10 Misperceptions Laypersons Have about Pastors

I started this blog last year to help pastors and church leaders because I love the local church. Leaders and laypeople alike are some of God’s greatest gifts to us, and I love being in the dozens of churches where I speak each year. At the same time, though, laypersons sometimes have misperceptions of pastors that I think hurt their leaders. Here are some of them:

  1. We never struggle with spiritual disciplines. Even those of us called to lead God’s church wrestle with finding the time and discipline to spend private time with God. We live in the tension of studying for a sermon and studying for personal growth.
  2. We’re all certain about our calling. The stress of leading a church sometimes causes some of us to wonder if this is what God has called us to do. We want to be 100% confident, but that’s not always the situation.
  3. We don’t have to pay taxes. I’ve heard this wrong idea for decades. Some churches, I’m afraid, use this misperception to pay their pastor less than they should.
  4. We never get nervous preaching the Word. I’ve preached for almost forty years, and my heart still pounds a bit when walking to the pulpit. Frankly, I hope that reaction never goes away – proclaiming the Word ought to weigh heavy on us.
  5. Our faith keeps us from getting wounded. In fact, it’s often just the opposite. Because of our faith in God and His church, we assume that God’s people will treat each other with love and grace. Sometimes that doesn’t happen.
  6. All full-time pastors get benefits like any other employee. Many do, but some of us receive a salary “package” out of which we must pay our own health insurance, life insurance, auto reimbursement, retirement, etc. In that case, our “salary” is seriously reduced.
  7. We learned all we need to know in Bible school or seminary. That’s simply not so, as no classroom experience can prepare us for all the tasks of ministry. We’re learning every day how to lead staff meetings, conduct a funeral, deal with marital conflict, and address so many other issues – often by learning the hard way. 
  8. We have a lot of real friends. We have many acquaintances, but often few friends. Ministry can be really lonely, actually.
  9. Our home is a slice of heaven. It may look that way on Sunday, but we experience real life the rest of the week just like everybody else does. Our family has its own struggles.
  10. We’re always on the lookout for the next best church. To be honest, some pastors do live that way – and they don’t make it easy for the rest of us who are genuinely committed where God has placed us. Most of really love our church, even with all their imperfections.

What would you add to this list?


  • I heard recently on a talk radio call in that Pastors recieve stipends from the government; $2,500; we all know how accurate this is. I would add that some believe Pastors have all the answers; they don’t. A Pastor’s job is one of presence; we teach others how to wait on God amidst struggles.

  • Kenneth Davis says:

    I would add that most lay people think that the pastor is above them, better than them or are “Super Christians”. Sometimes a pastor might place themselves above their members but most, that I’ve met, are mere humans, with the same struggles and fears that we all have. Lay people do their pastors a disservice when they put them on a pedestal. It leaves the pastor alone, with no help with “human frailties”

  • Ken says:

    Man, did you press my buttons with #3. I get so sick and tired of hearing people talk about the “tax-exempt status” of clergy. If ministers don’t have to pay taxes, then the federal government and two state governments owe me some HUGE refunds!

  • Howard Kitter says:

    Very good read. I have been in the ministry 33 years now. I have experienced much of what you wrote. My calling has kept me grounded and in the pulpit. I try to remember that a pastor isn’t the only one with a particular set of stresses or pre conceived ideas from others.
    Thanks again.

  • # 11. Just because a pastor can preach does not guarantee he is a competent leader!

  • Les Tarlton says:

    Preach it! I served as a bi-vocational pastor for most of my career, although well educated and it was never easy. Four of my five children refuse to attend church because of the way the family was treated.

  • Mark says:

    I believe that a lot of people think Pastors only work on Sunday, maybe one other day to prepare the Sermon…Our Pastor has worked 7 days a week, often

  • Mark Howie says:

    Please stop all these articles that make pastors out to be victims. Buck up! I would love to once see an article about what the laity, and what the clergy doesn’t know.

    1. Most pastors forget that the church is a volunteer organization. After the laity have worked 50+ hours a week digging ditches, the clergy expects the laity to come dig ditches at the church. Pastors should not include service time as work hours unless they understand that we work long and hard too.

    2. Most pastors don’t get cussed on a weekly basis.

    3. Most pastors do not work where they have to sign agreements not to share their faith. I can lose my job by mentioning God in a religious sence.

    4. Most pastors Do get a tax break that laymen don’t. Parsonage allowance or double dip by getting a housing allowance and mortgage interest deduction. They also get a deduction for their tithe at a higher rate than laymen, if it is a required expense to work at the church. It becomes similar to union dues.

    5. Most pastors are not subject to quotas and deadlines like laypeople are. If we do not grow our companies, or make sales, we are fired a lot quicker than most ministers are.

    6. Most pastors do not realize the the enemy is on the outside of the church. If people attend, then they are on your side for the most part. We have options! There are churches of every size and flavor. We come because we believe like you and allow ourselves to be under your teaching.

    7. Most pastors are afraid of their own shadow, when it comes to friendships. They compete with other pastors in their area, and they hold parishioners at arms length so they won’t get hurt. If the pastors lonely, it is his fault. We all have been hurt. HEAL and learn to love again!

    8. Most pastors do not know what goes on in our homes either. I had a pastor ask me for a large donation at a time when my family was homeless.

    9. Treat people like customers, and they will act like customers.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Mark. 

    • Pastor Mike says:

      Interesting that you start so many of your statements with “most pastors.” Since there are more than 600,000 clergymen in America, I feel like the statements should probably begin “most pastors I’ve known.” The items in this list are just incorrect in many cases, especially that bit about not having to reach quotas. With the average tenure of a pastor being below 2 years, a great number of them are fired precisely for not meeting quotas or growing their churches at the expected rate.

      I say none of this to pick a fight at all. I simply say that generalizing statements about clergy or laity from the other side of the fence only exacerbates the misunderstanding the article is intended to alleviate. There is evident pain in your past church experience, and for that I am sincerely sorry. At the heart of all churches is a broken, fallen leader leading broken, fallen people. Unfortunately, that means, among other things, that there is more than enough hurt to go around. There is a lot of bucking up we all have to do, with the accompanying necessary forgiveness.

      BTW, I got cussed three times this past Sunday. That’s pretty typical.

      • Nathan says:

        Hear hear to this dude called mike, as a pk I can honestly say that 4,5,6,7,8, and 9 are not true for the pastors I’ve known here in NCCUMC, and I’m sincerely sorry that you’ve met pastors like that.

      • adiaphora says:

        There are clergyWOMEN in America, too! Of course, some of these things we have in common (I am accused of not paying taxes often), but I don’t think many male clergy have heard, “I’m sorry, Pastor, but I really need to talk to a male pastor about this” (from a female).

        • Ken says:

          Dr. Lawless is a Southern Baptist, as are many of us that post comments. We don’t believe it is scriptural for women to serve as pastors. You are within your rights not to agree with us on that point, but since this is Dr. Lawless’ blog, it seems to me you should respect his convictions instead of demanding that he respect yours.

          • GraceSweetGrace says:

            I was considering “liking” this entry on FaceBook, but as a female, non-Baptist pastor, I guess that is out of the question. I was unaware this blog was only intended for male Baptist preachers. Maybe that disclaimer should be more evident!

          • Chuck Lawless says:

            My personal conviction is that men are to serve as pastors, but that conviction has never been intended to limit the readership of this blog. I welcome those who may differ with my conviction, and I pray that the posts will help all readers. 

          • Chuck Lawless says:

            Thanks, Ken. I don’t take the honest questions as anyone disrespecting my convictions. 

        • Chuck Lawless says:

          Thanks for your thoughts, Adiaphora. 

    • Ken says:

      Mark, you have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. Instead of telling us to “buck up”, maybe you should just shut up.

    • kaye says:

      I am truly sorry that you feel this way about pastors. You have obviously been hurt from something or someone in the past. Please know that your statements are far to stereotypical of how a pastor is. You do not know all of these things about pastors. I promise. First of all, “your” #1 is a major personal battle my husband (a pastor) fights. He takes very very seriously the fact that the “church” is full of volunteers. Please know that the focus of our churches must be to love Jesus and love others, well. Truly love. How our Saviour would have. I will end here. May we remain focused on keeping Our Heavenly Father our utmost, not our own personal judgements.

    • Ken says:

      Mr. Howie, on behalf of pastors around the country, I think your comments deserve a more detailed response. Here is my response to each of your individual points:

      1. I don’t know what you define as “service time”. Many pastors I know spend around 20 hours a week studying and preparing sermons, in addition to visiting in hospitals, counseling, intervening in family disputes, contacting prospects for the church, and a whole host of other things that certain laypeople (mentioning no names) won’t lift a finger to do. Unlike laypeople, pastors don’t get paid overtime when they put in more than 40 hours, and many of them work full-time jobs in addition to serving their churches.
      2. Many pastors do in fact get cussed out, but most of our critics aren’t that brave. Instead they stir up trouble behind our backs spreading slander and half-truths, or in some cases they try to discredit us by posting a bunch of stereotypical comments and half-truths on the Internet (that means you, Mr. Howie).
      3. Many pastors don’t have written job descriptions at all, and then they are criticized by laypeople for “not doing their job”.
      4. Many laypeople get tax breaks that pastors don’t. What’s your point? You also conveniently omitted a few points regarding parsonages and housing allowances:
      • Housing allowance is subject to self-employment tax.
      • If the pastor lives in a parsonage, he has to declare the fair rental value for self-employment tax purposes (thus he ends up paying taxes on money he never receives).
      • Many churches do not keep up their parsonages all that well, and the pastor is unable to make repairs without the approval of the church. This slows down his ability to make necessary repairs, if he is able to make them at all.
      • Many churches fire their pastors with no advance warning, and immediately force them to move out of the parsonage. Unlike most landlords, they are not required to give thirty days’ notice. You don’t think that happens? It happened to a friend of mine.
      • Many churches have no respect for the privacy of a pastor when he lives in a parsonage. “After all”, they reason, “we own that house, don’t we?”
      5. On the contrary, many churches do institute a kind of “quota system” on their pastors. If they don’t think the church is growing sufficiently, they blame the pastor and often fire him. Ironically, the loudest complainers are often people that never get involved in any kind of outreach because – after all – “that’s the pastor’s job”.
      6. Many pastors are not so sure that the enemy is outside the church. Very often, the enemy is inside the church, as I’ve stated in my above comments. Your rant should give your own pastor reason to worry.
      7. Many pastors are indeed afraid to form friendship because they’ve been hurt by people like you who slander them with half-truths. I don’t blame your pastor for not trusting you. After reading your rant, I would trust you about as far as I can throw our Family Life Center.
      8. I would say I’m sorry your pastor treated you that way, but since you seem to have no compassion for pastors that have been hurt, why should I show any compassion toward you? After all, we all get hurt. HEAL and learn to love again (if you’ll recall, those were your very words).
      9. Treat your pastor like your personal employee, and you’ll have trouble keeping a pastor. Sooner or later, even pastors get tired of assaults on their self-respect.

      By the way, Mr. Howie, I’ve been a blue-collar worker. That’s how I paid my way through seminary. Have you ever been a pastor? If not, then I advise you to keep your opinions to yourself because you have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. If you think my comments were rude or un-Christlike, Mr. Howie, I merely suggest you take your own advice and… BUCK UP.

    • Jim says:

      Like most opinion pieces, there’s truth to your comments, Mark. I experience some differences, however: (1) Most congregations have fewer than 100 active members, and thus their pastors generally must be bi-vocational. Among pastors who are full-time, however, the majority work up to 70 hours per week, NOT counting volunteer ministries. And yet, while I wouldn’t say we get “cussed on” (per your #2) on a weekly basis, we very frequently are criticized for not doing enough. (2) I do get a tax break on housing; however, I also pay self-employment tax, which is double what employees pay, and which I pay on my housing allowance, too. I understand that I benefit from that tax through Social Security; however, I’m retired and drawing Social Security, and still pay the self-employment tax if I serve interim or supply ministries (and even though I continue to pay the full self-employment tax, my benefits will not increase because of my continued payments). And my deduction for charitable donations is exactly the same as you get [perhaps because in our church it’s voluntary, even for pastors.] (3) You do qualify your #5 with “most” pastors; however, weekly sermon(s) and newsletters constitute deadlines all pastors face, and while I can’t speak for most pastors, the greatest single block of time in my work is aimed at meeting those deadlines; plus, most of us are held accountable for how many pastoral visits and hospital calls we make each week. (4) #6 is a consumer response, and is one of the greatest problems we pastors face. (5) #7 & 8 are consistent with my observation, regrettably. On the other hand, we frequently get criticized if we do have personal friendships–especially if those friendships are within the congregation. We’re accused of playing favorites. (6) Yes, people expect to be treated like customers, and the mantra, “the customer is always right,” when combined with your #1 and #6 above, constitute the greatest challenge to today’s church and pastoral work. In a consumer culture in which “the customer is always right, Jesus’ commands and examples of servanthood are a very hard sell! The truth that very few lay persons recognize (maybe because we pastors haven’t communicated it) is that when we discover our calling, and when we discover and use the gifts we have been given to fulfill our calling, there is no burden. If the work of the church (as contrasted to “church work”) is a bother or an intrusion, it’s likely you’ve not yet discovered your calling and your gifts of service. And if everyone in the church found his or her calling and used his or gifts of service, nobody would be overburdened, and the fellowship of believers would be enriched.

    • Jim says:

      Mark, I should have begun my previous comments with an “Amen” to your first sentence. The work and fellowship of the church is “team” effort; mutual support and accountability are necessary. I suspect (with some data to support my suspicion) examples of culpability would pretty much balance out between clergy and laity.

  • Lori says:

    Sometimes Pastors struggle with balancing church and home life; late hours, emergencies, interrupted vacations, interrupted meals, interrupted sleep- it can add so much pressure to family dynamics, and the Pastor is often left feeling like he’s disappointing home, or church, or both. (Pastor’s wife)

  • Terry Tuley says:

    Pastors do not have the ability to be omnipresent. Yet, they are expected to attend every social function of the church and present themselves in a timely manner before every slice of the surgeon’s knife. In the mean time, the Pastor’s own family is neglected.

    Terry Tuley, Chattanooga, TN

  • Blake Alling says:

    I’ve been told that because I am a pastor who doesn’t have any “real training”, I can’t counsel their family like a therapist can. But they never asked what my training included, they just assumed. Then I had to watch their family fall apart as they followed that therapist’s counsel.

  • Rob Guilliams says:

    Thank you for this article Dr. Lawless. It’s always a blessing to me to see that I’m not the only one who struggles with these things. As a military chaplain I would add two things. The first is an addition to #8. In the military we move every 2-3 years so having real, close friendships can become even harder for us. And when you’re imbedded with a Marine infantry battalion where everyone has to give the appearance of being tough and hard, it can become even lonelier.

    The second thing I would add is a misperception that many civilian pastors have about military chaplains. I have actually had a pastor ask me “So why did you leave ministry?” My first thought was “What the heck are you talking about?” We are still ministers. We minister to hurting people everyday. We still preach, counsel, share the gospel, and also have to maintain our military standards of appearance and physical fitness. Just because we are not pastoring a local church does not mean that we have left the ministry.

  • Scott says:

    I’m a bi-vocational pastor, one who is STRUGGLING even then to make ends meet! But the Lord has CALLED me to serve and I do so because I Love Him and His People! I’m trusting God each and everyday to meet my needs as well as encouraging my congregants to trust Him.
    This article is RIGHT ON!! Thank you so much for being obedient in writing it!
    One I might add is the expectations placed on my wife also….. Even though she works 2 part time jobs which she loves, when I go visiting the sick and or shut ins they want to know why my wife isn’t with me.
    When I was serving at my previous church my wife’s mother passed away, not ONE person reached out to her to console her!!! That was 4 years ago… She has never spilled her hurt to them about it!

  • Tommy says:

    My family and I are blessed to serve in great small church. We have been here for 15 years. However, to say it is not lonely and stressful is ridiculous. I was diagnosed with clinical depression 8 years ago. My wife has terrible gastrointestinal issues related to stress. My 20 year old daughter really battles anxiety and my 15 year old was just diagnosed with depression. Now I am not saying ministry caused all of that but what I am saying is we struggle just like everyone else. Somehow we are expected to just be ok because we are the pastors family. We are just regular people with a different calling. We are not immune to life.

  • Victoria Fuller MDiv says:

    The biggest misperception I face is that pastors are all males.

  • Try calling a state run mental health facility at 11 pm and you will be directed to an ER. Try calling a pastor. He/she will be there in the time it takes to get dressed and travel if needed. I know.

  • Ken says:

    Grace, where did anyone say this blog was intended only for male Baptist pastors? I will thank you not to twist my words, as that is both cowardly and un-Christlike. I simply pointed out that this is Dr. Lawless’ blog, and he comes from a denomination that doesn’t believe it’s scriptural for women to serve as pastors. Is it too much to ask that you try to see things from his perspective?

  • jackww says:

    How many of these issues would be issues if there were no divide between a clergy class of people and a laity class of people?

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Good question, though I doubt it would resolve everything as long as there are leaders and followers.  

      • jackww says:

        Exactly. A radical leadership/followship might help such as; “But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. ”

        Just the same, well said,

        • Ken says:

          Yes, it would be nice to see more laypeople who desire to serve, instead of grumbling that their “needs aren’t being met”.

  • Jared Stanley says:

    Mark, I would challenge you to follow a pastor for a week. When he gets a call at 2am that a member is in the hospital and has to get up and go to the hospital, you should get up and go with him. When he is in the middle of the long and hard process of preparing a sermon and is interrupted by any number of issues. Then his sermon is critiqued by people who don’t realize that in Ephesians 4, Paul makes it clear that the pastors are to equip the saints for the work of the gospel. See, we are tour guides, not ticket takers. Jesus said to go and make disciples, not go and make converts. I am currently a seminary student, and I am preparing for the ministry and learning that to truly make disciples, we are going to have to turn tradition upside down and teach believers that there is much more to being a disciple than going to church on Sunday. You are the church, the salt and light of the world, and the body of Christ. I pray that you come under teaching that emphasizes discipleship. The article is accurate, and I feel comforted that someone is standing up for us.

  • Jim Watson says:

    Well, we certainly seem to have found even more misperceptions that laypersons have about pastors than Dr. Lawless even listed. It is refreshing to have a forum such as this for the airing of such comments. But, it is sad when people who have such deeply held misperceptions attempt to thrust them on others as if they were facts. At the same time, honest and open discussions are necessary for the equipping and edification of the saints. But, don’t #5 and #8 make even more sense now? 😉

  • Greg Russ says:

    Love the discussion! Just shows we are all sick and in need of the great physician! Thank you Jesus!!!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.