Novice Pastors Often Encounter These Struggles

Does anything on this list surprise you?
Does anything on this list surprise you? (iStock photo )

A couple years ago, I spent several hours with a group of young pastors. It was a cross representation of church planters and pastors of established churches—healthy churches and unhealthy; growing, plateauing and declining.

Most were new in their positions and I expect all these churches will be growing soon. It was a sharp group of people.

We talked about a lot of issues, but one of our longer discussions was when I asked them what their greatest struggle in ministry was at the current time. There were some incredible consistencies, actually more than I anticipated. Very different churches and very different pastors encounter very similar struggles.

I thought it was worthy of sharing here. A large majority of my readers are pastors. And, here is my word to you: You may not be as alone as you think. The title says "novice" pastors, and I chose it because this group was, but I suspect these are shared by pastors of all ages.

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Here are the five most common struggles among pastors:

1. Personnel issues. If the church has any paid staff other than the pastor, there will be issues for the pastor. I'm finding this portion of our work more demanding than ever. The longer I lead, the more complex this issue becomes, simply because of the changing laws and regulations placed on places of employmentincluding the church. 

I always advise younger leaders, especially those without a background in this issue, to seek professional help in this area, even if it has to be from outside the church.

2. Navigating bureaucracy. I think this is a particularly heavy burden on younger pastors. The generation entering the ministry is much like the generation entering the secular workforce. They want to do something, not meet about doing something. I share their heart, but granted this is one of the hardest ones to address. (Of course, the church planters didn't struggle with this as much.) 

I often advise young pastors in established churches to write some of their best sermons around casting vision about how we should spend our time as pastors. Jesus seemed to teach and model quite extensively about our need to reach the lost. The Bible doesn't record a lot of His time in committee. Acts gives good models of leadership and serving the people. People in the first century seemed to do a lot of the work we've placed on professional staff.

3. Balancing ministry and family time. This has always been a struggle. And, frankly, it should be. We need to work hardit's a good Biblical principleand we need to protect our family. There's another great Biblical principle. It requires a healthy art of balancing our time. This younger generation of ministers, however, won't automatically let the ministry trump their family, and I think that's a good thing. Ministers from my generation and older generations sometimes did. And many from these generations have told me they wish they hadn't after it was too late.

My advice to the younger pastor is to keep the heart for the balance, be very intentional with your schedule and use of time, and cast vision to the church continually of why you're not at everything and why your family is so important. The church needs this message, too, as they are equally in the struggle.

4. Developing leaders. This one seemed true regardless of the style of church. And, in my experience, it's true in most organizations. We are always in need of new leaders. You can't grow or even maintain without consistently developing new leaders. In a practical sense, leaders come and go, die or burnout. But it's also difficult to grow and develop as a body without growth in the number of leaders. 

I advised them to start systematically and strategically developing new leaders now. In fact, I think it's more important you have a systemeven if it's not perfectthan to do nothing. People typically learn best by doing. So in the absence of a formal leadership development program, at least start giving people with potential some assignments allowing them to lead and let them develop with on-the-job training.

5. Handling critics. Again, this one was shared less by the church planters, but the interesting twist is the criticism church planters received was typically from outside the church. Pastors in established churches seemed to receive most of their criticism from inside the church. (There's a whole blog post needed on my thoughts on this one.) But, either way, one thing all leaders have in common is criticism. Lead anything and critics will find you. You don't have to go looking for them. I love the passage in Exodus 24 where, as Moses was going to the mountain to spend time with God, he made a plan for how to handle disputes among the people.

Leadership involves change. And change always changes things. (You got that, right?) People often respond to change with an emotion—it could be anger, frustration or sadness—but it comes to us as what we've labeled criticism. I've learned sometimes it isn't as much against the leader as it is against their sense of loss, but either way it hurts. 

I always remind young pastors and leaders that we must find our strength in our calling, our purpose and in the pursuit of the vision God has placed in our hearts. We shouldn't ignore criticism. We should filter it. (And I've written on the right and wrong ways to respond to criticism.) But, we should not let criticism control usin our leadership or in our emotional stateeven though that is sometimes the intent of the critic. Part of leading is learning how to stay healthy even in the midst of criticism.

I loved my time with this group and repeated it several times.

Let me ask, was anything surprising about the list?

I also wondered, are seminaries addressing these issues? Should they?

Ron Edmonson is the senior pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. For the original article, visit ronedmondson.com.

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