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It may be one of the most difficult jobs in the world. Indeed, it may be an impossible job to do in our own strength.

I know. Before I was LifeWay’s president or a seminary dean, I served as pastor of four churches.

I know. I have heard from countless pastors in countless churches. Their stories are similar to mine. So I asked the question: What specific part of being a pastor is the most difficult for you? Here are my five tough challenges for pastors.

  1. Responding graciously to someone right before you preach. The pastor has put hours into the sermon. He has prayed for God’s power for that moment. He is focused on God’s Word and its proclamation. All of his energy is devoted to the upcoming moment. Then someone rushes up to him with a piece of paper and says. “Pastor, you need to announce about the garage sale we’re having this week.” Most of the times I showed grace. A few times I did not and showed something else.
  2. Knowing what do with a staff member who is not making a vital contribution to the church. Many churches will not let leaders make the tough decision of letting a staff member go, even if he is not really productive and is obviously an ill fit for the ministry and the church. Such a move is considered “un-Christian” and will not be tolerated, even if it would ultimately be best for that staff member. Many pastors have lost their own jobs when they made such a move. So we often move those persons to innocuous, low-accountability positions, even though we know it is poor stewardship.
  3. Loving a person in the church when that person is your critic. We want to be Christ-like and love people unconditionally. I admit that I often saw those people through their critical words instead of seeing them through the eyes of Christ.
  4. Preparing more than one quality sermon a week. When I was a pastor I had to prepare a Sunday morning sermon, a Sunday evening sermon, and a Wednesday evening Bible message. Frankly, it took all I had to prepare one good message. I know many churches no longer have the Sunday evening preaching service, but tens of thousands of pastors still prepare more than one message a week.
  5. Doing the funeral of a person who was not a Christian. We can always hope the person had a deathbed conversion of which we are not aware. And we can always preach messages of comfort to the family and friends. But it is extremely difficult to talk about the deceased if he or she was lost.

What are some of the most difficult times for you as a pastor? Feel free to comment in anonymity if you wish. Pastors, what wisdom can you share with other pastors regarding these challenges? And laypersons, what can you or your church do to support these pastors?

Thom Rainer is the president of LifeWay Christian Resources and the co-author of Transformational Church: Creating a New Scorecard for Congregations.
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Talk about it...

Aaron C. Peer

commented on Jun 25, 2012

Ministry IS tough. Join us at "The Pastor Survival Guide" as we discuss how to survive in ministry www.pastorsurvivalguide.com.

David Buffaloe

commented on Jun 25, 2012

To keep loving and preaching to a Church that refuses to be outreaching, missional, or forgiving. Pastoring Churches that are "we four, no more" in mentality.

Keith B

commented on Jun 25, 2012

Good article.

Jb Bryant

commented on Jun 25, 2012

Number 5 brought back a memory of my first funeral. I was still in seminary, wrapping up my M.Div. with a practicum. Under a pastor's shepherding, I had to "do" as many aspects of church ministry as possible during the semester. I secretly hoped no one would die from the congregation. Unfortunately, someone did. One of the most well-recognized, involved lay leaders of the congregation committed suicide. That was my first funeral. Ouch.

Keith B

commented on Jun 25, 2012

I, too, did my first funeral while I was still in school. A dear friend of my wife and I had moved out of state, but her unchurched parents were still in town. I was told to keep it short, but I did present the Gospel. I did not address the question of where the deceased was...but I wasn't going to miss the chance to preach the Gospel.

Josh Hunt

commented on Jun 25, 2012

I knew one pastor that never talked to ANYONE till after he preached. The needs of the many. . .

Robert Hasselbring

commented on Jun 25, 2012

In regards to #5, unfortunately the general populace thinks that everyone is going to heaven; that "being good" is the primary requirement. When questioned about a loved one's destiny, I respond that God is gracious, holy, righteous and perfect in all his ways. He is the Eternal Judge and always does the right thing. We entrust your loved one into his care. RJH

Mark Vanburen

commented on Jun 25, 2012

The hardest message i ever preached was my grand-daughter's father?s funeral. He was 20 years old, unsaved and the congregation was 90 percent high school students, many of which were friends of my daughter and un-saved as well. I presented the hope of Jesus...but man was that hard.

Arthur Dobbin

commented on Jun 25, 2012

The hardest thing is to love those who say they support you but their actions show they do not. I am interested in the comment by David Buffaloe, do you have a solution because that sounds so much like the folk I minister to.

David Buffaloe

commented on Jun 25, 2012

Arthur Dobbin - After praying with and seeking advice from other godly ministers, the only good answer I received was to keep preaching God's Word and guard my spiritual life carefully lest I be dragged down into the same pit. God can change the heart but we can't. His Word is able - so I preach and pray, though many days I just want to walk away.

Niran Seriki

commented on Jun 25, 2012

With respect to the first point, I think it is better to pass such responsibility of making announcement to someone else and the people should be taught to respect the hour before the delivery of the Word.

Dennis Cocks

commented on Jun 25, 2012

Numbers 4 and 5 are tough. I just preached a funeral of someone I wasn't sure was saved (didn't know him) this morning. It is always very tough when you are not sure. I preach Sunday morning, evening and Wednesday Bible study. Very taxing at times.

Michael James Monaghan

commented on Jun 25, 2012

K.B shouldn't have had a problem 'where the deceased was' . Why he was there in the coffin in front of of him and the congregation . Later the deceased would be buried or cremated . he deceased will stay DEAD until the resurrection and the judgement . The idea that a dead person is still somehow alive is not the belief of all christians and needs to be debated and put right at some point where the Reformation stopped short - perhaps ?.

Dennis Cocks

commented on Jun 25, 2012

Michael James Monaghan, the belief that a person is still alive when he leaves the body is certainly what the Bible teaches. Paul said in 2 Corinthains 5:6, 8 "Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord...We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, AND TO BE PRESENT WITH THE LORD." Also read about the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. The rich man died and in hell lifted up his eyes being in torments. Lazarus died and was immediately in Paradise.

Gordon Dorsey

commented on Jun 25, 2012

SHALOM BROS yes being apastor is a tough job,one week all seems like it`s going well the next week it`s seems as if the church is in trouble.As a pastor iam leaning to just trust GOD.people can come to your church and give the impression they will come and worship at your church then they never show? we pastors have to just rely on GOD we work hard preparing the message and then the congregation seems as if they dont care it`s hard i ask my congregation to pray for me i need it.this is the hardest work i have ever done in my life......BUT IN SAYING ALL THAT I LOVE THIS BRINGING THE WORD TO GODS PEOPLE AND TO THOSE WHO DONT KNOW GOD I WOULD NOT TRADE IT FOR ANYTHING MY FELLOW PASTORS KEEP PREACHING DONT FAINT AND YOU WILL RECEIVE A BLESSING. SHALOM SHALOM

Michael James Monaghan

commented on Jun 26, 2012

Dennis , thanks for your response. You are 'certain' now that the Bible teaches life after death , apart from the resurrection ! But have you ever researched the subject , or is your doctrine that of the traditions of your past ?. There are a number of teaching booklets by christians about the meaning of the Rich man and Lazarus and the whole subject of the 'intermediate state'. Why not embark on the research and you may yet look forward to and preach the resurrection when we will be alive again just as the Lord Jesus arose from the dead was was alive again from the dead. :)

Cn D

commented on Jun 26, 2012

One other major challenge that faces ministers of the word that should have been added in the list is being married to an impossible or unsupportive spouse...Most pastors don't get to disclose this one as they keep it secretly to themselves, although it can be be visible to the congregation and fellow colleagues...

Cn D

commented on Jun 26, 2012

One other major challenge that faces ministers of the word that should have been added in the list is being married to an impossible or unsupportive spouse...Most pastors don't get to disclose this one as they keep it secretly to themselves, although it can be be visible to the congregation and fellow colleagues...

Paul L. Nachtigall

commented on Jun 26, 2012

A wise man once told me - "Always remember to love the brethren." It can be tough, but it can be done. A pastor is never closer to Christ than when love is at the very foundation of all they do. Loving the one who is not following God's will - the one who stands against you - the one who causes issues within the church - can be difficult, but not impossible. It is in love that Christ has called us. It is in love that we should respond.

Dennis Cocks

commented on Jun 26, 2012

Along the same lines as CN D expressed, the ministry takes an enormous toll on our family at times. Our wives can become so discouraged that they wish you would just quit the ministry. But thank God my wife, while feeling this way during conflicts has always gotten through it and is very supportive.

Dennis Cocks

commented on Jun 26, 2012

Michael James writes, "There are a number of teaching booklets by christians about the meaning of the Rich man and Lazarus and the whole subject of the 'intermediate state'." Myself I will just take what Jesus says is true as fact. He never said this was a parrable or any such thing. So if Jesus said it I really don't care what other's interpretations may be. There are no portions of Scripture to support souls sleep.

Esse Johnson

commented on Jun 26, 2012

I continually am reminded of the key most important aspect of being a Christian, and of being a Christian minister: the love and presence of God. I have experienced spending all week pouring over a message or a plan for worship, literally to the neglect of 'delighting myself in the Lord,' and that is the reason, and the only reason, I can snap at a person, beloved of and even sent by the Lord to distract me from my own plan. Pastors shepherd sheep. That job description is not prepare messages. It is love, equip, serve the sheep. Making that my #1 focus has changed everything. God is ABLE to give you His words!! The evidence of your faith in Him is your RESTING in Him, lest you believe you have done such great works and begrudge those who know nothing of it. The work belongs to God. Rest is ours. Hebrews 4. <3

Michael James Monaghan

commented on Jun 26, 2012

Dennis , lots of people say what they believe 'is what Jesus says is true ' but we have much more than the teaching of Jesus to Israel in the Bible . We have the doctrine as expounded and taught of the Apostles and Prophets too . If you say you are satisfied with the doctrine you already have and will take no heed to christians who think otherwise then you might go on teaching error when other christians once thought and taught as you do , But now do not. I must respect your but do not be afraid research to either confirm more strongly your view or , as others have done, found those views are not as accurate as they thought ?.

Esse Johnson

commented on Jun 26, 2012

I continually am reminded of the key most important aspect of being a Christian, and of being a Christian minister: the love and presence of God. I have experienced spending all week pouring over a message or a plan for worship, literally to the neglect of 'delighting myself in the Lord,' and that is the reason, and the only reason, I can snap at a person, beloved of and even sent by the Lord to distract me from my own plan. Pastors shepherd sheep. That job description is not prepare messages. It is love, equip, serve the sheep. Making that my #1 focus has changed everything. God is ABLE to give you His words!! The evidence of your faith in Him is your RESTING in Him, lest you believe you have done such great works and begrudge those who know nothing of it. The work belongs to God. Rest is ours. Hebrews 4. <3

Dennis Cocks

commented on Jun 26, 2012

Michael, where do the prophets and apostles teach soul sleep? And are you suggesting we shouldn't listen to the teachings of Jesus? I already gave you what Paul said in 2 Corinthains 5:6, 8 "Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord...We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, AND TO BE PRESENT WITH THE LORD." What about when King Saul went to the woman with a familiar spirit in 1 Samuel 28:7-19? Who appeared? Samuel himself! He was very much alive. And he even told Saul that he would be with him that very day. Then how about Jesus' transfiguration in Matthew 17:1-6. Who appeared to talk to Jesus? Moses and Elijah. Again it seems they were very much alive also. Then how about when Jesus was being crucified in Luke 23:39-43. He told the thief that he would be with Jesus that day in Paradise. How could he be with Jesus if he wasn't alive? Everyone who dies bodily is VERY much alive in either heaven or hell. Ok, now give me your BIBLICAL references that teach soul sleep.

Michael James Monaghan

commented on Jun 27, 2012

Dennis , I have not said 'soul sleep' . That is something YOU have said and what you think I mean ?. But when God said , ' the soul that sins shall die ' It was Satan who said , 'No you wont' and, as I understand it , that 'no you wont' doctrine has infected christendom much .?. Paul's teaching ; all have sinned ; all die . Those who die are " his breath goes forth; he returns to (the) earth ;in that v e r y day , his thoughts perish " and " the dead know not anything " Ps 146; Ecc 9:5 . To be 'absent from the body ; present with the Lord may not mean immediate ?. We have to be absent from this body of sin , and put on our new body ?. When ? Resurrection . Moses and Elijah must have been temporarily resurrected ? to be present at the Lord's transfiguration ?. As for the thief , " I say to you today ; You shall be with me in paradise " How could the thief be in paradise or for that matter Jesus ? Both were about to die and Jesus at least would be put in a tomb and be there for three days and three nights and then rise from the dead . Dennis , the only person from earth that we KNOW is in heaven just now is Christ Jesus . He ascended there . And how can there be anyone from earth in that 'hell' untill the last judgement ?. They have to be in bodies ?. Even Satan and his angels are not there yet . Some are imprisoned awaiting their final judgment . ????> You don't need to debate here ; just re- examine what you currently hold - probably through denominational tradition ?.

Dennis Cocks

commented on Jun 27, 2012

Michael says, "Dennis , I have not said 'soul sleep' . That is something YOU have said and what you think I mean." Then what do you mean? What does the soul and spirit do while awaiting then resurrection?

David Buffaloe

commented on Jun 27, 2012

Also difficult as a pastor to keep people on topic, in business meetings or in forums like this :) Somehow the "Five Toughest Things" article has digressed into other fields not related to the subject at hand

Dennis Cocks

commented on Jun 27, 2012

David, I don't think the discussion has gotten too far off topic. Point 5 was about doing funerals. Part of the difficulty is knowing they were lost, or not being sure. K B said, "I did not address the question of where the deceased was." MJM answered him and I answered MJM. I think it is very important to know where a soul goes at death. Thus my challenge to MJM. Which is related to point 5 in the article. I also gave a couple of tough challenges I have faced in post 12 and post 20.

Michael James Monaghan

commented on Jun 27, 2012

Dennis , I was going o say it was not my intention to cross every t or dot every i for you , but stimulate you to embark on a study of the matter in hand ?. Regarding 'sleep' it has been drawn to my attention that the first reference regarding death- or the dead- is Mt 27:52 , where the bodies of the saints 'which slept' came out of their graves ?. Then Acts 7:60 Stephen 'fell asleep' . There are a number of references to 'falling asleep' in 1 Cor 15 - But I don't know if that answers your 'Soul sleep' question ?. as for what do the soul and spirit do whilst awaiting resurrection , Has man a soul- or is man a soul? I think the body plus the spirit =soul. Soul is the complete person . The body when dead returns to dust ; the spirit , breath- returns to God .

Fernando Villegas

commented on Jun 29, 2012

Dennis Cocks, in case you're still following this conversation, I'd like to respond to some of your posts. (1) You wrote: "Then how about Jesus' transfiguration in Matthew 17:1-6. (sic) Who appeared to talk to Jesus? Moses and Elijah. Again it seems they were very much alive also." Yes, they very much were alive, but that is irrelevant to your argument. Elijah was taken up to heaven without seeing death (2 Kgs 2:1-14); and Moses, although he died, was bodily resurrected by "Michael" (Jude 9). So neither were currently dead at the time of the Transfiguration. (2) You wrote: "He never said [the Rich Man and Lazarus] was a parrable or any such thing." He does not say it explicitly, but the figurative language used indicates that the story is a parable. There is a literal great chasm between Abraham and the Rich Man that none can pass, yet through which they are still able to literally communicate somehow?! Most evangelical scholars I'm aware of interpret this story as a parable. If you know any that don't, I'm willing to check out their argument. (3) You wrote: "There are no portions of Scripture to support souls sleep." Here's a few: Psalm 115:17, "The dead do not praise the LORD, nor do any who go down into silence." Ecclesiastes 9:5, "For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten." Ecclesiastes 12:7, "[A]nd the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it." We must keep in mind that the "spirit of God" is not the same as the "soul." As michael James Monaghan pointed out, according to Genesis 2, it is the union of the dust of the earth with the spirit (breath) of God that creates the soul. Death is the reversal of life, so that without that union of dust and spirit, the soul does not "go anywhere," it just simply ceases to exist. That is why the dead know nothing and cannot praise the Lord. There's more scriptural support, but this is enough to establish at least that there isn't "no portions." (4) I've got a question that I'm curious as to your answer. If the dead in Christ are immediately sent to heaven, what is the point of the resurrection of the dead at the end of time?

David Roten

commented on Jun 30, 2012

But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes......... Is is also a hard thing for the Pastor for we love to be "no it alls" :(

Michael James Monaghan

commented on Jun 30, 2012

Could the story of the ' Rich man and Lazarus ' be told not so much as a parable , but a parody of what the Pharisees doctrine was !! Then there was the other Lazarus , brother of Mary and Martha . he was dead but Jesus at times said ' he sleeps'. Later though Jesus says for those who were puzzled , 'Lazarus is dead '. And Martha believed that the next time Lazarus would be alive would be 'at the resurrection on the last day '. There was no suggestion that just his body lay in the grave DEAD , whist his spirit/soul lived alive somewhere else ! ?. But the Lord Jesus Christ intervened and Lazarus came forth from the grave, his earth life was lengthened . And he now awaits that resurrection to Eternal Life .

Chikkudu Ramulu

commented on Jul 1, 2012

Really Pastor's work is a tough Job.Once we surrendered to Gods call,we need to follow God's leading.We have to behave patiently like a parent.Be innocent as dove,and be clever as serpent.We should not bother about any thing but seek guidance from the Lord.

Esse Johnson

commented on Jul 1, 2012

Thanks, chikkudu, for your reminder. Tough morning... I needed it! Lord, all are in Your hands, including me, and especially Your Church!! Remind my heart to let it all go and watch as You get alllll the glory.

Fernando Villegas

commented on Jul 2, 2012

michael James Monaghan, you wrote, "Could the story of the ' Rich man and Lazarus ' be told not so much as a parable , but [as] a parody of what the Pharisees (sic) doctrine was !!" I had never thought of it that way before! It's certainly something to chew on...

Michael James Monaghan

commented on Jul 2, 2012

Fernando , Otis Sellers believes the 'Rich man and Lazarus ' is actually a satire with a serious intent . Otis deals with it thoroughly in his talk on matters which has become the norm for much of christendom. Otis Seller, The Rich man and Lazarus would be worth a visit online .

Michael James Monaghan

commented on Jul 13, 2012

hello. Hello ? Has everyone migrated to boards ? I wonder what T.R would preach if he thought the person in the coffin had had a 'deathbed conversion ? ' And fernando. You may have masticated and regurgitated and masticated again on your musings on the story of 'the Rich man and Lazarus ?' . I wonder if you reached any conclusions ?. I was reading something today and I noticed in 1 Corinthians 15: Paul says ...'If only in this life we have hope we are to be pitied more than all men''''If the dead are not raised ...... ' Can we conclude that Paul means that apart from Resurrection , their is no human life after death untill that event ?. If so , where does that leave the teaching that 'souls' of humans who have died are alive and conscious in either heaven , hell , purgatory or Limbo ?. :).

Fernando Villegas

commented on Jul 13, 2012

michael, as for the specific story (or parable?) of the Rich Man and Lazarus, I haven't looked into it that much recently. However, as to general conclusions, I do agree with you that the Bible teaches that "apart from Resurrection , their (sic) is no human life after death untill (sic) that event." That's been my interpretation of Scriptures my whole life. I may not have been clear about that in my earlier comments, so I helps this clarifies it. Blessings to you!

Michael James Monaghan

commented on Jul 15, 2012

Fernando , it is interesting that you have 'always' espoused the belief that their is no human life after death ,apart from resurrection . As you have said you have been preaching since you was 12 y.o and you at present have multiple churches to look after , Have you never preached on 'The Rich man and Lazarus ' ? And what was your aproach ?. You may also have conducted funeral services and had to play 'your cards' close to your chest ? :) as the bereaved love to think their departed are not dead but 'in heaven'. But you don't have to answer , Fernando . It's for us all to think about !!!! :) And thanks for your response .

Fernando Villegas

commented on Jul 16, 2012

michael, yes, I've preached on the Rich Man and Lazarus. The way I approach it is to explain to people that the point of the story is not teach the doctrine of a literal hell where the wicked go to immediately after death; but rather it was what Jesus said, that if one does not believe Moses and the Prophets (who do not teach the immortality of the soul), one will also not believe even if one is raised from the dead. In other words, it is Scripture, and not miraculous signs, which form the basis of our faith. The denomination I belong to, by the way, teaches this same doctrine, that the soul ceases to exist after death until the resurrection at the second coming of Christ. So that's the advantage I have at funerals, that most of us attending have that common ground. However, there's always those attending who do hold to the traditional beliefs that the dead are at that moment either in heaven or in hell, so I guess on some level I'd have to play my cards close to my chest, as you put it. Actually, a better way to put it would be simply that I realize that the context is not appropriate for a detailed critique of the traditional understanding. But when I speak, I place my emphasis on the hope of the future resurrection for those who have died in Christ.

Michael James Monaghan

commented on Jul 17, 2012

Thanks Fernado for that . It was very well put . I agree that doctrine should not be an opportunity or cause of contention . But a point of view that is sincerely held can be simply imparted without intent of offense :)

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