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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  • Reginald Gabel says on

    All but 7 and 9 are hitting me squarely. Followed a pastor who was at the church for 33 years. 5 years before he left worship averaged 150, just before he left 35. After 2 years we are at 55-60 for worship, but not without these things taking a great deal out of us. My heart aches for the members but it is taking a heavy toll on my wife and myself. We are a point where 1/2 wants to move forward and 1/2 wants to keep it as it has been for the past 10 years or so, or they want someone else to do it. There is so much possibilities but few to do it, if the controllers will allow it done. It is as if they are tolerating us, so they can have a preacher. It is the feeling of, “we are doing fine the way we are”. Please pray for us and the church.

    • Dave Lodwig says on

      Reginald, I pastor in a very similar situation as you. A year and a half ago, at the request of my denomination, I moved from a growing church plant to a stagnant older church and became their pastor. I knew the challenges ahead of me trying to bring an air of change to a church that was founded before the 20th century, but that still doesn’t prepare you for the massive amount of frustration and discouragement that comes with it. If you try something to kick-start the church, and it doesn’t work, then you are second guessed. If you find success in something else, than the naysayers quickly find another area to complain about. Sometimes it seems like we’re just running in sand.

      Be encouraged by this: recently I spoke with Larry Osborne, the author of Sticky Church. In his first three years at North Coast in San Diego, they grew numerically by one person, going from 200 to 201 attenders. However, they actually grew by 101 people. The 100 that left because they couldn’t get on board with the vision of the church moving forward were eventually offset by those that believed in the new vision there. Today, North Coast has over 9,000 people that call it home and Larry is influencing a new generation of pastors.

      Listen, about 70% of Christians in America attend a church like yours and mine. We are the reality of church in our country. Every Monday morning, when you ask yourself why you are putting yourself through this, just know that most other pastors out there are doing the same thing. This is why James told us to consider our suffering for Christ to be “pure joy”. God will use you – He already is. You’ve nearly doubled in size in two years. That’s off the charts! But more importantly, you are correcting the hearts and minds of God’s most precious creations. He cares about what you are doing, and He won’t casually watch your efforts from afar. Inwardly, we all want church growth to be easy and fast, but since we deal with people – and particularly people who abhor the idea of life moving too fast – it will never be as easy as we want it. Keep the faith, never give up!

  • Brother Thom,
    I have never commented on a blog before on the internet, so today is my first 🙂 I just felt compelled to respond back to your article. I have recently been reading your book “Autopsy of a Deceased Church” and it has really challenged me. I currently serve at a small Church that I believe is dying because of preferences and a lost attitude of reaching out to others. I find constant resistance to the point of where I am tired of fighting. I can already tell how a board meeting will go, how each board member will respond, and almost word for word, action for action that is how it plays out. There is a spirit of apathy. We talk like we care and we preach like we care, but inactivity drowns us. Deeds must back up words.
    This article encourages me because I know I”m not the only one who dreads going to a monthly board meeting because you already know how it will pan out., but it discourages me that so many good men are in this situation and leaving ministry in droves because of discouragement. I used to judge men that left ministry, deeming them as weaker, but now after nearly ten years of Christian ministry I find that the weight is at times almost unbearable, and I keep on hand a resignation letter. It breaks my heart constantly for what I know in my heart can happen, but what I know is happening (or isn’t happening). Thank you for this article, it gave me something to chew on. Would appreciate your prayers, as I will also be praying for you and your ministry. I was also wondering if you could suggest any material on encouragement for pastors and potentially Church planting. My wife and I have been praying about God’s direction in that regard and thought I would ask. Thanks for your constant encouragement!

  • Very obvious in all of this is the reality that ministry/church/religion/Christianity is no different from the rest of human existence. And the most simple explanation of that is almost certainly the true one — that there is nothing special about Christianity, it doesn’t change a thing or have any special powers, and in fact it is simply a human creation we have come up with to support us in getting through our lives. And also likely first established as a means of controlling people. To expect it to have magical aspects will of course lead to disappointment, frustration, etc. And to claim more complicated explanations for the lack of magic/difference such as “tests of faith,” “means of growth,” “signs of wrong focus,” “temptations/faith challenges from Satan,” or any of the other means of clinging to church/faith in order to avoid the cognitive dissonance of leaving behind a world view many of us have been indoctrinated with since birth and are surrounded by constantly in our culture is unfortunately too often the path we choose. And the lack of courage in so many to acknowledge reality is a cause of great pain and even horror and death for many of us, suffering silently and unable to even share our newly clear view of the Emperor’s (lack of) clothing. The world will be far more beautiful some day when people can be as open about admitting that Christianity is no less a magical thought than the Nordic gods, Roman myths, Native American spirits, etc. etc. Currently, most of the same people who would laugh at beliefs in other magical things would also condemn, shun, refuse to hire or elect to public office the people who are open minded enough to see that all of these beliefs are the same!
    If people find church/religion this difficult, why not face truth and leave it? If some instead find church/religion too helpful to their existence to leave it, I hope they can do so while understanding that their path is no more correct than any other made up story people follow or have followed throughout human history.

    • CJ, you could not be more wrong. Christianity stands out from the other religions of this world because of Jesus Christ. Even secular historians admit that Jesus existed, and that He changed the course of human history (John 3:16). He gave His life on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead, and through Him we have life and hope beyond the grave. Yes, we in the ministry often get discouraged, but our faith in Christ enables us to keep going. Furthermore, we have assurance that this world is not our home. Our God has prepared a better place for us (John 14:1-6).

      You’re probably thinking, “But what if you’re wrong?” To which I respond, “But what I’m RIGHT?”

      • Everyone who believes a thing shares the same belief that her/her belief is somehow different. Of course they do, or why would they believe what they do over something else? And many other religious beliefs even also share the base in a human who did live on earth. (I anticipate that the next thought of a Christian reading this might be that those others weren’t at the same time “God.”) Many of the claims of difference (such as that ‘no others were both human AND God” one) are simply matters of semantics; many others are not even actually differences when viewed with a completely objective eye. They are tritisms we cling to in order to save ourselves from the cognitive dissonance that can come with truly looking objectively at reality.
        What if one of the multitude of other religions is right? Why should that not bother/affect a person as much as the chance that Christianity might? The only reason I can see would be if there were proof one was true and/or the (probably most “powerful,” or best at harnessing humans’ fears) idea that if one doesn’t choose (the correct) Christianity, one will face an eternal cost. Which only demonstrates that nothing about Christianity is free. Christian belief includes the largest requirement of all — a mental one that is beyond even the control of many/most/all? people and that is certainly determined most commonly by the place and conditions of one’s birth and upbringing. It took me 45 years of intense Christian belief to come to have my own veil lifted and see this.

      • Reginald Gabel says on

        Ken, remember, the foolish are blind to the truth. Until they have the “faith” we share, they will try to explain God by earthly thought. His way (God’s) is not our ways, so we cannot use man’s way to prove God… it is a matter of faith, something that CL seems not to have. I do not have to defend God… He will do that Himself. I agree with your thoughts and words. Keep your eyes on our Savior.

  • Being a pastor’s wife, the daughter of a pastor/evangelist, the grand-daughter of a pastor/circuit preacher, the niece of a missionary/evangelist, the sister-in-law of a pastor, the daughter-in-law of a pastor … I think you get the picture … Thank you. This is sad, but oh, so true. One bit of statistic you may find interesting, I was reading a Christian magazine years ago and it stated that of all “occupation’s wives”, pastor’s wife was second only to surgeon’s wives for suicide. So they are saying, surgeon’s wives commit suicide most of all occupation’s wives, but pastor’s wives were a close second. I wish I could give you the references on that, but it’s been too many years. Needless to say, being in the ministry is not for the faint of heart. Even as a teen I told my dad I never wanted to marry a pastor, but when we married he WASN’T a pastor. 27+ years later … God has a sense of humor which presses me. lol Thanks for writing this article and keep up the good work. ~Faith

  • John Little says on

    I would add “Justified Absenteeism”, You know, “we have family in, so we can’t attend church”…”our kids have a game so we have to be out of town”…”it’s deer season, you know”…”we have to (fill in the blank) so we can’t keep our church commitment.” Just a couple of weeks ago I got a call at 8:30 on Sunday morning stating “I decided to take my wife on an overnight trip for her birthday…could you get someone to teach our Sunday School class?” This stuff drives me crazy. Everyone has plenty of time to do what THEY want…just a little weak on giving time to what GOD wants them to do.

  • I’ve been a pastor for 19 years, and I can identify with every single item on this list. Some time ago a former member of my church was posted something on Facebook talking about how a church is a family, and you have to stick together even when you disagree. I just shook my head, because that same man left our church for a very trivial reason.

    Regarding #8, if church members are trying to get to you by attacking your wife and family, it probably is time for you to look for another place of service. Such people clearly do not respect boundaries, and you’re probably fighting a losing battle. It’s too high a price to pay.

    One final comment to Dr. Rainer: you say you wish you could do more to encourage pastors. I think I speak for many when I say these blogs are a HUGE encouragement. I know I blow quite a bit of steam on these blogs, but I’m glad to have a place where I can do so in the presence of people that understand. Keep up the good work, Dr. Rainer!

  • Jeff Pospisil says on

    I love this list. It’s a good reminder of how we can support our clergy. Two things that I’ve done or seen done that have helped some of this is:

    1)For the monthly business meeting, we start out by naming specific examples of where we’ve seen God at work in/through the church. The whole meeting starts well and seems to run more positively.

    2)Once in a blue moon I remember to write the pastor or another spiritual mentor a personal note to either thank them for their ministry and what it has meant to me & my family…specifically or to compliment them on how I see God working through them…specifically. This I should do much more often.

  • #9 does not apply as I am the lone staff member, but I do deal with the same dynamic with volunteers. I regularly deal with all the others. Thanks for sharing this list. I wish that you were hot or cold but you are neither, you are making me sick to my stomach.

  • Jannetta Eberhart says on

    I totally get this. We are a small church…2 staff members. The pastor and I are the only staff members. I have a full time job in addition to being the corporate administrator of the church. People come up to me all the time and say things like ” you ought to…..” or “the church ought to….” or “why don’t you…..”. When I say, “that’s a great idea, why don’t you run with it” I never hear another word about it. As a small church, we need all of the volunteers we can get. I only have 2 people that I can count on to teach the children. When we ask for more volunteers we never hear a word. It can be so frustrating when people say, if you would do this or that we would grow more but, we can’t get anyone to help.

    • I’ve run into that many times, especially at my last church. When I suggested the person do something about the problem instead of complaining, I would often get something like, “Well, I don’t have time, but someone needs to do it. If they don’t, I just might find another church.” When people said that, it took every last ounce of resistance to keep me from saying, “Well, there’s the door!”