Preaching Articles

“Is this valley I am going through normal for pastors?”


The question came to me directly from a pastor who was relatively new to his church. He was surprised how abruptly discouragement hit him. More than anything, he was seeking assurance that his situation was not an aberration, that he was not alone.

I hear from pastors and other church leaders thousands of times a year. Using this massive amount of information, I aggregated many of the comments related to discouragement. I attempted to quantify them and list them in order of frequency.

Here are the top ten sources of discouragement for pastors, recognizing some overlap among them. I included a direct quote from a pastor for each source.

  1. Conflict and criticism from church members. “I had no idea the number of critics would be so many. And some of them are really mean.”
  2. Members leaving the church. “It seems the more I invest in church members, the more likely they are to leave. It really hurts when they tell me they are going to another church that meets their needs better.”
  3. Church decline. “We have been in gradual decline for eight years. I wish I knew what to do to reverse it.”
  4. Staff conflict. “There are few things that hurt me more than staff conflict. These are the men and women I work with every day. I hate it when we don’t get along.”
  5. Family pressures. “I wish I could get it right with my family. I always feel tugged in so many directions at the church that I fear I am neglecting them.”
  6. Members who are resistant to change. “Every single change I try to lead is met with opposition. I mean it. Every single time.”
  7. Personal financial pressures. “We bought a six-year old car with over 75,000 miles on it. We’ve already had three church members complain that we are living extravagantly. No, we are barely paying our bills with the salary I get from the church.”
  8. The comparison factor. “I know I shouldn’t compare myself to other pastors, but it can hurt when they seem to do so well while I am struggling so much. My wife told me to stop looking at Facebook.”
  9. Church financial pressures. “Our budget receipts have declined to the point where we are barely paying our bills. We don’t have any funds for ministry, and we will probably have to lay off the part-time assistant at the church. I didn’t learn how to deal with these kinds of financial pressures at seminary.”
  10. Facility challenges. “Most of our facilities are old and in need of a lot of work. Our sanctuary is too big, and our foyer is too small. I am embarrassed when guests go into our restrooms. There is so much to do and not enough money. It’s depressing.”

Pastors have pressures. These are the top ten from the interactions we have. But I am certain there are more.

Probably a lot more.

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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