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6 challenges new pastors didn't see coming

Thom Rainer headshot

Many of you have been there and done that. You’ve accepted the call to a new church. You are excited about the possibilities. Your mind is filled with energizing ideas. You are ready to move forward.

Then it happens.

“It” refers to the event that takes you by surprise. You really did not see it coming. Even if it happened to you in a previous church, you viewed it as an exception. But here you go again.

I have been working with local church pastors for over three decades. I love these leaders. I love their hearts. And I hurt with them when they tell me these stories. Six of these stories are so common, I can almost predict them for new pastors. Of course, I hope they don’t take place; but too often they do. Here are the six challenges new pastors did not see coming:

  • The search committee really does not want the church to change. But they told you they were looking for a pastor to lead change in the church. What happened? Why have their minds changed? To be fair, the search committee members (or their equivalent) aren’t liars. They really wanted the church to change . . . as long as it didn’t affect them.
  • The deacons/elders really don’t want you to lead. Again, they told you they were looking for a strong leader. They told you they were ready to follow you. And they were ready to follow you . . . until you started leading them somewhere they didn’t want to go.
  • Your biggest supporter became your most vocal critic. He was there when the moving van pulled up to your church. He wanted to be the first to welcome you to the community and to the church. He let you know he loved you. And he let you know he had your back. But now you feel the knife he placed in your back.
  • The church is not really excited about evangelizing the community. When you had the town hall meeting with the congregation, the excitement was palpable. So many of the members talked about moving forward reaching people with the gospel. Then God blessed the church, and a number were reached with the gospel. Those same members then began to complain about “those new people messing up our church.”
  • The budget cannot be changed. But the treasurer told you the church would be flexible. She said to let her know if you saw a need not in the budget, and she would find a way to make it happen. That was shortly before you became pastor. Now you are discovering the budget is more set than dried concrete. She really didn’t expect you to ask for her help.
  • The denomination is not really there for you. Your arrival came with great fanfare. Some of the denominational leaders showed up at your installation service. They told you with great aplomb to call on them “if you ever need anything.” Now you need something. And they won’t respond to your emails and calls.

To be clear, not all of the experiences of new pastors are negatives. Not all expectations are unmet. But a number are. These are six of the most common.

Originally posted at

Thom S. Rainer is the founder and CEO of Church Answers, an online community and resource for church leaders. Prior to founding Church Answers, Rainer served as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.

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