Top 10 mistakes I’ve made in ten years of ministry


In October of 2014 I celebrated ten years of full-time ministry. This is no small thing since many pastors leave before they reach the ten year mark. According to one study, around 40% of pastors leave at or around the five year mark. As I look back over the last decade, it’s easy for me to pick out mistakes that I made or wrong-turns I took. Since some of the people who read this are also pastors, many more experienced than me, I thought I’d get this conversation started with my own reflections.

  1. I didn’t invest in relationships with colleagues in ministry outside of my immediate context. There are pressures and stresses unique to ministry, and it’s healthy to be able to share these with pastor friends outside of one’s own church or denomination.
  2. I didn’t care for my physical health by developing healthy eating and exercize habits. It’s easy to always want to get one more thing done before exercizing or to not plan appropriately–both tripped me up along the way.
  3. I put ministry in front of my wife and kids. As an introvert meetings and conversations deplete my energy. It’s easy to come from the office with nothing left for Anna and the kids. 
  4. I didn’t spend enough time in silence and solitude. Quiet time alone rejuvenates me and makes a more effective minister. All of us need margin, not just ministers, but our society has trouble with living this out–ministers must lead the way here.
  5. I tended to absorb other people’s stress. Stress is easily transferred. It takes practice to stop that from happening. I find it helpful to mentally list the things I can do or can control and also acknowledge the things I cannot control, letting the latter go. Adding one more stressed person to a situation will not bring clarity or a solution.
  6. I struggled with daily time in the Word. At times I’ve found it difficult to read the Bible as an individual believer rather than as someone who will teach it to a group of people. Lectio Divina can be helpful here as well as journaling. 
  7. I didn’t read enough. As a natural learner, I need intellectual stimulation. Reading theology, biography, history, all ‘sharpen the saw’ and give me more intellectual and physical energy.
  8. I got stuck in the weeds. There are lots of details in ministry. If you’re not actively involved in ministry (as a volunteer or otherwise) you probably don’t realize all of the details that go into something as simple a worship service, even something smaller like a baptism or the Lord’s Supper. It’s easy to get stuck in the details of ministry and not step back to make sure that the ministry itself is moving in the right direction and growing in a healthy way.
  9. I wanted to please everyone. You cannot do this. Ever. My only advice is make sure that you’re disappointing someone for the right reasons and in an acceptable dose.
  10. I  was disorganized and wasted time, energy, and attention. I get hundreds of emails every day. I go to, on average 8-12 hours of meetings each week. I talk to hundreds of people every Sunday. Without a system, all of those interactions–many of which produce work for me or things for which I accept responsibility–easily get lost in the ether. David Allen’s Getting Things Done has been a huge help and I try to refresh myself each year by re-reading it. He also has white papers on using his system with Microsoft Outlook, in case you use that in the office.
Pastors and other leaders, how does this list compare to your own?

5 Replies to “Top 10 mistakes I’ve made in ten years of ministry”

  1. Several of these seem fully general (time management, e.g.), but some seem more specific to your personality or personality type. Is there some way, either to generalize these for more types, or to distinguish the more general from the more particular? E.g., #3: the more extroverted might neglect family for different reasons, not lack of energy but lack of focus. See what I mean?

    As for biography, I’ve found that hard recently: what’s supposedly analytic I find mostly the author’s projection. Since, nearly by definition, the subject is greater than the biographer, I find myself why I’m bothering with the substitute.

    And, I’d add, poetry.


  2. Jeff, although we worked near each other for years, I never really knew you very well, but here are some things I observed from a distance:
    1. You actually had a freaking clue.
    2. You read voraciously. I remember you taking someone’s old copies of First Things and eating them up. They were too heavy for me.
    3. You saw right through to the truth of the matter when a meeting was silly.
    4. I admired that you and your wife worked so closely together.
    5. You both worked hard to bring ministry to new corners of campus.
    In retrospect, there are lots we can look back and critique ourselves on. Just thought I’d throw these in for a nice balance.


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