Ten Tough Pieces of Advice Pastors Have Trouble Receiving

August 7, 2017

The last thing pastors need is someone to offer them advice.

I know. They receive “advice” every day of the week. Some of it is well intended. Some of it is not. All of it cumulatively is overwhelming.

It is thus difficult for me to pile on. But I do want pastors to hear those pieces of advice that are really difficult to heed. And they are difficult even if pastors know they are true.

  1. Love your members unconditionally. That’s all of your members. Even that deacon who told you that you had no business being in ministry. Even that ministry director who told you God told her it’s time for you to leave. We are to love as Christ loves us. Unconditionally.
  2. Don’t focus on your critics. This one is really challenging. They are the constant ringing in our ears. They are squeaky wheels. Enough of the metaphors. It’s hard not to jump when a critic barks.
  3. Make the tough personnel decisions sooner rather than later. It won’t get any better. It won’t get any easier.
  4. Accept that you won’t be loved by everyone. I’ve gotten to the point in my life that I’m okay with a simple majority. I’m just not sure I have it!
  5. Put those things on your calendar that you often neglect. You know what I’m talking about. Family. Devotional time. Gospel conversations. Don’t neglect the best for the good.
  6. Accept the lows of ministry as normal. If you haven’t been attacked by critics, you probably aren’t leading. If you haven’t been torn up by a family tragedy, you need a heart transplant. You will have lows. It’s a part of ministry. It’s a part of life.
  7. Don’t compare your church to others. Your church is not that other church. Bigger is not better. Newer is not cooler. God has you at your church at this time for a reason. Find joy in that reality.
  8. Learn to be content. That green grass is someone else’s brown grass. Unless God clearly, very clearly, calls otherwise, be content where He has placed you in ministry. Even be excited about it.
  9. Learn to rejoice always. It’s healthy. It’s biblical. Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” I’m glad the translator added the exclamation point.
  10. Have fun. Life is too short to stay in the doldrums and focus on the negative. Our ministries are a brief but incredible time to make an eternal difference. Love it all. Have fun. Lighten up. Learn to smile.

Such is my counsel. Such are my admonitions to you pastors.

By the way, you who serve the churches are my heroes. I hope you know how much I appreciate you, admire you, and pray for you.

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51 Comments

  • Chip Northup says on

    Never quit on a Monday.
    Things may not be as bad as they are in your head.

  • Troy Cook says on

    Thanks so much for the encouragement. I’ve found that we as pastors sometimes forget how Jesus preached. Boldness, straight to the point, no punch pulling, but all in love.” I suffer not to preach anything but Christ crucified”. I am persuaded that if we don’t try to be politically correct and be biblically correct, the spirit will do His work with the people. We are ” under shepherds” and need to preach what the “True Shepherd” preached, even down to the delivery of it. I’ve found this to be where I am at and it has totally opened my eyes and the congregations heart. God Bless you all.

  • Thanks, Thom. There’s a lot of truth in what you said. Thanks for the admonitions and the kind words.

  • The last thing pastors need is someone to offer them advice.

    Thankfully, we’re told counsel is always available, because we all definitely need it and the wisdom to apply it

    1) John 14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
    1)Psalm 119:24Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.

    2)Proverbs 11:14b in abundance of counselors there is victory

  • Charlie Wilson says on

    I wish I could remember what a pastor from a long time ago said about criticism. There were three things:
    1) Expect it.
    I don’t remember the order of the last two, I don’t even remember what one of them was. One of them was that you should examine the criticism, and see if there is good reason for at least some of it, and see if there is reason for you to make changes.

  • Alex Clayton says on

    Thank you for the excellent post!!!

    As a pastor for over thirty years the key to contentment is remember:

    A calling is from God
    A critic is of man
    Be faithful to the one who called you, not the critic who thinks he/she did.

    • On target, Alex!

    • Critics can come from God too. God sent Nathan to convict David of his sin. Christ was a critic of the Pharisees. The Roman Catholic Church needed the Reformers. The Church of England needed the Puritans. The Baptist Union needed Spurgeon. Where they have rejected the criticism and pursued their own ways they have remained in serious trouble.. No one is immune from the need to be instructed, corrected or rebuked where necessary, even if he has been called and gifted by God to be a pastor or preacher. Peter wasn’t above being rebuked by Paul.

  • Jonathan says on

    #6 is a tough pill to swallow. I recently had a conversation with fellow staff how, if we were not on staff at that church, we wouldn’t attend that church as lay people. It’s a tightrope act between a job and a ministry. Burnout is real. My wife and I have struggled greatly with taking a break and regaining the love of Sunday mornings. Now, it’s a dread.

  • Love number 10! Thanks for a great Monday morning post. Maybe we could combine a couple and have fun with our critics! You know, pie in the face or something like that?

  • “3. Make the tough personnel decisions sooner rather than later. It won’t get any better. It won’t get any easier.” Please remember that you are the pastor of your personnel as well. Treat them with the same love and grace that you would anyone else. Do not make the mistake of thinking that personnel do not deserve your Christ like love, and do not give up on a difficult situation too easily. Personnel are part of your church, too, not apart from her. With this as the foundation then, by all means deal with tough personnel decisions soon. Putting it off can be just as dangerous as dealing with them unwisely or unlovingly. NOTE: As you deal with personnel, Pastor, you are teaching your church how to deal with you.

  • The criticisms are especially ringing in my ears too often. This year I’ve had a very literal “Who moved my pulpit” moment. I built a streamlined pulpit to replace the large wooden barrier. The pastor who served the church for 30 years referred to his old pulpit as, “The Sacred Desk.” He calls my pulpit, “A bar stool.” One old deacon said, “How are you going to pound on a pulpit that small?” I know the critics mean well but the criticisms tend to breed into worry in my mind. Loving the critics unconditionally tends to take the sting out of the criticisms. (Thanks for all of your blogs, books & podcasts.)

  • Dave Rowser says on

    Thanks Thom. You hit the nail on the head! All are personal realities felt by most, if not all of us in the ministry.

    I would like to add to a metaphor to number 7: “The grass is always greener on the other side of the septic tank” (Erma Bombeck) for a reason; their septic tank is leaking.

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