5 Honest Struggles Most Church Leaders Don’t Want To Admit

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Most of us who get into full-time ministry do so because we sense a calling, not because it was a ‘career path’.

Chances are you got in this because you love God, deeply, right?

So it’s always a bit surprising and unusual then when ministry leaders find themselves struggling with the very God who called them into this in the first place. This is true whether you’re paid, bi-vocational or even a full-time volunteer.

Ministry can not only be hazardous to your spiritual health, it can be confusing.

But the good news is that struggling with God is normal. You are not alone.

The best leaders struggled with God.

Jacob wrestled an angel.

Moses almost quit more than a few times.

Jeremiah tried to quit but couldn’t.

Today’s struggles might be a bit different, but in some ways struggle is inevitable.

I personally have struggled with every one of the five challenges I outline in this post.  And what’s amazing to me is that you can get through them. You really can.

Sometimes all you need to know is you’re not alone. And you’re not, even if you feel that way.

Here are 5 ways ministry leaders struggle in their relationship with God:

Ministry can not only be hazardous to your spiritual health, it can be deeply confusing. Click To Tweet

1. You see setbacks in ministry as a personal statement from God about you

Hey, everybody thinks this way when life circumstances don’t tilt in their favor (why did God allow me to have cancer/lose this job/be in this place?). So it’s natural that this line of thinking would emerge in ministry.

Just because things aren’t going the way you want in ministry isn’t an automatic sign that God is angry with you. I’m always amazed that constant imprisonment didn’t cause Paul to second guess himself or God.

God isn’t always punishing you, even if it feels like he is.

The key is to take the setbacks in front of you seriously, not personally. You’ll be so much healthier.

Stop taking the setbacks in front of you personally. Take them seriously. Click To Tweet

2. You believe that greater faithfulness should result in greater impact in ministry 

Ever tried to improve your personal devotional life so your church would do better? Gosh, I wish this wasn’t true but in the early days of ministry, I really thought greater personal fervor would automatically translate into greater ministry impact.

I’m all for a rich personal walk with God, but it’s really not a push-this-button-and-God-will-do-great-things-through-you kind of proposition. In fact, it’s a bit self-centered to think that way.

Pursue God, and pursue a great mission. Both are critical. But God doesn’t reward the most faithful with the best results.

God doesn't always reward the most faithful with the best 'results'. Click To Tweet

Get Answers To Your Toughest Pastoral Succession Questions

5 years from now, what would it feel like to look back and know…

  • That you asked the right questions before and it prepared you for what came after?
  • That you made tough but necessary decisions to prepare for a brighter future?
  • That you were confident each step of the way?

You can hit the ground running in your ministry and skip the years of trial-and-error (and failures) that so many pastors face during a transition.

3. You are convinced God should protect you from pain 

So here’s a confession. Much of the pain I’ve experienced in ministry is self-induced. I have created crises in my mind and in relationships around me. The solution for me was to confess my sin and realize so much of the pain around me was caused by the strife within me.

What if much of the pain around you was actually caused by the strife within you? Click To Tweet

As to the rest of the troubles that inevitably come our way? I seem to remember Jesus’ brother James saying we were supposed to throw a party when they come and celebrate because God uses them to perfect us.

God doesn’t always protect us from pain. He uses it to grow us. And the part that’s self-induced? Get on your knees.

God doesn’t always protect us from pain. He uses it to grow us. Click To Tweet

4. You confuse your work life with your devotional life

I always ask myself “If I couldn’t do ministry tomorrow for whatever reason, what would be left of my life with Christ?” Hopefully, the answer is “lots” or “virtually everything”.

So my devotional life has little to do with what I’m teaching, and I try to pray about things I wouldn’t pray about if I wasn’t a pastor. But naturally, I also pray about things related to ministry.

Pretending you’re not a ministry leader in your relationship with God is a great way to stay vibrant as a ministry leader.

If you couldn’t do ministry tomorrow, what would be left of your life with Christ? Click To Tweet

5. You find it hard to believe that God loves you simply because He loves you

Your identity is not based on what you do, but based on what Christ has done. I know you preach that, but you have a hard time believing it, don’t you?

Your identity is not based on what you do, but based on what Christ has done. Click To Tweet

Don’t confuse what you do with who you are in Christ. Need to hear that more clearly? I wrote this one for every leader who’s ever struggled through a Monday.

He loves you. He just does.

Don’t confuse what you do with who you are in Christ. Click To Tweet

Secure Your Church’s Future with a Proven Pastoral Succession Plan.

If you’ve ever wondered:

  • How do I lead this church with a vision I didn’t create and a staff I didn’t hire?
  • Am I even equipped to be a lead pastor? And to lead our church through a healthy transition? 
  • How can I honor the outgoing pastor throughout the transition?

Then it might be time to make a plan for your future.

So much rides on healthy pastoral succession. A bad one can ruin a great legacy, harm a church, and make the new lead pastor a sacrificial lamb.

Or, it can go exceedingly well. 

How do you not mess it up when there's so much at stake?

The Art of Pastoral Succession helps you hit the ground running in your ministry and skip the years of trial-and-error (and failures) that so many pastors face during a transition.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.