Top Ten Sources of Discouragement of Pastors and Church Staff

I love those men and women who serve local churches. I love their commitment and sacrifice. And I wish I could do more to help them remain energized and encouraged.

In this post, I share the results of an informal Twitter poll where I asked pastors and church staff to share with me those areas of ministry that discouraged them most. My motivation for doing so is primarily my love and concern for these church leaders. It is my prayer that this awareness will encourage church members to be even more supportive of and prayerful for these leaders.

Here are the top ten sources of discouragement of pastors and church staff listed in order of frequency. Admittedly, there is overlap in some of these responses, but those who responded often made their own distinctions. A representative quote follows each category.

  1. Conflicts/complaining/murmuring. “I find myself physically exhausted at the end of the week just from dealing with naysayers. My problem is exacerbated by naysayers using social media as their outlets.”
  2. Lack of fruit and spiritual maturity in church members. “I invested two years of my life in him. But his life today is as carnal as it was two years ago.”
  3. Apathy. “The low level of commitment of so many of our members really discourages me. Sometimes I wonder if my ministry is making any kind of difference.”
  4. Church members who leave the church for seemingly silly or no reasons. “It breaks my heart to lose a church member just because we made a slight change in the times of worship services.”
  5. Expectations by members/lack of time. “It seems like I am expected to be omnipresent. I just can’t keep up with all the expectations of me.”
  6. Performing tasks where the pastor/staff does not have competencies. “I know nothing about finances. I am not a good administrator. But both functions consume my time.”
  7. Meetings/committees. “I would rather get my teeth drilled than go to our monthly business meetings. It’s nothing more than a forum for complainers and whiners.”
  8. Family concerns. “The attacks on my wife for no good reasons have caused me to get my resume out. I can’t stay any longer.”
  9. Staff issues. “Every day at the church is stressful because of staff conflict.”
  10. Lack of volunteers. “So many church members seek their own preferences, but are unwilling to serve others.”

Some of the other sources of discouragement that did not make the list but had multiple votes are: loneliness; communication problems; members who hold tenaciously to tradition; divorce/family problems among church members; low pay; and counseling.

Please pray for your pastor and staff. They are under attack consistently. They not only need your prayers; they need your clear and consistent encouragement.

What do you think of these sources of discouragement? What would you add? Let me hear from you.

Posted on November 12, 2014

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 can’t help but wonder if seminaries/colleges are lacking in the education they’re giving to pastors these days. For example, one pastoring relative told us he received no training on church financial management. None. Also, some items on the list above seem like they could be dealt with to some extent at least with better church discipline. But I don’t know of seminaries/colleges who teach the proper implementation of that anymore either? On a related note, a friend just told us of the conflict between their church’s senior and associate pastors, that finally led to an all-church meeting where things almost came to blows. So their larger denominational leadership was brought in to evaluate the situation, they determined that both pastors should be let go, and told the congregation it was too immature as Christians, that it had a juvenile faith in Christ and needed to “grow up,” even though some of the members had been there over 20 years. It was a stunning story, but in a positive, refreshing way. After some months of interim pastors, the church has now hired a new man from another part of the country to lead them and they are starting small groups for the first time. All that to say–less “milk,” more “solid food,” more discipline, more adult expectations.

    • Les Ferguson says on

      Being a recent graduate from Seminary I have to say, at least in the Episcopal tradition, there is barely enough time to teach the required courses in preparation for ordination dealing with ancient languages, scripture, pastoral care, liturgy, homiletics, and ethics (as mandated by the “National” church canon) that there simply isn’t enough time to require one more class without making Seminary more than 3 full years of residential study (and likely more in distance learning).

      In my denomination’s past the process worked in a traditional setting with almost all newly ordained clergy, regardless of age, spent time as a curate – a priest whose only “purpose” was to learn the trade. They weren’t “responsible” for anything except learning the things you mention – discipline, finances, management, etc. But as congregations age and budgets get stretched even farther curacies are few and far between.

      One “cure” is to evaluate the vow as a clergy/priest. When I was ordained I promised my Bishop, before God and the members of the Diocese present, that I would do 5 things. Ironically, finances and much of the other things we discuss are NOT in that list. The success or failure of a Parish is not based in the clergy (I may be branded a heretic but that’s what I think).

    • “Also, some items on the list above seem like they could be dealt with to some extent at least with better church discipline.”

      Like Dr. Rainer, I’m a Southern Baptist, and our local congregations are autonomous. This makes church discipline easier said than done.

  • Daughter of the King says on

    First, I would like to encourage pastors and their families. Know this, although you will be held accountable before God for leading the people and presenting the full gospel of Christ and Him crucified, it is God alone that calls them out of the world and the individual to respond to that call. Matthew 22:14, the parable of the wedding feast, states “Many are are called, but few are chosen.” Members of of the church should remember with fear and trembling, that we will be held to account before God one day. Heartspeak hit the nail on the head. Many american churches have become so apathetic. The church was not created to serve ourselves or become a country club. The church has forgotten her mission given by Christ himself! To make disciples of all nations! I urge all pastors to unchain themselves from naysayers. Follow Christ alone no matter what! Pastors, are you willing to die for Christ? Are you willing to lose your job for Christ then? If you are, good! Be encouraged then because He, the God of the universe, is with you always. He holds you in the palm of His hand and he will not let go. Find those people in your church who are spirit filled and use them to serve, lead, and move the people to participate in the mission of Jesus Christ. When individual true followers of Christ actively participate in Christ’s mission, God pours out His blessings on them spiritually and otherwise. Through God, they become Christ centered, and the wordly things fade away. It is truly life changing! Move forward boldly, and the tares will become few.

  • Caleb Ramey says on

    I struggle with all of these daily. Being thirty years old and on staff in a very traditional church is difficult. This is made even more so by the fact that the church is run like a business. I am under an extreme amount of stress at the moment. This article helped me realize there are others out there that deal with the same things I do everyday. Thank you for the encouragement.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Just prayed you for you, Caleb.

    • Caleb,
      I feel your pain. I am the same age as you and I have a very similar situation at a traditional Church. I considered myself more of a traditional Christian when I started at the Church, but God has been teaching me much in that regard. Paul tells us in Galatians to bear one anothers burdens, and today I shall be praying for you, hoping that in some way I can help bear your load. From one pastor to another, we need each other.

  • John Crawford says on

    How can you forget to add to that list cantankerous, narsasistic, glory hungry, unqualified carnal deacons? They think just because they have been at the church longer than the pastor, it warrants them special permission to treat the pastor as their personal “puppet.” If he does not do what they want him to do they way they want it, when they want it, as much as they want it, they threaten to fire him or put him on probation. This should not be their decision, this is the churches.
    I believe that most of our deacons in our Baptist churches are on their way to an eternity in hell because they are lost and undone. Proof? Most do not demonstrate a desire or passion to witness to those that are lost, probably because they are lost themselves. The blind cannot lead the blind. This was my experience in my last church. They accused me of things that I did not do. They lied to my face about many things. They said people complained about me, but when I asked them to let me know who these people were, they would not answer me and they accused me of not visiting someone in the hospital, but yet, they did not tell me that this particular person was sick! On and on it goes. When I confronted them about how they don’t witness and how they are lack fire and a zeal for the Lord, they just sat there and made excuses. I believe most deacons will be in the crowd that Jesus will say these words, “Depart from Me, I NEVER KNEW YOU.”
    If this comes across bitter and angry, it is not meant to be that way. I am only sharing with you my last experience and let me say, it was not an experience that I would like to repeat! and I would not wish for any other pastor to deal with. To end on a positive note, I am happy to say that I am in a good healthy church with deacons that are saved and living for Jesus. They support me and my vision for the church.

    • John, I’ve experienced this as well. I think it stems from a large problem in our SBC churches of the improper role of deacons . Many deacons are mini-elders who make up the church calender, budget and take on other administrative/ ministerial decisions that are not theirs to make, instead of serving the physical needs of the body. But many times pastors are afraid to correct this misunderstanding or confront those deacons who are not qualified to serve.

      • In fairness to the deacons, they take on these roles because the pastors come and go so often(short stay of 2-3 years) and then a new pastor arrives. The deacons are there for the long haul so the church looks to them for leadership because too many pastors are not there long enough to establish a leadership position. The Lord has allowed me to serve 3 churches as pastor. Thankfully there has never been any conflict with the deacons. I always begin the first meeting with deacons to challenge them that I am there for them and that we must serve as a team. I teach servant leadership. I make the effort to become one of them, get dirty and work with them, share my life with them, and stay until God moves me to another church. It takes years to show the church that you love them, but it is worth it for the relationships that you build. I love my church and I know that they would fight for me as well. I am blessed!

  • Jessi Wallace says on

    As the children’s ministry leader in our little church of 200 members, I run into #10 the most and have had a few run-ins with #4. It can be very discouraging when we have a lack of volunteers willing to serve our children, but I also try to make sure that we have teachers who are truly called to the ministry and that we’re not just begging anyone and everyone to come teach. One thing I’ve learned is that just because someone is a parent, it doesn’t mean they are good with other people’s children nor does it mean they are called to teach them in a classroom setting. It’s a very sensitive role in the church and one that I take very seriously when it comes to expectations of the teachers in regard to spiritual maturity and behavior. For our volunteers, it means they need to be at church from 8:30 AM until 12:30 PM, as they need to attend 1 service and then serve in the opposite service. The preference of “I just want to attend 1 service and leave” sometimes trumps, and that is very discouraging for me as a leader. The Lord always provides though, and even through the tough times where it feels like we’re stretched thin on volunteers and people are dropping out for one reason or another, I can see Him moving. He is always glorified and always provides exactly what we need. He teaches me along the way to see that He knows who we need in the ministry.

  • Scott Newman says on

    Yet, as difficult as these stresses are to bear, they are a means of growth if we persevere. Many have before us. We’re not the first, and should Jesus tarry, we won’t be the last. Faithfulness is its own fruit.

    For me, disappointed from my own failed expectations from ministry, has made joy in the Gospel the single, most precious and most certain treasure. Everything else fails to satisfy.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Well said, Scott.

    • I agree that a pastor needs to persevere in the face of discouragement, but I would use caution regarding #8. As important as your ministry is, your family is more important. When people are attacking your family, they may sow seeds of resentment in your wife and your kids that could reap a very bitter harvest. Furthermore, if church members are willing to stoop to such tactics, you may be in a no-win situation.

  • Mark Dance says on

    Since the best antidote to discouragement is encouragement, I will make a point to personally encourage five pastors today.

  • Wow! If I were to come up with a list it wouldn’t have varied much with the replies that you received. I would add a lack of response to biblical leadership. Having been impacted by God when I first became pastor of Living Water Baptist Church almost 17 years ago concerning the call to prayer I have found a lack of willingness to come together for an hour a week to pray. Now I am seeking to lead in an evangelistic effort using Billy Graham’s DVD on heaven and am trusting that there will be a following.

    I wonder what the size of the churches of all that responded and if things different in larger churches than smaller. The church that I pastor is bumping up against the 100 barrier and I suspect that the problems might be different than that of larger churches.

    Thanks to all the pastors that responded and thanks Thom for the conversation.

  • I worked as a church administrator for more than 25 years. One of my biggest frustrations were people who thought the church staff were their personal servants. I’ve had people ask me to type up 150 nametags for their family reunion, balance their checkbook, watch their kids so they can get some rest, type their family Christmas mailing list and letter, spend an hour locating something they want to borrow and then have to return the item back to its proper location on the church campus. I’ve even had pastors take advantage as well, asking me to call every auto rental location in town to find a van for their family vacation (this was pre-internet), take their laundry to the cleaners, and run all sorts of personal errands for them. I know that we are called to be servants, but come on – this is a bit much!

    • John Crawford says on

      Hello Beth: That just sounds insane! Unless it was given to you in a “written” job description, you should have not been expected to be a church “bell hop.”
      I would not have done all that. You are much more patient than I would have been.

      God Bless you!

    • Beth, many of us small-church pastors feel your pain. Some years ago I had been running errands all day (it was my day off), so I was looking forward to spending a quiet evening at home. When I came home there was a message on my answering machine. A lady from my church said some of them wanted to attend a revival at another church, and they asked if our church van would be running that night (in other words, she wanted to know if I would drive them to the revival!). I didn’t even return the call. A wise pastor has to know when to say “no”, and the same goes for other staff members.

  • According to, micromanaging is “to manage or control with excessive attention to minor details”. Encarta online dictionary defines micromanaging as “attend to small details in management: to control a person or a situation by paying extreme attention to small details.” Micromanaging causes undue stress on both the manager and his staff.

    Let’s face it, most senior pastors claim to be called by God to pray, preach, and teach the Gospel. They are the spiritual leaders of the church, not the organizational leaders. However, at least in my experience, especially in the larger churches, the senior pastor approves all business of the church. Staff members are afraid to breath without his authority.

    Micromanagers are like many other addicts they fail to realize and will not admit that their addiction is in controlling others. If you remain silent you risk disassociation with the purpose of your job and there are negative consequences, including effects on your health and of course your boss accuses you of not having any initiative.

    By setting his own rules, policies and procedures he creates a state of confusion which gives him total control over his people. It might be that he does not have adequate knowledge of organizational governance or that he simply wants to dictate all actions throughout the entire church. Over-controlling is leading through intimidation. Many volunteers in the church are trained professionals, well educated, creative, and motivated when properly supported. However, when they work under overly restrictive rules their ability to produce fails. Demands to comply with nontraditional policies will rob professional volunteers of time and energy.

    Unfortunately, we live in a highly litigious world and certain rules, background checks, and other worldly practices are imposed on the church. These “laws” detract from the “heart” principles that we as Christians live by. The imbalance is just as the Scriptures Romans 7:1-25 describes – a struggle between flesh and spirit.

    Discouragement is self-imposed. We are not of this world. Our home is above. We need to find rest in the Lord by living like Jesus.

    • Drew Dabbs says on

      My experience has been a little different than yours. I don’t have much experience in the larger churches, so I can’t speak for what does or doesn’t happen in them.
      That said, of the pastors I know personally (and I know quite a few), I don’t know any who are addicted to control. If any of them are micro-managers, they are only so out of necessity.
      In many (most?) small-ish churches, pastors are expected to be jacks-of-all-trades. Some, out of necessity, must attend not only to their pastoral duties but also to many other duties that fall outside the areas of their callings, giftedness, and expertise.
      For instance, some pastors must also do the youth ministry, teach Sunday School and Discipleship Training, sing in the choir, assist in preparation and administration of the budget, and do much of the “secretarial” work, all in addition to doing the work of pastor. I personally know one pastor who also has to lead worship, since the minister of music passed away. Often, pastors’ spouses are heavily invested in the ministry of the church, as well. This usually means that whatever area the spouse is invested in, the pastor is also invested in that area.
      Again, I simply have a different experience than you. With the vast majority of pastors I know, if they seem to be micromanagers, it’s only out of necessity. Because there are not enough willing and able servants to do the things that need to be done, the pastor must wear many hats, which can make the pastor seem like a micro-manager.
      I hope this alternative perspective makes sense, and I hope it’s somewhat helpful.

    • “Because there are not enough willing and able servants to do the things that need to be done, the pastor must wear many hats, which can make the pastor seem like a micro-manager.”

      AMEN!!!! With many pastors, it’s a Catch-22. If they take a strong leadership role, they’re accused of “micromanaging”. If they delegate things to others, they’re accused of laziness. When people are determined to find fault with you, nothing you do will please them.

  • Jeff Glenn says on

    Great list! Personally, I struggle with #2, 3, 4 and 10.

  • Heartspeak says on

    I grieve!

    As Paul said so long ago, “Brothers, this ought not so to be!”

    There is no one root cause here that can be ‘fixed’ by a magic want nor by a single request before the Throne of Grace. Society, selfishness, misplaced priorities, there are many problems both inside and outside the church that contribute to this list.

    We’ve made church attenders, not disciples. Collectively, the current method of practicing the local church model depends on and expects too much from one man. Who can bear it?

    May God reveal to each of us, the role, the action, the opportunity to effect change where we are. May His will be done in each of us.

    Of this I’m confident, He is building His church but it may not look like what we presume it to be. Many are the tares amongst the wheat, and the Enemy is on the prowl. Be strong, brothers!

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