7 Reasons Pastoring a Church is Harder Today

I’m sure that pastoring a church has always been difficult. At the same time, though, it seems much harder today than it was 35+ years ago when I started in full-time pastoral ministry. Here’s my assessment about why the task is harder:

  1. The Internet has influenced church. Church members now face pornography that comes to them. Angry members create websites to attack church leaders. Even pastors may be tempted to claim as their own somebody else’s material found on the Internet – especially when church members now compare our preaching to heroes they listen to on the world-wide web.
  2. Church was more a part of the rhythm of life years ago. Sure, many people in our community then weren’t church attenders. At the same time, though, many other folks just knew they were going to church because that’s what their family did. They were at least present to hear the Word.
  3. “The Bible says” no longer means much. I can remember when few people openly questioned the authority of the Word, even if they didn’t always follow it. Now, we often have to first explain why we believe the Word at all.
  4. The world has come to us via travel and the Internet. That’s a good thing, in the sense that we can now take the gospel to the world by crossing the street or hitting the “send” button. On the other hand, meeting and knowing good people who follow other faiths have caused many church members to question the exclusivity of the gospel.
  5. In general, church members respected the pastoral position more back then. I was 20 years old when I started pastoring. I had not yet finished my undergraduate degree. I was hardly prepared to be a pastor, but folks respected me simply because of the position I held. I’m not sure that folks hold the position that highly today.
  6. What culture now accepts is rapidly changing. More than three decades ago, most of us would never have dreamed that we’d face the cultural issues we face today. Few of us would’ve thought that our culture would someday legalize acts that Christians classify as sin. 
  7. We’re reaping the results of decades of poor discipleship. Discipleship wasn’t strong back then, either, but we’ve now laid on top of that weak foundation 30+ more years of poorly grounding believers. That means we’re often pastoring long-term believers who are really still babies in Christ.

What are your thoughts, pastors? 

58 Comments

  • Bill Pitcher says:

    Point #2 is so plain. In my area we have a high rate of birth to young, single mothers. That has produced a crop of young people that is now 3, 4, or even 5 generations removed from EVER being in a church and hearing the Gospel. They have absolutely no concept of what it’s about.

  • Chuck Lawless says:

    Thanks, Bill.

    • Bryan says:

      I have grown wesry of all the articles 7things Christians need to stop saying, 10 reason’s millennials have left the church etc. etc. and so on.. But this one is full of true facts. As a pastor I need to keep doing all I can to help effect change where I can. Great Article

  • Dale Beighle says:

    Every point is so true! And you summed it all up with point #7!
    You hit the nail on the head when you said “We’re reaping the results of decades of poor discipleship” How true!!!
    The question is “How do we reverse the avalanche?”

  • I’ve said this to our church several times in attempting church revitalization. Thanks for backing it up with the why.

  • Doug Miller says:

    Three other ideas that I see very clearly. 1. Work. More and more businesses are open on Sunday and want full production. Even the service industry that needed to be open on Sunday used to run a skeleton crew. Now it’s full on with just as many working on Sunday as any other day.
    2. Sports. Since when is it ok for our little leagues, rec leagues, and schools to have games on Sunday. I remember my mother going to meet with my coaches to get me out of Wednesday practices. There were still no practices or games on Sunday then. She would usually expect an argument. Never got one though. Today coaches usually respond with something like, “If they are not here for practice there are 3 others who would love to take your child’s place.”
    3. Broken and mixed families. Nuff said.

    Thanks Chuck!

  • Chuck Lawless says:

    Great additions, Doug. Thanks for writing.

  • Chuck Lawless says:

    Thanks, Dale. I think we reverse this trend by investing in one life at a time. It’s slow, but it works.

  • Jim Duggan says:

    Great insight as always, Dr. Lawless. I was just thinking about the same topic last week while reflecting on my 30th anniversary as a Senior Pastor.

    One of the biggest changes that I’ve observed is the rise of a consumer mentality in church. Many church members expect their “needs” to be “served” and when the church fails to meet their expectation, they run off to sample other churches.

    I think that is a result of your #7 above. We’ve not adequately discipled members who look to serve rather than be served. In addition to that, in an effort to bolster our baptism numbers, I think we have added a significant number to our membership who are not regenerate.

    Thanks again for a great article.

    • Mike Massey says:

      Hey Jim, good thoughts. It shouldn’t surprise us that we see members act like consumers when so many churches act like businesses or take a secular business model approach to bring in numbers. Our challenge as pastors is to be sure we aren’t creating the same atmosphere while also showing the need why community is so vital & the reason Jesus established the church.

  • Number 5 and Number 7 hits home. Most people don’t respect the pastorate. Some reasoning for that is justifiable but for the most part i believe it’s linked to number 7. Poor discipleship creates flakey Christians and flakey Christians tend not to have respect for those who God has called. It seems o be a full circle problem.

  • John W Carlton says:

    In 1993 I left a church that I had served for 19 years and began a ministry of Interim and Supply in church music. I was appalled by the attacks that I saw on Pastors by congregations and supposedly Christian leaders. Many times in the churches that I went to the tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife. The result of #7, lack of discipleship, is a big reason for the lack of honor and respect that is lacking. I have talked with Pastors who served in predominantly Roman Catholic areas and there was so much more respect for ministers, not just the Catholic priests.
    In 2003 God called me out of the Music Ministry into the pastorate. I found out quickly that it was a different ball game than what being in the support staff rather than the head man. I love pastors and all ministers, and I pray that God will use them. I also pray that our church members will turn from looking at the church as Thom Rainer calls it the Country Club church, to a service church, looking for places to serve outside the 4 walls of the building.

  • Laura says:

    #7!! I am not a pastor but a Bible teacher, and I am just continually flabbergasted by biblical illiteracy – among long time Christians.

  • Jason says:

    I’m a young, textually driven, discipleship-minded pastor, and one thing that surprises me most is when I hear older church members, many who have spent decades in the church, comment after my sermons that they had never heard that before. I’m thankful that God is using me to illuminate God’s Word to them, but I’m often struck by the growing epidemic of biblical illiteracy that plagues so many of our churches. Thank you for your insights and wisdom that encourages pastors, like me.

  • #7 dominates the whole deal. It starts and ends here. I am afraid the horses are way down the road and the barn is quite empty.

  • Paul says:

    Just a question to think about. Could it be that God is moving the Church away from being pastor-centered and building-focused in order to address the new realities of our culture and society? God will not leave himself without a witness and a people, but if those people can’t or won’t get the job done using current models He may have to push us out of our saltshakers.

  • Cliff Hedges says:

    I think pastoring is harder than it used to be. But that also means we pastors must try harder. We can’t just coast along and be the chaplain. I suspect that the reason for the lack of discipleship (#7) is related to a combination of poor pastoral leadership and churches demanding a caretaker pastor. So, on the upside, people who come to church don’t just do it because it is expected (#2), they are looking for life-change. Pastors are adopting a different mindset. We are not just here to marry, bury, & visit the people, we are here for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ. Your point #1, affects pastors too. It can be a huge trap leading to moral failure, but it also connects us to others and resources that wouldn’t have been dreamed of a generation ago.

  • Pastoring a Church has not had a Biblical model since the second century AD because since then the Church model has not been Biblical! Read the book of Acts and see how far away the so called “churches” are from the Truth of the Way Yeshua(Jesus) set out for us to follow! To be led by the Holy Spirit in all things was the first thing people abandoned in favour of following their own interpretation of God’s Word and designing their own version of “playing church”. Put a man on a pedestal up the front and let him lord it over the congregation became the common theme! Having a program which no longer required the Holy Spirit to lead a gathering or fellowship of the saints. By now they had no need of fellowship either really as their interests grew into worldly living not living as God had prescribed in His Word. Next His Word was completely abandoned in favour of man’s wisdom and man’s counselling by way of Greek philosophical psychiatry and psychology. The mainstream denominations of the so called church have not belonged to the ACTUAL CHURCH of Jesus for centuries! Sure some of the individuals attending these buildings of meetings went looking for God there but any genuine seeker of God’s Truth did not find Him in these places but God found them as He looks into each person’s heart. Over the last 3 or so decades God has been moving His people away from this false church and following His Holy Spirit’s leading once again! These are the people of power, those who are breaking down the gates of hell as per God’s Word whilst following the leading of the Holy Spirit! Satan always sneaks in and destroys anything and everything organised by mankind and that includes every so called “christian” denomination that is in existence. He placed wolves in sheep’s clothing amongst you all, indeed many of you are wolves such as all those who are freemasons that worship satan even! The only church you’ll ever have is the one world church of satan which will be destroyed by the power of Yeshua(Jesus) when He comes again to destroy His enemies. So no it is not the internet or pornography or any other subject that has affected your churches! It is your unwillingness to submit yourselves to the will of God by His Holy Spirit that has destroyed what you thought was your church! Guess what? It is not your Church! There is only One Church and it belongs to Jesus and only those of us who follow Him and His will and are led by His Holy Spirit have any part in it. Do you wish to repair then repent and follow Him, ACTUALLY FOR REAL as according to His Word taught to you by His Holy Spirit and not man’s interpretation of His Word. Luke 11:13  If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him? John 14:26  But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. John 16:13  Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.
    John 16:14  He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.
    John 16:15  All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you. 1John 2:27  But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.
    If you want to be REAL pastors then go out into the streets and proclaim the good news and make disciples! The Church are people and we’re in the streets making disciples, join us in following the leading of the Holy Spirit. Time is too short to be playing “church”.

  • Steve says:

    I think the discipleship issue is one of the major culprits. I do hope this is said correctly: Years ago, winning souls received the greatest emphasis where making disciples was hardly mentioned. One additional thought: Trying to make disciples out of people who have been saved many, many years can be a daunting task.

  • Travis says:

    Great article Dr. Lawless. All seven points are valid and should cause great concern for all Christians, especially Pastors. I believe it all begins with the leadership and what we allow in our homes and congregations. The Word of God, The Gospel is no longer the crux of our preaching and teaching. It seems that today’s church is more concerned with catering to appease the masses and competing with the world for members. Paul raises a great question. If we as preachers are not doing our jobs to carry out the Great Commission, then God must shake things up in oder to get our attention.

  • Greg says:

    Thank you for this article! One struggle we pastors have is this: how can this be said to your church without it coming across as self- serving or as making excuses? Most of us reading this are pastors – who will communicate these things to our churches?

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Hi, Greg. I think it’s possible to talk about these issues in a humble way, and then simply ask the church to pray that you might be the best pastor you can be in the midst of a changing world. How we say something is often as important as what we say.  

  • Matt Tarka says:

    My wife and I comment about all the youth sports activities. The money, the travel, the facilities built. I told her the other day as we drove by a new building just for youth basketball, there is where church money for buildings is going now. However, I also think the tides have moved. I am a lead pastor of a start up church plant that still meets in a home. We see ministry being more diverse and lead by a team then 1 single pastor. There are still roles and giftings to fill, but not all on 1 personality. I have always wanted to do the traditional church, building and me as the lead pastor. I see the Holy Spirit leading me another way and it is challenging to trust Him over my models! I do not know exactly how that will look, but my wife and I have had many pray over us the past few years and said God will lead you to do it different. My prayer is, God what does that mean and show us how. By the way I work full time outside of the church, so necessity is the mother of invention!

  • Mike Massey says:

    Dr. Lawless, could you elaborate more on #5 as to why less respect makes it harder? Obviously people more likely to attack than they once did, but what are other ways you have seen? Thanks

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks, Mike. I think folks are sometimes less inclined to give a pastor the benefit of a doubt, and pastors have to learn to navigate those waters in a different way.  

  • randyscalise says:

    Spot On – I was just discussing the respect and familiarity issue with our members. Knowing what the issues is the first step in changing them. Blessings.

  • Shawn Carter says:

    Absolutely agree. The lack of discipleship coupled with mixing of other religions is leading us straight into confusion.

  • Number 7 All. Day. Long.

  • Kevin Billiot says:

    Good post. More complicated is “how to overcome it?”
    Suggestion for #8: In past generations regenerative church membership was a prerequisite and was demonstrated by a life committed to discipleship and service. Not today. In most cases today all that is required is a verbal profession. The result is we’re attempting to disciple dead people In submission to the “god” of numbers.

  • June Collins says:

    I think another huge problem for pastors is the fear of discussing what’s really on their hearts!! Fear of repercussions for speaking out from the Word of God on subjects that seem to be taboo, like pornography, or topics onsidered racist, homophobic, Islamaphobic, etc. Pastors feel the responsibility to help their congregants deal with secular and global influences with truth, peace and faith in the Lord’s power to strengthen them but are handicapped!

  • Phillip Clark says:

    Great, truthful insight into the hardships of pastoring. In my experience the truth of number 7 is magnified because of the dependence on the Pastor to disciple, rather than each believer investing in the lives of those around them and discipline them. Thanks

  • Wes says:

    #7 with two modern problems that don’t get addressed:

    1. Americans don’t read. The average American watches about 5½ hours of TV, spends just over 2 hours on the internet, and listens to the radio for just under 3 hours. But according to the Bureau of Labor, the average American only spends 19 minutes a day reading.
    When they do read they read at a 7th grade level (most English Bibles are written at an 8th-12th grade level). We do not teach people how to read and thus even our best attempts at discipleship fail.

    2. American minds are overloaded. People who study the ability to process information say you absorb 25,000-30,000 messages and pieces of information in a day. Your mind is only able to process, at least at some level, 16,000-17,000 pieces of information a day. This means you take in far more information than you can think through. This means a lot of important issues are getting no thought at all. Even the things you do think about get very little thought because they are being shoved out by the next thought and the next thought.

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