7 Churches that Are Often Tough to Pastor

Over the years, I’ve worked with a lot of pastors in difficult churches to lead. They’re not impossible—because nothing’s impossible for God (Matt. 19:26)—but they’re still tough to pastor:

  1. A church led by an entrenched family. They’re on every committee. Their philosophy is simple: “This is our church. We were here before you got here, and we’ll be here when you’re gone.”
  2. A church most recently pastored by a long-term beloved pastor. It’s just hard to walk in the footsteps of a hero. In many cases, the pastor following a hero becomes a de facto interim pastor. 
  3. A church unwilling to change as its community changes around them. They ignore their immediate mission field—sometimes even fearing it. Their building becomes a place to retreat from the change rather than a place of renewal to reach the changing world around them.
  4. A church that has been reduced to only a few remaining senior adults. They’re usually loving, godly, sacrificial church members who deeply love their church. It’s tough, though, to bring in needed young families when the church lacks any in the first place.
  5. A church with a history of running off pastors. In some cases, it seems almost tradition to see how long the “new guy” will make it. The church gains a reputation in the community, and they usually live up to it.
  6. A church that never got over its big “split.” Frankly, I’m amazed by how long some church people can hold a grudge. Hit the right nerve in them, and it’s as if they’re right in the middle of the controversy again.
  7. A church with seemingly more committees than attenders. By the time the church approves a decision on something, the question is often no longer relevant. Sometimes, church bureaucracy can get in the way of the spread of the gospel.

So, do we give up on these churches? I don’t think so, for God really can restore them to health. If you’re leading one of these churches, though, don’t walk your road alone. You need the prayerful support of others as you pastor in a hard place.

Are there other types of churches you would add to this list?  


  • The list is good, but I would also add churches that live in the past. They are always trying to obtain a level that they once had, or numbers that they once had, or events that many people enjoyed. They are always trying to relive those days. It is hard to get them to look forward. They are always looking back.

  • Matt says:

    Small town church where everyone still treats one another like they did when they were in Jr and Sr high school together. They’re worldview is still that of a teenager.

  • Mark Bordeaux says:

    If we allow for some overlap, my wife and I have served in six of the seven churches above. I might add a church in a worship war even though the search team said everything was fine. 

    It is stressful for the pastor and his family to be in these places. From my experience and the stories I have heard from people including fellow pastors, dysfunctional church families seem to, dare I say it, almost be the norm.

    Far too often, our gatherings “do more harm than good” (1 Cor. 11:17-18). Is it any wonder we are not making disciples and the younger generation has no interest?  

    As awful as it may be to be in these situations, I want to encourage my brothers to stay on the high road so others see you have been with Jesus. God will comfort you and use what you are experiencing (1Cor. 1:3-4).

  • Robin G. Jordan says:

    A church which is located in a community in which from its founding very few, if any, of its members have lived; which has never had any meaningful connections with the community, much less made any difference in the community; whose members live in a bubble even in the communities where they live. If a preacher repeatedly challenges the members to invite people to church or share their faith with others, they are likely absent themselves the next time the preacher is scheduled to preach.

  • Ken says:

    Pastoring a small church is tough these days. I fear that evangelicals in general and Southern Baptists in particular have developed their own version of the “prosperity gospel”. They seem to think small churches love Jesus less than large churches, or that they’re less mission-minded. I’d like to see some of these megachurch pastors go and serve small churches for a few years and see if they think it’s so easy.

  • John Harris says:

    5 out of 7?

  • Chris Reynolds says:

    I am a new pastor, just voted in a couple weeks ago. I have experienced nearly all of those in this little church already in just a few short months. I pray for the strength to lead them with a focus on why we do what we do as a church. We are there to worship God, then to learn and grow in our faith so we are prepared to reach others for the glory of God.

    Thanks for the article I very much enjoyed it.

  • Zavaan Johnson says:

    Funny how many of these podcasts can apply to music directors/musicians with only modest adaptation. I served at a church that had a habit of running off lead musicians: 30 lead musicians in 30 years is what I had been told.

  • Lisa Wallace says:

    I would add a church which is more interested in social activities (“inreach”) than social ministry (outreach).

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