Why Is It So Stinkin’ Hard to Work in a Church?

Being a full-time pastor was the most difficult profession I’ve ever experienced. I loved the people who I served alongside of, and God did some amazing things. But it was so taxing on me – emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I almost lost my family. For many pastors and leaders who get paid by their churches, they’d mostly agree. And while there are many reasons why this is true, I have an opinion about it.

My thinking revolves around three truths, all which build on each other.

TRUTH #1: People who work in churches originally got into this line of work to have a direct impact on the world. The two key words in that statement are DIRECT and WORLD. Sit on those for a few more seconds, and stay with me.

TRUTH #2: The primary biblical calling for pastors and church leaders is to equip the saints for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11ff). People who work in churches directly influence believers in their churches, but only indirectly impact the world outside. Most pastors I know have to force any direct impact on the world, and mostly on their off-time. This is where they coach in community sports leagues, volunteer in community arts programs, and attend civic events.

TRUTH #3: Many pastors and church leaders never experience the primary reason they got into ministry in the first place, because their primary calling doesn’t allow them to DIRECTLY impact the world. They’re too busy equipping their church members to do that.

And that’s exactly where the disconnect happens - Direct vs. Indirect impact and influence.

When we experience this disconnect, the easy thing to do is to blame our next-rung leaders for making pastoral ministry so difficult. The really easy thing to do is to blame the Senior Pastor for everything. And that’s tragic.

The most honest thing many church workers can admit to is this:

“This ministry thing isn’t what I thought it would be. My dreams are always somewhere else, and my influence isn’t landing where I had once hoped. I never knew it would be like this.”

I hear so many stories of so many ex-pastors and so many ex-church leaders who are so bitter and so angry at the church. And honestly, I wonder if that bitterness and anger is really a complex and individual set of unfulfilled expectations that’s been brewing for years – one that feels like it should be someone else’s fault, but actually isn’t.

These are hard and difficult themes to probe, because they’re more than themes. They’re dreams and desires and hopes. They’re more personal than we could ever express. They keep us up at night, and cause us to consider any realistic option for employment elsewhere.

But this post is not a plea for anyone to quit church ministry. It’s a plea to prayerfully process the ongoing feelings of stress, anxiety, and unfulfilled expectations. It’s a plea to see the problem in the light of Scripture, not in the light of blame. If you’re a pastor or church leader, and if a church signs your paycheck, your primary (and biblical) responsibility is to equip the saints for the work of ministry. There is no getting around that.

You will touch the world, to be sure. But you’ll touch it through other people, and probably won’t see the effects of your touch this side of eternity.

What about you? How you doing with this whole thing?


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Posted in Church, Leadership.
  • kentsanders

    This is a really excellent post – thank you! Looking forward to reading your book also.

    • http://www.garymo.com/ Gary Molander

      Thanks Kent. Hope you enjoy the book! GM.

      • kentsanders

        Sounds great! Will be in touch.


  • http://www.facebook.com/kimberly.quinn1 Kimberly Mcdonnal Quinn

    I had never thought about it in this way. I’m kind of a how do we fix this kind of person. I know this is very complex, so there isn’t one fix. But I have often felt that we who the the ones being equipped need to be in conversation with our leaders about what God is doing and about their part in it. I would not be the woman I am today without a lot of leaders who taught and lead. Who were courageous enough to tell me the stuff I didn’t want to hear. So when my life impacts someone it is a direct reflection of the leaders who have spoken truth into my life. I sometimes wonder if they know their true value in my life.

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  • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com @kylereed

    you nailed it

  • http://twitter.com/m_vince Vince Marotte

    Simple. True.

  • http://twitter.com/ccmccain Caroline McCain

    Great post. Needed to hear this now

  • http://twitter.com/JonShabaglian Jon Shabaglian

    Just landed on this blog bro….very insightful. It would be so awesome if the Church and the Kingdom were synonymous. so we have much work to accomplish…with HIM! Thank you for being one of the few creatives I know who’s heart is STILL passionate about knowing God and impacting culture.

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  • Marty

    Just came across your post. It is precise and to the point and right on the money. I am 40 and a newly campus pastor, with prior missions pastoral experience of 6 yrs. My heart is to those who have not heard the truth (or heard at all) about my Jesus and His love for them. I do have a passion at seeing people reach their full potential, but honestly in the church setting the fruit of that hits about 1/100. All the rest are just church goers doing church until they go home. Most bickering complaining fighting, (and that’s just the staff) all spending $$$ on doing church while so many are dying lost. I have never been able to find compassion for those who hear sermon after sermon on being the hands and feet of Christ and living to the full potential and watching them grow old and do nothing but complain about the change. I believe the article has helped me make a crucial decision and sharpen the tip of my prayer to more precise for my door out. Their is a lost and dying world out there, and while I know not all will except Christ, at least they deserve a chance to hear about Him. People in America have 50 chances a day to hear the truth about Him, and the choice is theirs to make not mine to coerce or force. God Bless

    • http://www.garymo.com/ Gary Molander

      Marty – Thanks so much for your honesty and transparency here. For me, it doesn’t make the Church anything less than beautiful. It simply reminds me that I’m not called to receive a paycheck from her. Sounds like that’s where you’re at too. Please know that I’m praying for you, and can readily identify with the stuff you’re feeling and experiencing. Thanks for posting here! GM.