Ministry Regrets: Top 7 Do-Overs for Pastors

Like Us

What would 25-year ministry veterans have done differently?

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 full-time 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 with which they occurred.

Here 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.

1. 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.”

Thom Rainer Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources ( Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and six grandchildren. He was founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His many books include Surprising Insights from the Unchurched, The Unexpected Journey, and Breakout Churches.

More from Thom Rainer or visit Thom at

Please Note: We reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive, uncivil and off-topic. Read a detailed description of our Comments Policy.
  • Jackie Metcalfe

    Interesting that only male pastors were interviewed!

    • Trevor

      Interesting but biblical :-)

    • peterhamm

      Perhaps the female pastors exercise better balance. I would love to see a study of how many female vs. male pastors exit ministry, but that’s obviously not coming from lifeway. ROCK ON! Female Pastors!

    • RevTim128

      How can a woman meet the basic Biblical qualification of a bishop to be “the husband of one wife”? If you are so fortunate to be a Pastor, attempt to learn from this post instead of trashing it because it is Biblical.
      Thank you Dr. Rainer!

      • Diana Covey

        There were women pastors. You fail to read the end of Romans. Churches were held in the homes not big buildings and Paul addressed some that were the leaders of those churches and some were women – please don’t trash any child of God – we are all called in one way or other – we are not the enemy – we are family

        • Peter Mahoney

          Are you speaking of Romans 16:1-16? There is not a single use of any of words that any NT writer used to refer to leaders (elder, overseer, pastor) in the pericope that is applied to women… directly or indirectly.

          You are certainly entitled to your own opinions as it relates to women serving in pastoral roles. That said, you are not entitled to your own facts.

          • Jay Halseth

            The examples used in Titus about being a husband to one wife is a greek saying of the time that meant to be faithful to your spouse. It is even written on headstones of women, which would not make much sense.

        • MarciH

          I think many people are confused by what an overseer (lead pastor) is vs. someone in ministry. There are many women who can preach well, but that does not mean that they were called to be an overseer. The plain, Biblical, fact of the matter is that God ordained authority is given to men over women. The Biblical qualifications for overseer make it clear that he is to be a man. It is not our job to rewrite the Bible to make it fit with how we feel or what the culture is. Yes, women can be ministers (all christians are called to be such), yes women may be teachers or evangelists. NO, they can not be an overseer.

    • Twinsfan1

      Jackie, part of the issue there is that Lifeway Resources (through whom he does the research) is part of the Southern Baptist Convention, which does not ordain women as pastors. It’s a reflection of his denominational base.

  • Shaunna

    I don’t have 25 years under my belt
    yet, but as a female Pastor who knows many female Pastors, I can say that many of these issues are not
    gender specific, though I do find it interesting that the women were not included. These are real issues and ought to be topics of discussion early in one’s ministry before they become items on a list of regrets.

    • Chuna

      How wonderful , you are à felle pastor. ARE you à Minnesotian?

  • Brian Taylor

    #6 is the hard one. In most cases, it’s always easier to do the ministry by yourself. You are assured it gets done the way you as a Pastor want to see it done. You are assured it gets done at all! It’s not as messy. But it’s also not very Biblical. We all know Ephesians 4:11-13. The primary job of Pastors, and any leader, is to “prepare God’s people for works of service”. We should be investing our tie in training and equipping, not in doing. Yes, it will be messier…a LOT messier! But in the long run, both our churches and the body of Christ as a whole will be the better for it!

  • Sean Olson

    This list is so on-target. As a former minister, in hindsight, all of these issues were present in my life. I am now in the business world and coaching business clients on a daily basis. Is there a true value in business coaching for ministers?

    • Jerry Edmonds

      My specific ministry is life and relationship coaching for pastors and staff. This is what God has laid on my heart as the best way for me to serve Him, by serving His shepherds. My coaching helps avoid many of the pitfalls listed in this article. I have been involved with ministry & church leadership for more than 25 years, and in commercial sales for more than 20 years. In that time I have seen how this list, and a few other items, can divert, distract, and destroy a ministry.

      There are many parallels to success in sales and success in ministry. So I would say yes, there is a place in ministry for business coaching.

  • Patrick Tiffanie

    This article is very interesting and thought provoking. As a young pastor who is just starting out, I have been constantly looking for true biblical examples to follow and pitfalls to avoid. I must say that a few of these I have heard before, but all of them rings true. My only hope and prayer that the Lord would do all of the leading with His servants and that we would just do all of the following. God bless all you here that are leading in some capacity by being servant to all.

  • MarciH

    As far as #4, Not spending enough time with family, I would say involving your family in your ministry is key. I am a PK, and yes, there were times my dad was heavily involved in the church (he was even late to pick my mom and I up from the hospital when I was born), but I never felt neglected. It was never just my dad’s ministry, we were all involved. I think it’s vitally important that everyone in the family is made to feel that they are in ministry too. Of course, you do need to spend time with your family, and that’s where #6 comes in.

    • Peter Mahoney

      Great word Marci… as a relatively new dad (@ 40… yikes), my wife and I have been very intentional about bringing our little girl with us just about everywhere we go. Sure there are times a 19 month old can’t go, but not as many you might think. She can be an incredible distraction as well!!!

  • Steven

    Number 5 is one that i have a problem with. I have only be in ministry for a year. This year not understanding taxes and how they work for a minister really hurt me. even though I graduated from a Bible College it was never clearly explained to me how taxes work for a minister.

  • Bryan Fink

    I resonate with all of these. I would be interested in knowing how women pastors would respond.

  • Billy Tang

    Thank you for sharing. I feel so blessed to live in a generation where we can so easily learn off the many that have gone before us.

  • Leo Prodip Majhi

    A very concerned article you have shared. This
    is the real fact in this moment of our every church. Lack of some easy matter
    today our churches are not growth. In this regard I think physically a pastor
    is pastor but not committed to his/her service. You mentioned very important
    issues that you recently interviewed to some pastors. I think family visit,
    attend in family evening prayer and sometimes arrange celebration event with
    church members together can uplift our churches. Thanks for inspired thought.

  • Barb Gerhard

    Just because people are members of a church doesn’t make them true christians, this pastor is assuming everyone who is a “church member is automatically a christian, not true. maybe the “mean church members” aren’t anything more then a bunch of hypocrits who think they can fool everyone by” joining” a church, and that will somehow get them into Heaven, I belong to a church group who don’t have church membership, that word is almost a swear word in our movement, for this very reason, the church needs to get back to Biblical teachings and quit all this extra Biblical non sense about church joining and get about the job of winning souls to christ, at our gongragational meetings the only criteria for a christian to be able to take part in the voting on desisions made in the church’s ministery is to have a consistant testimony of conversion and a walk with the Lord they need to have attended our fellowship for a minimum of 6 months now I’m not saying there aren’t fakes in the church because thats everywhere, but this makes it clear that a person isn’t going to be able to say I’m a “member” of this denomination so I can manipulate things to suet me or boss the pastor around by threatening to withhold my money to get things the way I want, I’ve attended a church where this was happening a rich church member simply withheld her 10 grand monthly tithe when things weren’t going her way, and she bragged about this, now would you call this person a real believer? based not on her income but on her attitude and actions, what true christian thinks this way?? scripture says by their fruits they are known. also there is a Bible passage that rebukes a church for showing favouritism to the rich because they oppress the poor, and thats what this person was doing she managed to get a pastor fired who was a Godly Spirit fill minister simply because he wouldn’t tow her line, he was going with the Holy Spirit’s leading and said the church didn’t need the money from the rich, we would trust God to provide our needs, but the board was persuaded somehow to fire him anyways talk about lack of faith, as a result of this that church lost us and alot of other good christians who didn’t want to stay in a fellowship where this could happen, where in scripture does it say a church can fire a pastor? especially one who’s faith I’ve rarely seen .since.


WATCH: Paul Tripp—Facebook, Selfies and the Gospel

Recognizing the challenges that can come with social media.