Ten Reasons It Is More Difficult to Be a Pastor Today

I can’t tell pastors today how difficult it was when I was a pastor.

To the contrary, I have to be honest and tell them it is more difficult now.

All three of my sons went into vocational ministry after serving in the business world. One of them is in seminary administration and two of them are pastors. I never pushed them in that direction. I knew they could not make it unless they were certain God called them.

Yes, it is indeed more difficult to be a pastor today than earlier years. At least ten major issues led to these challenges.

  1. The advent of social media. As a consequence, private criticisms have become public forums. The fish bowl life of a pastor’s family is now 24/7.
  2. Podcast pastors. When I was a pastor, there were only a few well-known television pastors as points of comparison to my inferiority. Today, church members have hundreds, if not thousands, of pastors on podcast they compare to their own pastors.
  3. Diminished respect for pastors. When I was a pastor, most people held my vocation in high esteem, even those not in church. Such is not the case today.
  4. Generational conflict in the church. While there has always been some generational conflict in the church, it is more pervasive and intense today.
  5. Leadership expectations. Pastors are expected today to have more leadership and business skills. We constantly hear from pastors, “They didn’t teach me that at seminary.”
  6. Demise of the program-driven church. In past years, church solutions were simpler. Churches were more homogeneous, and programmatic solutions could be used in almost any context. Today churches are more complex and contexts are more varied.
  7. Rise of the “nones.” There is a significant increase in the numbers of people who have no religious affiliation. The demise of cultural Christianity means it is more difficult to lead churches to growth.
  8. Cultural change. The pace of change is breathtaking, and much more challenging today. It is exceedingly more difficult today for pastors to stay abreast with the changes around them.
  9. More frustrated church members. Largely because of the cultural change noted above, church members are more frustrated and confused. They often take out their frustrations on pastors and other church leaders.
  10. Bad matches with churches. In earlier years, there was considerable homogeneity from church to church, particularly within denominations and affiliated church groups. Today churches are much more diverse. A pastor who led well in one context may fare poorly in another unless there is a concerted effort to find the right match for a church and pastor.

These ten reasons are not statements of doom and gloom; they are simply statements of reality. Serving as pastor in a church today has more challenges than it did years ago.

But challenges in ministry are common throughout the history from the first church to today. Such is the reason no pastors can lead well without the power, strength, and leadership of the One who called them.

Posted on May 1, 2017

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 *


  • JIm Simmons says on

    In the list, and comments, I find no mention of the pervasive spiritual warfare faced by both pastors and people. Are we no longer wrestling with principalities and powers? How many ever hear the subject from the pulpit? Are there no spiritual strongholds in today’s churches that need to be overcome, before programs can take root? Is there no connection between the Enemy and the countless men and women leaving ministry each year, who have been under spiritual attack? Isn’t that at least a part of why being a pastor today is so difficult?

    • Mark Smith says on

      So true Jim. Thanks for mentioning this. It is easy to forget the spiritual battle raging around us. Prayer is not simply nice, it is a necessity.

  • I was a full time pastor, left for the secular world for 16 years, and now am a full time pastor again. One of the most difficult changes is in communications. 16 years ago a phone call notified you that someone was ill, in an accident, etc. You also knew if the phone rang after 10 pm it was probably at least an emergency in that person’s mind, if not a true emergency. Now, we find out through text, Facebook, email, IM, Twitter, and on and on. The sheer volume of information is staggering. Add to that personal boundaries aren’t respected much anymore. It is not unusual for my IM to go off at 12:30 am only to find the latest cat dancing or cute faith posting someone is forwarding to me.

  • The ten points are interesting, but do bear in mind please likely every adult in your congregation is facing some form of each one of them. So please know that the preacher is not the only one struggling.

    I freely admit I think the biggest elephant in the room for both the church and for those serving as pastors is the whole idea of a paid pastorate. Yes, I know the verses referenced as to sharing our material goods with those that bring us the gospel. But I truly believe that refers to travelling evangelists.

    As I age, more and more, I believe some of the old time Baptists are more Biblical in having multiple men called to preach, and all doing it without pay. But then again, I grew up in the oilfields of eastern NM, where tiny remote churches could not afford more than supply preachers, and then only if they could not get someone called who would preach for free. (Maybe gas money.)

    We had less sturm und drang in those churches, saw more saved, saw more called to preach or be missionaries, saw more lives changed, and saw more conversions that have now lasted 50 plus years than I’ve seen in any of the paid pastorate model churches I’ve been in since we left there.

    Maybe the best thing we can do for those called to preach is to free them to preach without tying their hands behind their backs with a paycheck. Maybe more of us in the pew need to tackle the work of the ministry. Maybe we need to stop insisting on a Ph.D. or D. Min. to bless the biscuits. Maybe we need to stop trying to figure out how to make preaching a nice career where the “pastor” rules and try following what appear to me to be clear guidelines laid out by Jesus.

    But that is just me. Your mileage may vary, but don’t expect me to get on board anymore with “how to make life nicer for the pastor/ruler” when I more and more believe the Bible forbids the existence of such.

    I would encourage pastors suffering burnout concerning these 10 issues to sit down with a doctor, a teacher, a mom of preschoolers, a garbage man, even Larry the Cable Guy and talk to them. You’ll find they deal with the same issues. We are all in this together. Make preaching a career and whoops now you have the same struggles as any other career.

    • Christopher says on

      I understand some of your points, but how do you get to “the Bible forbids” paid pastors? To what “guidelines laid out by Jesus” are you referring? There’s also practical concerns. Unless every church is small enough to be run by volunteers, a paid staff is necessary just to take care of day to day administrative duties. Can volunteers with full time jobs be as effective as someone who devotes himself full time to the “ministry of prayer and the word?” Furthermore, for those who have invested money and time in training for full time ministry, are they just wrong? Are they sinning because they want to devote all of their time and effort to the gospel? Finally, I don’t understand why you’re so offended by this article. Discussing the struggles of pastors in no way diminishes the struggles of others. This would be like going to a nursing blog and complaining that they don’t talk about the struggles of teachers.

      • Tim Aagard says on

        Christopher – I understand your objection. 99% of believers in the last 500 years being in church will only hear scripture like you have heard – “the right to be paid”, and various texts on this. Linda is an exception. I grew up with what you have been taught. But I went and checked the texts used to push professionalized leadership and found them all twisted. I also found more than 8 that teach ministry “free of charge”, not being a “burden”, “meeting my own needs and the needs of my companions”, “I have given this as an example for you to follow”, etc and have seen how they are explained away. I have noted the corrupt exegesis used for this. But every Bible expert wants a full pay check so they accept it all as good. “Full time ministry” forces believers to consume 84% of their giving to pay for it. Only 16% goes out the door on average by Leadership Journal’s stats. “..for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Believers hearts will be stuck on themselves when they are led to consume their giving. Another reason: God has given us a formula for increasing “love and good works”. It’s the opposite of one man lecturing the Bible for the whole time. Hebrews. 10:24,25. When you shut down the “habit of meeting” believers are not to “forsake” you will cause severe lack of love and laziness. That is exactly what every hired Bible expert will experience – most of God’s people doing nothing, a few doing as little as possible, and fewer yet doing a lot. That is the systemic result of professionalized – “full time” leadership coast to coast.

        Matthew 10:8b – 10 “You received without paying; give without pay. 9 Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.”

        Luke 10: 7, 8 “7 And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you.

        “The laborer deserves his food”, not a full pay check. This is simple hospitality with the man of peace, in both texts. Paul quotes this in 1 Tim. 5 so the “wages” is simple hospitality per Jesus. There is nothing here about “full time salary” for a weekly Bible lecture by strictly one man with special training in a seminary. Paul is speaking of “elders” plural, not one hired pastor. “Those” who labor in the word and doctrine” is also plural, a shared ministry of many, not one single hired man. When teaching is shared there is no need for “full time” of one man. The one man lecture is a tradition of men that nullifies the instructions of Paul and Jesus. Any leader who understands 2 Tim. 2:1,2 would not want to dominate the teaching every week. He would want to “entrust” it to “faithful men who will teach others also”. Any leader who understands the goal of “teaching” will “fully train” his students “to be like him” Luke 6:40. This teaching of Jesus is VIOLATED by the current tradition of professionalized “ministry”.

        Specific instructions from Jesus to give the gospel “without pay”. You payed to go to school to practice the traditions of men, not the instructions of Jesus. Nowhere in the NT is there an instruction for men to “devote full time to the Lord’s work” or “to the gospel”. Wait… here is one. 1 Cor. 15:58 ‘Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” Oh… this is written to the Corinth lay people, the brothers and sisters, not a paid staff.

        “In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.” 1 Cor. 9:14 Does “those who preach the gospel” mean those who lecture the Bible every week for 30-45 minutes to believers who have heard 500-2000 lectures? Yes, would involve a massive stretch of the text. No one in NT times had ever heard of such a routine, not even Paul. Does “should receive their living from the gospel” reflect what the Greek wording says? No, it’s twisted. There is no linguistic basis to justify zao meaning money to live by. Young’s Literal says “of the good news to live”. Jesus is instructing preachers to make sure their life character matches up to what they “preach”. This is to stop hypocrisy, not stop working in the marketplace. (Much more could be said about this whole chapter with Paul’s conclusion being massive benefits for combining marketplace work with spiritual leadership.)

        There are many more texts that could be offered. Every commentary, every translation (except Young’s Literal) every Lexicon, every seminary teacher, every Bible expert wants a pay check from their ministry. Of course they will all agree, but a lay person can figure it out of they want to. Most don’t want to because they love the passivity. Clergy love the pay check, the title, the dependency, etc. Jesus doesn’t. It’s going to get harder and harder for hired church leaders. It’s time to look at scripture from outside the bubble of clergyism. The Holy Spirit can help you as he did me and Linda, and others.

      • Here we go again….

      • Christopher says on

        OK, you wrote short book on the evils of full time ministry but still did not manage to answer any of my questions. Do you think that full time pastors are sinning by devoting their lives to the Gospel? Do you think we’re all just in it for the money? If all I wanted was money I could do a dozen other jobs and make so much more. All the scripture I’ve taught, all the disciples I’ve made, does none of that count because I get paid? Should my children feel ashamed of me because I’m taking advantage of all the poor rubes in the pews?

        And by the way, your exegesis is laughable and is the obvious result of bias against pastors. Just an example:

        In Matthew 10 Jesus tells his disciples specifically not to charge people for miracles and healing. Jesus then follows this by telling them to seek room and board from those to whom they are ministering. This has to be more than just “hospitality” because the disciples took nothing with them. Is it a sin for the church to extrapolate this and pay for a pastor to have his own house? The rest of your examples are equally misguided.

        Then to top it off you accuse EVERY commentator, seminary professor, translator, and Bible teacher of being an evil money grubber, while you are apparently the ONLY person in the last two thousand who truly understands what the Bible says!

      • Tim Aagard says on

        Good interaction. I know you are sharing from your heart – no sarcasm. Yes, Pastors are disobedient. God never asked for the gospel to be lectured to believers who already believe it and have heard it from a pro 500-2000 times already. You are devoted to an unreformed institutionalized version of spiritual leadership that severely reduces the spread of the gospel to those who have never heard and have no one to tell them. The system only allows 16% of the “giving” to go outside the door to send the gospel. (That’s just a start.)

        No you’re not in it for the money. You’re in it because the professionalized pastorate has been held up to you as prime time following Jesus and it’s not. I had a deep emotional experience called “the call to the ministry”. As I was studying to practice this routine I realized it contradicted what the Bible says a shepherd does, accomplishes and who can be a shepherd. I realized I had been sucked in by a very good Bible lecturer and a had not examined what he said with the scripture to see if it was true. (Acts 17:11) I had received a call from man, not a call from God. I can’t find any scripture that says God “calls” men to t his routine. Can you help me with that? Even key pastoral texts like Acts 20 state clearly that Paul taught and lived the exact opposite of this routine with the Ephesian saints and elders.

        “All the scripture I’ve taught…” God knows exactly what you have done is “wood, hay, stubble, etc, and which is gold, silver, etc on reward day. God will use you, but not like he has designed and desires. There are pastors right now seeking out porn and God is going to use them for his purpose, but not like they are thinking. Pastors who reject Paul’s example on “ministry free of charge” may think they are going to get prime reward but they won’t get the one he spoke of in 1 Cor. 9:24 – 27 because this flows from imitating his practice. I’ve squandered tens of thousands of dollars funding ministry to bless mostly me and other wealthy lazy believers, all of whom think they are dedicated servants of God. You’re kids need not feel ashamed until they know the truth. They will just be ignorant of the truth, just like Roman Catholics remain ignorant of the truth in spite of their diligence to be a Christian as they have been taught.

        Exegesis involves no “extrapolation”. If you include it, you may be the one misguided. I’m okay with you laughing at me. I’m just a messenger. There have been many times recorded in the Bible and in church history where a very few people had to break the news to the religious establishment that they were “white washed tombs”, or other such terms, not of which I will use. These God experts all thought they were right on key, but they had been suckers for gradual building deceit, led by you know who. I have never said everyone is an “evil money grubber”. That is your extrapolation or hyperbole, or sarcasm. You and I have a lot in common in the Bible, just not the practice of church.

        I don’t think any pastor would justify what they do by “extrapolating” the words of Jesus into perpetual dependency teaching and leading. I don’t buy it either. Please give me a better example of my corrupt use of the text. I noticed you ignored the very specific words of Jesus ““You received without paying; give without pay.” Paul practiced this as well, along with those who ministered with him, Timothy, Barnabas, Titus, etc. I know there are ways of viewing this to justify ignoring it like God inspired it so it only applied to someone else.

        If you can get a job with better pay so you can still be a “full time minister” (1 Cor. 15:58) but doing it “free of charge”, then please do it. But first “fully train” your students to minister rather than keep them in perpetual dependency so they have to hire another Pastor. Luke 6:40 Lead them to practice the “habit of meeting” they are not to “forsake” Heb. 10:19 – 25. Four simple steps. Church 7 days a week.

        Professionalized pastoring is getting harder. You can do better than just learning to cope. It would be good to examine the system compared to what the Bible teaches. It’s time to stop laughing and be a follower of Jesus. No believer in the NT times needed a professional. No one now needs one either. Believers around the world with no hired Pastor are witnessing more and discipling more without one hired man for every 70 – 150 people.

      • I’ve read a number of your long-winded rants, and I’ve seen no exegesis in many of them. Your posts generally consist of little other than proof-texts, talking points, and your insistence that everyone else is wrong and that you’re the only who has it right. For someone who claims to abhor “lecturing”, you certainly do a lot of it on this site. If you think something is wrong with our exegesis, then how about showing some real exegesis instead of your usual gobbledygook?

      • Christopher says on

        So you do believe that Billy Graham, Adrian Rogers, Charles Spurgeon, and every other man of God who has dedicated his life to the Gospel and in the process preached the gospel to literally millions of people were actually living in sinful rebellion against God. Not to mention organizations like the IMB that equip and send out missionaries all over the world, but I guess we should shut down all the missionary orgs because they (gasp!) get paid.

        As for your verses. Every verse you quoted supports paying a pastor, whether it’s one guy or a plurality is beside the point. I am afraid you are the one who is twisting scripture. And no, I did not ignore Jesus’ words. You obviously didn’t read my post. When Jesus said to accept no pay he was speaking specifically of performing miracles and healing. In other words, the disciples were not to go to someone and say, “pay me money and I’ll heal you,” because the healings were only a testimony to the message preached. If the disciples were to except no pay at all, then why ask for dinner and a room? Isn’t that the same as payment? After all what do you use a paycheck for – that’s right, to buy food and shelter! There is also the old testament example of a professional priesthood to which Paul refers in 1 Cor. 9. And speaking of 1 Cor. 9, the whole chapter is a dissertation, or lecture if you will, on how ministers of the Gospel have every right to expect support from those to whom they minster. The reason Paul refused this support was because people in the church (they must be your ancestors) were criticizing him for it so Paul decided to remove all grounds for criticism even though none of it was legitimate. Paul was not forbidding the paying of ministers but was chastising the Corinthians for not willingly doing it.

        And what is this about believers shouldn’t be taught the Word. I’m sorry, but what was Paul doing all those years in Ephesus? Why bother telling Timothy to guard sound doctrine if nobody is being taught anything? For that matter, why bother writing any of those letters to the churches? Jesus taught His disciples the same lessons for three years and they still didn’t get it.

        I appreciate the implication that my children will one day be ashamed of me when they find out the “truth.”

        You obviously had some horrible experience that turned you sour, whether your willing to admit it or not. But why even read a post directed primarily to pastors if you think pastors are in such error? The reason, I think, is just to cause trouble.

      • Tim Aagard says on

        Christopher – No gospel celebrity is the basis for truth in church practice. Only revelation. If they are an authority greater than scripture, then you are more a Catholic than a protestant. “Sinful rebellion” is your term. I consider it more blindness or “ignorance” as Paul claimed for his past aberrations of truth. None of these leaders were perfect. I’m pointing out their errors so you don’t repeat them.

        The IMB, or any other mission board, is for bringing the gospel to those who have never heard it and have no one to tell them. This is EXACTLY where the resources should go. This is the opposite of lecturing the Bible to believers who have heard 500-2000 Bible lectures already. This is the opposite of believers funding ministry to themselves. This is believers funding ministry to others. Selfishness vs selflessness. The IMB only gets a tiny trickle in the current system. American believers are being led to hoard the resources for perpetual dependency routines. Missionaries are not allowed to be perpetual dependency leaders. American church pastors are encouraged to be long term dependency leaders.

        It’s interesting that you relegate plurality of leadership to meaninglessness. Consequently the path to plurality – reproduction of leaders – is also in ignored.

        It’s interesting that you use the words of Jesus to nullify the words of Jesus for your practice of faith. Hospitality for temporary leadership is a long ways from perpetual dependency pay checks. The OT priesthood was replaced along with the temple. They were mere pictures of the living temples and every believer priesthood of today. This should not be new for you. You completely reverse the meaning of 1 Cor. 9. Corinth wanted to pay leaders. Paul taught by word and example that leadership is free. Just like the disciples, Paul received it for free so he would give it for free, just like Jesus said. The Corinth saints mocked Paul for refusing pay. He said he would “rather die” than “give up” his boast that he ministered “free of charge.” Paul refused pay because he wanted the following strategic benefits. He wants them for you as well but they only come with ministry free of charge:
        v17 Free ministry has a reward
        v18 Free ministry is a reward in itself
        v19 make yourself a slave to all so you can reach as many as possible
        v20 – 22 become all things to all people
        v23 for the sake of the gospel that I may share in it’s blessings.
        v24 run to get the prize
        v26 avoid running aimlessly or beating the air
        v27 avoid disqualification
        These are all grammatically and contextually tied to Paul’s appeal to practice the combining of marketplace work and spiritual leadership. Commentaries will not give these as reasons for ministry “free of charge”. There are many more benefits in other passages that commentators will not acknowledge. How could they? They all want a full pay check. I’m a business man who doesn’t want a pay check for ministry. I can see them all in plain English. The Greek makes it even more obvious.

        “…believers shouldn’t be taught the Word.” Are you assuming that because there is no lecture there is no teaching? Lecturing is the only way to teach? The most important element of teaching is teaching by example. There is zero example setting when standing behind a pulpit. That is reserved for only one man. “…teaching them to observe (practice) everything I commanded” is a commission given to every believer and it demands teaching by example. The “word of Christ will dwell richly” as believers “teach and admonish one another”, and “with all wisdom”, not by listening to a lecture. Participation teaching is what God has asked for, not spectating lectures in perpetual dependency.

        “…horrible experience…” It has been a great experience learning to be a Berean, practicing a “more noble faith” by “examining the scriptures daily” to see if what I am told is the truth. Acts 17:11; 1 Thes. 5:21. Professionalized leaders, with all their devotion to “full time ministry”, speak and practice error. I encourage you to re-examine what you have been told by godly men before you who were not perfect. It’s common for pastors to admit “we’re not perfect”, but when you point out an imperfection with scripture attached, there is very little openness for substantive interaction. You are more open than most.

        “…just to cause trouble”. I am sharing concepts from outside the bubble of professionalized leadership. If all you hear is from inside the bubble, you will be stuck in a rut God has not asked for. God has designed for you to be “equipped for EVERY good work”, along with every other believer. He is not interested in equipping his people, clergy or laity, for mere compartmentalized functions in an institution. This blog is a frequent testimony to severe disfunction on many levels. Some believer needs to point outside the bubble of tradition to Biblical solutions, not mere coping mechanisms for increasing difficulty in “the ministry”.

    • Linda:
      I totally agree that many of the struggles facing today’s pastors are the same as those facing men and women in every other profession. That said, I totally disagree that the biggest problems result from pastors being paid.

      I am of the “every servant is worthy of his hire” school of thought. I think pastors should indeed be paid; and those who pastor larger churches should be paid more: 1) their positions come with greater levels of responsibility and liability, and 2) larger churches are wealthier churches and can better afford to pay their pastors. I also think well-trained, professional minded pastors are great for the Kingdom! And training costs. Seminarians have to take out and repay student loans too. Pastors have to raise families. Their jobs should afford them the opportunities to do so.

      My “problems with the pastor” experiences have very little to do with them getting paid. Rather, I’ve experienced lots of problems resulting from immaturity – like unilateral decision making; or thinking everyone who disagrees with them is somehow their enemy, and in extreme cases the enemy of God as well. Or them dividing the people into those who were here when I got here and those who came with me – which really makes no sense because the ones who were there when they got there are the ones who thought enough of them to hire them. Or being of the mindset that all of the people who were there when they arrived are too tied to tradition and must be usurped in order for the church to go forward. Or thinking they are far too important to have to … (pick something – almost anything outside of preaching will do). Or trying to impress their preacher friends by engaging them as hired servants and paying for their travel and lodging and meals even though doing so causes the church a great hardship. Or not being able to anticipate or resist those things that cause a falling away of the membership until there is actually a falling away of the membership. I think that’s called shortsightedness. Or my personal pet-peeve, espousing the doctrine that the only counseling needed by the people of God is pastoral counseling which is a control mechanism. And as an aside is one of the reasons so many pastors are worn out. You cannot want to be in control of everyone, every day and not expect burnout. That’s why self-control is the fruit of the Spirit. Pastors have to want, expect, require people to be in control of their own lives and the decisions related to it.

      Whether paid or unpaid, mature pastor are better decision makers and better problem solvers (including interpersonal problems). Likewise, whether paid or unpaid immature pastors are poorer decision makers and poorer problem solvers. Taking away their pay is not going to fix matters of immaturity.

  • Number 10 is crucial I believe. We went through the Intentional Interim program provided by the BGCT and it was invaluable. We were without a pastor for 3 years and in that time of going though the program we had a team work on trying to figure out who we are as a church and looking at things that needed changed and those things that did not. At the end of this 18 months we had come up with suggestions to bring to the church and got their approval. The fist statement we had to come up with was our “core values” statement. This statement helped the pastor search committee look for someone who had similar values. After another 18 months we have the pastor who without a doubt is who God placed here. It was a long process but we came out of it looking to God for our guidance rather than that of one or two people. I still look back and see God at work thru this entire process and even thru today because we turned to Him.

  • Dale Combs says on

    After pastoring the same congregation for over 30 years, and speaking with many young ministers, I can speak with minimal authority on this topic. If you are not willing to change your method of pastoral leadership (not the message of Christ) you will have a difficult time keeping up with the changing attitudes of the culture. Any person desiring to go into ministry, must settle a basic question, “Why am I doing this?” Once they can clearly answer, “I do this for_________, knowing that it is not my job it is my _______” that individual will probably get a better grip on pastoral ministry. I find it interesting that many of the “cookie cutter” churches coming out of the oven are all the same or really similar (search the title of a sermon or talk on the web). They preach the same catchy messages, use the same sound bites, copy the same power points, design the same stage presence, use a lot of smoke and mirrors, all in the name of relevance. Aspiring to be like Christ is the front, underneath, they want to be the next Northpoint, Elevation Church, or the host of other Megachurches out there. Truth, well as you know its in the eye of the beholder. After all, this is apparently what the world is looking for in a church. Right? For some, being critical of the external is a cheep shot at the end results (look at the crowds). Who can really argue with a Church that is reaching 1000, while the small church pastor is reaching 30? The proof is in the pudding Huh? This leads to another question, “Do ministers need to decide who their main audience will be?” The front answer is “YES!” right? Ok, is it the unchurched, or believer, Young, Middle of the road, Boomer, Millennial, Xer, etc. Maybe even a combination of all of them. My experience over the years has taught me that “culture change (#8)” is one of the most difficult to deal with. Not impossible, just difficult to deal with. Bottom line, every dog has its day. Just remember, what is new today will soon be obsolete. If the foundation of a Church is built on a personality of an individual and not on Christ, it can have all the external appearances of strong and stable, and still fall short. If an individual is called of God and relies on the Holy Spirit daily to lead, they are doing what God asks of them. Paul said, And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1Cor. 2:4-5).

    • You can speak with more than minimal authority, Dale!

      • An undershepherd is called 1st to Shepherd the flock. It’s the other 175 hours in your week that really counts. The church is not about making God relevant to people, it’s about making people relevant to God.

      • Dale Combs says on

        Dr. Rainer,

        I want you to know how much I value your research. I spend much of my doctoral journey reading stats from your research. I value the information you present and love your podcasts!

      • Thank you so much, Dale.

    • Amen, Dale – amen

    • You speak with much wisdom pastor!

    • “They preach the same catchy messages, use the same sound bites, copy the same power points, design the same stage presence, use a lot of smoke and mirrors, all in the name of relevance.”

      Brother, you said a mouthful, and I couldn’t agree more. Thanks!

      • Anonymous says on

        “They preach the same catchy messages, use the same sound bites, copy the same power points, design the same stage presence, use a lot of smoke and mirrors, all in the name of relevance.”

        Thank you for your post. I deal with this every week. Someone in my church will send me message quotes, sayings, music or whatever from the big mega churches and tell me it is blessing his heart. It may be but most of it is not Biblical but pop psychology with a Bible sounding reference. It is hard to deal with when he listens to the Bible and gospel preached each week and never mentions any blessings he gets from the local church in which he belongs. This is a struggle for me at times.

      • Dale Combs says on

        I have a feeling that there are many pastors and leaders who deal with the same thing on a weekly basis. Thanks

      • As an adult, I have been in Catholic and Protestant churches. In my 20s, I attended a few Protestant churches. Why did I leave? Not the message! The adultery, divorce acceptance, gossipy people, etc. At one church, the worship pastor who was in his 40s was allowed to marry a young lady in her 20s. Worship pastor had 8 (yes, eight) kids and looked at the young lady, who was younger than the pastor’s oldest children, for his needs. When the church leadership would not speak out, I left. After I left, I heard the church’s other leaderships sins were discovered. I went back to the Catholic church, which had a pro-life, pro-family, anti-divorce (unless it was Biblical), and pro-marriage rule system.

    • Chris Cripe says on

      Dale, I am not a pastor, but I am deeply involved in our church at almost every level. I agree with your comments. It bothers me that we keep talking about how to lead different generations (millennials, x-ers, etc.) when it seems to me the Bible already has the answer to this in 1 Timothy 5:1, “Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.” While simplistic, if all the members of the congregation took this to heart, I don’t think we would need a “traditional” service vs a “contemporary” service, etc., because we are called to be one body, filled with one Spirit, living in unity for Christ.

      I fear the church in the United States is becoming distracted from her true mission. As we seem to focus on infighting over music styles, service times, power points, lighting, on and on and on, believers around the world are being tortured and murdered for their faith in Christ. Where is the outcry? Our care for these people?

      Bottom line: If we are serving Christ as we should, His heart will become our heart. His desires will become our own. The Bible tells us and shows us that it has never been “cool” to live for Jesus. Not that I think church needs to be a time capsule stuck in the past, but I fear in our quest to show the world that you can be a Christian and still be “hip”, we are chasing the wind (seeking acceptance by an unbelieving, hostile culture) and missing the genuine message of the gospel for a lost and dying world.

      • Dale Combs says on

        I agree with you Chris. We need to maintain the heart of Christ. I recently spent 20 days doing ministry in Jordan and Israel. I was so moved when I met with Iraqi Christians who have fled due to Isis. They left with nothing and many lost their families due to their faith. Sharing with people who have watched others slaughtered because of their faith, causes one to realize just how superficial and self indulgence so many are within the American church. My hope is that the Church will once again focus on what matters to God.

  • Christopher says on

    I would add that for small town churches increased mobility of people definitely makes the pastor’s job more difficult. Instead of investing in the local church most people think nothing of driving 30 or 40 miles to go to the bigger church in the bigger town.

    • I agree Christopher. Mobility is a game changer.

    • Absolutely correct.

    • Yes, and I would add that increased mobility not only comes from worship preference, but also the existing job market. Unless a family has deep roots in the community through family ties, kids, etc., the likelihood exists that they won’t be with you long. For small churches (like mine), it is hard to gain traction. Only the rare person sees his or her city as a mission field with a calling that overrules other concerns. Instead, many folks passively accept positions in other parts of the country as evidence of “God’s Leading.” We want to be fair to the larger interests of God’s kingdom, and to the personal benefit of the family, but the church locally must survive as well.

  • Bob Myers says on

    You and I are roughly the same age. I’ve relayed the same message to my younger associates. It is much harder today. Point #9 (frustrated church members) is related to the rise of “consumer Christianity.” Your last point about prayer and reliance on God is absolutely true. So many of us who are pastors have a poor to mediocre prayer life which is a great scandal.

    These challenges, of course, are a call to bold and creative leadership. Because of these struggles, anyone who feels called to ministry must love learning. You cannot rest on your seminary training and think that will last you a life-time. One of education’s goals is to make the student a life-long learner. Embrace that calling.

    It also seems good to me that with the demise of “cultural Christianity” and the “program-driven church” we are faced with the challenge of discovering just exactly what the church is to be in our cultural and historical moment. We need deep prayer, reflection, and conversation on faithful ecclesiology. A plethora of good books have been flowing from credible authors on the topic for at least the last ten years. This is a very good thing for the progress of the Kingdom.

    These are tough but exciting days. Let us rise to the challenge.

  • Thom,

    I agree with all these.

    Regarding technology, it’s more difficult for pastors to maintain integrity when faced with online pornography and inappropriate relationships via social media. A couple decades ago, most pastors wouldn’t want to get caught walking in an adult shop or receiving smut in the mail. Now it’s instant, free, and anonymous. Similar situation with flirting online. These temptations aren’t unique to pastors, but walking in purity is even harder than it used to be.

    Another difficulty is the disappearing medium-sized churches and the fewer number of full-time pastor jobs. Increasingly, churches are becoming either very small or very big. Even if a pastor is a gifted speaker, it’s hard to make the jump from small to big because he doesn’t have experience leading multiple staff, overseeing a large budget and facilities, etc. It can be easier to move up from within the staff of a large church. Thus many seminary grads opt to take associate positions in the mega churches, and those who do take on small churches have a hard time making ends meet as their families grow. So we are seeing more ministers become bi-vocational. And thank God for them! But this new reality will force many pastors to juggle two jobs and become proficient in a secular career.

    • I seem to remember that St. Paul was a tentmaker and Jesus was a carpenter.

      • Jesus did not support himself as a carpenter when he was in ministry, and Paul only made tents to support himself in certain cities.

        The idealization of bivocational ministry is biblically incorrect. Ministers are clearly meant to make their living from ministry (1 Cor 9:14). That’s not always possible, and people must do what is necessary for churches to be in all towns and to plant new churches. There are certain advantages to being bivocational as far as forming relationships with those outside the church. Some guys are really good at that and may be called to remain bivocational as a choice. But I think most of us would do better full-time, which is the biblical model.

      • Can you cite from the Bible one carpentry project that Jesus made once He began His public ministry?

      • Christopher says on

        The Bible never says that Jesus was a carpenter. It says he was the son of a carpenter. My personal view is that Jesus was trained as a rabbi, which is why he was welcomed to speak at synagogues and was even called a rabbi. No one ever called Him a carpenter.

      • Mark 6:3

      • Christopher says on

        Well, I stand corrected. I guess I’m not omniscient after all!

  • Drew Dabbs says on

    Dr. Rainer, I wonder if the political divide isn’t greater in churches today, as well. Most churches have always had some mixture of people from “both sides of the aisle,” but there certainly seems to have been a time when it wasn’t really that far from one side to the other. In the current political climate, it seems a mighty gulf to span, which perhaps accounts for some of the difficulty today’s pastors face.

    • You can keep both rightists and leftist in a church if you preach on Jesus and his teachings and that God should come first.

      • Jean Coleman says on


        ALL of His teachings? Like care for the orphan, the poor, the alien; give to Caesar what is Caesar’s; forgive those who wrong you? All these are taken as strong political statements these days. The gospel IS a stumbling block to some; we can’t avoid that. We are going to anger and even cause some to leave. Can’t always be helped.

      • Many churches near Washington are growing because the clergy are preaching on how Jesus handled those issues but are not trashing their congregants while doing so. The growing churches are some from the Orthodox, Catholic, Episcopal, and Calvinist Baptist.

    • Yup, Drew I think the political divide is definitely a contributing factor, especially in the AA church community. Historically, the Church (and consequently the pastor) has been the voice of the AA community. It’s where we went to figure out how to survive and ultimately overcome slavery; where we dealt with matters of education, civil rights, underemployment, addiction and most recently mass incarceration. Most AA pastors agree that these are problems that disproportionately plague our communities and that the fight against them requires corporate resistance. That piece of it is clear. It gets murky when AA pastors are (for lack of a better concept) forced to choose between allegiance with those who work to change the political landscape for AA’s and those who promote traditional conservative values. Many AA believers feel like the two don’t coexist. Of course the congregations expect the pastors to rally behind the good of the people, and they do – when they are with the people. But, when they are with their conservative peers they are expected to embrace conservatism which is historically (and often currently) antithetical to the collective good of AA.

      Needless to say this conflict creates quite a predicament for AA pastors. On the one hand allegiance with their peers can lead to career advancement. On the other hand allegiance with their memberships, well …

      Great post: very insightful

      • Christopher says on

        What is an AA church? And where in the Bible does it say that the church is suppose to fight for political change?

      • Drew Dabbs says on

        AA stands for African American. As for the other question, I believe the spirit of what Lisa said was that African American pastors often feel forced to choose (a political side) and are torn between those who tend to promote causes that have historically been especially close to the heart of the African American community (i.e., “education, civil rights, underemployment, addiction and most recently mass incarceration”) and those who tend to promote conservative, traditional Christian values. There are these two options out there, and never the twain shall meet. I could be off-base, but that’s the way I read it.

      • You cannot overcome racism by being racist towards whites. You cannot fix the unfairness by being unfair and unjust. America was founded on the truth that all men are created equal, all accountable for their individual actions. Jesus ALWAYS deals with the INDIVIDUAL. There is NO GROUP when it comes to sin. A LITTLE leaven leavens the whole group. Get rid of the LITTLE LEAVEN, and the group won’t be infected. Don’t broadbrush a problem EVER. Get to know each individual and build them up.

        The problem is two fold. The white church doesn’t live in black neighborhoods, generally speaking, although I attended an all race church for 15 yrs and to some degree don’t understand what all the hoopla is about, the white suburban people are working hard to raise their own kids and reach their own neighborhoods, and physically can’t travel much except through deliberate friendships and long drives, so they have little idea how much they could benefit their black/Asian/brown brothers and sisters if they would just step up, and advocate for them and witness and prosecute public officials that are racist. Publicly exposing unjust government officials should be seen as a ministry! The strong should be protecting the weak.

        Suburban churches could go a long way to understanding the value of advocacy training, reconciliation ministry, and perhaps social service training (although social service theory coming from universities and colleges have a lot of bureaucratic waste built-in that the church should not) as a deeply important part of Christian service. This goes for all the social needs: orphans, elderly with no family, the mentally ill, drug-dependent, and not the least, prison and post-prison ministry.

        God is in control. But we need to dream larger when it comes to healing divisions within the church. Our current “post-Christian” society is only post -Christian if we don’t believe God will bless our efforts to uplift, encourage, and love the people around us.

      • Thanks Drew. I think you got it!

        My reference was to the African American church community – the community of churchgoers who are African American.

        As for the Church fighting for political change – the Church has always, always, always fought for political change. And it always should. I think most believers across cultures and on both sides of the political isle agree with that. After all, doesn’t the conservative resistance to abortion or same-sex marriage amount to the church fighting for political change? The issue is not whether or not the Church should fight for change. The issue is which changes. What matters are paramount?

        Almost every AA Christian believes that it is the collective responsibility of the AA church community to fight to change the things that negatively impact the poor (from any demographic) and people of color (across education and income levels).

        Because our faith has historically been our vehicle for overcoming oppression, we do not separate our faith from our struggles, political or otherwise. We could argue the validity of that perspective or we could just accept it as a cultural truth. The point I was making is that the contrast of values between the politics of poor communities of color and conservative Christianity is often a matter of personal and professional conflict for AA pastors.

      • Christopher says on

        Thanks for the response. I guess I should have picked up on that.

        However, your claim that the church has always fought for political change is simply not true. Nowhere in the Bible are we given the example of fighting for political change. Nowhere in the Bible are we told to change the world. The only political statement Jesus ever made was to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

        The great awakenings in Europe and in this country that led to positive social change were less the result of fighting for the changes and more about being committed to preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

        What bothers me about the idea of the church today fighting for political change, especially with the AA community, is that the solution is never more Jesus, it’s always more government.

        We also know from the Bible that fighting for political change is a mission destined for failure because the world will always reject Jesus and the freedom that He brings. That’s why the mission of the church is not to change the world, the mission of the church is to change lives by making disciples of Jesus Christ.

      • Just a question. Where in the new testament t do you see Jesus or Paul or any of the writers even suggest taking a political stance on issues. I’m just asking g ssed on the Bible being our example for what a church should LOK like.

      • That confused me too. I was thinking Alcoholics Anonymous

      • “AA . . . always more government, never more Jesus.” THAT is a huge struggle with education in the AA community. I’m a conservative, and when I explain that the ACA created, out of thin air, often with a single sentence, entire office buildings full of high paid office workers, all being paid to prevent you from simply getting a doctor’s appointment, they look at me like I’m nuts! Bill Clinton would never support such a thing. Bill Clinton is their friend. Bill Clinton’s gonna help. Whatever happened to a little healthy skepticism in the black community???

        If you pay 1 person for 1 minute of their time, those ACA office workers, making double what anyone else does for the same job in the private sector, get $1 minute. If there’s 142 new agencies, and only 1 person, for 1 minute, reviews your request for a doctor’s appointment, then it’s going to take 2.5 hours to get approval for your appointment, and it’s going to cost $142 before you even GET an appointment! What if they say NO??? How does this make any sense??? How is it “affordable”??? And CONSERVATIVES ARE HEARTLESS??? I guess economics should be taught in church, too!

        Up until the 60’s, doctors GAVE AWAY 30% of their time pro bono. THAT should be happening, and they shouldn’t have to fill out 3 hours worth of paperwork per patient to do it. Just get the govt OUT OF THE WAY!!

        The body of Christ is called to CHARITY GIVING. But we’ve been burdened with such taxes now that there isn’t any money left over to do charity! How about demanding that the charity funds at hospitals ACTUALLY be used for the indigent? When’s the last time you heard of any needy person having their hospital debt paid for by charity funds/self-pay programs? Hospital administrations are hoarding the trust funds, whether to enhance the credit of their organization, or to benefit in some way from the interest, which should also go to the poor! If you know how that all works, EXPOSE IT. Force their hands. Make the money flow.

        We need to take risks and start deliberate friendships with other congregations.

  • I am in seminary and we have a class in leadership (only recently implemented) and a 32 week program where we serve as a student minister in a church that’s not our own. And CPE. I did just have a discussion online with a fellow seminarian about whether or not God requires us to serve 24/7. She says yes. I say NO!

    • What all did you do as student minister? Look at Hebrew Union College’s 4th year where the student rabbis go to congregations both small and large. In small ones, they are the spiritual leaders and will likely be doing everything that a full-time rabbi would do, save marrying and burying.

    • we are often “on call” 24/7 (especially as solo pastors) but no one can possibly “serve” 24/7. (Hey, a chunk of that is needed for sleep!) We need to know how to take waking time off for ourselves; self-care is not selfish but essential to refill our wells. For me it was singing in good choirs that had nothing to do with my church work. And reading good mysteries. And some community involvement (again unrelated to church–tho I never hid the fact I was a pastor.)

    • Required? I would say a Christian pastor need to follow the example of the one he/she is representing. 1. We’re required to take a Sabbath. 2. Jesus rested, and went off to be by Himself to pray and rest. Anyone not doing those things will lose their family (which is required to come before their church) and their way. I’ve been a pastor for 25 years and seen too many friends lose both.
      To clarify: It’s one thing to be “on call” 24/7. It’s another to actually work it.

  • I can totally relate to #10. I ministered in two situations that were a bad fit. A pastor gave me this advice a few years ago: “If the people aren’t the type you could go out to eat, hunt, or fish with, you probably are not a good fit.” Some may agree or disagree, but it makes a huge difference.

  • Those of us in the secular world have to deal with rapid change too. For those of you who are church leaders, ask frequently about what is going on. Don’t just ask your friends, but a cross-section including the unwanted people. A lot of problems would not be so bad if you wouldn’t keep appointing people exactly like you to leadership. Put people around you who understand, even if you have to form a committee which upsets the fundamentalists. For those of you with influence at seminaries, explain to the deans that these topics need to be taught/discussed then offer to do it. Push for training of seminary students that includes a year spent in a congregation.

    • Frankie says on

      I agree, it is hard often times to put people in place that are different than you because it can increase conflict in meetings. Sometimes conflict is a good thing. The important thing is that while different and sometimes disagreeing, if the team member can grasp that when you walk out of the meeting nobody else knows that you were not in agreement on a direction, the person that seems to be your greatest adversary can become your greatest asset.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Mark –

      Well said. While I am not certain we can ask seminaries to do all we expect to prepare ministers, I do anticipate we will see more forward-looking seminaries forging partnerships with those who can add the practical and experiential elements of training.

    • Bob Sands says on

      Here are my responses to these…

      #1. So? Social media is a thing. Get on with it or let it pass you by.
      #2. So start a podcast. They are free. If you can’t speak on a podcast perhaps you shouldn’t be speaking at all?
      #3. We’ve done it to ourselves.
      #4. And?
      #5. Every Pastor should have to be a business person or run a business, make budget and learn how to manage staff. That’s the job today.
      #6. It’s a new iteration. Happens every so many years.
      #7. Just means we have to go out and get more creative with evangelism. We can’t hold a rally and expect people to come. Think Paul at the Areopagus.
      #8. So, keep up.
      #9. Don’t let them.
      #10. True. That has always been the case.

      I will say, of course, it’s hard to be a Pastor but we have the best job around! Those who constantly complain, get burned out or are otherwise discouraged need to get help and take some time off. If that doesn’t help perhaps another vocation or a different type of ministry is the answer. Misery doesn’t love company in this case.

      • Never fails. In response to a blog like this–a blog which acknowledges the difficulties of pastoring and displays some compassion–that Mr. Eat Steel & Spit Nails Guy always shows up and feels compelled to step in and say “Man up or get out,” “Walk it off,” “Quit your crying.” Think about taking your cape off superman, and coming down here with the rest of us, where people can get weary and heavy-laden and need something more than, “Man up.”

      • Agreed. Most people who have all the answers only need a little bit more experience and learning before they learn maybe they don’t have them all after all. They will get there.

      • Eddie. Dantes says on

        Wise old heads are too often just giving excuses for their failures. Is Jesus sufficient or not? His gifts were such that some should be Pastors, but not all. Too many choose instead of being called. It is what they know. We are to grow up to equip the saints, but too many gather together to complain. Go to the Lord, check your calling if you are not fruitful, and do the work of the Lord. Study Eph 4 instead of giving money for books, seminars etc. People use so called Godliness for gain.
        Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in you that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

        Why do people turn everywhere but to the word. Then when someone speaks truth they turn on them and insult them. By saying young etc. you are using that as an excuse not to listen and to still use your excuses for failure. Paul told Timothy Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. So people will use the youth excuse not to listen to sound and biblical words. Go on and play the excuse game as people are suffering as well as dying and going to hell. Your wise, your old and you have your ministry. It just seems to be the ministry of excuse.

        Many have years of experience, but it is loser experience. With age their pride makes them unteachable. How pathetic is that. Keep up mocking others instead of seeking the Lord is their experience. Go to Jesus

      • Bob Sands says on

        Well, thanks, guys. I do need a bit more experience I agree. And I get that Mr. Rainer was certainly acknowledging that Pastoral ministry has always been difficult but more difficult today.

        That being said, Leaders must lead. That doesn’t mean they don’t get weary or discouraged, etc. But how does complaining about it on a forum solve it? It only draws more people out to “agree” but don’t take action.

        Notice I said, talk to someone, get help, take a break, etc. In other words, take action to fix it. If you can’t, get out because more damage can be done to you or your family. It’s not a matter of spitting nails but Pastoring isn’t for the faint of heart either.

        For example, I’ve never gotten the fact that guys complain about their salary AFTER they have taken a position. Now I get the fact about raises, etc. But that’s when the Pastor has to voice his concern, explain to the Board his position and be willing to move, start a business, etc., if the Board or Church doesn’t step up.

        I’m not against discouragement, I’m against living there and having others say “me too.” What does that solve?

      • Bob Sands says on

        Oh, by the way, I’ve been doing this for 26 years.

1 2 3