My Top Ten Failings as a Pastor

Among the stated purposes of the Desperate Pastor blog is to share my struggles as a “desperate pastor,” in the hope that others may feel less alone, be encouraged, and most importantly, be reminded of our mutual need for God and his ordaining, sustaining, and overcoming power. I’ve shared before on this blog (in a series called “A Pastor’s Failings”) about some of my failings as a pastor. But I’ve never ranked my top failings or mistakes as a pastor. So I thought I’d spend a few moments trying to sum up and order my top ten (or bottom ten) pastoral shortcomings, over nearly twenty years and four churches. I’ll do my best to keep it brief, with the disclaimer that there are many more than ten and much more that could be said about each of the following:

  1. Overworking. I too often cheated myself, my family, and ultimately the flock by working as if God couldn’t be trusted to handle things without me. I failed to distinguish between a strong work ethic...and an unhealthy obsession. 
  2. Doing too much ministry. Due to my personality (and training), I tended to do far more ministry than I should have. In other words, I wish I had focused more effort on equipping OTHERS for ministry rather than doing so much of it myself. 
  3. Trusting too quickly and fully. I have always loved and led from a position of trust, assuming I could trust people until they gave me reason not to. It would be one thing if that naiveté hurt only me, but it also frequently and deeply hurt the church (more on that here). 
  4. Avoiding conflict. By default, I try to play well with others. I also tend to run from conflict. I hope (and pray, of course) that things will get better if I leave them alone. That’s a horribly stupid (and faithless) trait for a leader in God’s church. 
  5. Failing to cast vision constantly to other leaders first, then the rest of the church. It often took long and hard prayer, but I usually had a fairly clear vision of what God was saying to the church. Unfortunately, I often ran ahead of other leaders and unwittingly kept them out of the process, which hindered our progress and undermined my leadership.
  6. Using email for difficult or emotional conversations. I am always able to think more clearly when I’m able to put things into writing. Nothing wrong with that (I'm also a writer, after all). However, several times I actually shared those lengthy, emotionally-charged words via email. Even though I sought and heeded counsel before doing so, I should have known better. Each instance had disastrous consequences, and it was my fault. 
  7. Tolerating divisive people. As I’ve written elsewhere (here), one of my great failings as a pastor over the years has been failing to lovingly but firmly correct and warn divisive people in the church, as Scripture commands. I have repeatedly let contentious people continue their divisive activities. And I have paid for it. As have the churches I pastored.
  8. Mistaking motion for movement. I habitually let ministries arise or continue that were outside the main focus and calling of each of my churches. But, as I’ve written elsewhere on this blog (here), activity ≠ accomplishment. In fact, the more activity, the less focused my efforts--and the efforts of the church--became. 
  9. Failing to keep in touch with influential people in the church. In general, I’ve found that the more I know someone, the harder it is to suspect or misunderstand him or her--and vice versa. However, I often let myself become too busy to spend time with good people, who in turn became suspicious of me or unhappy with me. That’s surely not the whole story, but I certainly would have led better had I not neglected relationships with influential people in the church.
  10. Too quickly taking responsibility and too freely sharing my shortcomings. I include this one for my wife, who has over the years told me that I have a way of doing this that she believes lets others off the hook and invites criticism of me that she says is often unfounded or too severe. She’s not been the only one to point this out. And, now that I think of it, I think I’m actually doing it again, right now. (See how sinister it is?)

Saddest of all, perhaps, is that even after this pathetic confessional, there are many more failings I could list. And those are just the ones of which I’m aware! If you’re a pastor, perhaps you can identify. We are all just“clay pots,” as Scripture says (2 Corinthians 4:7). Oddly enough, though, that’s a good thing, when all is said and done, because it makes it abundantly clear that “the real power comes from God and not from us” (CEV). Ain’t that the truth. 

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