Common Pastoral Ministry Problems to Know & Avoid


Lord’s Library contributor Jared Helms offers this comprehensive study on common pastoral ministry problems to be aware of. Check out Jared’s YouTube channel and two blogs: A Light in the Darkness and Blind Faith Examples. Lord’s Library’s Ministry Leaders Series is a collection of contributed articles written by ministry leaders on key Christian topics.

Ministry Leaders Series Badge“Take heed to yourselves, because the tempter will more ply you with his temptations than other men. If you will be the leaders against the prince of darkness, he will spare you no further than God restraints him. He bears the greatest malice to those that are engaged to do him the greatest mischief. As he hates Christ more than any of us, because He is the General of the field, the Captain of our salvation, and does more than all the world besides against his kingdom; so does he hate the leaders under Him, more than the common soldiers: he knows what a rout he may make among them, if the leaders fall before their eyes.” From The Reformed Pastor (chapter 1, section 2) by Richard Baxter.

It is perhaps cliché to say that the role of pastor is one of the most difficult a man can be called to. It is a grave thing to proclaim God’s word to God’s people, to care for souls bought by the blood of Christ, and to be an example of faithful living to fellow followers. I am not sure anyone can understand the weightiness of such responsibilities unless they have undertaken them. Pastors do all of this in a fallen world. Because it is a fallen world things are often complicated in churches.

Pastors face many difficulties in their ministry with which we can empathize, and about which we might do something. This is one way for us to fulfill the command of Hebrews 13:17: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”

Our obedience honors God, and we doubly honor by appreciating the gift He has given us in our pastor. See Ephesians 4:11-13: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:”

We might also prolong the fruitful ministry of our pastors by better caring for them. At the same time, we ourselves might receive more from our pastors as we appreciate what struggles they overcome in order to minister to us. So, this promises to be a fruitful discussion for all of us. However, it is a difficult one. There are reasons we do often hear about these struggles from the pulpit: about which we have previously written.

The danger is not that we know too little, but that we have known enough. To complain is wrong, and to condemn is unhelpful. We wish only to inform, and this we hope by God’s grace to accomplish. Still, we cannot write dispassionately about this topic for we care very much for our brothers in ministry, and for those dear souls whom they minister to.

The Gospel

Common Pastoral Ministry Problems


Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” See also Proverbs 11:2 and 29:23:

  • Proverbs 11:2: “When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom.”
  • Proverbs 29:23: “A man’s pride shall bring him low: but honour shall uphold the humble in spirit.”

Of all the many issues a pastor must face there is none so threatening as that of pride. The Bible is very clear about the dangers of pride, and those dangers are only multiplied by the responsibilities of church leadership. If a leader falls to pride he will not fall alone. There are several ways pride can manifest itself in the life of the local church, and even if a pastor remains humble pride might still prove his undoing.

In a world fascinated by the success of self-made, self-willed, dynamic individuals; the churches too are often fascinated. They seek the same sort of dynamic charisma that seems to have brought success everywhere else. The celebrities of the faith present a model for success that is very much like that the world has adopted. Pride marks the success stories of the world and its prideful virtues that are touted to pastors through books, seminars, and more. The temptation to give in to self-reliance and self-importance is great in ministry.

Local congregations feed this by looking for a dynamic vision caster, who can attract new members, and drive the church’s entire ministry. If we build around a man instead of around Christ it should not be surprising when that man begins to think himself a little god. We can, and do idolize the pastor, and this can only set him up for failure. Either he will succeed and become conceited, or fail and be persecuted by his disappointed worshippers.

Some well-meaning pastors can fall to pride by trying to do too much on their own. Failing to confess our limitations is inherently prideful, even if we do so for the sake of greater service. The pastor is in a prime spot to fall into this particular temptation, especially in small congregations. In addition to feeling more capable than he is, he might also start to believe himself indispensable. Far too often we are content to let him feel however he wants and go on doing it all by himself while we remain comfortably in the pews.

The prideful pastor is self-reliant and that means his ministry will be exhausting. He is a prime candidate to become a bully, weaponizing his ministry to strike at anyone who stands between him and his goals. It is truly abominable for the man who proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ the gentle and lowly to stand harsh and exalted. Pride makes men forget where the authority comes from, there is no justification for their abuses. This is equally true for any church leader, or any Christian leader no matter their title or the level of the authority.

It is commonly believed that paying a pastor too much is a pathway to pride, but so too is paying him too little. Too much education can puff up a man, and so can too little. In short, pride is an ever-present danger in the heart of the pastor. He needs to be on guard himself, constantly in prayer and in God’s Word. The pastor also needs to keep himself in regular fellowship with those who hold him accountable so they can warn him if pride grows.

Pride can strike from anywhere in a congregation to do a pastor harm. Pride demands much, expects much, and complains much. Pride leads to unnecessary conflict and even outright rebellion. Pride can justify all sorts of utterly sinful behavior in the pursuit of having its own way which can lead to all sorts of attacks on church leadership and the rest of the congregation. Pride does not care about others; it does not care about the Church. Pride creates problems in ministry!

Keeping out Pride

You have heard of the old trap where a soul becomes proud of how humble it is. Keeping pride out of the human heart is like keeping water out of a swamp; it takes a lot of work and constant watchfulness. It is often suggested that poverty is a means of keeping people, particularly pastors, humble. It is just as easy to be proud of poverty as of wealth. It is suggested that too much education can lead to pride, but it is not uncommon for people to boast about their ignorance. Constant work, and constant leisure; strengths and weaknesses, success and failure can be turned to fuel the inborn fires of pridefulness. Even self-loathing is a pathway to pride. There are no easy answers here, and the attempt to find one is also quite prideful.

The only way to keep pride grounded is in the reality of who God is and what He has done. This alone keeps our opinions of ourselves in proper proportion. The best way to help our pastors keep this healthy focus, you might ask? To encourage them to spend as much time as possible in prayer, reading, and meditation. Encourage them to build open and honest relationships inside and outside the immediate congregation. Make sure they are spending time with their families, and that their marriages are healthy.

If pride starts to slip in, grant them a sabbatical to refresh and reorient. If a leader will not turn away from pride, despite all efforts, remove them.

We need to take care that our pride does not get in the way of doing what is right. We too should do our best to stay grounded in the Scriptures and prayer. We should seek out open and honest relationships with those who can speak wisdom into our lives. We should invest in the lives of our families, for family sees what others do not. And if we find pride creeping into our lives we should take immediate action against it.

Of course, we and our pastors may find some of this advice difficult to enact with the concerns of everyday life. How can we take a sabbatical if we have bills to pay? Where can one find time to do all of these necessary things when we have to work outside and inside the home, eat, and sleep? I wish I could give the magical answer to these and other legitimate concerns, but every situation is different. Instead, I offer Matthew 6:33 as it was once offered to me as a directive with a promise to be obeyed and trusted:

  • Matthew 6:33: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

Things may not always work out as we would like, but we will be ok.

Lack of Accountability

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10: “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.”

If there is any threat that might rival that of pride it is lack of accountability. The lack of accountability opens the door for every other issue to arise, and to grow till it is beyond control. Scandals happen when no one is watching. Burnout occurs when no one is watching. Accountability is a preventative measure against all sorts of trouble in the local church.

When we think of accountability we tend to think only of moral accountability, making sure the pastor does not abuse his authority, church finances, etc. This is very important, but it is also important to help ensure they get enough rest so that they do not succumb to depression or burnout. Accountability also defends our ministers against false accusations, which enables the ministry to continue joyfully; removing seeds of division before they can take root.

In short, accountability is in everyone’s best interest not just for the pastor and staff, but all church leaders. Systems of accountability should be well thought out in every congregation, and it is very wise to have some form of accountability outside the congregation, not to impede its independent ministry, but to provide a clear perspective in seasons of need.

Unrealistic Expectations

Acts 14:15: “And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein:”

There are no perfect pastors outside of Christ. All the men in our local congregations are human, they have all the limitations we have. They can only work so many hours a day, only be in one place at one time, and have only limited knowledge. They make mistakes, forget things, get sick, and have bad days like anyone else. They have to eat, sleep, etc. What is my point exactly?

While we readily affirm these truths to be self-evident many times our expectations betray our unbelief. We ask more than we think of the pastor because we rarely think of all he has to do. There is a description of the perfect pastor I have run across a few times that offers some perspective on our expectations, and this is my rendition of the oft-repeated description (The original and its author are unknown to me).

The perfect pastor preaches for ten minutes with an hour’s worth of content. He boldly confronts sin without offending anyone. He makes fifteen visits each day and is always in the office to meet. He studies Scripture for thirty hours each week, prays thirty hours each week, and is present at every meeting and activity of the church and association. The perfect pastor lives on forty dollars a week, wears nice clothes, drives a nice car, and gives thirty dollars to the church each week. The perfect pastor is 30 years old with 40 years of experience. He has an effective ministry with the youth and spends most of his time with the elderly. He is handsome, and always smiling with a straight face. He has an excellent speaking voice. He is thoroughly dedicated to his local church above all else.

Editor’s note: If anyone knows where this funny rendition comes from, let us know!

We laugh at this absurd description, while some of us might cry instead, but it is not so far off. We wonder why the pastor hasn’t felt his pastor-sense tingling and rushed to visit with us. We wonder why he isn’t in his office, or at the hospital, or with the shut-ins. We ask if he couldn’t find time to mow the lawn, fix the plumbing, or balance the budget. Why doesn’t he wear a suit? Or, why does he wear a suit? All these little thoughts point back to the description above.

Not only is it exhausting to try and live up to this expectation, but it distracts from the actual work of God which a pastor must do. If a pastor attempts to correct faulty expectations, it can appear he is trying to justify his laziness or tailor his job description to his own liking. As much as it really is the work of a pastor to know his congregation, it is equally the work of the congregation to know their pastor. By knowing the man as an individual, his strengths and weaknesses, his unique personality along with the God-given responsibilities of pastoral ministry found in Scripture, we can set realistic expectations. Realistic expectations allow us to help our ministers help us.

Sadly, our expectations do not stop at the man we hired to shepherd our congregation but extend to his wife and children. Pastor’s wives are sometimes treated as unpaid employees, expected to lead the women’s ministry, or the children’s ministry, etc. The Bible has no job description for a pastor’s wife, only a note on their character. What we ought to expect from this woman is to be a good wife for our pastor and a faithful member of our local assembly. If the pastor’s wife happens to be gifted and called to lead some ministry, we should not expect her to do for free what we would pay another woman to do.

The plight of pastor’s kids, or PKs, is simply tragic. It is not enough that they be good kids, they have to be superhumanly mature for their age, pious to a fault, and totally dedicated to church programs. These kids are, well, they are kids. We ought to expect no more and no less than we would of other kids raised in Christian homes.

The whole ministerial family lives in a glass house, under constant pressure to perform. Their privacy is often interrupted, particularly for those living in a parsonage, and their husband/father is often called away. They have front-row seats when the pastor is abused or forced to watch as their husband/father is maligned by the very people he and they have sacrificed to serve. Given these unrealistic expectations, it is no wonder that many wives and children end up abandoning the Church.


Monday is the day when pastors want to quit. I know several pastors, one especially well, who has a whole folder of resignation letters. It is not easy to watch a church that never seems to move forward or to minister to those who just keep falling into the same traps again and again. You wonder why nothing ever happens, and if it is your fault. Who is adequate to stand before the congregation and declare the word of the Lord? Who is worthy to care for the souls bought with the infinitely precious blood of Jesus Christ? Who could stand at the judgment and answer for the failures in ministry?

We know that Moses, David, Elijah, Jeremiah, and Paul all had their struggles with discouragement. Expecting our pastors to be above such struggles is unrealistic. They need the encouragement and support of the body as much as any other member. Ministry is for everyone, by everyone. When it becomes for everyone by the pastor or pastors’ discouragement and burnout, it will soon dismantle our church’s shepherds.

Common Struggles

The concerns of finances, health, and all the rest are as well known to pastors as they are to the rest of us. It might appear that ministers have some shelter from the stresses of the secular world, but this is far from true. It might appear that pastors only really work one or two days a week, but that is ridiculous. These happy few who are called might appear to have it all together, but they most assuredly do not.

One area in which pastors might struggle more than most is financial security. The pastoral salary is often weaponized by disgruntled congregants looking to have their way. If a pastor leaves or loses his position his experience and education can be difficult to translate into another field. There is a lot to be said about pastoral pay, but for now, it suffices to say that ministers typically have reason to be concerned about their financial security.

There are many more struggles that are unique to each individual pastor. I know a pastor who is legally blind and struggles with visitation. I know of several pastors who are extremely introverted and find it very draining to stand before the congregation. I know of pastors who struggle with PTSD. I know of some who find it difficult being far from earthly homes. I know several who find it very hard to sleep most nights. Many pastors have trouble managing their health. Pastors are like us, as many struggles as we might face they may face the same.

The Goodness of the Tried Pastor

2 Corinthians 12:9: “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

See also Galatians 6:2: “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”

When a pastor struggles, he provides a witness and a testimony to his congregation about the sufficient Grace of Christ. He demonstrates a way forward, or a way to get up when we fall. He grows as we watch. This is all very good for us; it must be as God is sovereign over such things. See Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

Moreover, when our pastor must carry a burden, we have an opportunity to bear it with him and fulfill the law of Christ. It is very immature, selfish, and naive to think that ministry should always be flowing from our pastor to us. In ministering to our pastors, and all our fellow believers, we are indeed being ministered to ourselves in the most wonderful way.

Therefore, the pastor ought to allow their congregations to know their struggles. A pastor who refuses help from his body of believers is to deny them something good, and so cut them off from ministry. Such a pastor has cut himself off from the fellowship of the body and distorted the picture of it leading people astray from the way of Christ.

Some pastors will struggle to be vulnerable because they have been deeply hurt in the past. It is a traumatic experience to have the sheep attack their under-shepherd. To these wounded hearts, I say as a man who knows something of this hurt, we must trust Christ and continue to do good. To the congregation who receive such wounded hearts either into ministry or into their season of recovery please dear family show them the true love of Christ. These men may not have a mark on their bodies, but surely, they have bled for the cause. See Matthew 25:40:

  • Matthew 25:40: “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

Final Thoughts

Do you know where your pastor is? I don’t mean geographically, but in terms of their physical, mental, and spiritual health, do you know where they are? If you do not, then God does and you can always go to him and intercede for your pastor. Not just that he would preach a good sermon, or have enough wisdom to serve the congregation well (though both are very important prayers); but that he and his would be blessed in every way.

Pray that God would lead them through their current struggle. Pray that these hard-working men and their families would have time to be restored. Prayer is the best thing to offer your pastor. Patience and understanding are also good gifts that he will greatly appreciate. When we care for our pastors, they are better able to care for us. When we care for our pastors, we honor our God. What more admonishment do we need?

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Jared Helms
Jared Helms

Jared Helms

Jared received his Bachelor of Arts from Bryan College in 2012, and his Masters of Divinity from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2017. He has pastored churches in Kentucky and Tennessee. Most importantly, Jared has walked with Christ most of his life. His interests extend from theology to church history, but he is particularly passionate about ecclesiology and homiletics.

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