Pastors' Forum


Ministry Surprises

What surprises did you encounter during your first years of ministry? Was it what you expected it to be? Did you have any unrealistic expectations prior to entering ministry (or early in ministry) that had to be adjusted and changed to accommodate for reality? What advice would you give to a young minister to help them prepare for the realities of church and ministry?


Pastor Jim Graff – Victoria, TX
I would say to remember church is a family. Remember a pastor becomes the leader of a church family with many strengths and dysfunctions. Our job is to stay in unity with the Holy Spirit and to develop an environment of peace. It didn’t just happen when parents raise a family with God’s special blessing on it. The same is true of a church family!

Pastor Thom Fields – Kennewick, WA
As much as I hate to admit this, I truly expected people who would come to “my church” to be “instantly delivered, abundantly blessed, and insanely happy!” It was my belief that all of the usual “church traps” would be averted by my amazing leadership skills and that my “supernatural giftedness” in delivering revelation, wisdom, and insight would be sure to amaze every listener. Oops!

It’s sort of embarrassing to be this honest, but it was actually depressing to find that people who attended “my church” weren’t as impressed as I thought they’d be. I expected some people to clap, some to shout, and some to throw money! I didn’t expect some to whine, some to pout, and others to complain about how we used the money!

Over the years I’ve learned that the people’s ability to demonstrate satan’s defeat isn’t determined by my ability to teach and preach or how gifted the worship team is. These elements, as important as they are, are nothing unless we learn how to grow the people. I started out thinking we would use people to build the church and have since learned that we use the church to build people.

Imagine my surprise when I finally realized that I truly was God’s gift to the local church—His gag gift!

Pastor Brad Allen – San Mateo, CA
My advice to ministers starting out is to pray big and love the people you have.

When we started our church 15 years ago, we naively expected it to grow rapidly into a mega-church. It didn’t.

But it has been a vital church of 100 +/- people in this mostly un-churched community near San Francisco. We still pray and work toward building a larger congregation, but have learned to be content while striving for more attendance and more influence in our community.

Work hard, but work harder at loving your wife and children so that you’re home base is always a strong foundation.

Don’t be too excited when good people join the church and don’t be overly disappointed if they leave.

Accept and encourage advice. Listen to your people; but build the kind of church you want to attend. Only you have to be there every Sunday.

If you want a loving, friendly, church, then teach, model, and celebrate giving and caring.

Budget for, and attend, conferences and local meetings to keep yourself built up.

Budget for, and go on, missions trips to keep ministry fresh and exciting. Take others on these trips.

Continue to set goals.

Stay in shape.

As Pastor Hagin says, resolve to “never quit!”

Pastor Jim Blanchard – Virginia Beach, VA
Actually there are many ‘surprises’ both positive and negative in the first several years in ministry. Some of the surveys of pastors and ministers reveal some very sobering data; basically many discouraged, discontented and frustrated ministers quitting the ministry altogether. I have had some observations and personal experiences that I believe could serve you well in the days, weeks, months and years ahead.

  1. Please don’t set an unrealistic expectation of one year, three year and five year number of people in your Sunday services, as this will put undue pressure upon yourself to ‘keep up with Jones’ in numeric ‘increase’. In many cases the ‘Jones’ don’t have as many people in their church as they say they have and this is not the ‘end all – be all’ goal of ministry. (‘300’ in our church may actually be ‘100’ if EVERYONE showed up on the same Sunday; adults, kids, pets….LOL). There seems to be creative accounting in church numbers in some cases. Church growth is not about ego and ambition; it is about Gospel influence in your community.
  2. Please don’t neglect your own spouse and family in serving everyone else’s. Setting healthy boundaries such as leaving ministry work at church, taking time off, spending time with your spouse and family are very important to the health of your marriage, family and ministry. These are all very much related.
  3. Please do study as much as possible in the Word and prayer on the spiritual side; and as much as you can regarding organizational leadership on the practical side.
  4. Please understand you cannot literally ‘be all things to all men’. In other words the pastor cannot be the janitor, lawn guy, head usher, sound man, greeter, announcement guy, offering guy, preaching guy, visitation guy…etc. etc. Please use wisdom in usage of your time and energy.
  5. Please be careful in managing your own spiritual, mental, emotional and physical well-being. This is not selfish; this is putting on your ‘oxygen mask’ first before you can help others with their ‘oxygen masks’. A depleted minister is more likely to be overly stressed and of little good in ministry for the long term. Burn out is an all too real danger in ministry.
  6. Please identify trusted people who can honestly speak into your life as needed to help you through the challenges and difficulties that all ministers face.
  7. Please be slow to put people into positions of ‘power’ and prominence; as it is always easier to set them in than to move them out. It is much, much better to be too slow than too fast in promoting people in the church. I suggest an organizational culture set in place by processes such as new members classes, ministry training classes, leadership training classes and meetings, and basic moral and ethical standards to serve.
  8. Please don’t take things personally and brood over people that leave the church and allow unforgiveness and bitterness in your heart. This can be very detrimental to your ability to minister.
  9. Please don’t forget the reason you answered the call to ministry in the first place; your love for God and people. It isn’t about money, buildings, projects, programs etc. It is about serving the Lord Jesus Christ and serving His people with a spirit of excellence that will bring glory to God and a witness for Christ in your community.

May the Lord bless your efforts to serve His Kingdom purposes!

Pastor Duane Hanson – Saint Paul, MN
The one issue that caught me off guard more than any other was how difficult it is to help people who obviously want help, and yet seem resistant to the very answers that the Bible has to offer. I guess one could call it “unrealistic expectations” on my part, but I had assumed that anyone taking the time to attend a ministry or church like ours, must actually be hungry for the truth. I certainly had to adjust my attitude towards some of these people, and refine my approach to ministry.

The first few years of our ministry back in the late 70’s and early 80’s were very different than today. People now have a multitude of resources and access to messages that would be categorized as word of faith. Back then, there just wasn’t that much to choose from, and it seemed that some of those who were drawn to the truth of the Word of Faith message would come in, but not endure very long. Many just didn’t have the maturity or the character qualities necessary to survive through the disappointments, the discouragement, and the attacks of the enemy.

The principles taken from Mark 4 and the parable of the Sower became very evident early on in ministry. I would do my best to minister the seed of truth to every “heart,” regardless of the condition of the “soil” into which the Word was planted. However, I soon realized that only one out of four would eventually bring forth the fruit I had hoped to see come from everyone. People came in looking for an “instant answer to prayer,” or a badly needed life-changing miracle, and expected God to magically respond. No different than today, many come into our ministries wanting something from God, but unwilling to surrender to Him in order to acquire the fullness of what Jesus accomplished through the plan of redemption.

After a few disappointing encounters with people that seemed to be genuinely seeking the truth, I was quickly reminded of the words from one of the fathers of my faith when he said… We should first “locate” where a person is at spiritually before we attempt to minister the answer from the Word. Not everyone is initially in the right place to hear the absolute truth necessary to receive their answer to prayer, or their miracle, or bring transformation. We must locate where the person is at, and then begin the process of discipleship that will equip them to find the answers for themselves and renew their mind to the truth.

As a Pastor who is discipleship oriented, I would attempt to help teach and equip these new people to receive their miracle, or answer to prayer, but saw them give up prematurely and go back to their former lifestyle or dead religious affiliations. There were times I felt like I had failed some of them when they walked away from the truth that could have brought the healing, the miracle, or the deliverance from the bondage of sin. I soon realized that I was taking too much personal responsibility for the changes and answers these people were seeking, which they needed to receive from God, and not a Man of God.

Today I realize that the whole process of seeing a person mature as a believer, and a committed disciple of Christ, takes time and effort on their part and on mine. I offer them the truth in various ways, and trust that the Holy Spirit will continue to draw them into a deeper relationship with Christ. Ultimately, I know I am just a co-laborer with Christ, and the person has the final responsibility to “respond to God’s ability” that will bring about the transformation that the Bible promises.

Pastor Phillip Curtis – Franklin, IN
Believe it or not I wasn’t told about being “self-employed” and that preachers paid taxes. Every person beginning in ministry should contact a CPA who is informed about ministers taxes and also get advice regarding investing toward retirement, should Jesus tarry. Also get rid of the idea that, “two can live as cheap as one.” That’s just not true. I think too many young people are coming out of colleges thinking that they’re going to make what others coming out of colleges with different degree’s are going to make. In ministry, in MOST cases, this isn’t the case. It was years before I was solely employed by a church. I wish I would have spent time talking with older ministers and been open to learning from them. So much wisdom is lost by not “picking the brains” of those that have gone on before us.

As far as ministry, one thing that I’d tell young ministers, “don’t allow the spirit of competition” to fasten itself on you. Be who God has ordained you to be and pray much in the Spirit to get God’s direction regarding your mandate and how to carry it out. There is no such thing as successful and non successful ministers as long as you’re doing what God has told you to do.

Also, don’t sacrifice relationship with your family thinking that God is pleased with your “dedication”. My relationship with God comes first, my relationship with my family comes second, and my “ministry” comes third. Don’t ever get that turned around. Your family relationship will determine your ministry effectiveness.

Having been in the ministry for over 32 years there’s so much I’d like to say. Two books which should be in every minister’s library are, “God’s Word to Pastors,” by Bob Yandian, and “In Search of Timothy,” by Tony Cooke. I would remind young ministers to be a reader. Be open to new truths. Especially read books that feed your spirit man.

Make friends and cherish friendships. Ministry can be lonely and having friends will be used by the Spirit to help get you through certain circumstances. Your mate is great to have to talk with, but having friends that are able speak into you what you need to hear is worth a fortune. Start by being a real friend to others.

Pastor Tim Kutz – Bartlesville, OK
Pastoring has been very fulfilling. Not because it has come without problems and challenges, but because it is a privilege to be used by God to be a channel of his blessing to those he places in your care. Always remember that, because people whom God uses you to bless will many times not only not return the gesture, they will not be interested in trying to act as a conduit of God’s blessing to you.

The first thing that surprised me is that as a young man, even one that had grown up as the son of a pastor, my upbringing and my Bible school training did not fully prepare me for what I would face. The younger you are, the more hard knocks you are going to experience. The positive side of that is that if you will stick with it, don’t get discouraged and quit, you will be a very big blessing to many people, and the latter part of your life will be MUCH more valuable!

Very close behind that is the realization that just because a person is a Christian doesn’t mean that he will act like it. The plain and simple fact is that you must come to grips with the fact that your people are not as mature as they think they are, nor as you think they are!

Because of the propensity of people to be uncaring, harsh and unmerciful, I found pastoring to be much different than I expected. The difference for me was a “shepherd’s heart” that Jesus gave me. NO PERSON is born with it, and EVERY pastor has to have it…many don’t.

So many times I have heard the supposed humorous statement, “Ministry would be wonderful if it wasn’t for the people.” But of course, ministry is 100% people and nothing else.

For every prospective pastor and for those now in the call, especially those that are young, please consider these things:

  1. Don’t begin to pastor just because you have a burning call to pastor. Find a man who has been pastoring for many years, preferably one with gray hair, but one who demonstrates a love for people. Too many young ministers make a mistake trying to emulate those who have big churches and ignore the single biggest prerequisite for pastoring that every young pastor should eagerly seek after: a pastor’s heart!  Find that man and go serve him until you receive that deposit in your heart. This is the most important thing you will ever do as a young man (or woman) called to pastor!
  2. Make a decision right now what you are going to do when you get a Judas kiss because you will get many. If you are not willing to love people, expecting nothing in return, find another profession.
  3. Read the book “Be A People Person” by John Maxwell at least once per year as long as you are in the ministry.
  4. Think 10 years down the road when you do anything on your building; never do anything contemporary that can’t be changed often.
  5. Surround yourself with a group of 18-22 year old people. Meet with them often to put your life into them, and then listen to them about what they think about your preaching/teaching and your church culture. When they turn 23, put them in a different group. Keep the 18-22 year-old group 18-22, pour your life into them and listen to them.

Pastoring is the absolute best thing that a person can do if you are graced to do it. Remember that you must stand before Jesus and give account of your stewardship of church finances, and especially the lives and well-being of the people that you pastor.

Confess John 10:11 every morning!

Pastor John Lowe – Warsaw, IN
What surprised me was the vast difference in what the Body of Christ believes even if they were from the same, so-called “camp.”

I think more preparation time for planning. I would have hired an administrator before any other position; someone who understands the importance of the Ministry of Helps and delegation.

We hire positions to soon and the people get use to the staff doing the work of the ministry.

More advance training in any; actually on weddings, funerals, and ministry to families in tragedy.

The importance of children’s ministry would be the second area I would have emphasized.

Constant leadership development, and a surprise was how easily people can just walk away and out of church.

Another surprise? The personal attacks and especially on the pastor’s family. We were warned, I guess, but no clue as to how to react or deal with it.

Pastor Mike Bivens – Statesville, NC
In response to the question, “What advice would you give to a young minister to help them prepare for the realities of church and ministry?,” we would set forth the following:

Follow fast after Jesus. Saturate yourself with Jesus. Through action, endeavor to have Jesus to pastor those sheep and disciple them. And as you confront, pray their faith fail not. Pray and whatever you see Jesus do, then do likewise.

Teach your congregates that, as a pastor, while it is “politically incorrect” to “hate” today, you will reserve the right to hate things—those THINGS that hurt them.

Tell God’s people: God hates 6 things and the 7th is an abomination (Prov 6:16-19). It is not wrong for pastors to hate things—wrong ideologies, false belief systems, false values,—things that steal, kill and destroy the sheep. Contrary to the world’s constant over push for tolerance, commit that we will, like God, love people and hate “things”—i.e. hate things that distort their view of God, which in turn will distort their accurate view of themselves. God loves people. Open pluralism like leaven will hurt people.

Jesus prayed and applied Himself to accurately know God. Therefore, He was in a position to recognize distortion and to be Spirit-led (= love-led) when and where to confront distortion.

I believe God wants pastors to confront false things but love people. Confront false things precisely because we love people. And that requires great diligence. Guarding one’s heart is so important so that one doesn’t cross the fine line between hating things and hating people. Rhema and the Hagins taught and modeled this.

Through Jesus, salvation has come. Grace and graces have come. Jesus did not set aside the Law (a revelation of God’s attributes and will)—He was (and is) diligent to set aside the non-applicability of the Mosiac Covenant (as a means to salvation) or to confront the distortions of it (legalism, licentiousness, etc). So we would encourage new pastors to make it their prayerful aim to follow fast Christ and His example in loving God, loving people, and being Spirit-led where, when, and how to hate distortions.

Pastor Marvin Yoder – Mattoon, IL
I had a number of surprises when I first started in ministry (and I still have surprises after 30+ years in ministry). I assumed many things at the beginning, and part of my ministry journey consisted of debunking these assumptions and embracing the real truth about ministry. Some of these surprises included:

1. How much prayer time I needed for effective ministry.
God’s work needs God’s help, and we position ourselves for His help in prayer. As a minister, we cannot offer life-changing truths in our own ability; it must be by the anointing of the Spirit. Spending time in prayer can greatly enhance that anointing and produce far greater results.

2. How hard work that ministry really is.
I found out my office is necessary but it is not the central location where all the work happens. Doing the work of the ministry is far more than preparing a sermon, studying the Word, or working at my desk. It may mean doing carpentry work, or it may mean networking and caring for people where they are.

3. How people have supported us in ministry (or haven’t supported us).
Some of my fellow ministers offered us amazing support and encouraged us continually. For that we will be eternally grateful. Others freely offered their (often negative) opinions and criticism. God helped us turn both into positive elements: the support encouraged us, and the criticism helped us define who we really are and what we believe.

4. How faithful God is to us in performing His promises.
I am continually amazed at the goodness and faithfulness of God! He is far more than my mind can grasp, and yet is so reachable. God is infinitely more than anything we can see, but He has compassion upon our finite needs. I found it true that “If we are faithless, He remains faithful” (2 Timothy 2:13, NKJV).

5. How much I am not the savior that people need.
I found out I am not called to be a problem-solver for people; I am called to be a sign post to the people pointing to the Problem-solver, who is Jesus Christ! I am not the “go-to” man to get the job done – the real “go-to” person is Jesus Christ. I don’t have to prove anything because Jesus Christ has called me and has enabled me.

6. How much of ministry actually happens outside the pulpit.
I love to preach (and preaching is vital to the salvation and growth of people), but real life-changing ministry often happens in the trenches of everyday encounters with people. Seeing someone at Walmart or someone dropping by your office often leads to spiritual ministry. I found that family reunions, weddings, and funerals (none of which I prefer to do) can actually be opportunities for ministering to people with real needs.

7. How people come to church because they know someone (and not because of my preaching).
Preaching is kind of like hitting a baseball – knocking it out of the park when we preach is exhilarating, but it’s usually not the real reason people come to church. They come because they know someone there or someone invited them. I found out the main attraction is not my preaching; it is the love of God and genuine care displayed by us.

8. How much ministry can affect your family (both positively and negatively).
I assumed everything would be great, wonderful, tremendous, and we would skip from glory to glory! However, we had awesome experiences in ministry but we also have had some awful ones. As my family worked with me in ministry, they have had some tremendously awesome experiences, and also some very tearful and hurtful times. I found that we had to encourage one another to keep looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. No matter what happens…our God will see us through.

Pastor Walker Schurz – Lusaka, Zambia
I had many surprises early on in ministry and still do twenty years later. Perhaps one of the most important areas of ministry that I was unaware about was the significant personal change and growth that would be required as I progressed through God’s plan for my life. Paul instructed Timothy in 1 Tim. 4:15 to be diligent in certain areas so that his progress and maturity would be evident to others. Timothy needed to keep growing even though he had been given a significant role at the time. At regular intervals, I became aware of areas of my life that need to stretch and be transformed by God or my influence and effectiveness would be greatly limited. Repeatedly, I felt like I was being thrown in the deep-end and had to sink or swim. Thankfully, God is wise and loving, so He always knew what I could handle, but it still was scary at times. Perhaps that is why Joshua was commanded to be strong and of good courage as he stepped into the unknown of his destiny.

Pastor John White – Decatur, AL
Well here it is 30 years later and the expectations I had when I started haven’t come to pass yet! 30 years ago I pioneered a church right out of Bible College. I thought after the people heard me preach they would come by the thousands, needless to say that didn’t happen.

When you go into a city to start a work for the Lord and you don’t know anybody in that city and they don’t know you and you don’t have any money, nor a permanent place to meet, no praise team, no helpers, and you expect people to flock to your meetings, that could be an unrealistic expectation don’t you think? But that’s exactly what I did. It’s good to dream, to have a vision, to have a fire in your heart but unless you’re walking on water don’t expect your ministry to grow much without proper provisions and planning. I think that was my biggest mistake.

If I had it to do it over again, there would be some definite changes. Preparation, planning and recruiting helpers before the launch of the church would be a priority. I would not be so anxious to get started but lay a good foundation first. I think we should all have great expectations but at the same time be realistic about them. When we are not realistic about our capabilities and even our level of faith we are in for some major frustration and battles with depression. And I know that people will read this and think that I’m not a person of faith; that I need to be more positive. So let me rephrase it then; I am positive that you are in for some frustrating days if you go into ministry with unrealistic expectations! And that’s why so many ministers who have a genuine call on their life fail, or they jump from one thing to another trying to find the end of the rainbow. Preparation time is never wasted time.

Another unrealistic expectation I had was believing Christian people were good and kind and that they loved me and the church. But everybody is not on the same page as you are. Many seek their own and not God’s plan and desire. I had to realize that anyone at any time could walk away from you at any moment. That the closest people to you could turn on you at any time. So you have to give them that space and the privilege but still love them. You have to open your heart to them, become vulnerable to their attacks, but love them anyway. Ministry is not for the weak hearted. Ministry is not for sissies! IF God called you, you can do it. You might become discouraged along the way but don’t give up. God will not judge you by the size of your ministry, nor what others perceive of it but how faithful you are to it, faithful to what God has called you to do.

Pastor Virgil Stokes – Tucson, AZ
That first year was full of surprises. I was so very inexperienced in church matters that nearly everything was a shock to me. I had no idea how to deal with church and the people I found there. I had never had any interaction with other ministers, so the idiosyncrasies of the various other flows in town were very interesting to me. I had no idea we were so controversial! I was called names for which I had no interpretation. Dealing with people, something I thought I was pretty good at, turned out to be a very different thing in church.

Probably the biggest adjustments were in the shift to running an organization comprised primarily of volunteers. I had some secular management experience, and was accustomed to hiring, training, organizing, and supervising a pretty sizable workforce. This church thing, where everyone loves Jesus and is committed to doing the right thing, this should be a breeze. Oh, well. I had to learn to deal with some facts of life.

  1. In church I can’t threaten my labor force with termination. They are God’s sheep, not my employees. They have to be motivated to serve with excellence by a commitment to the vision of the house. It is my job to inspire not browbeat, to grow the gifts they have, not the ones I wish they had. This is my constant challenge: lead and nourish rather than harangue and complain.
  2. Not everyone who says he is committed is actually committed. Some Christian people lie, get offended, and hold the things of God in low esteem. The only way to find out who they are is to give them stuff to do and watch to see how they do it. Never take their word for it. And, never let their failures poison your heart.
  3. By secular standards the financial operation of the church is upside down. In the secular world, my employees and I work together to make a corporate profit which we share according to a predetermined formula of remuneration. In church, the financial supply of the organization comes primarily from the tithes and offerings of the ones doing the work. This provides for some interesting tension when bringing correction and determining direction. Some folks just take their money and leave. Some try to influence outcomes with dollars. I had to learn to never look at people in light of money, and to remember that my source is the Great Shepherd, not the sheep. That sounds a lot easier than it is.

The key to having happy days in ministry is in Psalm 101:6, “My eyes shall be on the faithful of the land, That they may dwell with me; He who walks in a perfect way, He shall serve me.” Choose carefully who you allow to take the majority of your time and attention. There are many faithful. Set your eyes (as well as your mind and your calendar) on them.

Pastor Ray Almaguer – Covina, CA
There were many surprises for Esther and I when we began pastoring 30 years ago. I was surprised to find out that commitment in the people was not automatic. I really thought that if people came to church long enough, they would eventually make a commitment to tithe, to pray, and to get involved. Boy, was I in for a shock. I found out that I had to preach on commitment and ask for commitment because most people were not going to commit automatically.

I was also woefully unprepared for the shock and pain that comes with the realization of what church members and even leaders are capable of doing: gossip, betrayal, immorality, etc. I found out quickly that if I was going to survive the ministry that I would have to have tough skin and a tender heart. Most pastors become discouraged not due to theological issues or a lack of homiletics; they give up because they can’t cope with the pain that is inherent in ministry. Needless to say, this was a huge surprise for me.