Every pastor and church leader can sympathize with the first line of a Queen song which says, “And bad mistakes, I’ve made a few.” The number and severity of those mistakes may be commensurate with the number of years one has spent in vocational ministry.
Many of us tire of hearing the success stories of others in ministry, but hearing about the missteps of others never gets old.
Here are five of my top ministry mistakes so far:
1. Not following established procedures – In the first church I pastored, I had the bright idea one Saturday night of moving some pews around to better accommodate our guests. Since it was such a good idea, I didn’t bother discussing it with the deacons or bringing it up at the monthly business meeting. I just moved the pews. Needless to say, we would have all been better off if I had followed the previously established decision-making procedures.
2. Not getting buy-in on the vision before broadcasting it – When I was younger, the only ministry model I had seen was for the leader to get alone with God and come back and tell the church what he believed God told him that the church needed to be doing. I learned through trial and error that vision gets better and sharper the more often it is shared. I also learned that not every idea I have had has been a good idea. It is best to talk through with others what one feels the Lord is laying on their heart.
3. Talking too much – More than once I have had to apologize for my failure to follow the wisdom of Proverbs 10:19: “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise.” I recall one particularly embarrassing moment when I was forced, because of my own mistake, to sit down and write a letter of apology to a combat-deployed soldier because I had spoken too freely in a meeting. I wish to never repeat that mistake again. Psalm 141:3 is one of my favorite prayers: “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch at the door of my lips.”
4. Worrying over things that will never happen – There are no doubt those in ministry who never worry – but I am not one of them. I can find a cloud in every blue sky. Worry takes our focus off the God who leads and supplies and places it on circumstances that can change in a moment. I have wasted far too much time worrying days or weeks in advance of an assignment or meeting, only to discover that God’s grace was more than sufficient. Only recently have I gained some level of victory knowing that in this life we will have trouble (John 16:33) and that I shouldn’t worry about tomorrow because each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:34). Jesus has helped me here and He will help you as well.
5. Not being mentally and emotionally present for my family – My wife, Connie, has helped our family immensely by stressing early in our marriage the importance of healthy boundaries. She reminded me that our girls needed me as much or more than those to whom we were ministering. I have managed by the grace of God to spend a good deal of time with Connie and our children. There have been plenty of times (and unfortunately it still happens occasionally) when I am physically present, but my mind is a thousand miles away. God is gracious and so is my family, but they deserve better.
Every minister makes mistakes. I could list plenty of others that I have made over the course of my ministry. But hopefully in seeing these, you too will be encouraged that God is faithful even when we fall really short. God uses us where we are while He is growing us toward where we need to be.