My wife and I were recently in a conversation about our years together. We will celebrate 33 years of marriage this year, and we dated for almost six years. The simple math was a surprise—we have been dating or married for nearly four decades!
It was a good conversation, but I had moments of regret: times that I was too busy for my family, times I gave in to my tendency to want to win an argument with my wife rather than resolve the problem, times I failed to slow down and enjoy life.
Mistakes in Ministry
I then reflected on my years when I served as senior pastor of four churches. I have often said that I wanted to write a book entitled Mistakes I Made in Ministry. Then I realized it would have to be a multi-volume series!
There are no "do-overs" in life and ministry. But there are always opportunities to learn, correct, and improve. So here are seven of the key mistakes I made as a senior pastor. Obviously, the list is not exhaustive. Seven just seemed to be a good, biblical number.
Seven for Starters
As I began thinking about the mistakes I made as a pastor, I realized how gracious most church members were to me. And I realized how my family's love for me is a total gift of grace. Here are the seven, but they are really just the beginning of many more.
I would …
- Spend more time in the Word and in prayer. I would follow the biblical pattern of the church leaders in Acts 6:4: "But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the preaching ministry" (HCSB).
- Give my family more time. No one remembers the church committee meetings I missed. My family still remembers those times I was too busy for them.
- Spend more time sharing my faith. Paul told the young pastor Timothy to do the work of an evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5). Those words apply to all pastors today.
- Love the community where I lived more. I would try to live more incarnationally. I would prayerfully seek to see how I could serve the community rather than see it as a population pool of prospects for my church.
- Lead the church to focus more on the nations. I would lead in helping our church grasp that missions is more than just an annual offering.
- Focus less on critics. Most church members have no idea how many criticisms and "suggestions" a pastor gets each week. It can be overwhelming and distracting. Though I would be willing to listen, I would not obsess about every negative comment that was made about me.
- Accept the reality that I can't be omnipresent. So many people and groups want the presence of the pastor. Saying "no" can be difficult, but it can free the pastor to focus on some of the priorities noted above,
For This and the Next Generation
While I can't reverse the mistakes I've made, I can endeavor to move forward positively from this day on. Though my mistakes were made when I was a pastor, many of the lessons still apply to me today. And I hope that my mistakes can be a teaching tool for this and the next generation of pastors and church staff.
This life is so incredibly brief. I am amazed and sorrowful to recall how many times I haven't been the steward of my life that I should be. But this is a new day. It is the day that the Lord has made. I have a fresh start.
In His power, I might just get it right this time.
Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, and for 15 years prior to that led a church and denominational consulting firm.