When Pastors Doubt Their Leadership Ability

It is a key issue in pastoral leadership today. 

Here is a quote from a pastor I coach. It is indicative of this issue: “I don’t feel like I am leading well. Sometimes I wonder if God’s anointing and calling is no longer on my life.”

That pastor is not alone. As I work with these pastors, I hear similar themes. What is taking place? Why are doubts creeping into their minds and hearts? Though I am certainly not all-knowing, I do see five key reasons for the doubts. Let’s look at each of them.

1. Attendance is declining or growing too slowly. While this concern was present before the pandemic, it has been pervasive since 2020. While some may argue that we shouldn’t focus on numbers, we must focus on obedience to the Great Commission. Most often that obedience results in numerical growth. The reality, however, is that growth is more difficult than it ever has been in our lifetimes. Cultural Christianity is all but gone. Transfer growth is minimal. It is indeed a new world for churches and her leaders.

2. It is increasingly difficult to get committed volunteers. Most pastors feel this pain point deeply. Commitment levels are waning. One of the issues that exacerbates this problem is the failure of many churches to reduce their activities and programs that make a meaningful difference. Churches should not expect members to volunteer for programs and committees that really have no meaningful purpose.

3. Pastors are wearier than they’ve ever been. Many pastors interpret this post-pandemic weariness to be a sign that they are no longer effective in their ministry. Others feel like the weariness is an indicator of a waning call. Neither are necessarily true. The reality is that the pandemic and its aftermath created angst and, often, depression. It’s more normal than most pastors realize.

4. The critics are louder and more frequent. I have overwhelming anecdotal evidence that this reality is a clear and present pain point for church leaders, particularly pastors. Keep in mind that the weariness and, perhaps, depression, many pastors feel is also felt by church members. They too are hurting. And pastors are often a convenient target to direct their anger.

5. Church giving is declining. This reason has many of the same roots as declining attendance. But declining giving likely has many immediate consequences. Ministries are cut. Personnel are let go or moved to part time. Mission giving by the church declines. And, in many cases, pastors themselves must take pay cuts or move to bivocational status.

These issues are real and present. The pain is undeniable. 

It is time for major leadership adjustments among pastors. These changes are not a sign of poor leadership; they are signs of needed leadership changes. Even Moses had to change his leadership approach in the wilderness. For that, we are ever thankful for his father-in-law, Jethro.

I am moving much of my focus to working directly with pastors to help them make leadership adjustments. I am not smarter than they are. But I do have the joy of hearing from thousands of pastors and church leaders every year. And Church Answers continuously does research on churches and the culture in which they engage.

I am opening ten new coaching spots to work with pastors, church leaders, and denominational leaders to share what we’ve learned about the changes churches and church leaders must make. I will begin by introducing the Simple Church Growth Model ™, which combines the incredible Great Commission ministry of The Hope Initiative with the clutter-removing discipleship of Simple Church. If you desire to be one of the ten leaders in this coaching cohort, sign on the link below.

Thom is opening ten spots for church and denominational leaders to introduce the Simple Church Growth Model ™. He will lead this cohort himself. The cost is $250/month for six months and includes Platinum membership at Church Answers. First come, first serve. Join today: https://churchanswers.com/solutions/coaching/cohorts/the-simple-church-growth-model/

Posted on November 27, 2023

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.
More from Thom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  • Something that did it for me years ago as a young pastor was constant unreconciled conflict within the church. I was told that it was building up before my arrival, but despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get the parties involved to reconcile after I became aware of it. No one gave me a heads-up about it, but let me discover it on my own. After I became aware of it (still in my honeymoon phase), I was told that the former pastor was to blame. Soon, I became the person blamed for the continued unreconciled conflict. It caused me to doubt myself and wonder if the church would have been better off had I never come there. I was frozen in fear of doing anything else that might add gasoline to the fire. It’s a terrible and lonely feeling. You feel taken hostage by people’s fleshly desire to have to be considered right.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Jeff –

      I can feel the pain of your situation. I would love to hear what ultimately transpired since it took place years ago.

      • I didn’t mean to bleed-out on your page. I guess your article triggered me a bit.
        After I departed that church, I attempted to give my successor a heads-up (I debated in my mind if that was appropriate, but decided I might give him the benefit of knowing up-front what I had to learn on my own), but he was hearing none of what I had to say. He came across as knowing everything about it, so I left it alone. Though, I will say that years later when we finally met at a funeral, he had a less arrogant approach towards me. It’s my understanding that church still struggles to this day and is only sustained by “old money.” Most of the people involved in that conflict have either moved on or are now dead.
        I moved onto a church that was a better situation for a couple of years before moving onto becoming a correctional chaplain. I think my wife and I needed that experience to restore our confidence in the local church and get rid of the bitter taste. Believe it or not, in nearly 11 years as a correctional chaplain, I have felt far better treatment and support than I did working on church staff.

      • Thom Rainer says on

        Thanks, Jeff. This sentence is telling: “In nearly 11 years as a correctional chaplain, I have felt far better treatment and support than I did working on church staff.”

  • Insightful list, Thom. I’ve experienced/observed each of those. In your fourth point, you allude to the fact that congregational members are “hurting too.” True. Some of that hurt has evolved into panic and then behavior can become very unpredictable. The pastor where we attend was forced out by a panicking board. It’s not that they didn’t have reason to be concerned. But in their panic, they abused process which fostered distrust within the congregation.

    Difficult times.