5 Unusual Ways Ministry Leaders Struggle With God

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.

ways leaders struggle with God

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.

Modern struggles might be a bit different, but in some ways struggle in 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:

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 favour (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 into 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. In fact, as Andy Stanley says, when it feels like God is doing something to you, he might be doing something in you so he can do something through you.

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 fervour 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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

These are five struggles I’ve experienced and have to regularly check in my own life.

What are you discovering? Leave a comment and let me know what you’ve seen.


  1. Dr. Steven White on February 4, 2021 at 3:07 pm

    So real, and so practical!! I love this about your writing, that it comes from an honest, transparent heart.
    As an ordained, out-of-the-box minister, I know the reality of each of these struggles. Coming from the
    Prosperity Theology background, I can’t help but compare my experience with that of my mentor/leader
    who is incredibly well established and revered. It’s a week-by-week journey with our eyes trained on the
    ultimate goal of stability, integrity, and honesty. I definitely know we are still works in progress, and that
    God is still working His wonderful purpose in our lives as we submit ourselves daily to Him.
    God Bless You; keep speaking/writing the truth.
    Thank you so much.

  2. Sally D. on July 25, 2020 at 1:36 pm

    I found your blog by asking “Shouldn’t my church be doing something for me in my greatest time of need?” Their response was utter silence. I went to a mega southern California church when I suddenly became a widow in 2016. His memorial service was held there. The pastor knows me personally. Yet no visitation. No well-check on me. No offer to help pay the electric until his last paycheck comes in. No groceries or dinner. My church failed me. The pastor’s pride and his overbearing control of staff prevents ministries from working. So I asked that question as I have looked for a new church. I’ve learned, again, to keep my eyes laser focused ONLY on Jesus Christ. People will disappoint.

  3. Momma on February 9, 2019 at 10:57 am

    Thank you, dont confuse what you do with who you are. Amen to your on point comment. Only God knows a mothers cry for help regarding her children. I wont stop calling on God for his Intercession in protecting my children that may be in the wrong ministry. Theres only ONE CHRIST JESUS , the messiah, the Son of God and he is in control. He will allow it!!! (Maybe not his choice but ours) or he will cause it . Either way if you truly know your in Gods hand never cease in your prayers to him and he will guard you and draw you in closer to him. It’s always been about him..its not about how many souls you win , it’s about who he leads you to. Christian’s please pray for discernment. A Mom after Gods own heart.

  4. Colin Nielsen on January 23, 2016 at 2:56 pm

    One of the things I see is the struggle to be authentic without oversharing. Pastors are not perfect, yet often they put on a mask where from the outside everything is so brilliant. They look like they have all their stuff together. Never fight with the Mrs. Kids are always perfect. Not only does this mask make them not relatable, but there is a real issue with their kids going off the rails due to them seeing right through the hipocricy. The man at home should be the man in church.

    • Shay on December 18, 2020 at 9:25 pm

      I grew up as a pastors kid, I now work in the church( not where my dad pastors). My dad was the same both at home and in church of course not tit for tat but you never get the feeling of a mask been taken off or on. Sometimes the church didn’t appreciate his authenticity, most times they did. Lately I have been considering going “off the rail”. I think it has less to do with how my dad faith played out and more with desire to break the mold. If you are a pastors kid you grew up in church nothing else, when someone says “remember the life God saved you from” sadly you can’t relate. The church is filled with more people you can’t relate to. Even worse you can be the reason your parents ministry fails. A mistake a kid makes isn’t the same when a pastors kid makes it. Same thing for the pastor. It’s great to be relatable, but even being relatable can’t gauarantee that things will turn out well.

      Working in the church I now understand the paradox and the higher standard caused by the relatablility culture. You have to uphold yourself as an example and yet at the same time be broken and relatable. This to me is probably the most fascinating thing about Jesus. One quality that I am on the search for

      • M on April 30, 2021 at 1:02 pm

        The one day I sat in the church building itself by myself, talking to God. And God said to me: “I will love you no matter what you do.”
        This article of your at point no 5 reminded me about what God said to me.

  5. Adrian on November 5, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    Awesome and thank you. Carey what is the best way to start my own Blog please. Blessings brother Adrian

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 7, 2013 at 9:00 am

      Go to Michael Hyatt’s site and click on “How to Start a Wordpress Blog in 20 minutes or less.” 🙂

  6. Scott Edward Jablonski on November 5, 2013 at 9:20 am

    These five struggles are on target. I appreciate you tackling these and being transparent about them. I think in ministry we tend not to be as transparent in fear of judgement. I have worked through these 5 as well, so it is refreshing to hear that I’m not alone. Truly appreciate your posts.

  7. Julie on November 4, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    I love everything you write Carey. This so resonates with me. Thanks for always giving me a new perspective and challenging me to grow in my leadership and my personal faith journey.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 4, 2013 at 6:54 pm

      Juile I really appreciate the kind word. Thank you!

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