In an informal survey of pastors, I asked a simple question:
What do you wish you had been told before you became a pastor?
Some of the responses were obvious. For me, a few were surprises.
I note them in order of frequency of response, not necessarily in order of importance. After each item, I offer a representative quote from a pastor.
1. I wish someone had taught me basic leadership skills. "I was well grounded in theology and Bible exegesis, but seminary did not prepare me for the real world of real people. It would have been great to have someone walk alongside me before my first church."
2. I needed to know a lot more about personal financial issues. "No one ever told me about minister's housing, social security, automobile reimbursement, and the difference between a package and a salary. I got burned in my first church."
3. I wish I had been given advice on how to deal with power groups and power people in the church. "I got it all wrong in my first two churches. I was fired outright from the first one and pressured out in the second one. Someone finally and courageously pointed out how I was messing things up almost from the moment I began in a new church. I am so thankful that I am in the ninth year of a happy pastorate in my third church."
4. Don't give up your time in prayer and the Word. "I really don't ever remember anyone pointing me in that direction. The busier I became at the church, the more I neglected my primary calling. It was a subtle process; I wish I had been forewarned."
5. I wish someone had told me I needed some business training. "I felt inadequate and embarrassed in the first budget meetings. And it really hit home when we looked at a building program that involved fund raising and debt. I had no clue what the bankers were saying."
6. Someone should have told me that there are mean people in the church. "Look, I was prepared to deal with critics. That's the reality of any leadership position. But I never expected a few of the members to be so mean and cruel. One church member wrote something really cruel on my Facebook wall. Both my wife and children cried when they read it."
7. Show me how to help my kids grow up like normal kids. "I really worry about the glass house syndrome with my wife and kids. I'm particularly worried that my children will see so much of the negative that they will grow up hating the church. I've seen it happen too many times."
8. I wish I had been told to continue to date my wife. "I was diligent in dating my wife before I became a pastor. I then got so busy helping others with their needs that I neglected her. I almost lost my marriage. She felt so alone as I tried to meet everyone's needs but hers."
9. Someone needed to tell me about the expectation of being omnipresent. "I had no idea that people would expect me to be at so many meetings, so many church socials, and so many sports and civic functions. It is impossible to meet all those expectations, so I left some folks disappointed or mad."
10. I really needed help knowing how to minister to dying people. "Some of those who have terminal illnesses have such a strong faith that they minister to me. But many of them are scared and have questions I never anticipated. I was totally unprepared for these pastoral care issues when I first became a pastor."