preachers I know and it has prompted me to begin writing specific prayer points for me to help guide me (and my church prayer team) to pray more effective and strategic prayers. Thank you!

  • I wish you would substitute the word ministers for pastors. In the scriptures, pastors, shepherds and elders all refer to the same people – the group of very spiritual members selected to rule over and guide the church. Ministers and pastors are not the same people. Ministers are the ones who preach the word, in season and out of season. Thank you.

    • Think the word “minister ” has gone the way of the dodo.PA Rose is a rose is a rose. A pastor is a less intimidating word.What does it matter what they r called as long as they connect with the people they are called to serve

  • Hi Tom,

    As always, right now in every point. I have faced all the points for 35 years.

    Just a note to pastors and boards. There needs to be some talk about boundaries for such issues along the lines of Acts 6 and the first Deacons. The Deacons were created to handle the pastoral stuff that distracted from prayer and the Word ministry.

    If a church can’t grow in the Word and prayer from its leadership their ministry will be crippled and the church becomes too inward focused and suffers. That inward focus is a major issue behind the decline of the American Church and needs to be addressed biblically on some level from leadership. IF that doesn’t happen the Church just becomes an HMO you pay into for getting your needs met.

    Just a few thoughts.

  • Kraig Bishop says on

    Pastoral care is definitely not high on my list of gifts, but I know it’s an important part of what I do. And what I’ve found is that some of the deepest relationships that I have developed with folks in our congregation happened because I visited them in the hospital or sat with them through a long surgery. That’s what I have to remind myself of every time I begin to dread a trip to the hospital. It changes my perspective, and I hope, makes me more effective in the situation.

  • Jeremy Butler says on

    Thank you very much. Many pastors like myself are bivocational but work at the church 6 or 7 days a week. The average age at the church I pastor is 75.

  • Well said, Dr. Rainer. All your points are spot on.

  • Thanks Thom:
    This post makes me wonder “how many non-pastor subscribers do you have” and “how can this be communicated to those in the pew?”

  • Very timely. Thank you!

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