I recently 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. Sharp group.
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. Similar struggles.
Here are the 5 most common struggles they shared:
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 employment — including 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.
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 weren’t the ones with this struggle as much.) I often advise young pastors in established churches to write some of their best sermons around casting vision of 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.
Balancing ministry and family time. This has always been a struggle. And, frankly, it should be. We need to work hard — that’s a good Biblical principle — and 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, and I think it’s a good thing, won’t automatically let the ministry trump their family. 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 advise to the younger pastor is to keep the heart for the balance, be very intentional with their schedule and use of time and cast vision to the church continually of why they’re not at everything and why they’re family is so important. The church needs that message too — as they are equally in the struggle.
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 that you have a system — even if it’s not perfect — than to do nothing. People typically learn best by doing. So, at the least, in the absence of a formal leadership development program, start giving people you see with potential assignments to lead — and let them develop with on-the-job training.
Handling critics. Again, this one was shared less by the church planters, but the interesting twist is that 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 that 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.) Because 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 us — in our leadership or in our emotional state — even 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 love my time with this group and plan to repeat it. I’ll share more as I experience more.
Let me ask, was anything surprising about the list?
I also wondered, are seminaries addressing these issues? Should they?