Bible Question:

Why do pastors fail in the ministry?

Bible Answer:

Before the ascension of Christ back to heaven, God directly called the men whom He wanted to serve as a leader (Exodus 3:10-4:17), as a prophet (Isaiah 6:8-9; Jeremiah 1:4-19) or as an apostle (Matthew 28:16-20; Acts 26:16), as well as some women to serve as prophetesses. But in the New Testament era, the elders of churches replaced the apostles. The elders were first appointed by the apostles and afterward by the churches (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5).

In contrast, today a man declares that God has called him and friends are usually supportive. He goes to seminary and then waits for a church to hire him. Some churches ask subjective questions about a man’s call to the ministry and qualifications. Typically, the church has not been able to observe his life and assess his qualifications for ministry. Worse yet, there are churches who do not know what to look for and so may depend upon surveys and Christian consulting firms to aid their decision. Eventually they hire him and months or several years later, he leaves the ministry. Church members may have been critical of him in the final year or months and now they are glad he is gone. He is called a failure. Why do situations like this happen?

Empty Pulpit - Pastor Disqualified

The Pastor Was Not Called By God

The first reason some pastors fail in the ministry is that they should never have been a pastor. God never called them. The Holy Spirit did not select them to be pastors. In Acts 20:28 the apostle Paul states that the Holy Spirit selects men to be overseers or elders (compare Acts 20:17, 28). Since pastors are overseers (Acts 20:28), this means the Holy Spirit selects men to be pastors.

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. Acts 20:28 (NASB)

But how does the Holy Spirit do this?

First, the Holy Spirit prepares a man to be a pastor (Philippians 2:12-13) by causing him to become spiritually mature, that is, so that he meets the qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. Spiritual maturity is illustrated in 1 John 2:12-14 as growth from a child to a spiritual father.

I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. 1 John 2:13b-14 (NASB)

Here “children” refers to new Christians. They have just had their sins forgiven. The spiritual young man is one who is having victory over sin, is strong in the faith, and has a strong grasp of Scripture. Hebrews 5:11-14 helps us understand that a spiritually mature believer is one who knows the Bible so that he or she can teach others. This means the believer has a solid grasp of Scripture. If we combine all of these passages together, we have a picture of a spiritually mature man. A pastor must be spiritually mature enough to meet the high qualifications of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9.

As an illustration, consider a real-life example of a candidate’s wife who is not supportive of her husband serving as a pastor. Eventually, he leaves the ministry because of her. Sadly, 1 Timothy 3:4 states that a pastor must have his household in order. This includes a wife being supportive of what her husband believes God wants him to do.  A lack of support from a candidate’s wife reveals he was never qualified to be in the ministry due to his wife’s heart not being supportive. Who missed this qualification in the interviewing process?

Today, too many kindhearted but misdirected churches and seminaries allow men to become pastors who should not be in the ministry. Many pastors are spiritually immature even though they completed their seminary training and they have a poor grasp of Scripture. They know the systematic theology taught by the seminary they attended, but they cannot and do not know all of the Bible. It is impossible in a three year seminary course of study to have been taught all sixty six books of the Bible in depth. Consequently, many grads will tend to understand Scripture according to the theological program they were taught. Yet many church leaders who serve on a search or calling committee tend to view a seminary graduate as knowing the entire Bible. Compared to them the seminary graduate is an expert. Yet, he is still spiritually mature with years of growth ahead of him and the entire Word of God to study.

Even worse, when churches apply the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 they often lower the standard in the selection of a pastor, as well as other elders. They do not understand or they excuse such qualifications as “pugnacious,” “hospitable” or “having children who believe.” They ignore God’s will in the selection process. Many church leaders think “seminary” makes a man spiritual. But Seminary does not make a man spiritual or mature. It can only provide head knowledge. Although the potential to grow is available with some seminary experiences, completing seminary cannot guarantee spiritual maturity; it is not what changes a man’s heart. Spiritual growth is dependent upon a believer’s personal walk with God and the work of the Holy Spirit.

A seminary graduate may be arrogant, believing he knows more of the Word of God than the people in the church. While that may be true, such an attitude reveals a heart problem. He lacks humility. If a man is not spiritually mature, he is not qualified to be a pastor. One of the strong marks of spiritual maturity is humility. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 were given to churches to help them determine the spiritual maturity of potential elders. Note that pastors must qualify as elders. If a church fails to correctly apply the standards, then the church will suffer and the man will “fail.” The church shares in his failure.

Second, the Holy Spirit appoints or chooses a man to be a pastor (Philippians 2:12-13) by also giving him the spiritual gift of pastor-teacher (Ephesians 4:11).

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13 (NASB)

If the Holy Spirit has not given him this spiritual gift, then the Spirit did not prepare him to be a pastor. This gift is a combination of shepherding and teaching. Some Christians have confused an individual who has a warm, charismatic personality and eloquent speech with the spiritual gift of teaching. The spiritual gift of teaching (Romans 12:7; 1 Corinthians 12:28) is not the ability to speak eloquently. It is the ability to explain the complexities and details of Scripture so that people will understand it. This does not mean that he is able to summarize groups of verses and provide milk (Hebrews 5:11-14). If the Holy Spirit has not gifted a university professor with the spiritual gift of teaching, then the professor is not qualified to be a pastor-teacher. If a man does not have the spiritual gift of pastor-teacher, then he was not selected by God the Holy Spirit to be a pastor.

Third, the Holy Spirit also prepares a man to be a pastor (Philippians 2:12-13) by giving him a love for Christ and the passion and drive to study the Word of God in order to teach others — to be a pastor. In John 21:15-17 Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him. After Peter answered each time, Jesus commanded him to shepherd and feed or teach believers. Christ called Peter to be a pastor and a teacher or a pastor-teacher. The starting point in any call to be a pastor is love for Christ and not a love for self. A man who seeks to be a pastor for any reason other than to please Christ is not God’s man. Otherwise, he seeks the ministry for some internal and selfish need. In Acts 26:16 the apostle Paul clearly understood that God wanted him to be an apostle. That is what every pastor must believe and sense, or he will be a failure.

These three facts determine when a man is called to the ministry. A “pastor” will fail in the ministry if he was not called by God. He may even have a large church, but he is a failure in God’s eyes if he is not spiritually mature as defined in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9, does not have the spiritual gift of pastor-teacher (Romans 12:7; 1 Corinthians 12:28) and does not strongly believe that God the Father wants him to be a pastor (Acts 26:16). His number one responsibility is to study the Word of God and teach it (1 Timothy 4:11-16; 2 Timothy 2:15). This is his expression of love to the congregation. If a man does not sense God’s call to a) seriously study and b) teach the Bible then this is another reason is he is not called to be a pastor-teacher.

The Pastor Sinned

The second major reason a “pastor” fails in the ministry is due to sin. Most churches think that the disqualifying sin for a pastor is sex, adultery or divorce. But that is not true. Moses is an example of a man who was quickly removed from his ministry due to sin (Numbers 20:12-13; Deuteronomy 3:23-28; 32:48-52), but his sin was not sex or adultery. In sharp contrast, Jonah committed a horrible sin but was allowed to complete his ministry (Jonah 1:1-3; 3:1-10). What was the difference? Why was one spiritual leader removed and not the other? The answer is found in Luke 12:48.

. . . From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more. Luke 12:48 (NASB)

Jonah was outright disobedient and yet God still used him because he was repentant. Moses disobeyed God by striking the rock and becoming angry with the congregation of Israel. Moses was God’s leader in the desert, a prophet (Deuteronomy 34:10) and a man who is called faithful in Hebrews and compared to Christ (Hebrews 3:2-6). Because he brought dishonor upon God publicly in front of the people of Israel, he was not able to enter the Promised Land. He had ministered for forty years and lost the privilege of seeing the fruit of his ministry. Because of sin, he was prevented from entering the land of Canaan.

The principle is clear. The more biblical or spiritual knowledge a man of God has and the closer his walk with God, he can be disqualified by what seems to us to be a less “serious” sin. Some claim that all sins are created equal, but John 19:11 reveals that some sins are worse than others.

Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason  he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.”  John 19:11 (NASB)

In this verse Jesus is replying to Pontius Pilate when He reveals that some sins are greater. The same is repeated in Luke 12:47-48. Therefore, the disqualifying sin of pastors are according to their greater accountability.


A pastor’s primary responsibly in the ministry is to shepherd and teach the congregation that the Shepherd of shepherds has given him. The size of the congregation does not determine his success in the ministry. His success is determined by how much glory he  gives to God (1 Corinthians 10:31), his faithfulness (2 Timothy 2:2; 15), his attention to developing his teaching ability (2 Timothy 1:6) and his pursuit of holiness (Romans 7:15-25; 1 Peter 1:16).

Suggested Links:

Church Leadership - Elders, Deacons and Q&A
Moses – Call To Faithfulness
A Call: Teach The Bible
Bible Teaching For Spiritual Maturity
Church Leadership – Function and Qualifications of Elders
Sinning Pastors/Leaders: What to Do?
Are some sins worse than other sins? - Are all sins equal?