That’s the question Josh Tandy, a real rookie pastor, asks here.

I have a simple two letter answer.


Or rather the lack of it.

EQ is the emotional equivalent of IQ. Sometimes called “emotional intelligence” or “social intelligence,” and the lack of it is the primary reason for the majority of pastoral failures.

That’s right, the main reason for rookie pastors getting fired or, even worse, rookie pastors destroying a church, is not intellectual, moral, or theological failure, but failure in basic common-sense humanity.

We’ve all seen it, haven’t we: exceptionally clever, technically skilled, and self-disciplined people utterly fail in pastoral ministry. They just couldn’t connect with people at even the most basic levels:

  • Saying hello/goodbye/please/thank you (especially “thank you”)
  • Asking people “How are you?” (and waiting for an answer)
  • Being friendly
  • Remembering names
  • Showing interest in people’s children
  • Listening without interrupting
  • Teachability (especially learning from elders)
  • Apologizing for failings
  • Avoiding unnecessary offense
  • ABOVE ALL – Understanding the vital difference between what you say and what people hear.

Having spent a lot of time with Seminary students and young pastors over the past ten years, I find it’s getting easier to identify those whom the Lord is most likely to use to bless and build his church in pastoral ministry. The Lord is sovereign, of course, and can blow all our analysis and predictions out of the water, but usually He uses “ordinary” means. And EQ is one of the major means. (Have a look at the comments on the Rookie pastor article for vivid confirmation).

Which raises a huge question: How can we train for this? Robert Anderson offers one suggestion in The Effective Pastor:

In the seminary in which I teach, as a part of a course in philos­ophy of ministry I regularly bring in our assistant librarian to teach a class in etiquette. Unfortunately it probably is one of the classes that is received the most poorly. I say unfortunately because it is the class that often is needed the most.

Not many of our graduates fail in the ministry because they fall prey to doctrinal errors. Numbers, howev­er, have made an improper impact on the ministry simply because they are “klutzes,” are continually making themselves offensive to people—and they will not change.

If they learned a few social graces in addition and were able to remember to express grati­tude to people for every kind action no matter how small, they would be making major progress toward becoming the type of re­spectable person the Bible demands for the position of pastor. The person who basks in his crudeness and considers it a necessary part of his “macho” image probably should seek another vocation besides the pastorate.

Etiquette classes? Hmmm.

One friend I mentioned this to, suggested “living in the Proverbs more, having mentors, and having friends who are willing to critique and correct you in love.” I agree wholeheartedly and would add:

1. Internships: Multiple, structured internships in local churches.

2. Growing in grace: Greater focus on spiritual formation in Seminary years (this can be done in the Seminary or in the local church). To the traditional emphasis on “growing in knowledge” we need to add “growing in grace.” Why so many knowledge courses with multiple specific learning outcomes, and so few (if any) “grace courses” where specific graces such as humility, patience, teachability, peace-making, gentleness, are taught/cultivated/tested?

3. Personality testing: Working on the assumption that no one can counsel others without some measure of self-knowledge and self-understanding, the first few weeks of my counseling courses are taken up with “self-counseling.” We’ve used Myers-Briggs, DISC, and other helpful tests and encouraged a strengths/weaknesses self-analysis, which also build understanding of other personality types and learning styles. The difficulty is that the ones who need it most are usually most skeptical of such tools and just go through the motions.

4. Work experience: Wherever possible, students should spend a minimum of five years trying to hold down a job and even progress in a career before studying for the ministry. I know there are exceptions to this rule, but they are very rare. It would root out a lot of doomed candidates and it would tell us a huge amount about whether they have the EQ for the ministry. As a bonus, the work experience would also be worth any number of seminary classes in terms of preparation for the ministry.

I have to admit, though, every time a young man has told me that he’s called to the ministry and I’ve recommended that he go away and work for five years before Seminary, not one has taken my advice. Thus far, the results speak for themselves.

5. Tougher love: Churches and seminaries should be much more ruthless in who they admit for training. Accepting obvious “klutzes” does no good to the “klutz” or his future “victims.”

Any other suggestions to help seminaries and churches better pick and prepare men for pastoral ministry?

  • Jonathan Hunt

    A very helpful post, thank you. Some pastors who become academics (and this is based upon real church-based experience) would have been better off in an academic career from the start. Sadly it seems that the need for good preaching is so great that churches are willing to overlook considerable failings in other areas of qualification when calling men to the ministry.

    • Derick Mackenzie (Stornoway)

      Well David, here’s a good opportunity to exercise your own humility. I’m sure you’ll manage.
      I would say you have made the common mistake of over complicating a basically simple subject. Something which academics have a particular weakness for.
      you have given ten bullet points above, but they are all covered by one of them – “being friendly”. Christian friendliness is something you have or you don’t have. It’s all very well being a naturally polite person, that’ll do fine in the world, but it’ll soon start to crack up and expose it’s failings in the society of believers. Worldly, or natural friendliness can never cut it in the spiritual realm.
      The truth is, if we have Christ’s love in exercise in our hearts that’s the passport that will see us through. It’s the only thing which truly contains your bullet points. Even if a pastor is as thick as two short planks and can’t preach for toffee, this will carry him far in the eyes of true believers. This thing cannot be taught of course – it’s a gift.
      I am of the opinion that God has more or less abandoned the Christian ministry today. The reason I would give for this situation is pride.
      I would begin by quoting a very relevant text: “…how shall they preach, except they be sent?”
      Neither is it by accident that the Lord wrote: “…not many wise men after the flesh…are called…But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise…” Finishing off with the vital words: “That no flesh should glory in his presence.”
      The question is, what are these words intended to teach us? Not: “What will I take from these words?”
      The so-called Christian ministry has been and continues to be dishonest with God and with itself. This is nothing more than human nature – the very thing which we are commanded to crucify. The way in which the formal ministry has been dishonest with God is in ignoring the above quoted command of scripture. God has here made it plain that it is NOT primarily his will to call the wise (overly educated etc.) men of the world to be ordinary Christians and especially not to be ministers. Do we not know that wolves scatter the flock?
      The methods used are the methods of the world, not the Lord. When we look for high learning and the like in ministers we ignore God’s command and instead use man’s wisdom. And in case I am accused of “brutality”, neither should a man be hindered because he has much learning.
      It would be good to keep the final words of this text before our minds: “That no flesh should glory in his presence.” This is the reason our God has given us for not using man’s yardstick.
      When we us this yardstick (as ‘churches’ are doing everywhere) instead of God’s, we are glorifying the flesh. But the natural mind must have its credit, it must have its fix.
      Men look for “qualifications”. There is only one qualification – “sent”.
      Remember Uzzah.

  • William F Hill Jr

    Point #4 above: I have used those same words many times. The value of working in a secular job before going to seminary (and then the ministry) is invaluable. The lessons learned there can not be learned in a classroom or in a church internship. I have personally witnessed some that would have benefited greatly by following this simple advice.

  • rcjr

    I suspect some traditions are worse than others here, we Reformed being among the worst. While theological precision is a great thing, biblical fidelity a crucial thing, we look at the 13 qualities required for an elder and pour three years into one of them- apt to teach. Thank you for writing this, from someone with an EQ roughly the same as my shoe size

    • David Murray

      13:1! Wow, I never thought of it like that.

  • Clifton

    Challenging and encouraging! Thanks for writing this.

  • Andy Fortner

    I think this is spot on. I am presently a “young” pastor to college students, who longs for such opportunities to be mentored in these ways and more. David, how would you advise me and others who have this longing but are not finding men willing to do such things? For the sake of those I do and will minister to and for the sake of the gospel, I know that I need this and, beyond that, it is clearly the biblical model of the shepherd/pastor. Always appreciate your work and would love your help in this area.

    • David Murray

      Good question Andy. Let me think about that a bit and I’ll either comment again or write a post.

  • Dave

    I agree, Bible Colleges and seminaries need to focus more on people skills. I came into my first ministry rarin’ to go, only to have youthful zeal stamped out by hurt people that I had failed to communicate sufficiently with. I am thankful for an older minister who took me under his wing and gave me some wise words to do ministry by, “Never tear down a fence before finding out why it was put up in the first place.” In other words, don’t change something or get rid of something before finding out why it’s that way, and in the finding out, you talk to people, hear their stories, and discover their desires. It makes it much easier to communicate the need for change, and in certain instances, you discover that some sacred cows don’t need to be sacrificed just yet.

    And I do believe in brutal honesty, for those who refuse to humble themselves. I was socially awkward, not because of low EQ, but because of being an introvert. But I was willing to learn about my introversion, how it effected me, and how it comes across to others. It was a long, and sometimes painful, process, but it helped me tremendously. The other thing that helped tremendously is not neglecting my walk with God. As I have grown closer to Christ, I have found it easier to love and minister to people effectively, because the love of Christ flows through me to them. Good article!

    • David Murray

      Well put, Dave. We all start out with flaws. As long as we are willing to learn, God’s people will usually give us the time to do so.

  • Riley

    I’m sure there are young pastors who are “fired” for being “social klutzes.” But that doesn’t speak well of those churches that would do such a thing. Quite petty, actually. Love covereth a multitude of faux pas.

    • Gordon James

      Riley – I disagree

      Some young pastors will damage whatever church they are in.

      Not every church has the luxury of time to work with them.

      The failing might be closer to the hiring process or pulpit committee rather than the dismissal process.

      • Riley

        If a man is sound in the word, has gifts for the ministry, and has a godly character, that ought to outweigh some lack of social “niceness” or grace. These things can take time to learn. There are few if any secular jobs that require interaction with as many people, and bear such perfectionist expectations, as the ministry.

  • Nick Horton

    I am just starting down the journey of training and apprenticeship to be a Pastor. I accepted the Lord at 27, and now at 33 am pursuing a call to ministry. I used to think I was somehow behind, that I had missed out on years of service starting later in life.

    I’ve spent the last 16 years in IT, working my way up through the field from customer support to infrastructure design. Reading this article and thinking back on who I was at 21, or even 27 when the Lord saved me; I was not ready to lead anyone.

    The Lord has used these years to mellow me out and soften my heart. I have a passion for doctrine and a correct understanding of the Word of God. There was a time when that passion overshadowed concern for the souls I was so eager to make sure knew I was right. God continually works on my arrogant heart.

    I think the advice to work somewhere outside of ministry for a while is spot on. Many of the fine young folks pursuing a call to ministry need to escape the orbit of church culture and engage with the world around them. The perspective gained in a few years serving in the world would go a long way to helping these young folks identify with and gain insight in to counseling their future flock.

    I now serve in teaching a youth group, and attend college online while still fully immersed in my local church. By God’s grace, I hope some day to finish with school and be ordained here. To live out my years serving here. And to die here, having served my church.

  • Gordon James

    Great question and great responses.
    I have been 10 years in my current calling, and 7 years in each of the churches before that. In that time I have also served on the examination, ordination, discipline ministries for our denomination(Canadian Atlantic Baptist).

    Here are some challenges –
    1. Most seminaries will take any student who can pay tuition, yet people go into ministry thinking “If the seminary accepts me I must be a good candidate.”

    2. There is no one person or board responsible to tell candidates that their chances of long term ministry survival is poor.

    3. Summer ministry positions seldom have an apprenticeship style assessment so students can have a terrible summer ministry with little difference in reputation from a person with a great summer experience.

    4. There is no “rate my pastor” website like

    5. Great pastoral candidates often get placed in troubled situations. They are young and could not possibly be prepared for the spiritual warfare and situations they face. Recognition that warfare is real suggests there will be casualties.

  • Mark McCullagh

    I remember hearing of a small fundamentalist baptist church in Europe that almost fired their young American pastor because when he ended each service in prayer he followed it with “You are dismissed.” At least they told him it wasn’t culturally acceptable before they dismissed him (joking about that last bit).

  • Benjamin Shaw

    In general, I agree. Derick is over the top in his critique, partly due to misreading a couple of Biblical passages. Men who enter the ministry should have the academic skills to be able to deal with two languages not their own and to read competently in history and theology. This automatically puts those academically qualified for the pastorate in probably the top 5%. There are men with less academic competence that I have seen in the ministry, and many of them do poorly in other areas as well.

    Part of the difficulty is that a man may look good on paper, so he is admitted to seminary, but he turns out not to be a good fit for the office. As an academic dean, I see my share of these. Part of it seems to be that people recommending the man do not take that task seriously. They want to be nice. Or they haven’t really paid attention to his gifts. Or if he goes to seminary, he’ll be out of their hair.

    A very high percentage of those men who “flunk out” of the ministry, should. They’re not in the right calling.

    • Nick Horton

      I had typed up a response and then figured I should just ask first. Are you advocating for academic excellence above gifting?

  • barlow

    I also see this problem as a regional one. Some of my seminary classmates would not have been able to take a pastorate down South. They openly talked about scatalogical things (their children’s bathroom habits, results of illness, etc), many of them had beards or other affectations that read “counterculture” to many older southerners. They were, in general, brusque and unrefined. Some of them mumbled in their casual speech. It’s sad because many of them had gifts that could be really helpful. Seminaries could do a better job helping people understand these regional expectations, I think.

    • David Murray


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  • Morris Brooks

    In my association with young pastors, I would have to say the biggest factor in their downfall is arrogance, which leads many times to a lack of teachableness. Humility, for most all of us, is an acquired grace, not a natural one.

  • Dan N

    Gordon James, #5, Amen. I could not have said it any better or more succinctly.

    Our pragmatic church culture places crazy and unrealistic if not also unbiblical pressures on pastors, maybe especially younger ones who are just learning the ropes. Of course this article is about traits of rookie pastors who get fired, but an awful lot of them leave the ministry before they are fired.

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  • Ben Duncan

    Thank you for this very helpful article. I am sad to agree that it appears many young pastors are blissfully lacking in self-awareness.

    The personality testing is for me something about which I have some degree of hesitancy. I do think there is value in learning more about “who I am,” but at the same time it is fundamentally flawed if we say that you must have this or that personality type or don’t bother applying. For instance, I’m an ESTJ… not a “traditional” ministerial personality. Yet by the grace of God I’ve been made to thrive. Of course, knowing how my personality works has enabled me to work harder in areas in which I lack.

    • David Murray

      Ben, I think the value of personality testing is not so much saying that one personality type is good and another is bad. It’s about building self-awareness (strengths/weaknesses, helps/hindrances) and awareness of the differences compared to others that is the great advantage of these tests.

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  • Scott Roper

    Is EQ like IQ where it is generally something an adult cannot improve? If so, then shouldn’t point five, “tougher love” be the most reasonable response? Just tell someone with low EQ that they are not fit for ministry. If not, what is the purpose of relating EQ to IQ? Should those with low EQ be trained to compensate?

    • David Murray

      I believe EQ can be grown and developed in many cases.

  • Ron Marrs

    Excellent article. Good stuff. I found out some other things in doctoral research I just completed one year ago. I interviewed 26 people about their rookie experience and 24 of their supervisors. I asked questions about calling, conflict, mentoring, preparation, selection, experience of spouses and more. If you are interested you might find Chapter Five of the dissertation interesting. I also have some stats in their about the length of youth pastor tenures. You can find it at


    • David Murray

      Looks great, Ron. I’ll have a look at that.

  • Wade Skinner

    My father used to talk about something he called “the real world” when I was a kid and all during my growing up years. I didn’t understand it at the time, but once I got a full-time job on which my family’s livelihood depended, I came to understand what I think he was trying to get at. The real world is the nature of reality, the way things are under the surface level, slap-on-the-shoulder, wink of the eye, Cheshire cat smiling attempts one sees among acquaintances who have something to gain from knowing the other. The world of the novice is the one focused on how a life should be lived – the “ought.” But, it is focused on how things ought to be to the neglect of an understanding of how things are. And so, the inexperienced person is constantly offering unsolicited suggestions and advice for improving this tragic reality without really understanding it. The problem, according to Socrates, is that he/she does not know that he/she does not know. And this is where we see arrogance and pride. Otherwise, many of the “rookie pastors” described here would simply be chastised and not fired. The pastors and/or ruling elders know that this person’s ego is so inflated that a critique will do little other than cause an explosion. The experienced person, on the other hand, has come to balance his/her desire to see things change in accord with the “ought” with an understanding of the nature of reality. Therefore, the experienced person only offers suggestions for change in accord with rhetorical propriety — that is, in the right time and in the right way. The Proverbs refer to this person as the wise. I did not necessarily intend it this way, but I am thankful that I have had some time between my seminary training and my licensure in the PCA to work and live in “the real world.” Had I not, I would no doubt have had the opportunity to impose my arrogant, inexperienced, misunderstanding of reality on some unfortunate group of believers.

    • David Murray

      This is so well put, Wade. Thanks for writing.

  • Dominic

    My congregation is my family in Christ. I’m not simply pastor, I am a member too. If I can’t be polite among my brothers and sisters in Christ, even when disagreeing, then who can I be polite to? Then again, I guess that younger men with no family, or new to family life, may not always get that one.

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  • Adam Embry

    Good comments, Dr Murray. I work full-time in the working world and am part-time at church with Pastor Croft. It’s been like this for almost 10 years. Yet it’s amazing how pastor search committees hold this against me in interviews. I’ve had them tell me that since I don’t have 40-hr-a-week church experience, I’ll get in over-my-head. I’d like to see them balance my schedule! Too bad the committees that have interviewed me don’t share your opinion on the value of work outside the church.

    • David Murray

      Wow, Adam. I’m amazed at that. How short-sighted. Because of your experience in “the real world” you would go to the top of my list if I was interviewing you

  • Chad

    Could sometimes the fault not be the pastor’s, but the congregations? {Think: ‘fun filled Youth Group’ verses “Christ Centered Doctrine in the Youth Group.’}

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