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 wish someone would have prepared me to find a job after college. I feel like I’ve joined some serious competition for any position. I knew it was brutal for secular jobs, but now churches are bombarded with hundreds of resumes. Where are all the churches that need an under-shepherd?

    • where is the calling, what God calls He pays for surely.
      Why does it have to be F/T pastorate?
      Start a business.
      See what he does…..
      properly disciple those He puts (already has) in your life.
      you are on an adventure now university can prepare you for>>>>>>

  • Tony Macklin says on

    Hi Thom, over my many years I have been to many churches and many denominations and its been my experience that the biggest mistake that most ministers make is simply not being a real person. Many get so entrenched in the church that they become insular and lose touch. Many of the 10 things relate to those issues. Nearly every church sermon is preaching items fom the gospels but the ministers have forgotten to translate them into relevant topics for people today and as such most of the sermons become boring and useless. Try finding a reading in scripture that tells parents how to deal with drugs and sex and teenagers or how the pressures of modern-day workplaces impact on relationships and so on. Nearly all ministers I have met have their heart in the right place but organised religions maintain such influence that they are hamstrung. All we need to do is keep it real and remember two things – first the golden rule “do unto other as you would have them do unto you”. Take this to heart and nearly all other teachings and or commandments are no longer necessary and to help apply it to today my second point – “people were meant to loved and things meant to be used not the other way around” Good luck in your future endeavours.
    Tony Macklin

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Good thoughts Tony. Thank you.

    • Great point on how sermons are often preached from the Gospel, but with no relevance. I am not a minister, or any kind of church leader. but a member of a church. I used to go a few different Protestant Churches, and later converted to the Catholic faith. In my eyes, there is a world of difference in how sermons/homilies are preached. In the Catholic Churches, a majority of the homilies are preached with everyday topics and tied really well into the Gospels and the other readings. No church is perfect. In the past, I have felt alienated by the past churches that I have gone to. They focused more social activities and obligations, and less on God and loving one another.

      In reading this article, numbers 3, 6, and 7 really hit home. What I would like to add may tie more to #7 teach your kids to grow up like normal kids. I think that it is important to remember that this needs to apply to the entire congregation. Yes, people should find time in church, but they also need time to live their own lives and carry out their real responsibilities outside of church, i.e. family, jobs, health/wellness, friends, recreation. The list goes on. If the members of a congregation are supposed to connect with one another, then there should be a true interest in other people, not just the obligation of seeing someone on Sunday. Do people in churches make real friends, or are they just mere relationships. It brings up another point of whether it is appropriate or not to share too much information in a church, such as personal problems. I think that is a big reason why there is so much gossip in churches. If a person does confide in someone, there should be a valid mutual trust so that it is kept between them, and not spread like wildfire. I don’t know if that makes sense or not. This brings up how some of the priests in the Catholic Churches have directed people in homilies on how to serve. We have three or four levels on how we are to serve, God, Family, and whatever we choose as our #3.our job (service to others), and #4 something leisurely or recreational so that we have time for ourselves.

      I would also like to add church congregations need to understand that they are not the only group of believers. My experience with some churches is that they believe that they are the only “true believers”. They were particularly harsh about non-Christian believers, such as Jewish, Muslims, etc. That is the wrong way to guide people. If people would just learn to listen to others, they would grow more in their faith. That is the main reason why I joined the Catholic Church because I think that they do a better job than other churches.

      I think with the last point you made, you really hit it on the head, to live by the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. My church always finds a way to stick that in just about every homily. In looking at the 10 Commandments, it is said that the first two are the most important, but it has been added that if we break any of the other commandments, we are also breaking the first and second commandment along with the others. I also like your last point, the people were meant to be loved and things were to meant to be used and not the other way around. I think, right there, is a very important piece to remind people on because we have become a materialistic society, with all the technology. Just observe in services, when you are presiding at a church service. You will probably notice that there are at least two or three people who insist on texting when they should be attentive in church. Honestly, in my church it apparently has become a problem that it is a norm to remind people to turn off cell phones. One of the parishes even has a sign that says “unless you are expecting a call from God, please turn off your cell phones”.

      Good luck in your endeavors. We are in a world were we are continuously growing and learning.

  • Really helpful! Both the post and indeed the comments. I was looking for something to this effect. I am grateful for this as I am preparing amm.. going into ministry. Prayers folks.
    With love,
    Muhozya, A.G.
    Dar es Salaam.

  • I’m a Pastor in a small township, I’m so glad to read about u comment, i love u guys to visit our assembly
    Keep it up

  • kimron kaganda says on

    My neighbors some people in this world we are living in now have lost faith.What i do believe is things never changed. it will always be the God’s call for one to become a pastor.PASTORS,RABBI,PREACHERS AND BAPTISTS are anointed by GOD through Jesus.Therefore my neighbors follow what you’ve been dreaming and visions you get, sometimes try to write them down they might be God’s messages for u.

  • I’m really late to this topic, but the one thing I wish people had told me before I became a pastor, was that I was likely to spend some, if not most or all of my time pastoring a Small Church. After all, 90% of churches in America are under 250 people, which means that’s where 90% of lead pastorates are.

    I also wish they’d told me how to pastor a Small Church well. I was taught how to break the 200 barrier, for instance, but was never taught how to pastor a church well under 200. And I was never taught what to do if the church never broke the 200 barrier, either.

    • Good Point Karl.
      The reality Jesus did teach how to pastor 12 people.
      Remember He came to –
      1. undo the work of the devil.
      2. model a relationship with our Father.
      3. model planting a church planting movement for us to see and do whilst we are in this world.
      If you’re re-imaging what you have or got, then you aren’t modeling what Jesus did, are you?
      Get on with it, you did not choose Him, He chose you and chose you to bear fruit, fruit that would last.
      That means people doing exactly what He did, you are the model, coach, trainer, brother, friend, “real” leader so that they can be better than you if they choose.

  • ben wilson says on

    do pastors ever ask for help or do they always get it from god?

  • gloia Bonds says on


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