The question was straightforward: What are some of the most difficult things you have done in ministry?
I asked this question on some of my social media channels, so it was an informal survey.
The responses were high, over 600 in the first eight hours. While the quantity of the responses was indicative of the challenges pastors face, the pain evident in those responses was even more sobering.
These 20 difficult challenges are listed by the frequency of the responses. In no way am I attempting to rank the pain or depth of these tragedies. By each difficulty, I offer a direct quote of one of the respondents. Some of the quotes have been modified for clarity. The substance of each of them was not changed.
Here, then, are 20 of the most difficult things pastors have done in ministry:
1. Pastoring a church during COVID. “The tragedy of 9/11 two decades ago united us. The tragedy of COVID divided us. In 30 years of ministry, I have never seen so many angry church members.”
2. Doing the funeral of a child. “The depth of grief of the parents is the greatest I’ve ever known. I will never get over these tragedies. I remember each funeral like it was yesterday.”
3. Confronting a sex abuser. “I had a deep sadness when a person told me their dad had abused her and her siblings. I had an even greater sadness that the children would likely end up in foster care since the dad was a widower.”
4. Officiating the funeral of a teenager. “The death was so sudden. One day he is the well-loved captain of the football team. The next day he is a fatality in an automobile accident.”
5. Dealing with toxic church members. “What is most frustrating about toxic members I’ve had in my church is the unwillingness of any church member to support me to deal with the situation.”
6. Telling a family that their loved one had been killed. “She was in her 30s with three small children when I went to her home to tell her that her husband had been killed in an auto accident.”
7. Being fired from the church. “I thought my situation was unusual because I never heard a reason for my firing. I learned later that it was common in the ministry.”
8. Staying at my church. “I am on the verge of emotional and physical collapse. My doctor has pleaded with me to leave the church. But I don’t know what I will do if I leave.”
9. Letting go of a staff member. “I wouldn’t tell the congregation all the sordid details of the firing, so many of the church members turned on me.”
10. Telling family members that their loved one had been shot to death. “I have done six funerals for victims who had been murdered. The funerals were a mixture of grief, anger, and hopelessness.”
11. Dealing with the emotions of the elections of 2016 and 2020. “The polarization of our nation for the two presidential elections was played out painfully each time in my church. I fear the same for the 2024 elections.”
12. Doing the funeral of a suicide victim. “I’ve done three in my ministry, and I feel like I did poorly ministering to the families at the funeral. I was at a loss for the right words.”
13. Doing the funeral for someone I did not know. “These funerals are always a challenge because it is hard to personalize them even if you ask the family for information. It’s even more of a challenge if you have reasons to believe the deceased was not a Christian.”
14. Closing a church. “I felt like a total failure to God, to the community, to the heritage of the church, and to the few members who were left.”
15. Working multiple jobs. “My church thinks the salary they pay me is full time pay, but it is below the poverty line. I work several side gigs just to keep food on the table for my family.”
16. Administering church discipline. “My church knew we had to deal with an individual. We had taken all of the biblical steps up to removing him. Then they refused to go further. I know I will soon have to leave the church, because this person is still unrepentant and active in the church.”
17. Losing a loved one. “My daughter battled cancer for three years before she died. It was so difficult to care for the church when I was hurting so much myself.”
18. Leading a church that is not bearing fruit. “As I watch my church decline in numbers and in discipleship, I feel like a total failure. Every day I ask God to show me what I need to do, but the decline continues.”
19. Being stabbed in the back by those who once supported me the most. “I have sadly learned in four churches that my biggest cheerleaders when I first arrive at church often become my biggest critics later.”
20. Remaining faithful in the midst of opposition and false accusations. “This reality seems more pervasive today than at any point in my ministry.”
These were the top 20 most frequent responses as I counted them. But there were more. Hundreds more.
Love your pastor.
Care for your pastor.
Pray for your pastor.
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