Three Sentences Pastors Hate to Hear


By Thom S. Rainer

The most common place pastors hear one of these three sentences is right before they preach or right after they preach. Of course, the prayerful focus on their message is detoured and distracted immediately.

Frankly, I don’t see how most pastors make it to their sermons when they have been blasted by one of these bombs right before they preach. While three sentences are certainly not an exhaustive list, these are the three I hear most often. To this day, I cringe when pastors tell me they have been hit yet again with one of these three sentences:

  1. “People are saying . . .” This one is the coward’s special. Rather than speak for themselves, the critic hides behind the deceitful anonymity of other people. If you challenge the verbal sniper with the identity of the “people,” he or she typically responds smugly that they cannot say. They are not at liberty to reveal the identities of the dissidents. Anonymous criticism is not valid criticism. It should be dismissed along with the messenger.
  2. “I love you, but . . .” The only thing the critic wants the pastor to hear is the verbiage after “but.” The only thing the pastor hears is the verbiage after “but.” The critic tries to couch his or her concerns from a posture of love and concern. Baloney! This sentence is similar to the secular phrase from one person dating to the other: “I want to be friends.” There is no love in the statement to the pastor. There is no desire for friendship in the statement to the person in the dating relationship.
  3. “I’m just not getting fed here.” This infamous sentence has multiple possible translations. “You aren’t preaching the way I want you to preach.” “Your sermons are too long.” “You don’t preach from the book of Revelation enough.” “The podcast pastor is so much better.” “The church down the road is cooler.” Sometimes, the sentence is just a cover because the church member has a consumer mentality, and he or she has not received her preferences or has not gotten preferential treatment.

Most church members are good church members. Most church members really love their pastors. The few exceptions, though, are incredibly painful exceptions for pastors. Please prayerfully protect pastors from these verbal bombs, particularly right before they preach.

You will be demonstrating true love for your pastor when you do.

Posted on October 28, 2019

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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  • Guy in the Pew says on

    Unfortunately, #3 is a legit criticism in many churches, not just with the preaching but also with small groups. I have heard many pastors who couldn’t preach their way out of a paper bag let alone exegete the Word. It’s not just lack of skill but often lack of desire to truly communicate the fullness of God’s Word. Too often the pastor just talks about some random topic while throwing in a few verses here and there that may or may not have anything to do with what he’s talking about.

    Our current church has an interim who’s sermons are not even coherent half the time. Our small group leader, aware of the discontent, chastised the class for not “getting something out of the sermons.” That didn’t go over well. Last Sunday there were 50 more people in small groups than in the service. It’s a real problem. I’m not going to say anything to the interim because he’s a nice guy and probably can’t do any better. I’m just praying the church calls a pastor with a passion for God’s Word soon.

    • Stephen Hudspath says on

      Maybe a few words of encouragement would be helpful to this interim pastor.
      Everyone needs a helping hand from time to time and it sounds like this pastor could use a hand in understanding that their method of transmitting the gospel to those listening could use some help. You have been around for a while and should have a grasp on reaching others.
      ignoring the obvious lack of quality when you have received great quality at some time in your time in the church gives you the opportunity to teach this person the way to reach others while the interim or when they leave your church.

  • Amazingly, I have heard all three, but #1 and #3 are the most common. I once questioned #1 by asking “Who is saying?”, and was informed it was a person who had not attended church in over one year and joined another church. However, as Thom Rainer has pointed out the wise pastor reads the first statement as “I am saying” then you have an avenue into what is going on in their mind and can work through the process (if possible) to make allowance for the criticism (if valid) while defusing it (if not valid).

  • Brian Attar says on

    “Don’t ever criticize your pastor, ever, he may not be a man of God enough to take it.”

    Good grief.

    Author (and other pastors who repost this passive aggressive article), this thinly veiled venting session is not becoming to your status. Mature Christians realize that the people who gossip, spread rumors and critique everything for the sole purpose of doing so are in need of counseling and prayer. You coming to the internet encouraging pastors to “get righteously angry” about these types of people is futile and sinful. You clearly haven’t forgiven some people in your life currently or in your past because this post screams of unsettled angst.

    The last point – “I’m not being fed.” What is wrong with this statement? If a pastor is not trying to be everything to everyone, this statement should not bother him. A proper spiritual response from a “man of God” should be to sit down with the person bringing the complaint and feed that sheep. Figure out what Is leading them to say that. Is there sin in their life that isn’t allowing them to be fed? Or is is that they may just be more mature spiritually and need more “meat?” Whatever the root cause, pastors who complain about these types of people are shirking their God-given responsibility to FEED THE FLOCK. ALL of the flock, wherever they may be spiritually. This post is such a disappointment.

    • Guy in the Pew says on

      I don’t mean to put words in your mouth, but it sounds as if you’re saying that church members can be as ugly and insensitive as they want to be and the pastor should always just smile and take it without ever expressing any frustration even among other pastors.

      • Brian Attar says on

        Guy in the Pew – church members shouldn’t be ugly or insensitive. But, if their humanity comes out in the form of sin, shouldn’t a pastor be the most equipped of us to handle it properly? Not saying pastors aren’t also human and can’t express emotions, but they are called to a special calling and should be spiritually ready for that at all times. That’s why the tone of this article (and the vent session in the comments) is inappropriate. Pastors should see these folks as a challenge; someone to help. Not someone to come and passively aggressively rant about on the internet. News flash! Your congregants are sinful humans and always will be. Get over yourself!

      • Guy in the Pew says on

        I’m sorry Brian, but for someone who’s upset about the tone of this blog, the tone of your comments is downright nasty.

      • Brian Attar says on

        Sensitive much? Nasty, I am not. Thanks though.

      • “Nasty, I am not. ”

        That’s your opinion.

      • Are you a pastor?

    • Mike Miller says on

      Hey, Brian. You obviously can’t attempt to empathize with pastors. I’m a pastor, and I love what I do. I’m a very happy pastor. I’m not angry or aggressive–even when criticized unfairly. But I don’t think you realize just how much abuse is heaped on many pastors. Can you imagine pouring your heart and soul into your calling and facing an onslaught of criticism day in and day out by people who have no idea what it means to be a pastor? Some people are simply cruel. Now, should we pastors be mature enough and godly enough to take it all in stride? Perhaps. But we are human. We bleed. We see our wives and kids treated with absolute contempt and cruelty (yes, cruelty). And sometimes it hurts very badly. Thom is a guy who gets us and expresses some of our pain and frustration. That’s what he has done in this article. He is not stoking any anger. He is simply helping struggling pastors realize they are not alone. Unfortunately, we all have to deal with mean-spirited people like you every day, and it’s nice to know someone understands. So maybe give him a break. And maybe pray for your pastor, offer him a word of encouragement, and try to understand how a brother in Christ might just need a friend.

    • Marguerite Colson says on

      Brian –

      I am a layperson, and your comments come across as insensitive, bullying, and totally lacking in emotional intelligence. Do you troll blogs to hurt pastors?

    • Now let me get this straight: you’re taking up for people who gossip and spread rumors, but you’re rebuking pastors who take offense at such tactics? You must read a different Bible from the one I read.

      • Brian Attar says on

        “Taking up” for people who gossip? Not quite sure what your point is there, bud.

      • “Not quite sure what your point is there, bud.”

        That doesn’t surprise me a bit. I’ll try to explain it to you. Here are your exact words: ” Mature Christians realize that the people who gossip, spread rumors and critique everything for the sole purpose of doing so are in need of counseling and prayer.”

        You make excuses for people who spread destructive rumors, yet you criticize the ones who call them out. You must read a different Bible than the one I read.

      • Brian Attar says on

        Never made an excuse for gossipers. Nice try tho.

      • Your own words: ” Mature Christians realize that the people who gossip, spread rumors and critique everything for the sole purpose of doing so are in need of counseling and prayer.”

        I call that making excuses.

  • My husband and I are struggling with “I’m not being fed here” at the moment. We hate even saying it out loud because it’s such a cliche. But what do you do when you’ve been a long-time member of a church and feel like your pastor has a limited set of sermons and you’ve heard all of them over and over and over. You’ve heard some illustrations used with multiple sermons several times a year. Sometimes hearing someone new say something different or just saying the same thing a different way is a huge breath of fresh air. Is it entirely my job to adapt or does the pastor have some shared responsibility to continue to breathe new life into his messages?

    • Brian attar says on

      The pastor has one job – feed the flock. See my comment below. That means, whatever that pastor has to do to find the cause of WHY the sheep is still hungry, they need to be WILLING to do so. The sheep may have sin or some other spiritual block that is preventing them from being fed. Are you questioning whether or not a pastor should recycle his sermons? Would you serve stale food to your children? Would you eat 3 week old leftovers? Would you eat the same 5 meals for the rest of your life without complaint?

      • Or maybe the eaters are just too picky?

      • I always thought the pastor’s job was to seek out and lead new sheep to where the food was, but then teach all of the new and existing sheep feed themselves and each other. In other words, I find that I am “fed” only when I am digging into the Word myself and then actively doing the Word as James tells us to do, and not when my pastor spoon feeds it to me and then I go home and ignore it for a week.

    • Mike Miller says on

      Hey, Barb. You said you are a long time church member. At what point can you be mature enough to feed yourself? I’m not being snarky, but your pastor has to feed people in multiple stages of spiritual growth, and he gets about 30 minutes a week to do so. Surely you’re not depending on that for your spiritual nourishment. Are you reading your Bible every day? Are you involved in small group Bible studies that go deeper? Are you availing yourself of all the rich content available in books and online? If so then you are feasting on Scripture and not dependent on being fed once a week.

      • The problem is that, given the trend toward topical preaching, you only have so many topics to cover (and, more likely, fewer than that which draw people in). So unfortunately the sermons are recycled (and likely nothing or little added). This is where expository preaching has benefits–by the time you get around to preaching through the whole Bible, hopefully you have a lot more people where you can start over again.

      • Don Jones says on

        Good suggestions – Another way to really go deeper is take the opportunity to teach / mentor someone else. I’ve always found that to force a deeper dive into God’s word

  • Kim Hughes says on

    I think Thom took the negative side of sentence 3. There are pastors who simply preach on the love God all of the time without preaching the Truth of God. To transform people truth about sin must be discussed as well as love.

    • Totally agree with you, Kim. I’m serving as a student pastor in a church where that’s the situation, as I see it. The senior pastor is a very good teacher of God’s Word, except he avoids talking specifically about sin. That’s probably one of the reasons why we haven’t seen a single salvation in the 17 months we’ve been here.

  • In my first church, I had a man that was the ruling force in the church. He and I had a difference of opinion over something that didn’t even concern him, so he tried for the next 1 year & 3 months to get rid of me. Every Sunday morning he would come in the my office and fuss at me for anything just before we started the 11:00 Worship Service. I had a very hard time handling that and he didn’t even start out with “I love you, but…” Ha ha! I can laugh at it now, but it really hurt then.

    • Brian Attar says on

      How did this end? Why did you see it as him trying to get rid of you? Most churches have papers that make it virtually impossible for someone in the church to get rid of a pastor without majority support.

      • Marguerite Colson says on

        Thom –

        Can you please block Brian? He is a pure troll and is adding nothing of value to this conversation.

      • Brian Attar says on

        Marguerite – really? Troll? Adding nothing of value? Heaven forbid someone chime in with a different viewpoint than yours. Regardless of what you think, my post was full of points no one addresses, but simply calls me a bully and a troll for. Tell me how I’m wrong with a honest discussion.

      • The “papers” are just that: paper. Demagogues have a way of rallying the majority to their side with innuendo, gossip, half-truths, and flat-out lies. Don’t tell me it doesn’t happen. I’ve seen it.

      • Funny how our current administration mirror much of what goes on in our churches today. I have a hard time watching the news because it feels much like what I saw my dad go through as a pastor. I still struggle, today, with the things people said to me, as a PK, about my dad and his ministry! It’s very hard not to be bitter and not write church off altogether. I understand that not all members are pains in the rear but the few who are leave a very lasting memory and bad taste in the mouth of the Pastor’s family.

  • Charles Curtis says on

    Ha! Monday morning, and some pastors may be agonizing over some of these statements made over the weekend. Sage advice offered to me long ago – “Never resign on a Monday.”

    I took the challenge to think of the top 3 statements before reading the post, and I concluded almost the same on 2 out of 3.

    Here are mine, and how a pastor should respond.

    1. “I’m not being spiritually fed here.” – To which the pastor should respond, “Who eats once a week?” Or better, ” who eats once or twice a month based on your attendance!”

    2. “Some people in the church don’t like ….” – to which the pastor should respond, “We all know that the “some people” are you and your wife!”

    3. “I’m thinking about leaving the church.” – to which the pastor should respond, “I’m thinking about doing the same thing!”

    Brothers …. “Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ.” – Col. 3:24 (NLT)

    • Brian Attar says on

      Yikes. Your spirit is not befitting that of a man of God. I’ll pray for you.

      • Sarcasm missed…

      • Yep, pastors get that a lot, too – usually from people who don’t know how to handle disagreement.

      • Jeffery C. Russell says on

        #3. “I’m thinking about leaving the church,” comment I countered once to a very aggravating woman by saying, “Really? What a coincidence, I was just thinking about YOU doing that as well!”

        I don’t know who was more shocked at my reply- her, or me!

    • “Never resign on a Monday.”

      I gained a new appreciation for that bit of advice just a couple of weeks ago. It was a Monday morning, and I was within inches of writing out my resignation. I remembered that advice, though, so I decided to hold off at least one day. By Monday evening, I had snapped out of my funk and was ready to go again.

    • Don Jones says on

      Had a man tell me he was thinking of leaving the church “because he wasn’t being fed.” Hardly ever attended a Sunday Morning worship service. He had a lot of things that he needed to change in his life to bring it into conformity with Jesus. So he didn’t need something new! His family wouldn’t change churches, so he still considers our church his home church. Praying that he might hear some things and become the leader of his home that he needs to be.

  • “We should be doing…”
    This one comes from those who often compare with other church or ministries, but mostly the “we” means you the pastor. Often the church has many chiefs and not many willing to do themselves. Plus they have gotten used to a “we pay you to do God’s work” mentality, rather than seeing themselves as servants of Christ.

    • When a church member says, “Don’t you think we ought to…?”, what he / she usually means is, “I think you ought to ….”

      • Jervetta Burns says on

        I often provide feedback out of love a I want our church to thrive and grow. When I use “we” , my meaning is I want to be part of the solution. My pastors are very resistant to feedback without recommendations or offer to be help solve. Your thoughts are giving me pause to think about another approach. (I do not approach before a sermon as they should be hearing fe the Lord ay that time)

      • “My pastors are very resistant to feedback without recommendations or offer to be help solve. ”

        So am I. People who constantly point out problems but offer no solutions are only making matters worse.

      • Stephen Hudspath says on

        Anyone can see problems but not offering a solution to the problem is like telling someone to quit smoking without a plan of how they can accomplish the task.
        Noticing a need to me means that God has pointed you out to be the solution. I’ve told parishioners that if they notice something that should change then God is telling that they should get involved.

      • Patricia Mayfield says on

        My all time favorite is “Pastor we decided.” Who knew there was a decision that needed to be made?

  • Bill Effler says on

    #1 is cowardice (no personal responsibility, hiding behind other people)
    #2 is conditional (“I love you, pastor, when/if,etc.)
    #3 is a consumer orientation (the language alone is a tip off, but in reality, I wonder if these same people are feeding anyone in their sphere of influence?)

  • Thom,

    Thank you for writing this article. I like what I heard one pastor say. Anytime someone uses but in a sentence, everything before the but is a lie. Folks should pray for their pastor, they are humans who are just trying to deliver the word of God.

  • Good blog. I had to chuckle when I read your comments on #2. I didn’t get married until I was in my late 30’s, and I heard the “I want to be friends” routine many times during my bachelor days. Your comparison is spot on.

    • Bill Effler says on

      #1 is cowardice (no personal responsibility, hiding behind other people)
      #2 is conditional (“I love you, pastor, when/if,etc.)
      #3 is a consumer orientation (the language alone is a tip off, but in reality, I wonder if these same people are feeding anyone in their sphere of influence?)

      • Agreed. Worse yet, #3 is often raised by people who only attend church sporadically. If you never show up at feeding time, then don’t complain about not getting fed!

      • I was blasted one Sunday on the way to the pulpit. I looked the man in the eye and said, “I am on my to preach and if your commit hinders my ability to share the gospel and some one goes to hell…you are responsible.”
        He fell under great conviction. Fell to knees and begged for forgiveness and asked me to pray for him. I said, “pray for yourself. I don’t feel like praying for you.” He did. Good worship service.
        We became good friends.

      • Michelle Ray says on

        Ray Crews– I love this!

      • Cyn Rowland says on

        Pray for yourself?! Really?

      • I know of one pastor who replied that “in our church we have a self feeding program.

  • 1a. “There are those…..”

    • 3a. “My needs aren’t being met.”

    • Another form of #1 is
      “Word on the street…” What follows is rarely good news or helpful to those working to get the church where God intends it to be. This term is aggravating because it pits the Word on the street vs Word in the bible. That kind of foolishness needs to stay in the street. Either step over it or wipe it off your shoes.

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