The Top 10 Challenges in Pastoral Care

Most pastors are amazing. I am honored to serve them, and my appreciation for pastors grows every day.

For example, I recently conducted a social media survey where I asked pastors to share their most common pastoral care challenges. The volume of responses was huge, a very impressive number. But even more impressive were the stories of love and concern these pastors have for their congregations. They want to care for them. They want the best for them. They want to help ease their pains.

So, for the most part, the challenges are not the members themselves, but the capacity to meet all the pastoral needs members have. Here is how the pastors expressed 10 of their greatest pastoral care challenges.

1. Time. The pastoral care needs are always greater than the time available to meet those needs. A number of pastors expressed the tension of meeting the needs of their own families while trying to meet the needs of the church members.

2. Expectations. It doesn’t take a new pastor long to discover you can’t meet all the expectations of church members for pastoral care. Pastors always disappoint someone. They typically get criticized for not meeting needs. It is a burden and frustration for these church leaders.

3. Emotional fatigue. Pastors see a lot of emotional, physical, mental and spiritual needs. They see the deepest pains and the direst situations. They are often unable to detach from the hurt they see almost every day.

4. The fix-it syndrome. Many pastors are fixers by nature and personality. But many pastoral care situations defy fixing, at least in the short term. Pastors, as a consequence, feel both frustrated and hopeless.

5. Dealing with toxic members. One pastor told me that half his week is spent dealing with toxic church members and the church members hurt by the toxic people. Pastoral care of this nature has little reward.

6. Aging congregations. To be clear, no pastor said anything negative about the pastoral needs of older adults. Their challenge is the increasing number of needs as members age. Many of the pastors are serving congregations where over three-fourths of the active members are 70 and older.

7. Communication failures. Pastors are sometimes expected to be omniscient. They will obviously miss a hospital visit if they don’t know the person is in the hospital. When one pastor was confronted for missing a visit due to his own lack of knowledge, the church member responded, “Well, you should have known.” Sigh.

8. Pastor-only pastoral care. Some church members still believe pastors are supposed to do all the pastoral care ministry. The infamous sentence is repeated too often, “That’s what we pay the pastor to do.” Many pastors would like to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry, but those saints will have nothing of the kind.

9. Hospital visits. Depending on the demographic context, some pastors have to spend most of the day for a single hospital visit. One pastor shared that most of his members go to a hospital in a city almost two hours away. He lamented how little time he had for sermon preparation because he was in the car so much going to the hospital.

10. The special situation of the bi-vocational pastors. These challenges are exacerbated when the pastor is bivocational. Most churches are willing to pay a pastor part-time pay while expecting full-time work.

I love pastors. I love their hearts. I love how they love their churches. Next time you see your pastors involved in some aspect of pastoral care, let them know how much you appreciate them. Many often don’t hear such words of affirmation and encouragement. Your words can make a huge difference to those who serve us so well.

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Thom Rainer
Thom Rainer

Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of Church Answers and executive director of Revitalize Network. He served for 12 years as dean at Southern Seminary and for 13 years as the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Also a respected researcher and former pastor, he has written more than 25 books, including many best sellers, such as I Am a Church Member. Rainer and his wife, Nellie Jo, have three grown sons, several grandchildren and live in Nashville, Tennessee.