The 5 Worst Mistakes I Made as a Young Pastor

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Everyone makes mistakes. Every single one of us. Even the guys who smile ALL THE TIME. There are key things young pastors need to know. One nugget of reassuring truth is that plenty of other pastors have messed up. Big time.

Here are my 5 worst mistakes that still make me cringe. The fact that I’m still a pastor after some of what you’re about to read is a testament to my congregation’s patience and my God’s mercy.

#1 – I Didn’t Ask For Help

I had no idea how to. Mainly because I don’t think I really thought I needed help. I was “that” youth minister who had spent plenty of time lobbing high-minded and theologically-driven criticism at my pastors from the cheap seats of youth camps, video game nights, and pool parties. My ego simply wouldn’t allow for the possibility that I didn’t know how to “pastor” a church. After all, what’s so hard about it? Right?

Don’t be afraid to reach out to other pastors or key leaders in the congregation. Ninety-nine percent of them are going to be willing to invest in you. Some church members have been through plenty of pastors. They know what a good one looks like, and they want you to become one. Other pastors would love to help you avoid the same mistakes they made. Some of them, if they aren’t too proud, just might admit that they’re still trying to figure some things out too.

Be sure to not waste their time. Be prepared. Have good questions. Listen to what they say. Ask more good questions. Use what you learn. Let them know how they helped.

#2 – I Didn’t Listen to Advice

“Wait, I thought you didn’t ask for advice?” Most of the time, when it mattered most, I didn’t. There was one time that stands out in my mind where I actually did reach out for help. I called a Dr. Hal Kinkeade, pastor of First Baptist Church of Springtown, TX. He played a pivotal role in my early life as a believer. I had been a pastor for only a few weeks, and I felt like I was drowning. I mean, I preached a sermon on one Sunday, and they expected me to do it the next and the next and the next.

I asked my ‘Bro. Hal’ one question. “What do I do?” His answer has proven to be one of the most insightful, powerful, and practical pieces of wisdom I’ve ever received. He matter-of-factly said, “Be in their homes. Do everything you can to sit in their living rooms, around their kitchen tables. You do that, and they’ll know you love them.”

If only I had listened.

Instead of taking his advice. I decided to try an rearrange it. I made up a schedule and asked church families to sign up for a day to come over and have dinner with us. See what I did there? The advice was “Go to them”, and I turned it into, “Come to me.” Those are different things. Very different.

That leads me to…

#3 – I Let Insecurity Limit Me

It was weird…the thought of inviting myself over to someone’s home just to sit and talk. It felt intrusive and awkward. I knew there was value in it, but I couldn’t get past those worries about being unwanted or burdensome to people who, for the most part, were simply too nice to tell me I was being a nuisance .

That mistake, and plenty of others rooted in fear and insecurity, created long-standing barriers and pockets of mistrust that have taken time to heal. Some still exist to some degree but are moving toward health and full reconciliation.

If you are prone to insecurity, stay the course. Push through it. Embrace the perceived or real awkwardness. Sit. Listen. Laugh. Pray. Look at pictures of grandkids and great-grandkids. Breathe deep the smell of moth balled homes. Sweat out the conversations in homes with frugal members who just can’t bring themselves to suffer the energy costs associated with lowering the thermostat to anything below 78.

You aren’t being a nuisance. You’re being a neighbor.

Do this, and you’ll avoid the next mistake.

#4 – I Spent Relational Capital I Didn’t Have

Because I didn’t lay the groundwork for those relationships, when it came time to move forward in certain areas of ministry or have certain conversations in private or from the pulpit, those efforts were met with resistance, much more than expected.

The push-back wasn’t because the initiatives or conversations were wrong or poorly-thought out. No, the tension was because I was trying to cash in on trust that I had not earned. They didn’t really know me yet because I hadn’t gotten to know them. I was trying to build on a foundation that simply did not exist. I had no clue how to even find common ground to move the dialogue along. What should have been exciting times turned into frustrating stalemates in large part due to me not doing the relational leg-work required.

Before you move forward with any “major” (that word is pretty nuanced for most people) decision, take careful stock of whether or not you have enough in the relational bank to make a withdraw of that size. If you do, great. Proceed with wisdom. If not, slow down, go back, and get to invest in your people before you ask them to invest their trust in you.

#5 – I Said the Right Thing at the Wrong Time

This is one directly tied to mistake #4, but it’s important to address it specifically.

It IS possible to preach a completely biblically faithful, gospel-saturated message about a difficult yet relevant issue for your people and STILL do it wrong. Some things are hard to hear. Most truth stings at first then brings comfort as it fills in the aching gaps in our heart and soul (I’m picturing an Icy Hot commercial with Shaq for some reason.)

If you deliver that stinging truth and have not proven to your congregation that you actually care about them as people (not just tithers or attenders or numbers) there’s a good chance they won’t tolerate the pain to get to the soothing relief.

If you’re going to teach hard things (which will happen if you actually teach Scripture), please make sure your people know you love them. That requires more than a gracious sermon or a disclaimer somewhere therein. It requires patient, intentional, and sincere affection. Do that, and your people will wait for the Holy Spirit to turn the pain of hard truths into the healing blame we know them to be. They’ll do it not just because they love Jesus, but because they love their pastor too.

If you’ve made these or other mistakes that have hindered your ministry, here are three practical things you can do to move forward.

  1. Remember God’s grace – Your mistakes haven’t outweighed His plan for your ministry or the church you serve.
  2. Repent – Acknowledge your failures, publicly if necessary. Take measurable actions to remediate the situations.
  3. Repeat – You’re going to mess up again. When you do, go back to #1.
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