Navigating the 9 Common Tensions Pastors Face

Navigating these choices can be tricky. (Pixabay)

Every day, pastors and other church staff make intentional decisions about what is important in their lives and ministries. Often, the decisions they must make are between competing demands. These decision points are tensions in the lives of pastors and church staff. The directions they choose shape their ministries.

  1. Family time versus church time. Pastoral ministry is a 24/7 vocation. There is rarely real down time. Families often suffer because pastors and staff don't know how to say "no" to the expectations of the church.
  2. Office time versus time in the community. Church members often expect pastors and staff to be in the office and available for their needs. But pastors also need to be out of the office connecting with people in the community.
  3. Being a people-pleaser versus being a good steward. Well-intending church members often begin sentences with, "Pastor, we need to ..." Those sentences are expectations members have on pastors and staff. The temptation for many of these leaders is to say yes to most of the requests. But saying yes to everything means you will do nothing well.
  4. Visiting for crisis needs versus visiting for commonplace needs. I recently talked to a pastor who was berated by a church member because he didn't visit her when she had a simple outpatient procedure. And if I told you the procedure, you would understand that it would have been awkward for him to be there anyway.
  5. Counseling versus referral. Most pastors and church staff are not trained in counseling. But many church members want their pastor to provide counseling in a multiplicity of areas. It is often best to refer the church member to someone better-equipped to handle the situation, but not all church members receive that direction well.
  6. Spending time with church members versus spending time with non-Christians. Both are necessary, but pastors and staff have limited time, and they must choose how to balance ministry to Christians with incarnational presence with non-Christians.
  7. Local church ministry versus other ministries. Many pastors and staff are urged to be involved in denominational work, inter-church ministries, para-church ministries and mission endeavors. All may be worthy. All demand choices.
  8. Being prophetic versus being positive. On the one extreme is the pastor who is always proclaiming what is wrong with the world and culture. On the other extreme is the pastor who only wants to offer encouragement and hope and not address sin for what it is. The difficulty is finding the right balance.
  9. Long-term perspective versus short-term perspective. The types of decisions pastors and church staff must make are shaped by their own perspectives of their tenure at the church. It is not unusual for pastors to have uncertainty about their future at the church when they must make a decision that could have long-term implications.

These tensions are not between a good choice and a bad choice. They are between two good choices where one will be sacrificed for the other. It is easy to say that the pastor must seek balance; it is much more difficult to find that balance.

What other tensions would you add? How do you or your church leadership make such decisions?

Thom S. Rainer is the president of LifeWay Christian Resources. For the original article, visit

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