Things I Dislike About Ministry Pt. 1

- - Life With God

This is not me being all complainy, and I have no intention of dogging on the ministry. The truth is, I love ministry. In fact, in my 20 years of full-time ministry, I’ve never once wanted out or spent a moment fantasizing about an alternate career. I’ve experienced ups and downs, heartbreaks and victories, normalcy and all kinds of weirdness… and I love it. I’m thankful for this thing I get to do called “ministry.”

Maybe you think I shouldn’t do what I’m about to do. You might suggest I talk about ministry like Bruno Mars sings about his “Just The Way You Are” girl…

Oh, you know, you know, you know I’d never ask you to change. If perfect’s what you’re searching for, then just stay the same. So don’t even bother asking if you look okay; you know I’ll say… When I see your face, there’s not a thing that I would change, ’cause you’re amazing just the way you are.

Sorry. I can’t do that.

Look, I’ve been married 20 years and I love my wife—even more than I did at the beginning. She’s not perfect, but she’s real (by real I mean she exists).

Can you tell me who Bruno Mars was singing about? No, you can’t. That girl doesn’t exist. An actress, Nathalie Kelley, was paid to play the girl in his music video.

The perfect girl doesn’t exist. And the perfect ministry doesn’t exist either.

Perhaps a better analogy would be to compare ministry to a house.

I love my house. I’m super thankful for it and often feel like it’s better than I deserve.  There are also a few things I dislike about my house – like its cheap carpet and weak water pressure in the guest bathroom sink. I don’t lose sleep over these things and they’re not gonna drive me away—but someday if I can afford it, I’ll probably attempt to change those things.

That’s the point of what I’m writing about: identifying a few things, if I could someday afford to change about ministry, I’d at least try.

I asked a bunch of friends in ministry to share with me the thing or things they dislike about ministry. These friends are in various ministry roles—some new, some experienced, some young, some old, some women, some men. Interestingly, there were common themes from all their responses.

Most of what was shared with me fits into one of the following categories:

1. Expectation Issues.

2. Inability to be completely honest.

3. Smallness of actual impact.

Since this is a 3-part series, I will tackle one theme in each post this week. So, let’s talk expectation issues…

Recently, author Thom Rainier wrote about the “Ten Things Pastors Like Least About Their Jobs.” As I read through his list, it seemed to me that 7 of the 10 things had to do with expectation issues – either coming from self or others.


There is a BBC television program called “Rev.” about the Reverend Adam Smallbone – an Anglican priest who has recently moved from a small rural parish to the struggling St. Saviour congregation in East London.

The Rev finds it difficult to ever say no and he’s faced with constant moral challenges as he balances the needs of genuine believers, people on the streets, drug addicts, as well as the demands of social climbers using the church to get their children in the best schools.

I love the humanity the show portrays of the Rev. He is weak, fragile, insecure, and doesn’t have all the answers. He’s not an expert or particularly successful in anything. He is frequently torn. He is definitely real.

YouTube Preview Image


People certainly have their expectations about who their pastors are, what they should be like, and what they do.

In my first few months at this church, a long-time member came up to me and somewhat jokingly said, “I just can’t picture myself having a bald pastor!” Guess what? That lady and her husband now go to another church down the street (with a pastor who has some pretty nice hair).

I’m sure it wasn’t just the hair—but I know it was about the expectations.

People expect the pastors to be perfect and holy and politically aligned with their views. Sometimes I think people view pastors as non-members of society, like some special class of human who are unable to participate in normal life.

But we are human and members of society. We doubt and struggle and hurt and swear.

Someone recently told me about an experience their pastor had years ago…

The pastor went to use the men’s bathroom at the church. A young boy was there washing his hands, and watched the pastor with wide eyes. As the pastor stepped up to the urinal, the boy ran out of the bathroom and shouted, “Mom, the pastor pees too!”

Sometimes the expectations and pre-conceived ideas are funny. They can also be a heavy burden.

Here’s what I know about myself:

I can’t be as amazing as people want me to be. I’m not that entertaining or knowledgeable or funny or holy or cool. I don’t have answers for all your questions. I’m definitely not an expert on how to raise your kids or how to make millions.

I’m human. I’m flawed. And I pee too.

I also heap expectations on myself. I’m harder on me than you are. I wish my sermons were better. I want to have all the answers and be able to fix everything, but I can’t.

Looking over my 20 years of full-time ministry, I can see how all the expectations suck. They suck joy and they suck peace right out of me. They leave me dry and weary.

I’m trying to learn how to not be a slave to the expectations.

Obviously, I can’t grow hair on my head. So I shrug my shoulders and think, “Oh well, if you need a pastor with hair, so be it. I can’t help you in that department. I can’t do everything or be everything.”

Maybe, as it relates to expectations, I need to do a lot more shoulder shrugging and “Oh wells.”

HOW ABOUT YOU? Have you found expectations to suck? How are you managing to not become a slave to the expectations?

This is part 1 of 3 posts this week. Come back tomorrow for Part 2 and on Thursday for Part 3.

I am a husband, father, pastor, leader & reader. I love God, love people & love life.

11 Comments to Things I Dislike About Ministry Pt. 1

  1. Have you found expectations to suck?

    I am mother, a Christian woman, and I work in full time outreach ministry….Expectations suck.

    How are you managing to not become a slave to the expectations?

    Initially I did not manage it… just slapped the handcuffs of expectation right on like that was what I was expected (expectation) to do.

    Then I took them off and decided that I did not care if I let everyone down. I quickly realized that a lazy, self entitled, grumpy stank attitude was entirely too much work and the ironic, snarky sarcasm that I dressed myself in only satisfied my contempt for so long.

    Now….I just do that best I can to be real, give constructive support, and forgive quickly. No one will like you all the time except God… haha, but you won’t like everyone all the time either.

    So like a duck, water rolls off your back and feet are still busy getting work done. It’s more fun that way also, and I have found that cultivating creativity, family and love have continued to fuel me serve better in general.

  2. A really good pastor gave me some great advice, Amy it’s ok to say no, you can’t do everything or please everyone. Words I live by still! (Thanks PB :)

  3. Abbie Bounds

    Great Blog PB! I have found that saying No is my hardest struggle. I think for me, because so many people expect me to know the answers and help whenever, I am always afraid when i say No that I am letting them down. The Process of saying no, it not always the most fun, but it is so worth it for your health and sanity!!! Thank you for being so transparent and Honest! I love reading your stuff!!

  4. Brian Dolleman

    I think it’s hard for people in ministry to say “no” because we (people in ministry) are typically people-pleasers who want everyone happy. We like to think we can fix things (and people). Saying “no” is like an admission of guilt – owning up to the fact that we can’t do it all, don’t have all the answers, and really can’t fix anyone.

  5. I realize I am my own worst enemy when it comes to expectations. Tonight as I sat at a volleyball game that one of my youth girls “expected” me to go to I heard the voice of God urging me to rest. Not sure I know how to anymore.

  6. Danielle Pridgen

    Oh man, I have to practically disown my expectations on a daily basis. And by ‘disown’ I mean completely letting them go. Because I’ve learned that probably the most sure-fire way to ruin my day is to go about my business and expect things to go according to plan. The more I “need” things to be on schedule, the more I feel like God is tweaking the universe to make sure something does not go the way I expect. Is this to torment me??? Seriously!? Lol Do you know what I mean? And it doesn’t even have to be anything big or important, my expectations about small things can still suck the gratitude right out of me!

    It can be expectations about anything- the way I expect my family to treat me after I’ve had a bad day, the amount of cooperation I expect my 4 year old step-son to give me during our morning routine, the level of moisture I expect to be in the chicken after I’ve baked it, the proportions of coffee, cream & flavor I expect the barista to put in my Americano…… All very tiny details, but still very real opportunities for the frustration of unmet expectations to embed itself into my psyche, and turn my blessings into complaints.

    I find that when I focus on what I expect myself to accomplish or how I expect others to act, then my whole view on my life gets warped.. I stop seeing the big picture, and I get wrapped up in the tiny imperfections to be found in ALL areas of my life. I’ve been working on learning how to cope with expectations, maybe changing them altogether, because I hate the way that if something goes “wrong” my ATTITUDE is the thing that gets most affected by it. I don’t want to live life in such a way that an imperfectly cooked chicken, or an unmet deadline will be able to ruin my outlook on the day.

    So I guess what I’ve been doing to avoid becoming a slave to expectations is taking the approach of, “perfection is optional but not required.” Meaning, my expectations and daily goals are good, but not required for God to successfully run the world. I keep my goals in mind, but when the rubber meets the road, I know God is the one running the show- just because something seems super important to me doesn’t mean that it is actually necessary for the world.

    Basically, the most important things, for me personally to EXPECT, is that
    1) God will have the ultimate say in what happens in my life, most things are out of my control
    2) I expect to be surprised by changes in plans, and I expect to give myself an adjustment period when it’s ok to be pissed off and frustrated that plans have changed.
    3) I expect God to put unpleasant obstacles in my path to show me where my patience and endurance can be strengthened
    4) I expect to live in a world that changes and adjusts minute by minute, which may not need the same things from me today that I planned on it needing yesterday
    5) and if none of those perspectives seem to help, then I expect God to understand my frustrations and to guide me through the lesson being offered to me at the time.

    If all else fails to alleviate the inner frustration, I resort to a nap. LOL!!!

    • Brian Dolleman

      Danielle – I really like #2 “I expect to be surprised by changes in plans, and I expect to give myself an adjustment period when it’s ok to be pissed off and frustrated that plans have changed.”

      Great thought – to give yourself an adjustment period.

      Also love “If all else fails… I resort to a nap.”

      Ha! Absolutely. Amen.

Leave a Reply to Abbie Bounds Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>