10 Difficult Ministry Situations

I’m not sure many church members know the different kinds of life situations a pastor deals with. As I think back over my ministry career, I’m reminded of difficult scenarios that have demanded pastoral care. In no particular order, here are ten ministry situations for which I was unprepared – and which still give rise to some grief when I think about them.

  1. Standing by as a baby died – I can still remember hearing the hospital monitors go silent as the sobs of the parents grew louder. All I could do was stand there and hold up two adults overwhelmed by grief.
  2. Losing a friend over a church matter – As I look back, the matter wasn’t even that important. It was significant enough, though, that he felt it necessary to end our friendship. Those words still sting as I write them.
  3. Watching children grieve their parents’ divorce – Even their pastor couldn’t help them understand, because I didn’t understand what was happening, either.
  4. Telling a church member that the church was going to remove him from membership – He had rejected any attempts we had made for reconciliation, and exclusion was the next option to try to convince him of the seriousness of his sin. It was the right move, but I don’t want to go through it again.
  5. Officiating a funeral of a non-believer – As far as we knew, she had never trusted Christ in faith and repentance. My theology gave her no hope for anything but judgment, and yet I had to try to comfort the family.
  6. Watching friends lose their ministry over sinful choices – Some of the fallen folks I’ve known have also been some of the most gifted people I’ve known. It’s never easy to see Satan win, even if you know that God and His people win in the end.
  7. Learning of the first divorce of a couple whose wedding I officiated – I committed myself as a young pastor to do all I could do to help couples marry well and stay married. I wept when I learned that my plans wouldn’t always work.
  8. Facing false accusations from a church member — An older member was sure I was trying to run his family out of the church. He was wrong, but it took a long time to convince him otherwise.
  9. Visiting a church member in jail – I was convinced he had changed when he joined our church, but I learned otherwise. I was both angry and sad when I talked with him with a guard nearby.
  10. Saying “good-bye” to a church I loved – I knew God was calling me to a new place, but saying good-bye to a church family is a unique pain.

Pray for your pastors today.

Pastors, what other difficult situations have you faced? 


  • Wayne Sibrava says:

    Yet another very difficult and painful situation that pastors face is not having anyone to talk to about some of the struggles especially with those struggles within the framework of the church. This of course makes the ministry a lonely place. At first glance one might think that there’s always someone to talk to but in a smaller church environment and within a denominational structure people and leaders are close to the situation and maybe even part of the problem and difficult to talk to. All of the difficulties that you mention in this blog are so true. Thanks for sharing your heart for pastors.

  • Brent Thompson says:

    Great Article. Sadly, I have experienced every one of these situations. Through it all, God has taught me to trust Him and His grace is sufficient. Thanks for writing. I so enjoy your articles.

  • Bryan Ready says:

    Preaching the funeral of a suicide victim on Christmas Eve.

  • brian taule says:

    hi dr.lawles,
    after 47 years as a pastor, i couldn’t have said it better. when you have love and compassion for those you serve these life events take something from us that only our God can replace. on the other side He is sufficient for all.

  • Grant says:

    If more Pastors would follow Biblical principles in leading the Church they might not hav as many problems.

  • Lana says:

    Only Jesus has the cure all for any problem; don’t care how overwhelming or insignificate…if people would just look to Jesus. A pastor is to uphold the Holy Word of God…not hold on to everybody’s hand.

  • Allen Baker says:

    I have yet to comfort parents who have lost a child, I can understand why you have it at the top of your list. Thank you for your faithfulness and for your love and support over the years. I know when I face this situation I’ll be calling you.
    Grace & blessings,

  • #10. How do you know God called you to another church? As you sought godly counsel did all affirm your calling to leave? Or did some say you should stay some say you should go? Do you have any information on when God is calling you to leave?

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      It wasn’t always the case that all my mentors/advisors agreed with my decisions to leave. A few general principles I wish I’d followed are: (1) with a push to leave a church often comes a pull to another place; where both are not present, be cautious; (2) doubt is seldom a definitive “yes”; (3) when no clarity is present, go back to most recent call that was clear.  Hope this helps.  

  • Elizabeth says:

    “Telling a church member that the church was going to remove him from membership – He had rejected any attempts we had made for reconciliation, and exclusion was the next option to try to convince him of the seriousness of his sin. It was the right move”. Sure about that? Let me guess… It was a cherry picked sexual matter, wasn’t it. It was the right move huh? Keep telling yourself that. Because that is surely what Jesus would have done… Or was it?

  • Elizabeth says:

    You told someone they could not be part of your church. Jesus welcomed all.

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