10 Secrets of Many Senior Pastors

I get to hang out and know many senior pastors. I have a great heart for them and understand, firsthand, some of the pressures, frustrations and joys, which are unique to the role of a senior pastor. In my recent blog survey, over half my readers are in ministry and half that number are senior leaders.

I first shared these points at a conference for executive pastors. I was asked to give my perspective as a senior pastor, since each of them report to one.

Here are 10 “secrets” about many senior pastors:

  • Leading from this position is overwhelming at times. We know Christ is ultimately in charge, but we also know it often seems everyone looks to us to have all the answers.
  • People tell the senior pastor all kinds of things about what is happening in their life or in the lives of others…many we would rather not know sometimes…and sometimes the weight of others problems we carry is enormous.
  • Most pastors walk with a degree of uncertainty, which keeps us in prayer, but also makes us question our abilities at times. It makes depression common for many senior pastors. (Need a Biblical example…see 1 Kings 19)
  • Many senior pastors fear the possibility of failing in their role, so they thrive on the encouragement and prayers of others.
  • Sometimes we allow insecurity to cause us to become overprotective of our reputation and our position.
  • We face the same temptations and occasional spiritual dryness as everyone else. This means we need accountability, but are often afraid to seek it.
  • Our spouse is sometimes the loneliest person in the church and often feels extreme pressure to live up to unrealistic expectations.
  • Loneliness can exist for all leaders and many pastors suffer from it.
  • We seldom know who we can trust, which is why we become guarded and appear hard to get to know. Most senior pastors have been burned by someone they once trusted.
  • We suspect the staff , church leaders and congregation sometimes talks about us behind our back.

Granted, not every pastor faces each of these, (that’s why I said “many”) and I happen to be in an extremely healthy church, but even still, some of these are real for me at times. Other pastors, for reasons on this post, will not want you assuming these things about them. In talking with dozens of senior pastors each year, I know this is a representative list for “many”.

Senior pastors find joy in our work and, thankfully, most of us know we are in the center of God’s will vocationally. I don’t intend to take anything away from that in this post. We serve in a called position, so we are doing what we have been asked of God to do. When I share any post like this, however, I have come to expect a lecture on the need to depend on Christ for these issues, which only further demonstrates my points.

Senior pastors are to fully rely on Christ’s strength, as is every other believer. This is just a reminder that we happen to also be like Elijah…”a man just like us”. (James 5:17)

Pastors, anyone honest enough to agree? 

Please know I’m praying for you as I post this.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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51 thoughts on “10 Secrets of Many Senior Pastors

  1. I know that you write "many" because some are in denial. I have not met a pastor yet in 14 years of vocational ministry that does not struggle with one, many, or all of these items. Any pastor that says they haven't is either been in vocational ministry for no more than a day, got their heads stuck in the clouds and not reality, or just is flat out lying.
    I appreciate the fact that you are writing out what "all" pastors (senior or otherwise) feels but may not realize how many others feel this way too.
    Thank you for TRUTH being spoken and keep it up.

    • Thanks Chad. You're right. I believe the correct word is “all”, but I didn't want to lose the audience from those who aren't willing to admit it yet.God bless you man!

  2. Nate

    Here are two more qualifications from Titus for “elder/overseer” that many –
    who desire to be known as “elder/overseer”- *seem to ignore.* Just and Holy.

    Titus 1:6-8 KJV
    6 If any be *blameless,* the husband of one wife,
    having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.
    7 For a bishop must be *blameless,* as the steward of God; not selfwilled,
    not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre;
    8 But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, *just,* *holy,* temperate;

    Just
    Strongs #1342 – dikaios {dik'-ah-yos} – innocent – righteous.
    Thayers – righteous, observing divine laws – keeping the commands of God –
    innocent, faultless, guiltless – used of him whose way of thinking, feeling, and
    acting is wholly conformed to the will of God…

    Holy
    Strongs #3741 – hosios {hos'-ee-os}
    Thayers – undefiled by sin, free from wickedness,
    religiously observing every moral obligation, pure holy, pious.

    Now that’s three tough qualifications for “elder/overseer” – Yes?
    1 – Must Be Blameless – Without falt, Above reproach…
    2 – Just – Keeping the commands of God, Faultless, Guiltless…
    3 – Holy – Undefiled by sin, Free from wickedness…

    Makes an interesting study – checking out ALL these tough qualifications for
    “Pastor/Leaders,”“elder/overseers,” then checking out those who say they are
    Pastro/Leaders,” “elder/overseers,” compared to the qualifications. :-)

    In my experience with “Pastor/Leaders” and having been in “Leadership” shows me…

    No matter how loving… eventually…
    No matter how humble… eventually…
    No matter how much a servant… eventually…

    The “Pastor/elder/leader” will “Exercise Authority” (A no, no. Mark 10:42 KJV)
    and “lord it over God’s heritage.” (A no, no.1 Pet 5:3 KJV.)
    And that’s always the beginning of “Spiritual Abuse.”

    “Pastor/Leader” = exercise authority = lord it over = spiritual abuse = always… :-(

    If someone doesn’t meet ALL the qualifications – should they remove themselves?

    Are you an elder/overseer? Do you meet these three qualifications?
    1 – Must be blameless? 2 – Holy? 3 – Just?

    Do the “Leaders” you follow meet these three qualifications?

    The only Leader I know who meets ALL the qualifications is {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

  3. Nate

    Coming from a “Spiritually Abusive” background I learned to be a Berean and check out leaders.
    “…to know them which labour among you, and are over you…” 1 Thes 5:12.
    “Abusive Leaders” talk about “Obey your leaders.” But, *ignor* the qualifications for elder/overeer.

    Does anyone have to obey “Abusive Leaders” or “Leaders” who – do NOT qualify?
    NOT anymore – Thank You Jesus…

    Seems the first qualification for “elder/overseer” is really tough – **must be Blameless**

    1 – A bishop (overseer) then *must be* **blameless**… 1 Tim 3:2 KJV
    2 – For a bishop (overseer) *must be* **blameless**… Titus 1:7 KJV

    And *must be* is the same Greek word as: …You *must be* born again. John 3:7.

    *Must Be* is Strongs #1163, die. – It is necessary (as binding).
    Thayer’s – necessity established by the counsel and decree of God.
    Seems to be a small word – but very important. Yes?

    **Hmmm? **Blameless**… How important is this word?

    Strongs #423 – anepileptos – inculpable, blameless, unrebukeable.
    Thayer’s – that cannot be reprehended, (cannot be, rebukable, reprovable,
    …. cannot find fault) not open to censure, irreproachable.
    Dictionary – Without fault; innocent; guiltless; not meriting censure.
    Synonyms – faultless, guiltless, innocent, irreproachable, spotless, unblemished.

    In my experience – NOT many, if any, “elder/overseers,” when they examine themselves,
    seriously considering this one **qualification,** (*Must Be* **Blameless,**)
    can see themselves as **Blameless,** without fault, above reproach,
    and thus qualify to be an “elder/overseer.”

    The Bible talks about “elder/overseers.” ( If a man desire the office of a bishop,)
    And **qualifications** for “elder/overseers.” (*Must Be* **Blameless,**)
    You really can NOT have one without the other – Can you?

    Are you an elder/overseer? Do you meet this one qualification? Must be blameless?
    Do the “Leaders” you follow meet this one qualification?

    The only Leader I know who meets this qualification is {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

  4. Nate

    You’re correct – I puposly left off Acts 15:6, which is usally the only one mentioned by “Leadership”
    to give the impresion it was only apostles and elders who had a part in what was going on.

    Hmmm? Just wondering…
    How many Apostles are in your fellowship today? That come together to consider a question?
    Do your pastors submit to your Apostles? Who gets to make the final decision? Apostle? Pastor?

    And – are the “elders” mentioned here just “Older” brethren? The Mature brethren? I doubt if they were like the “elders” we see today – Elected, or Hired – by a congregation. The “Special Clergy Class.” Because, in the Bible – NO one was elected, or Hired, to be an elder. And NO one was, un-elected, or Fired, a few years later. And there is NO “Special Clergy Class” that seperate themselves from the body.

    There’s a debate about “elder” and what it means. Some believe elder is age, maturity, NOT office.

    And – in Acts 15 – verse 7 says – much disputing – took place.
    (How much disputing is allowed by your “leadership?” Your Apostles and elders?)

    And Peter then addresses – “Men and brethren.”
    (Is this only apostles and elders – why is Peter also addressing brethren?)
    (Could this also be The Antioch ekklesia that came with Paul to Jerusalem. Why would they be left out when it was their idea for Paul and Barnabus to come to Jerusalem in the first place? And Peter could also be addressing the Jerusalem ekklesia – NO where does it say the ekklsia left the scene.)

    Peter continues to speak to “Men and Brethren” untill verse 12 where it says…
    Acts 15:12 Then all “the multitude” kept silence… Why report “a large number?” kept silence?
    Why NOT – then – the apostles and elders – kept silence? Could ALL brethren still be gathered?

    Just some questions to ask Jesus – Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. John 18:37.

    You ask…
    “Why are there elders mentioned in the Bible if we're not supposed to have them?”

    I’ll give my understanding today of elder/overseers in the next comment.

    I’ll leave you with a few questions…

    Why are there qualifications mentioned in the Bible if we’re not suposed uphold them?

    Can you have an elder/overseer without the qualifications?

    Are you and elder/overseer? Do you meet ALL the qualifications?

    Do the “Leaders” you follow meet ALL the qualifications?

  5. So…

    Wanting to be an obedient "Disciple of Christ"

    NO longer do I want to be called – leader – like I once was… NO longer do I want people following me…

    I NOW *lead people* – to Jesus – who is the "ONE" leader… And they can follow Jesus…

    Jesus loves me this I know…

    • Alright, Amos. I noticed that you conveniently left out Acts 15:6, that says "the apostles and elders" met to consider this question. The whole church didn't meet to decide. And your explanation still doesn't deal with the other passages I provided. Why are there elders mentioned in the Bible if we're not supposed to have them?

      If Jesus is the only leader, then how do you explain Philippians 3:17, 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9, and Hebrews 13:7? Passages where it's clear that we are supposed to imitate someone else in addition to Jesus. I'm all for leaving the "abusive religious system," but we can't leave the Bible.

  6. Nate

    Yup! Ron is way cool…
    Not many pastors allow these questions for long – Thanks Ron, I do appreciate you.

    Nate – If you “don't want to be involved in a debate here” – Maybe it was Jesus who influenced you.
    And – I appreciate and understand your position – That’s kinda what I was taught by “my elders.”

    But Now – After leaving “the Abusive Religious System” – when I read Acts 6…
    I notice the apostles “only” appointed the seven deacons – “Servants.”
    It was the ekklesia, the “Disciples of Christ,” who chose the seven from among them. Hmmm?

    1 – Seems ALL brethren were involved with who would be “The Servants” who would *serve them.*

    2 – And in Acts 15 – Seems ALL brethren were involved “to get on the same page theologically?”
    NOT just the apostles and elders – like I was taught by “The Abusive religious system.”

    2 – It was “the whole ekklesia that was gathered together,” In Antioch. Acts 14:27.
    When the dispute arose about circumcision. NOT just apostles and elders.

    3 – And – “ALL brethren” thought it was a good idea for Paul and Barnabus to go to Jerusalem
    and check with the apostles and elders. Acts 15:3.

    4 – Seems “ALL brethren,” the ekklesia, the apostles and elders, are involved receiving them.
    NOT just the apostles and elders – like I was taught by “my elders.”

    Acts 15:4.“And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of “the church,”
    (the ekklesia, the called out ones,) AND – of the apostles and elders.

    5 – And – at the end of the matter – when the decision is made – “ALL brethren” are still involved.

    Acts 15:22-25 Then pleased it the apostles and elders, **with the whole church,**
    to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch… The apostles and elders and brethren…
    It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord…

    So I understand Acts 6 and Acts 15 a little different than the way you suggested.
    “because leadership is necessary, and God establishes leadership in the church from the get-go.”

    In Acts – I see – the whole ekklesia, The Body of Christ, functioning together as “ONE” new man.
    The way “Leadership” is set up today – only a few get to function – and the rest are spectators.

    But – You’ll have to go to Jesus for your self – to see if this is truth for you – today…

    But – I’m convinced about “Leadership” because Jesus instructed “His Disciples”
    NOT to be called Leaders – for you have “ONE” leader – The Christ. Mat 23:10 NASB.

    And NOT one “Disciple of Christ” called them self – leader.

    Why isn’t “Servant of Christ” good enough?

  7. @lifecartography – Charles Porter

    Just wanted you to know that I’m for you – And Today’s Pastors – NOT against you.
    And my heart cries for you, and your family. You have found yourself in an impossible profession …
    Pastor/Leader – Impossible, if you love Jesus, if you love “The Truth.”
    The statisics for your survival as a Pastor/Leader are horrendus.

    I was in “Leadership.” I was ordained. My desire was to be a “Senior Pastor,” The Leader. I was reading all the books about “Spiritual Leadership.” And there are lot’s of them today. You would think after 2,000 years someone would have figured out how to do this thing called Pastoral/Leadership.” :-)

    In my experince with “Todays Religious System”…
    What is popular is not always “Truth.”
    What is “Truth” is not always popular.

    I just see things a liitle differently today after leaving “the Abusive Religious System” thru much pain, tears and “Spiritual Abuse.” A “Religious System” that seperates believers one from another. And creates an *us verses them* life style NOT found in the Bible.

    IMO – Most today who take the “Title” and “Position” of Pastor/Leader are in bondage to
    “The Traditions of Men” that “nullify” The word of God that Jesus warned us about..

    Mark 7:13
    KJV – Making the word of God of “none effect” through your tradition…
    ASV – Making “void” the word of God by your tradition…
    NIV – Thus you “nullify” the word of God by your tradition…

    The “Spiritual Abuse” had a benefit. It prepared me to minister healing to believers who have been…
    Burnt – Burnt out – Kicked out – and Crawled out – of “Today’s Corrupt Religious System.”
    Both those who believed they are “Pastor/Leaders” and those who are “Led.”

    Today, when I hear, Pastors complaining about sheep, complaining how difficult ministry is…
    Or, sheep complaining about Pastors… How pastors exercise authority like the gentiles, Mk 10:42.
    How pastors are acting as “lords over God’s heritage. 1 Pet 5:3. “Spiritually Abusing” God’s kids…
    I ask a few simple questions.

    If the Bible is to be our standard? Haven’t you ever wondered why?

    In the Bible…
    NOT one “Disciple of Christ” was – called??? – to be a Pastor/Leader – leading a church?
    NOT one “Disciple of Christ” called themself Pastor/Leader?
    NOT one “Disciple of Christ” was called Pastor/Leader by another “Disciple of Christ?”
    NOT one “Disciple of Christ” had the “Title” and “Position” – Pastor/Leader?
    NOT one “Disciple of Christ” was – Hired – or Fired, as a Pastor/Leader?

    In my experience…
    When those suffering from “Spiritual Abuse” – Both “Pastor/Leaders” – and those who were “Led,”
    will answer those questions honestly – the healing begins…

    And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
    John 8:32

    • I don't want to be involved in a debate here, but I really think you need to reconsider your answers to these rhetorical questions. The word "leader" is not used in the New Testament to refer to a "disciple of Christ" but the words "elder" "apostle" "deacon" "overseer" "pastor" and "teacher" are, and the concept of shepherding is definitely present. Church leadership was instituted even before the church was in Acts 2. Why was it so important for the 11 apostles to find a 12th man in Acts 1 after Jesus' ascension? Why was Peter the one on the microphone in Acts 2? Why do the apostles appoint 6 men to serve as deacons in Acts 6? Why do the "elders" meet together in Acts 15 to get on the same page theologically? It's because leadership is necessary, and God establishes leadership in the church from the get-go.

      Here are some more references:
      Overseer- Acts 20:28; Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:1
      Elder- Acts 20:17; 1 Tim 4:14; 1 Tim 5:17, 19
      Shepherd- Acts 20:28; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Peter 5:2

      Leadership is not the enemy. Should leaders understand that their position is a stewardship? Absolutely! But let's not act like they are sinning by taking a "position" that God never intended. God did intend for there to be leadership and structure. You might have a case that the current structure isn't the most godly, but that's another issue.

      • It's all good. Amos and I have an understanding of sorts. I like his passion for what he believes.But I believe what you have to say here, which is of course why I continue to blog as I do.

  8. Ron,
    Thanks for sharing…and thanks for all these insightful posts. I, too, share your heart for pastors and the struggles they share. It is the reason for my ministry. I join you in praying for pastors and ministry leaders. I also pray for you as nobody is immune to a fall.
    Blessings,
    Keith http://www.pastor2pastors.com

  9. Great article and thank you for posting it. I saw it linked from a friend's FB page. I fell in the ministry after committing adultery and many of the things you discuss lead pastors to failure. Their failure is their own fault. The pressure that weakens them can be prevented.

  10. I think it can way on Pastors more these days because there is more and more pressure to perform. Churches have become almost as commercial as buying a tv. If you don't like it, just go get another. So some pastors feel the need to stay current with big productions, websites, electronic delivery, campuses, etc.

    This can put too much pressure for church growth from the elders and leaders who might not understand that it is more important to create true Jesus following disciples. The church maybe healthy and growing spiritually but not quickly in numbers so questions get bandied about regarding leadership qualities of senior pastors.

    And as stated, it can be difficult to find people to trust when a pastor needs to talk freely. I have seen it happen before. It's is a high calling and requires a very tight relationship with Christ.

  11. I'm a pastor of a great community church in Dar Es Salaam Tanzania. All these thoughts on taking the Lord name in vain, just the encouragement every senior pastor needs at the end of a hard day. For every one who encouragemes me, I can find 15 who can quote 45 verses about something i'm doing wrong, but don't walk in my shoes, haven't had to cry with the abused battered wife this week, the poor man, the dying marriage, the pregnant business woman, the struggling wife. How about starting with the plank?

  12. As I read this post, I remember reading an August 2, 2010 article in the New York Times, entitled, “Taking a Break from the Lord’s Work”: It states —
    "Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.”

    Also, PastorBurnout.com reports that:
    (i) 1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout or contention in their churches.(ii) 75% report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear, and alienation. (iii) 70% don’t have any close friends. (iv) 57% would leave the pastorate if they had somewhere else to go or some other vocation they could do. (v) Clergy have the second highest divorce rate among all professions.

    Hence, I too feel that they need prayer cover from people like me. And, I am upholding pastors shepherding people in my prayers.

  13. Ron

    Could one reason these Pastors/Leaders, and families, who probable love Jesus, suffer so much,
    these “10 Secrets,” – Is – They have taken the “Name of the Lord” in vain? Ex 20:7

    Vain – Strongs – Hebrew – #7723 shaw
    KJV – vain 22, vanity 22, false 5, lying 2, falsely 1, lies 1; 53
    Thayers – emptiness, vanity, falsehood, nothingness, vanity, emptiness of speech, lying…

    The way Pastor/Leaders, and their families, are crumbling today, 1600 a month are forced out,
    77% say the do NOT have a good marriage, everyone knows something is way wrong.

    Could Pastors today, following the “Traditions of Men” they were taught, be taking God’s Glory…
    By taking, “His Name” for themselves? And by being called by “His Name?”

    2 Chron 7:14 KJV
    If my people, **which are called by my name,**
    shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face
    and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven,
    and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

    Isn’t God asking those **which are called by my name,**
    to humble themselves? Turn from their wicked ways?

    Who are the believers “called” by “God’s Name” today?
    Refuseing to turn from their wicked ways?

    What about – Shepherds – Teachers – Leaders – Reverends – ?
    Aren’t these **names** that God is called?

    1 – God/Jesus is called – Shepherd
    The Lord is my **shepherd.** Psalm 23:1.
    …returned unto the **Shepherd** and Bishop of your souls. 1Pet 2:25.

    2 – God/Jesus calls Himself – Teacher
    … for One is your Teacher, the Christ…Mat 23:8 NKJV.
    If I then, your Lord and Teacher… John 13:14 NKJV.

    3 – God/Jesus is called – Leader
    And do not be called leaders; for “ONE” is your **Leader,** that is, Christ.
    Mat 23:10 NASB.
    God exalted him at his right hand as **Leader** and Savior…
    Acts 5:31 ESV

    4 – God/Jesus is called – Reverend
    …holy and **reverend** is his name. Psalm 111:9 KJV

    Hmmm? What about – Shepherds – Teachers – Leaders – Reverends – ?
    Aren’t these **names** that God is called?

    Are they taking “God’s Name” in vain? Oy Vey!!! :-(

    Ex 20:7
    Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain;
    for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

    In the Bible, can you name one “Disciple of Christ” who called them self …
    Pastor – Leader – Reverend?

    Jesus… a name which is above every name…

    • I grew up as pastor's kid and am now an elder in a church. While in some cases this may be true, I would also argue that sometimes the expectations of the congregation put the pastor in a very awkward position. If the church members expect the pastoral staff to do all the ministry, then burnout will eventually happen or the church will stagnate. The church members must be educated as to the role of the pastor in equipping the saints for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11). Then the pastor will be with the members shoulder to shoulder and won't have to constantly be looking back to see who is following.

  14. I agree that these are correct and not necessarily just senior pastors. And with that, I've found more and more pastors, missionaries and spiritual leaders don't often share life openly with someone else without the fear to showing weakness or the threat of losing support from their followers or donors. Even though there may be networks or people they can go to, I'm finding many don't. We think we can just get through this. It's why my desire is to start some type of encouraging ministry to pastors, missionaries and spiritual leaders. A person that seeks them out. Offer ways to encourage them and their ministry and to be a person without judgment that they can talk through how to regain incitement and joy of their salvation and ministry. Thank you for sharing this insight.

    • I am involved in Quiet Waters Ministries based in Denver, CO. Our ministry is to pastors and missionaries and their spouses, especially those in stressful situations but also to those on sabbatical. We have a beautiful Retreat Home in Parker, CO where pastors and missionaries, and their spouses come for one or two weeks of intensive couseling and for time away from their normal activities. The Home is in a beautiful, secluded setting. Almost without exception, everyone who has been there reports revival in spirit and energy and renewed enthusiasm for ministry.

      • Thank you for sharing that. I have a domain called hurtingpastors.org. If I launch that siteI would love to share your ministry there.