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.
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  • Dear Pastor’s,
    After all I have read on this discussion I find myself to be exasperated to a great extent. As a minister and author, has no one man of God been able to discern these times that we are living in? The message of “Unity” from the 1st Century church has really been totally ignored in a world where prophecies are in play for the times we live in; multiple prophecies to say the least. Have we forgotten about the warnings to the churches in Revelation? Have we taught people about the true essence of Christianity? The Spiritual teachings of Jesus Christ based on the Path of Righteousness? Are we really as blind, deaf, and totally oblivious as John 12:40 states? Do we see what is coming this next Easter in 2019? Time to get back to the basics; for Jesus’ coming is not far off. I don’t get paid for what I do, and I don’t even get to hear crickets chirp, but I have my faith, belief, and hope, in Jesus Christ. Wisdom says there are two types of people in the world; the wise and the fools. What choice will we make? What responsibility do we have to Jesus Christ? What impact shall we have? Time is short…
    David Lee Webb

  • Phil Adiarte says on

    Pastoring in the 21st Century has to be a Passion not a Position

    It s not always convenient for any of us but when is ministry supposed to be about our convenience?
    Through the years I’ve done my best to keep things in right perspective
    This has helped me stay focused.

    1. My relationship with the Heavenly Father is first and of utmost importance
    2.. My wife, children and grandchildren are my greatest ministry
    3. My call to Pastoral ministry is secondary to them.
    4. I am married to my wife not the church!
    5. Whatever I do for the Lord “Do it with the right attitude of heart”
    6. Keep Advancing the Kingdom of God no matter what the cost!
    7. Go Fishing or take interest in something that you enjoy that allows you to reflect on life and ministry in a positive way.
    8. People are always going to talk. Let them talk they are doing what people do people things. (Don’t major on the minors)
    9. Love God, Love Life, Love People

    By the way, I have been working a secular job as a skilled cement mason since day one since serving in the ministry for. I’ve never looked at it as a missed season to do more for the Lord. Matter of fact there’s been such great opportunities through the years to minister the Word in the construction indusrtry.
    Through the years of serving the Local Church I’ve had several ministers ask me the question: So when are you going full time?
    My response to them: Since when is ministry part time?

    Blessings, Peace and Favor
    Phil Adiarte
    Sr. Pastor
    River Community Fellowship

  • Lisa–I apologize for not being more clear. I do believe you misunderstood my point. We in the USA have created a market driven pastor ruled form of church that simply is not Biblical. It did work quite well, we thought , back in the 90’s but just doesn’t work today. Nowhere I can find in the Bible does the office of preacher or pastor mean being a mental health care provider, financial counsellor, musical taste dictator, knower of all things academically related to the faith, and your best bud combined, not to mention business manager and skilled marketer. Most of those things, not related to faith, are filling up far too much seminary time. And far too much of the pastor’s time.

    But then again, with so much available online I believe those roles are now focused on to justify the pastorate being a career calling. With so many millennials unable to afford to move out of mom and dad’s home, marry, or have children a tithe dependent church will soon be a dead church.

    An all volunteer army is not stymied by today’s economic realities, and in fact is far more Biblical.

    I’m saying we could learn a thing or three about viable churches in tough times from the Old Regular Baptists.

    • “An all volunteer army is not stymied by today’s economic realities”

      Um… yes, they are. In fact, they’re stymied by a lot less than that. Have you ever served on a church nominating committee?

  • Victor says on

    The advent of social media. As a consequence, there are more avenues for exposure. Yay! Public criticisms mean that something is going right! If a pastor is living right, fish bowl life will not be an issue but a witness.
    Podcast pastors. Today, church members have thousands, of pastors on podcast. Praise God! The work is not mine; it’s the Lord’s! If I seek the Lord for His will and His messages, then I’m adding to that! More exposure of the Lord’s work!
    Diminished respect for pastors. The work does not belong to me! If opinions matter to me, then the work does not belong to the Lord but me, and my image becomes a premium.
    Generational conflict in the church. While there has always been some generational conflict in the church, it is more pervasive and intense today. Together seek God to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Walk in the Spirit.
    Leadership expectations. As we draw close to the Lord, He will provide all the needs for His work. Delegate if necessary.
    Demise of the program-driven church. A church that is rigid and not willing to adapt will dwindle. I have seen churches that never wanted to change their music and had only a few very old timers left.
    Rise of the “nones.” Praise God that lost souls are still visiting your church! Minister to them and get them saved! Then evangelize and bring in more “nones!”

    Cultural change. Praise God! As culture changes, the souls still need to be saved. Be all things to all men that you may win them! Furthermore, there are more immigrants coming –which means we don’t have to go to them!

    More frustrated church members. You have to teach your church members to have a heart for souls –look outward not inward! The smallest packages are those wrapped up in themselves! Develop a heart to care more about others!

    Bad matches with churches. Do God’s work and people will be drawn to you. Do your own work and you’ll be old and grey in no time with no reward to go to!

  • anthony battaglia says on

    I would have to disagree across the board with this article / list. Here is why:

    1. The bible is very clear that there is “nothing new under the sun” and “there is no temptation that has over taken you that is common to man”.

    2. If anything this article / list characterizes the current state of affairs among “pastors” at least in America who have forgotten the biblical call to deny yourself. They have forgotten or never understood what it means to “shepherd the flock of God that He purchased with His own blood”.

    3. Salary job offers show that most pastors in America today have it hardship free when it comes to food, clothing and shelter (in fact they are the richest Christians ever to be alive).

    4. Most pastors today study less, preach less, serve less and all the while they vacation more, blog more, podcast more and post on social media more. (General characterizations based on inherent statistical trends in the U.S.).

    In fact, in conclusion I would say that if these “10 major issues” in the article are actually issues why a pastor thinks he has it more difficult then he probably isn’t called to be a pastor, biblically speaking.

  • Tim smith says on

    I believe there are two types of people in our pews that exasperate the problem. First is the folks who were there back when programs worked. These people can’t understand why we don’t simply knock on a few doors and start a new Sunday School class, after all it was what grew the church in the past. Second is everyone else in the secular job market. They know what works at work. The pastor just simply needs to capture a vision of a new paradigm shift. They think that the same business model that made the company they work for a success, will produce the same successful results for the Church. Don’t get me wrong, I realized that there is a little bit of truth on both sides, but neither one is the end all solution.

  • I too, have completed 30 years of ministry in the current church I serve so will also attempt to speak with minimal experience ;-). I had a seminary education for which I am truly grateful. But also grateful for new approaches of theological training that is becoming more prevalent due to online training so we can keep young people in the context of church ministry. In my experience, #7 & #8 are significant. I am attempting to be much more focused when preaching understanding that Biblical literacy is really very low to non-existent. Instead of preaching to people of “Pentecost” who had a theological framework of the one true God, we are preaching to people of “Mars Hill” who have very little knowledge of God or the Bible. I don’t think it is “dumbing it down” as much as taking more time to set up the story or narrative or passage. We have some folks attending who know nothing of the Bible ( which I think is really cool that they keep coming back – praying that they will become followers of Jesus!). So I am attempting to be more aware of the need to present God’s truth in today’s language and culture. I’m working on retraining myself in homiletics (James Emery White has some helpful material on this). I think it was John Stott who said one prepares a sermon with the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other. Not that both are of equal authority, but being able to show how relevant God’s truth is for our day.

    • Dale Combs says on

      I am with you on retraining! I too have spend the past 7 years retraining in Seminary and finishing my doctorate. It is true ministers need to be as the sons of Issachar, know the times and what to do (1 Chronicles 12:32). Biblical relevance does not equal culturally outdated.

  • As a consultant to pastors all over the country, I have had the blessing and curse of getting a bird’s eye view of the body of Christ. I agree with all ten of these and while all this is discouraging, it is helpful to know what pastors are battling to try to combat these things as much as possible. I would also add that a lot of younger pastors are running into resistance from older board members, deacons, who are over-controlling keeping them from leading the church into relevancy or more effective ministry.

  • Rabbi Robert says on

    I can relate to these as a pastor. However, the biggest problem I see for our congregation is no brand loyalty. Too many people are church hopping. As a Messianic congregation that meets on Saturday, I get a lot of Sunday church people who like the sermons, fellowship and Bible study we offer. They come but don’t serve in our community and certainly don’t tithe with us. They like that we are a small congregation which allows direct access to the Rabbi/Pastor–no church secretary. They enjoy learning about Jewish culture and the Jewish Messiah. But many of those attending services with my congregation have another church or church hop with several churches.

    • Yeah, church hopping is a big problem among us Baptists, too. I think there’s a general lack of commitment among people today.

  • First, I think it is worth noting that many careers/jobs/vocations have become more difficult. This is not isolated to pastoral ministry. But, as a pastor myself, I must say we do whine a good bit about how difficult our calling is!!

    Second, I often wonder if much of this “difficulty” is, at least, partially attributed to theological training being done primarily by academicians and not pastors. We need more seminary professors who have spent decades (not a handful of years or several interims, etc.) in the trenches of pastoral ministry in a local church. My fear is that we have academicians attempting to train pastors to do pastoral ministry like an academic. It would do our SBC seminaries well to require 10-20 years of pastoral ministry/missionary work before a professor could join the faculty.

    • I disagree with your final statement. Should we tell DA Carson, Daniel B. Wallace, and Norman Geisler they are not qualified to be on a seminary staff (Three of the most prominent and well-read theologians of the 21st Century)? 10-20 years of pastoral experience to be a seminary professor, what should we do with all those called to be teachers, called to be the trainers of the church? God called some pastors, some teachers, and some administrators.

      • The fundamental question is, “What is the goal of seminaries?” If it is to train academics then staff it with academics. If it is to train pastors/missionaries then staff it primarily with pastors/missionaries who have the academic credentials (and there are plenty out there). There is a disconnect between the academy that is training pastors and the churches where many pastors serve. Many of those men you mentioned are incredibly gifted theologians and I appreciate their ministry. I would be willing to bet they would quickly say that they lack the experience to fully equip pastors to do pastoral ministry based solely on their ministry career in the academy.

        All I am asking for is 1 of those guys for every 5 who fit the criteria I mentioned above. I would guess we have 10-15 academics for every 1 pastor/academic who fits the criteria I mentioned above. Hence the disconnect.

  • Dear Thom

    Yes, things are different for those pasturing the flock in this ‘modern’ age. The differences include, but are not limited to, the following:

    1: We have access to a wonderful technology that allows different time different place communication. Its prudent use is surely a benefit.

    2: Although that technology enables mass-publication of sermons, they cannot even approximate the bonds of fellowship that are developed in a well-functioning personally engaged pastoral role.

    3: Respect for pastors today is far superior to that which prevailed in days gone by when it was all too easy to drag them off and martyr them.

    4: Changes in cultural generational awareness is a goldfield in which the Gospel is afforded opportunity to take firm hold and reshape all into a thriving community of love.

    5: Whilst expectations might try to push pastors into different spheres of labour, such must be resisted as the pastor is the under-shepherd not the manager.

    6: Churches are more complex, including the garnering of a much greater diversity of gifting with which each can participate in ministry related work.

    7: The Gospel remains the power of God to the changing of men and women no matter the lack prevalence of the Bible believing belt. The more un-churched we have, the greater the opportunity to see the strong arm of the Lord at work.

    8: There is greater opportunity for pastors to be everything for the sake of the Gospel, even in a world that changes quickly.

    9: The frustrations in congregants are ideal occasions for the instruction in righteousness in patience leading thus to greater godliness.

    10: The differences between local congregations is fertile ground for the vigorous work of pastors in rebuilding homogeneity in the Gospel.

    • Very few second- and third-class Christians have ever seen “the bonds of fellowship that are developed in a well-functioning personally engaged pastoral role.”

      • Hi Mark,

        That, of course, suggests that the pastor needs to refocus his work and energy to that very end. That sense of community is at the heart of what is a local church.

        BTW, I don’t know what you mean by ‘second- and third- class Christians’.

        God bless

      • In an ideal world, the pastor would focus on reminding his/her personal friends and the long-time members to accept everyone baptized as a Christian and not ask so many questions and administer litmus tests.

        Second and third class Christians are the under 45, single/divorced, (non)parents, probably politically liberal, maybe female but males are in this group too, maybe transients, who aren’t really wanted in churches. Basically they are the opposite of traditional married couples with children. In the cities, most are highly educated but not allowed to contribute even their secular talents to the church.

        Some large city churches and temples have formed groups of these people with the clergy reaching out to them as well, almost like a separate congregation and some even have one dedicated clergy person. They know that the traditional members have little to do with them.

  • Ronald Welch Sr. says on

    I have felt certain for a while that the pastors job is becoming more difficult as the culture continues its shift. At 74 years old I have witnessed it first hand. I was in secular management for many years and I feel strongly that the same “good” compassionate management and leadership tools in business work in ministry. One we all know is delegation. That seems so very difficult for many pastors. Every good leader will raise up people to fill in and take his place should the need arise. Jesus trained 12. If there are men on staff it should be determined early if they are true leadership material then train, delegate, hold accountable, and reward.
    Management defined: “Achieving predetermined goals with and through the voluntary cooperation of others.” In ministry the goals should always be Christ centered.