Ten Things Pastors Wish They Knew Before They Became Pastors

In an informal survey of pastors, I asked a simple question:

What do you wish you had been told before you became a pastor?

Some of the responses were obvious. For me, a few were surprises.

I note them in order of frequency of response, not necessarily in order of importance. After each item, I offer a representative quote from a pastor.

  1. I wish someone had taught me basic leadership skills. “I was well-grounded in theology and Bible exegesis, but seminary did not prepare me for the real world of real people. It would have been great to have someone walk alongside me before my first church.”
  2. I needed to know a lot more about personal financial issues. “No one ever told me about minister’s housing, social security, automobile reimbursement, and the difference between a package and a salary. I got burned in my first church.”
  3. I wish I had been given advice on how to deal with power groups and power people in the church. “I got it all wrong in my first two churches. I was fired outright from the first one and pressured out in the second one. Someone finally and courageously pointed out how I was messing things up almost from the moment I began in a new church. I am so thankful that I am in the ninth year of a happy pastorate in my third church.”
  4. Don’t give up your time in prayer and the Word. “I really don’t ever remember anyone pointing me in that direction. The busier I became at the church, the more I neglected my primary calling. It was a subtle process; I wish I had been forewarned.”
  5. I wish someone had told me I needed some business training. “I felt inadequate and embarrassed in the first budget meetings. And it really hit home when we looked at a building program that involved fundraising and debt. I had no clue what the bankers were saying.”
  6. Someone should have told me that there are mean people in the church. “Look, I was prepared to deal with critics. That’s the reality of any leadership position. But I never expected a few of the members to be so mean and cruel. One church member wrote something really cruel on my Facebook wall. Both my wife and children cried when they read it.”
  7. Show me how to help my kids grow up like normal kids. “I really worry about the glasshouse syndrome with my wife and kids. I’m particularly worried that my children will see so much of the negative that they will grow up hating the church. I’ve seen it happen too many times.”
  8. I wish I had been told to continue to date my wife. “I was diligent in dating my wife before I became a pastor. I then got so busy helping others with their needs that I neglected her. I almost lost my marriage. She felt so alone as I tried to meet everyone’s needs but hers.”
  9. Someone needed to tell me about the expectation of being omnipresent. “I had no idea that people would expect me to be at so many meetings, so many church socials, and so many sports and civic functions. It is impossible to meet all those expectations, so I left some folks disappointed or mad.”
  10. I really needed help knowing how to minister to dying people. “Some of those who have terminal illnesses have such a strong faith that they minister to me. But many of them are scared and have questions I never anticipated. I was totally unprepared for these pastoral care issues when I first became a pastor.”

How do you respond to this list? What would you add?


Posted on March 9, 2013

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 amazed.There area few points that have been mentioned i wish i would have also known before being a Pastor.But its better late than never .Great for youth who are planning to be a pastor.

  • David F. Bays says on

    I felt sorry reading about the Pastor and realized that these are real issues that Pastor’s really deal with. I am in agreement before a man takes his first Church, he should be an associate Pastor to an older Pastor who has been through many of these experiences. Age gives you the opportunity to help the young Pastors. We need to be praying for our Pastors and Churches more. I had the opportunity to work under a couple older men and I watched how they handled those type problems. Young Pastors need to seek the advice of some older Pastors on how to hanle problems.

  • Patrick Heeney says on

    Thank you for your post. I found it due to a friend posting on Facebook. I have spent 20 years in ministry in the background, without positions or titles. Just helping. Last July, 2012 I took my first pastorate. I believe working in the background, but with my eyes and ears open, helped me learn many things on your list. One other thing, not on your list, is how much more we need Holy Spirit leading, and less calculated planning. Paul planned out his missionary journeys just to be forbade. The Holy Spirit sent him in a different direction and opened up all of Europe to the Gospel when he headed up towards Phillipi. We can plan and calculate all we want, but God knows the big picture. We need to be so familiar with God’s leading we can hear the slightest whisper. Not need a loud voice. He knows who needs us most, when and where. We need to be more fluid, allowing God to minister through us, not just decide what we are going to do “for Him”.

  • Simon Mawdsley says on

    It’s good to know that when a group of sinners (albeit forgiven) are grouped together in a Church and commanded to love one another, sparks will fly. It’s inevitable and to be expected. No one ever told me that. I so wish they had!

  • David Highfield says on

    This is an excellent piece and should be sent to the student pastor program of every seminary. Regarding children, I think it helped mine to never live next-door to the church building. Regarding finances, I once followed a pastor who was lacking in this area and often ask the church for An advance on his salary. They thought I was also incompetent financially and were surprised when that was not the case.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks David.

      • Dr. Rainer (or any others),
        Are you aware of any printed or electronic resources that deal with the pros & cons of living in a church parsonage vs. living in your own home that’s not next door to the church? Virtually everything I’ve heard/seen is anecdotal and would like to see something with a bit more substance to it. Additionally, are you aware of any resources, apart from direct consultation with state-level denominational leaders, that might assist in helping a church transition from the church-owned parsonage paradigm to the minister-owned home paradigm?

        I’m not necessarily looking to push the envelope that way, but I want to be able to offer resources should those conversations begin to take place, something other than my own thoughts and opinions.

      • As a church leader, I’d be very interested in what you come up with. My church used to have a lovely home available to the pastor, which was not next to the church, but in the same community. When the pastor retired after over 25 years of faithful service, he did not own his own home and had no equity, etc. I feel that his retirement assets do not reflect his faithfulness in ministry. My church has had to sell the parsonage in the meantime, but I wonder if there might be a better model of compensation, that helps a pastor move toward owning his own home so he has a better retirement?

  • Basic Peacemaking.

  • My problem with so much “leadership” is it’s too worldly. To power and personality oriented. I think practical servantship is where we should start. Not ruling out “Leading” altogether, just saying it needs a New Testament context. Jesus came to seek and save, He came to serve, He washed feet, but he was an effective leader, too. I haven’t got this all figured out, I’m still flailing at times like an octopus out of water. But, I know enough to love and serve and then try to figure out how to lead.

  • I am not a pastor yet. But I must say that I am aware of, and believe that with God’s help I could handle, each of these issues. Many mention that seminary did not prepare them for that. I praise God that my seminary has taken the time to do just that. I know it’s far different learning about it than actually going through it. But at least I will not be blindsided and I know God is my strength.

    I graduate in May. My wife and I are missionaries and hope to be on the field by next summer.

  • I agree with the list. Thankfully I served under men of God that taught me how to deal with some of these issues. Im on my third year leading a church and do I have to grow! Sadly, I have been helping many new and old pastors deal with administration issues at their churches. My school didnt teach me these things that are so important and can cause a pastor to fail in ministry, but glad my family did. We teach basic accounting principles to small churches and it has been a blessing to all.

  • Derek Downer says on

    This is sad to me! I am amazed these are the top ten. Hello churches have been teaching dating your wife, training up your children and having your own personal prayer time and Bible Study time as HUGE importance in your personal walk. As for the mean people in church– are you kidding me? Where have these guys been? Business and financial classes should be taught at seminary. You can even use the Bible!!!! I am amazed these are the top ten. Now I know why so many Baptist churches are dead and so many others are dying!!!!!!!

  • Is there a good book on number 3?

    • Rachel,
      Check out “Church Conflict: The Hidden Systems Behind the Fights.” It is a basic primer about Family Systems Theory and how to diagnose the power groups within the church. Very biblical. Very practical. Helped me alot.

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