Ten Tough Pieces of Advice Pastors Have Trouble Receiving

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.

Posted on August 7, 2017

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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  • Lonnie S. says on

    I know that being content preaching in a church of 25 and knowing God has placed me there for a reason is true and good advice.. But that advice sounded hollow and flippant when it was once given to me from a preacher of a church with four hundred members.

    • Lonnie,

      I am currently the lead pastor of a church of under 100. I’ve been the senior pastor of a church of over 200 and been associate pastor of churches over 1,000. Each setting is different and has its own challenges. But I am finding that pastoring a church under 100 is no easier – perhaps more difficult – than a larger church. God be with you and thanks for hanging in there.

    • I was pastor of a church about that size for 11 years. The church I’m serving now runs in the 60’s or 70’s on a good Sunday. The majority of churches in the Southern Baptist Convention have less than 100 members, and I suspect it’s the same in other denominations. If you’re serving where God has put you, you have no reason to be ashamed.

  • DJ Ellis says on

    Perhaps one more- #11 You are not ALWAYS all that! You need to be AAA- ACCESSABLE by friends; ACCEPTABLE that SOME critics are right; and ACCOUNTABLE to a group of people other than your friends.

  • I love this, Dr. Rainer! Thank you for sharing.

    Some humor on #8…when I was active at Sagemont Church in Houston under Dr. John Morgan, he used to say, “The grass is greener on the other side because that’s probably where the septic tank is.”

  • Great post today and helpful reminders. I’ve experienced and struggled with all of these things in ministry. There are times when I feel unworthy to be a pastor because I fail so often. But I think that is part of the landscape. Pastors who don’t feel like failures, at some time or to one degree or another, are probably not self-aware. We can only do this ministry abiding in Christ. Even then, with a Spirit-empowered life, we will experience many of these challenges.

    I’m dealing with #3, a staffing issue right now and trying to find the right pathway through. Your admonition to take care of it sooner rather than later is helpful today.

  • After twenty four years in the only place I have pastored, all of these are lessons I have learned. One real key for me was learning to be content where God had called me.
    You will not have joy in ministry constantly looking and thinking about somewhere else.

  • I appreciate the post. However, it sounds (within the context of this post) that we are throwing criticism under the bus. Criticism should be judged on the reasons given. Some criticism is not based on a relational and rational basis. This type of criticism can be thrown out. However, if cogent, compelling, and reasonably concise reasons are given for a given position, then those should be seriously considered. For example, fideism and/or anti-intellectualism are no longer viable options for the church. More “gospel conversations” is not going to happen that often if individuals do not know how to respond to common objections to the Christian worldview. If a Jehovah Witness shows up at someone’s door with the New World Translation, then the Three Circles Conversation is not going to fly. They have a mostly different translation than what orthodox Christendom actually recognizes. Moreover, Mormons have additional books they will quote. Muslims have a mostly different view of Jesus than Christians. Atheists adhere to scientism and verificationism. It goes on and on. More relational and rational apologetics, hermeneutics, etc are needed in the local church. Thank you.

    • You don’t even have to go that far. Few know the differences in Orthodox or Oriental and Western Christianity. Those of us who grew up learning far more about Christianity from the Jews than the Christians see Jesus as expounding on the original intent of the Torah and repeating the prophets. We see things differently and don’t worry about the little parts that some of Christianity focuses too intently.

    • Rick Cooley says on

      I’m not sure I follow you……but it sounds good so Amen!

  • Thanks – good advice from a trusted source is always welcomed.

    May I add something to #1 – When you are the target of gossip/slander – remember the “problem” isn’t always the problem. Often that person is dealing with an ugly life situation, they are upset with God and you are the representative.

  • Exhausted Pastor says on

    I struggle to find the balance between loving unconditionally and handling certain situations. Jesus died for the Pharisees…but He want a doormat. Where’s that balance? When is enough of the critic enough?

    • Exhausted Pastor says on


    • Thom Rainer says on

      EP –

      I get it. I have learned that loving others is not the same as being a doormat. We can speak the truth in love to these Pharisees. We don’t have to condone their behavior implicitly.

      • Pastor Jim says on

        Amen to that. These pieces of advice touches all of us that pastor. How many times did Jesus give correction to the Pharisees, and how many times did He tell those to forgive those who wrong us, seventy times seven. The thing we have to remember is, Jesus died for all who sin.

      • And amen to your words as well, Jim.

  • #6 just wrecked me. I took a “break” from Ministry following a tragedy and 4 years later I’m still on “break.”

  • Kyle Noffsinger says on

    Thom you’ve quit preachin and gone to meddlin! Good word, I needed every letter.

  • May I add a few:
    The style of preaching you were taught in seminary may not working these days and may even be hurting.

    Even though sanctioned by Isaiah, your perceived opposition to social justice is going to cost you members.

    Your obvious liking of the in-crowd and neglect of other people has not gone unnoticed.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks, Mark. I’ve heard those as well.

    • Craig Giddens says on

      Paul’s epistles should be the foundation for the direction of your church, not Isaiah.

      • I grew up in a church where Paul’s epistles were used exclusively and likely incorrectly IMHO to promote legalism and getting church right at the expense of learning about the faith. I was referring to Isaiah 1:16-17. Do you think it no longer applies?

      • Mark and Craig,

        The foundation for the direction of your church should be Jesus Christ.

      • Mark and Craig,

        The foundation for the direction of your church should be Jesus Christ.

  • Bill Pitcher says on

    #7 struck home this morning. Accepting the fact that God has put each church (read *my* church) in place for a reason, and the reason might be to minister to a specific niche in society, is an eye-opener. It makes the comparison far less tempting and far easier to bear.
    Thanks for the reminders

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