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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  • As a Pastor/Planter in a high impoverished community, I wish I would’ve had more relevant training and mentors that understood generationsl poverty, addiction, poor education, and cultural bondage. I look back at so many missed opportunities due to not having tangible mentors and training that dealt with my specific ministry context.

  • As a young man training for pastoral ministry, thank you so much for this list and for the attending comments. As one who has struggled with the practical outworkings of the local church, but has a pastor who loves the Lord and seeks to be a faithful minister of the Word… I would encourage other young men who desire a good thing (ie – elder/pastoral ministry) to patiently sit under those who God has placed you under. Learn from them, seek to be a blessing to them and their families, seek to edify the body and see Christ glorified as you humbly submit to God’s providential opportunity for you to learn, serve, and grow. (obviously – there may be situations where this is not advisable theologically… but hear my heart)

    As one who is blessed to have fellowship with and is being mentored by a pastoral staff, who meets regularly with a group of pastors and learns from their experiences and what God has done, is doing, and even to see their hearts for what God is leading them toward…. I would encourage you who have commented above… who have expressed the desire that someone would have done this for you… to endeavor to be faithful in mentoring those who God is raising up even in your fellowship (or the new pastor in town or the next town over). Please do not let the opportunity to train up faithful men slip through your hands. Meet with them once a week or every couple of weeks…. meet with a group of men even… pour into them… and I promise that it will be an encouragement to you.

    One of my dear friends, a pastor who meets with our group, told me once that this is one of the most valuable things that he has done in his 20+ years of ministry… and what I can’t express is how much it means to me and my dear brothers who seek only to be faithful to the calling we have received.

  • Great article. You can tell by the number of posts that you hit a nerve! For me, in addition to the point about “dealing with power people,” I think another key thing that I wish I had learned before becoming a pastor is how to deal with DISAPPOINTMENT. People leave the church. Trusted friends in the church betray you. Some people refuse to change no matter how Biblical a suggested change may be. Unmet expectations–for the pastor, as well as for those he seeks to lead. I have heard it said that for pastors, disappointment just goes with the territory. That may be true. But it doesn’t mean it’s easy. Wouldn’t it have been nice to have had a greater measure of coping skills before you walked into the fire?!

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks so much Lindy. Your comments are excellent! There are still a lot of people reading this post, so they will benefit from your contribution.

      • Thom
        All your comments both yours and others are to do with Churchianity, not Christianity.
        Jesus came to do 3 things.
        1. undoing the works of the devil.
        2. model a true relationship with our Father.
        3. model planting a church planting movement of discipleship, spiritual warfare and love.

        the first one we can’t do, for He has done it and we do it, in and through Him.
        But the 2nd and 3rd we can do and should.
        The church was never meant or planned to be a standing army, maneuvering in fixed geographic sites and areas, but a guerrilla army led of the Holy Spirit to move into and out of Lives, places and spaces as He led.
        a virus that cannot be contained if you like.
        Buildings are not the key but hearts.
        We become less and He becomes more and we love one another so that they know we are his disciples….
        Sound like most churches you know?
        Keep on keeping on.

  • I wish I would have knew how easy it is to get subtly sucked into the sub-culture of the church office, having Christian-only friends and lose ongoing relationships and valuable insight from non-Christians. Without that, we can easily forget how we come across, language, what are the questions we need to respond to and more importantly how to respond because our approach of responding will likely be different to those inside the church and already Christian than aren’t. Same end answer, but how we get there differs and I think we forget that. —- Thanks for this post and love your blog and your incredible research and insight you bring. – Dan

  • While I am not a Senior Pastor I have seen it multiple times. I wish someone would teach how to prepare a church for SUCCESSFUL transition after a pastor has been in place for decades and decides to retire/move on.

    • Jeremy
      Mostly that is because the leader has done it all and not properly taught/imparted and released people into their ministries/callings.
      In short Churchianity based around a building and others of the flock.

  • I have experienced each and every one of these. Sometimes I wish I had been forewarned. Other times I think, “Even if I was told, I’m not sure it would have prepared me.” Maybe not completely. But it sure would have dulled the blow of the hardest lessons I’ve learned in ministry.
    Thank you for the post!

    • Marty Brim says on

      After reading the top 10 list and the comments from all the pastors, I am seeing myself more clearly. I answered the call to the ministry in my late 30s, and took the necessary courses to become a Pastor. My experience in working as a recruiter, manager, and sales, helped me tremendously, but after taking my first call serving two Churches, as a tent maker. I felt that my congregations expected more from me than I could possibly give. I remained in this position for 9 years before I was called to interview with a Church where they were struggling due to a Pastor who stayed too long. I must admit I was bruised and uncertain that I could continue to serve the Lord as Pastor, however I never stopped preaching the Gospel, and doing my best to minister to the needs of the Churches. I accepted the offer to serve one Church and I have served there for 9 years. I have learned through experience that I can’t possibly satisfy everyone, but I must satisfy God. Now I am struggling with another decision after being offered another Church. As you may have guessed, I am serving small Churches, but I have been blessed by seeing growth in each of the Churches I have served. I am praying that God will make it clear to me, if I should take my experience to a new ministry. I do feel somewhat drained, because my Church seems content to stay small and cares little about reaching the lost. However, I fear I may face the same attitude in most of the small Churches in my area. I love the people and I don’t hesitate to tell them so, but change seems to always be met with resistance, and the resistances are rooted in tradition. The small Churches are equally important to the Kingdom of God, but I wish some of you reading this would offer your opinion as to how long a Pastor should serve in a small Church. I guess maybe I am seeking a new challenge, which seems to energize me. Thanks for allowing me to express my feelings here, since I have few people who I can share them with. God bless all who serve Him.

  • I found several wise older pastors in the community to help me when I started facing some of these issues. Max, Brian, and Robert really helped me when I had people and leadership problems. They were faithful prayer partners and our friendship is probably what kept me in the ministry. No one ever told me that “sheep bite”!

  • James Briggs says on

    I wish someone had told me how psychologically damaged smaller churches are primarily because of the constant regular turnover in the pastorates. I have had to deal constantly with gun shy and mistrusting sheep that are always waiting for the other shoe to drop and their pastor to leave them for a church that pays more or is in a more advantageous area. All three churches I have served on staff at as a youth pastor and now as a pastor at my first pastorate have shown signs of this because every 3-4 years their young pastors have left them for something better.

    • gloia Bonds says on

      people don’t believe in staying in small churches to me it’s all about Money. or making self look good
      Not the one who Die on the cross JESUS

  • todays church has gotten to be an organization , a business . that was not Gods intention. we need to get back to reaching the lost not socials and pleasing man. all these pastors seemed to start off with all the zeal that the apostles had. but all seem to have been sorely let down by their churches.

  • I am not a pastor, but do have a fair bit of theological training, both formal and informal from many years in the church. Your article is interesting to me as a church leader. I feel for our pastors, as I know churches have so many expectations that we put on them, especially so in small churches where there is only one pastor. Similar expectations are also often had for the volunteer church leaders, who may or may not have theological and/or leadership training. Pastors supposedly have training on how to lead/pastor churches… but who teaches the congregation how to work with the pastor and other leaders? Modern congregations are not even remotely homogenous, in that some people are mature in faith and long-time participants in the church, while others are new and have no idea what’s even in the Bible. So the expectations toward those in leadership will be all over the place. It occurs to me that maybe we need to work on what it means to live together in community. It’s not just about leadership, whether your perspective is “top-down” or “servant” leadership — but how do we live together when we hurt each other because we’re all imperfect beings, regardless of our spiritual maturity or title. I’ve found Henri Nouwen’s book, “In the Name of Jesus” to be very insightful. I think the reality of living in community is very difficult for us, but a worthy one to consider.

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