Ten Challenges of Pastoral Ministry

I have been in pastoral ministry for 15 years now. That is difficult to get my mind around for a number of reasons but largely because it doesn’t seem like I have been at it that long. Of course, “long” is subjective since my father faithfully served the Lord for over 40 years in pastoral ministry. During these 15 years there have been a number of pastoral challenges. I have never taken the time to categorize them. However, this morning I started Pastoral Ministry taught by Dr. Hershael York at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His opening lecture was titled, “Ten Challenges Faced in Pastoral Ministry” and let me tell you I can relate to each one of them. Here they are with a few of my thoughts.

  1. We deal with the spiritual and eternal matters of life. This one really hit me. Dr. York spoke of how the worst thing a physical doctor can do is cause someone to die. Certainly that is bad, but if I as a pastor mishandle God’s Word I can impact people eternally!
  2. The pastor’s role is prophetic in nature. As pastors we are asked to deal with people at their most embarrassing, difficult, and trying situations. And in these situations we have to call upon them to repent and live Godward lives. We don’t have the luxury of sharing our opinions.
  3. Pastor’s lead an army of volunteers. There is no power of the paycheck. Members can get mad and leave at any time.
  4. The pastor has an unclear identity. What is the pastor’s #1 task? 10 people will give 10 different answers. Some will say to preach the word, to shepherd the sheep, to preach, to evangelize. Few churches clearly define what they expect from their pastor and even when they do they expect more than they say. Many just assume preachers ought to do things.
  5. Uncertainty about church polity. Most churches have an unclear vision how church is to be governed. What is the relationship between elders/deacons?
  6. The church expects the pastor’s family to be involved. This is unlike any other profession! The CEO of a business is not expected to have his wife help run the business. What in particular struck me about this point was that Dr. York said the church has the right to judge my house/family because one qualification of being a pastor is I lead my house well. He also made the point that the pastor’s wife will either expand or diminish ministry but never be neutral. This makes me very glad to be married to a wonderful woman, Valerie, who has more than I could ever explain expanded my ministry.
  7. People expect the pastor to be the initiative taker. This one is so true. When we get sick, we don’t expect the Dr. to call us or check up on us. We go to the Dr. But we do expect the pastor to call us and we get made when he doesn’t follow up. If we miss church for a few weeks and don’t hear from the pastor we get mad that he doesn’t follow up. Then, when the pastor does take initiative, we get upset that he did!
  8. The demand for originality. Dr. York made a very interesting point that if you preach three sermons a week for about 48 weeks that is the equivalent of writing 9 novels! Wow! This makes having fresh, engaging content very challenging especially when you consider how many other responsibilities the pastor has with family and church. On top of everything else, he is expected to deliver fresh, powerful messages from God’s Word!
  9. The church gives the pastor responsibility without authority. Dr. York gave a few examples. For example, the church expects the pastor to grow the church but no authority to do much. One young man was burdened about young families in his church and that his church had a very bad nursery. It was in very poor condition. So this young pastor took it upon himself to raise the funds for a new nursery and over time he did! But when he went to the deacon board they refused to do it. Then they later got mad at him the church isn’t growing!
  10. Friendship development difficulty. It is important for the pastor to have close relationships with his sheep. The pastor however must make sure he is not one person in the pulpit and a whole other person at home. The pastor must be holy in all of his friendships.

These 10 things make pastoral ministry unlike any other calling in life. No other job in the world has these 10 things. As I listened to all of this, the thought that kept coming in to my mind was, “Who is sufficient for all of this?” And it was like Dr. York read my mind because he then asked that question and went on to say, “No one! We need the Holy Spirit in our lives. We must fill up on the Word of God each morning before we leave the house and we must disciple our wives so we are working together as a team.”

2 Corinthians 3:5 – “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.