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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  • So many of these items are just necessary learning experiences for any parent, spouse, Christian, church member, responsible adult. Perhaps we should just allow people to grow up, raise their little ones, establish their marriage and finances, learn their way around church dynamics, maybe run a business, and then, if they have proven faithful in these things and want to pastor a church, they might go on to do that. “Elders” means “old guys” for a reason, and I really think a young man with seminary training, starting out in life, is in absolutely no position to be a pastor (even with a couple internships and mentors!)

  • Devin Brisson says on

    #2 is a sad commentary of where we’re at in this country! If you were to stop getting paid for your position tomorrow, would you continue to hold your post? If the answer is “NO” then you should quite now, because you my friend are not in the will of God! Money should never determine how or where we work for God! Jesus and Paul tell us that “IF” we receive monies for our work then we should take it without any condemnation… Luke 10:7 KJV
    [7] And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house.

    1 Timothy 5:18 KJV
    [18] For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.

    These scriptures are to address our conviction about receiving gain after or “WHEN” we’ve done the will of God, they’er not there to influence us in “WHERE” to minister! And to admonish the churches (establishments) to get liberally to worthy hires.
    Preaching and pastoring today has become a career move not a heart move, and yes I’m a preacher and don’t receive one dime for it. The ones I’m called to minister to can’t pay me! I don’t mind taking money but I pray it never becomes a factor in which doors I walk thur. Here is my point…A nice, well blessed church offers you the pastorship with much monies and all the perks..house, car, insurance, bonuses, etc.! But, you feel lead to pastor a small poor church where there is no salary or benefits, the fact is you would have to work a secular job to support your family and more than likely have to support the church some what too! Be honest, which one would you take???

  • Cathy Hubbard says on

    A 1997 graduate of Memphis Theological Seminary, there were no classes in Practical Ministry. The “Dark Side” of the church wasn’t even acknowledged. I could go on.
    Seminaries don’t prepare you for crises either. For example, if the church burns down what is your first and most important step? If you have someone in your congregation that has physically threatened the congregation in an a widely distributed e-mail, what should you do? If you accept a call to a church who considers you the “hired help” after you start serving the church, what should you do to be effective?
    I recently had to issue a restrainer order on a church member as I was concerned he would come through the back door guns blazing. I prayed and thought about what I should do and obtained the restraining order. Loss of life, loss of the church property, etc. My life has been hell ever since. And, what do you do when you are the victim of pure evil? If I had to do it over again, one part of me says “let the chips fall where they may” the other part of me says “do it again. Even when ministry is carried out in the most righteous way, it can come back to bite you.
    The above church has burned me out after 19 years in ministry. My spirituality has suffered greatly and I am on the edge of complete compassion burn-out thus I have decided to leave ministry altogether.

  • I’m so glad to read this post. I graduated from Memphis Theological Seminary in 2011. I got an email that pointed me to this post from MTS – I want to write on the topic and can’t now. Hold me accountable – I have much to say! Great post – totally great blog. Be well and happy THANKSgiving! Hilary Dow Ward

  • How do you deal with power groups and power people? Is there resources to help with this?

  • Marisol says on

    One of my former pastors told me his first roommate in seminary had spent a few years between college and seminary working in a secular job and observed how much kinder people outside the church were than people inside the church. Sadly, that’s often too true.

  • Iamaservent says on

    james 3…Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. 3 Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. 4 Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. 5 So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire ! 6 And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity ; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. 8 But no one can tame the tongue ; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God ; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. 11 Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs ? Nor can salt water produce fresh.
    Wisdom from Above
    13 Who among you is wise and understanding ? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

  • James Kennedy says on

    I wished someone had told me that I couldn’t confide with other Pastor’s/preachers information that they could use against me…. and that most Pastors/preachers are egomaniacs….And that they would do anything to draw a crowd and step all over you and your church to do it….

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