Things Pastors Wish They Knew

This is the third installment of insights we gained when my students at Southeastern Seminary interviewed pastors who’ve served at least ten years. Beyond telling us their greatest joys and biggest frustrations, pastors also told us what they wish they knew when they started ministry. Here are some of those things:  

  1. Opposition will come, even from within the church. These pastors said they weren’t ready for the conflicts that come with ministry. They were especially not prepared for conflict that comes from within the church.
  2. Opposition is not always personal. Just because church members express a different opinion or position doesn’t necessarily mean they’re opposed to you or your leadership. These pastors wish they’d known that truth when they started ministry.  
  3. Spiritual warfare is real. It’s one thing to talk about warfare, but it’s another thing to experience it once you’re entered ministry. Not being ready for the enemy’s attacks made these pastors vulnerable.
  4. Counseling is a big part of ministry. Some of the pastors were surprised by how much counseling they would have to do, and most wished they’d had more counseling preparation.
  5. The pastor’s job really is to equip others. They knew Ephesians 4 when they started ministry, but it’s experience that showed them how important the task is. They’ve had to learn how to get over themselves and invest in others.
  6. Pastors have to work at taking care of their families. These pastors were surprised at times by the heaviness of the burden of pastoral work, and they realized that ministry can lead to neglecting their family if they’re not watchful and prayerful.
  7. It’s almost impossible to leave your work at the office. There’s no such thing as an 8am-5pm pastoral job. You carry the burdens of the entire church, and it’s tough to ignore them. Some of these pastors are still learning how to not allow these thoughts to be controlling.

My class also asked pastors what one class would they add to their seminary training if they were creating a new degree. Those classes included the following that were most commonly expressed:

  1. Budgeting. These pastors learned by experience what they should have learned in their graduate work at a seminary.
  2. Practical administration and leadership. Most of these leaders had no class addressing things like preparing budgets, paying taxes, leading meetings, etc.—and they now recognize the size of that void.
  3. Biblical counseling. See #4 above, and imagine the pastor’s thoughts if he had no training. That’s what many of these church leaders experienced.
  4. Internships. More than one pastor is longing to have a strong student who could walk beside and help them.
  5. Spiritual growth and discipleship. This void is much less a factor now in some seminaries, but most of us are working on trying to correct this issue in our own realities.

Pastors, any surprises here? How would you answer the question about what you wish you knew when you started ministry? What class (es) would you add to the curriculum now?  


  • Joe Donahue says:

    Bullet Point under Practical Administration and Leadership: Robert’s Rules of Order. Almost every Pastor is expected to serve as Moderator of Church Conferences and follow Robert’s Rules.

    I must have missed that day in my Spiritual Formations class.

  • Steve says:

    I think a course on interpersonal relationships and conflict resolution would be helpful. While a counseling course might be helpful in order to guide individuals, some instruction on dealing with community relationship dynamics is a must. One of my favorite sayings is, “Where there are six Baptists, there are seven opinions.” From a pastoral standpoint, much of our time is spent dealing with such issues.

  • Brian K. Smith says:

    The old adage “I wish I knew at 25 what I know at 45” is so very true for me. I knew how to prepare sermons and preach but didn’t know how to be a pastor. Even growing up as a PK and knowing much of the inside scoop still didn’t prepare me. – Internship opportunities weren’t readily available for me in my experience of preparation but would’ve been wonderfully helpful.

  • Brian Sherwood says:

    I was blessed to have had some available “electives” in my MDiv work and I took several classes in the Education department (MDiv students are in the school of theology). One of the classes I took was “Administration and Leadership in the Church,” which touched on budgets & administration. Another class I enrolled in was “Equipping Believers to Serve,” a very practical & helpful course. As a seminary student, I was saddened on how many of my theology brothers made fun of those who were in the Education Department & would sometimes make some very mean comments. The saddest aspect is the fact they failed to take advantage of their electives to learn more about different areas of church work many are now stating they wish they were more equipped to do. I would encourage every seminary to allow free electives and encourage the students preparing for pastoral ministry to take classes from other departments. It will bless, equip, and prepare them better for church ministry.

  • Hardil Thomas says:

    I wish I had known how to lead the congregation in how to plan ministry. Since I had spent more than twenty years in the Army, I transferred those skills to planning ministry in the church where I pastored for twenty-four years and God blessed those skills. Here is what I had learned: I asked each ministry to prepare a “twelve month” plan answering the following questions: What will this ministry do? How will we do it? How much will each activity cost? what support we will need from others ministries? What will be the date of each activity? How will these activities support the church’s mission/purpose statement.
    As each month was accomplished, these next year’s activity was prepared. For example, At the end of Jan. 1990, that ministry begin planning for Jan. 1991 and so on. Therefore, when the planning team met in Oct. for the annual planning, the leadership team could review and track all ministries for the coming year. This plan worked well for twenty-four years.

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