The Top Seven Regrets of Pastors, by Thom Rainer

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The Top Seven Regrets of Pastors, by Thom Rainer

I recent­ly inter­viewed more than twen­ty pas­tors who had been in min­istry for at least 25 years. All of these men were over 55 years old. A few of them were retired, but most of them were still active in full­time voca­tion­al min­istry.

The inter­view was sim­ple. I asked one open-ended ques­tion: “What regrets do you have about the years you have served as a pas­tor?” Each of the men could pro­vide as many respons­es as they desired. They could make the answers suc­cinct, or they could elab­o­rate upon them.

Three pas­tors had as few as two respons­es; one pas­tor had nine. Most of the pas­tors noted three or four regrets. As a researcher, I typ­i­cal­ly see pat­terns devel­op in this type of sub­jec­tive research. When it con­clud­ed, I was able to see seven defin­i­tive pat­terns, and I was able to see the fre­quen­cy they occurred.

Below are the top seven regrets noted in order of fre­quen­cy. I received a total of 17 dif­fer­ent respons­es, but only these seven occurred with any degree of rep­e­ti­tion. After each regret, I pro­vide a rep­re­sen­ta­tive direct quote from one of the inter­vie­wees.

Lack of prac­ti­cal train­ing for local church min­istry. “I was not pre­pared for 80 per­cent of my day-to-day min­istry after I grad­u­at­ed from sem­i­nary. I wish I had taken time to find some resources or places where I could get prac­ti­cal train­ing. I had to learn in the school of hard knocks, and it was very painful at times.”

Over­ly con­cerned about crit­ics. “I had this naïve view that a bunch of Chris­tians in a church would always show love toward each other. Boy was I wrong! There are some mean church mem­bers out there. My regret is that I spent way too much time and emo­tion­al ener­gy deal­ing with the crit­ics. I think of the hun­dreds of hours I lost focus­ing on crit­ics, and it grieves me to this day.”

Fail­ure to exer­cise faith. “At some point in my min­istry, I start­ed play­ing defense and let the sta­tus quo become my way of doing church. I was fear­ful of tak­ing steps of faith, and my lead­er­ship and church­es suf­fered as a result. Not only was I too cau­tious in the church­es I served, I was too cau­tious in my own min­istry. I real­ly felt God call­ing me to plant a church at one point, but I was just too fear­ful to take that step.”

Not enough time with fam­i­ly. “I can’t say that peo­ple didn’t warn me. One wise pas­tor told me I had a mis­tress. When he saw my anger ris­ing, he told me that my mis­tress was busy­ness in my church, and that my fam­i­ly was suf­fer­ing from neglect. It hurts me to say this, but one of my adult sons is still in rebel­lion, and I know it is a direct result of my neglect of him when he was young.”

Fail­ure to under­stand basic busi­ness and finance issues. “The first time I saw my church’s bud­get, I thought I was look­ing at a for­eign lan­guage. Greek is a lot eas­i­er than finance. They sure don’t teach you basic church finance and busi­ness at sem­i­nary, and I didn’t take the ini­tia­tive to edu­cate myself. I real­ly felt stu­pid in so many of the dis­cus­sions about the bud­get or other church busi­ness issues.”

Fail­ure to share min­istry. “Let me shoot straight. I had two com­plex­es. The first was the Super­man com­plex. I felt like if min­istry was going to be done well, I had to do it. I couldn’t ask or equip some­one else to do it. My sec­ond com­plex was the con­flict avoider com­plex. I was so afraid that I would get crit­i­cized if I didn’t visit Aunt Susie per­son­al­ly when she had an out­pa­tient pro­ce­dure that I ran myself ragged. In my sec­ond church I suf­fered burnout and ended up resigning.”

Fail­ure to make friends. “I know it’s cliché, but being a pas­tor can be lone­ly. I think many pas­tors get in trou­ble because we can get so lone­ly. I wish I had done a bet­ter job of seek­ing out true friends. I know if I had made the effort, there would have been a num­ber of pas­tors in town that I could have befriend­ed. Some­times I got so busy doing ‘stuff’ that I didn’t have time to do the things that real­ly matter.”

So what do you think of these top seven regrets? What would you add?

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