ISSUE #6: My Top Ten Ministry Mistakes
The Proverb says, "Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean" (14:4). It's easy to keep stuff spotless when you're idle. But if you plan to be productive for the Lord, you're bound to make a mess of things every now and then.
Over the years, I have made a lot of mistakes in ministry, but here are the ones that rank in the top ten.
- I assumed the previous pastor was the problem. When I arrived at my church, it was in shambles, and I assumed the pastor was to blame. Why? Because at my current church (then, not now), I was under the leadership of a bad pastor. I assumed that's why most churches were struggling. Boy was I wrong! Turned out, the leaders around him were the problem, and that's why he left.
- I made a bad hire. I told my board, if I could have someone who helped me with the ministry, everything would take off. Not only was that wrong, but I made the dumb decision to hire my friend. I saw the warning signs, but I ignored them because he was theologically knowledgeable. He didn't last 90 days.
- I trusted the wrong people. I've heard, beware of those who come to you early on complaining about the problems in the church and offering solutions. That's good advice. I wish I would have known that when I first started. As soon as I arrived, two women asked me for a meeting. Their purpose? To tell me about all the problems and how they could fix it. One of those ladies caused tons of issues and left the church, and the other lady was a thorn in my side for 8 years.
- I didn't visit a lady when her dad was dying in the hospital. It was my first year as pastor. A church member's father got into a terrible motorcycle accident that eventually killed him. The hospital was over an hour away, and I had never met the man. Also, she didn't ask me to come. I debated whether or not to go. Honestly, I wasn't sure what to do. I decided not to go. Consequently, she left the church, and I learned to err on the side of going even if you're not invited.
- On more than one occasion, I was too straightforward w/people. Cutting to the chase is my spiritual gift, but it has cost me. One time we were trying to expand our children's area because of growth. Everyone should be on board for that, right? Wrong. One respected, elderly lady was not so excited. Our proposal was that we use the old ladies' Sunday School class during our services for an additional children's room. No one used it during either service. It was only used during the Sunday School hour, which was held in between 1st and 2nd service. But she did not want us to do that. So, instead of being gracious and patient, I told her how selfish she was being and that she needed to think of the greater good and not her own preferences. I was right in principle, but not in how I handled it. Long story short, it caused a huge blow up in the church. She later left.
- I pushed too hard to have a second service. The church was growing, and our little sanctuary was full. We clearly needed a second service. But not everyone saw the need as clearly as I did. I made the case in all the ways and in all the places necessary, but in the end, an influential leader opposed me, and instead being patient and understanding, I pushed the change through, and it cost me.
- I didn't minister to a man who later committed suicide. This one deserves an article, but I will summarize. Joe was a member and a good man, but he was always bothering me during the week. He lived in the neighborhood and came by my office unannounced frequently to talk about nothing. One day, he came by to hand in the letters to our sign. His responsibility was to update the church sign weekly, but he was giving up the job. He clearly seemed down (which wasn't unusual for him), but I was busy and didn't take time to ask him what was going on. I figured it was just another day. Three days later, though, he killed himself. I know it's not my fault, and I probably couldn't have changed things, but I wish I would have talked to him that day.
- I married a couple that needed to wait. I knew the groom well, and I wasn't concerned about the man and woman's spiritual compatibility. But when I did the rehearsal on Friday evening before the wedding, it became apparent that the bride's parents did not want them to get married. In fact, there was a late meeting the night before in which the family argued whether or not this couple should be married at all. In the end, they got married and divorced within a year.
- I started a second location and left after a year. We went on a mission's trip in 2019 to the Philippines. As a result, several of us came back convicted that we should do more for our community. So, we all agreed that starting an evangelistic service in town (we were in the country) would enable us to reach more people for Christ. It was a big time and money investment, and it started off well (Jan. 2020 launch date). Then Covid happened and we had to shut it down. We got it going again, but, you know...Covid. I left by the end of the year. I am glad we started a new ministry to reach people, and at the time, I didn't intend to leave so soon. But..life happened, and things didn't go as planned.
I went on sabbatical and then resigned. 2020 was hard for all of us, and that year happened to coincide with a major turning point in my heart in terms of whether or not I still desired to serve as pastor in my church. I wasn't sure what to do, so I took a sabbatical, and when I came back six weeks later, I resigned. Looking back, I wish I would have done things differently.
I am in year 13 of vocational ministry. I have made way more mistakes than what I mentioned above, but those rank in the top ten. I am sure I will make many more mistakes in the future. That's why I am so grateful that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).