As a pastor for over 23 years, I have learned much through the School of Hard Knocks. My goal with this article is to identify some of the most common mistakes made by pastors and leaders so others would not replicate them.

21 Common Mistakes Pastors Make:

I.    They try to disciple their congregation solely from their pulpit messages
1.    I learned a long time ago that often no more than half the congregation is paying attention and attempting to retain all that you teach.
2.    One of the ways I compensate for this is to make sure everyone writes notes while I teach; only 10% of what is preached is remembered the next day by those in the congregation who don’t take notes.
3.    Approximately one-third of the congregation is missing on any given Sunday. Thus, discipleship is greatly limited. One way to compensate is for the pastor to regularly teach a series of messages that build upon one another with a quick review of the previous lesson, thus allowing those who missed the previous week to stay in the flow and be taught.
4.    As important as congregational preaching is, the most effective way to disciple and train believers is by teaching them in small groups and in informal mentoring as Paul instructed Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2. (Every Monday night I have a small group of about 10-12 men that I pray with, teach, and share my heart with. Also, I often take a few people with me when I travel and minister so we can spend time together, which gives them time to learn my ways, not just hear me preach on Sunday.

II.    They think vision trumps the culture of the church
1.    Leaders think that presenting a mission statement to the congregation is enough to create momentum and move the church towards its goals.
2.    Before a new vision can be implemented the culture of the church has to change. For example, if a church is going to adopt a cell church strategy, their old program based culture (mindsets, habits, ways) will first have to be changed through one-on-one meetings with key people, months of prayer, strategy, implementation, and most importantly, having all the key leaders and members of the church or organization successfully implementing cell groups as their main focus (in regards to winning souls, training leaders, and actualizing the mission) before they attempt to get the rest of the congregation to walk in it.

III.    They invest most of their time nurturing people instead of developing leaders
1.    The main difference between pastors and apostolic leaders is that pastors spend all their time visiting and nurturing all the sheep while apostolic leaders focus 80% of their time with the 20% of the congregation who will produce 80% of the ministry.

IV.    They place people in ministry based on gifting instead of integrity and character
1.    The foundation of our life is our character, not our gifting. Thus, if we place people in a ministry function before the foundation of their character is deep enough, we are posturing our church to be a personality and gift-driven entity that doesn’t have what it takes to enjoy its current rate of success beyond 3-5 years.
2.    The general rule of thumb is that a person will be able to walk in their purpose when their gifting and anointing to minister is commensurate with integrity and godliness.

V.    They fail to communicate adequately with their spouse and key leaders before making big decisions
1.    This sets the senior leader up for marital problems and/or disconnect or division among the key leadership of the organization. I have seen this happen more than once through the years; I have made important announcements and as I was making them I viewed the astonished look on my wife’s face! The point is this: Even if you have a great idea, the pastor should always give their spouse and leadership time to “buy in” to all major decisions before they are announced.

VI.    They spend more time in administration than in study and prayer
1.    Most pastors I know are functioning as glorified deacons who focus more on marketing and administration than before God in the secret place.
2.    God has called for pastors to be “kings and priests,” not just serve as kings! The priestly function allows the kingly function to hit the mark in regards to decisions and impact.
3.    Acts 6:2-4 clearly teaches that the senior leader’s primary function is prayer and the ministry of the Word. Those who focus on this, as well as developing leaders and delegating administration to their disciples, will flourish most in regards to their primary purpose.

VII.    They fail to put up boundaries to protect their family life
1.    Many pastors’ wives blame the ministry for 80% of their marital problems. I know of many pastors who allow congregants to call their homes, interrupt family time or dinner time, allowing visits at all hours of the night, thinking this is what God expects of them. This is probably the single biggest reason why children of preachers hate the ministry and would never even think of imitating their parent’s faith and works.
2.    This is one reason why I counsel pastors to have an office OUTSIDE of their home–to keep set office hours and separate church work from their family time in regards to affection and focus.
3.    Without setting proper boundaries, the pastor will inevitably sacrifice their family on the altar of ministry, alienating both spouse and children.

VIII.    They feel threatened by other gifted and strong leaders instead of harnessing them
1.    Insecure leaders limit the ministry capacity of strong emerging leaders instead of harnessing and releasing them to their destiny.
2.    Having a large church does not necessarily mean a church is successfully developing and releasing emerging leaders to their destiny.
3.    Insecure pastors and leaders will always have cycles of divisions in their churches because they frustrate those with mantles of leadership on their lives by not making room for their gifts. The  results of unfairly capping potential leaders is either splitting congregations or organizations, starting a new church or entity prematurely, or having these leaders attending other churches looking for greener pastures. Churches with a history of church splits and divisions may have an insecure senior pastor who needs to become emotionally whole before the church can release mature sons and daughters into the harvest field.

IX.    They try to have success without a successor
1.    Some pastors I know are well into their 60’s and still don’t know who their successor will be!
2.    I am currently 48 years old and already have a number of options in regards to potential successors.
3.    Often, the spouse of the pastor takes over after the senior leader passes away, thus thrusting a person who is likely uncalled and unqualified into an executive leadership position. Other leaders just put one of their children in as the new leader even though there is clear consensus among the primary leaders that this person is not yet ready or even called.
4.    The moment we step into any ministry we should begin to work ourselves out of a job by training others to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). One rule of thumb for senior leaders is to delegate everything others can do almost as good as them, while only focusing on things no one else is qualified to do.

X.    They fail to understand the three components of vision: hindsight, insight, and foresight
1.    A leader cannot successfully take their organization into the future if they don’t learn from the past and accurately interpret the present.

XI.    They fail to affirm those working for and with them
1.    90% of all the feedback human beings receive regarding themselves is negative.
2.    This issue is so important even Jesus didn’t go forth to minister until He received affirmation from His Father (Luke 3:22).
3.    Senior leaders should regularly affirm those who faithfully serve in their organization. Affirmation releases people to their destiny like nothing else!
4.    Often times, pastors replace fatherly affirmation and affection with the laying on of hands. But the laying on of hands is only supposed to be the culminating seal of a long-term process of nurture, love, and relationship building that is the foundation of properly releasing ministers and workers to their destiny.

XII.    They never adequately develop accountable peer relationships among other ministers
1.    Every leader needs three levels of relationships:
i.    Spiritual children
ii.    Brothers and sisters (peer relationships)
iii.    Spiritual parents (every pastor needs a pastor)
2.    Not having accountable level two and three relationships leaves a leader vulnerable to their own sinful tendencies which can shipwreck everything they have ever worked for!
3.    A pastor who doesn’t have an overseeing pastor or bishop is already in error!

XIII.    They fail to bring their children along as part of their ministry team
1.    Merely placing our children in Sunday school one hour per week is not as good as having them as part of your ministry. Have them come along with you on mission trips, hospital visitations, prayer meetings, and releasing them to minister with you in the church–children’s choir, evangelistic teams, getting them involved in skits and other evangelistic activities allows your children to have ownership of the ministry instead of making them feel like they are merely being dragged along against their will. Then as soon as they are old enough (when they have a choice) they will leave both the church and the ministry!

XIV.    They attempt to develop faithful members instead of sons and daughters
1.    The greatest title I have by far in our church is the title “dad.”
2.    A church or ministry will only be effective to the extent it has developed the army of God out of the family of God! Having a lot of laborers without a spirit of sonship results in merely having a house of slaves or servants.
3.    Sons will always be more loyal than servants because sons are assured of their father’s love, their placement and role in the house, and their share of the inheritance.

XV.    They go by the latest Christian contemporary fads instead of building on proven biblical principles
1.    I have some minister friends who change the vision of their church every few years based on the latest renewal movements or strategies featured on the covers of Christian magazines.
2.    Although we can learn much from what God is doing with other churches in other parts of the world, we need to know our core values and purpose, and build everything else around this. When a church changes its vision too often then the senior leader loses credibility and the congregation senses instability.

XVI.    They fail to be transparent with their inner circle and congregation
1.    Senior leaders who share with their inner circle their internal and personal struggles pave the way for more transparency and trust among their core leadership. To a certain extent, even sharing personal challenges from the pulpit can actually encourage folks in the congregation because they feel more of a sense of trust and connection with the leader; they also feel encouraged knowing that they are not the only ones struggling in their Christian life and faith.

XVII.    They fail to enforce the principles of Matthew 18:15-18
1.    In our church we have made walking in the light a staple and core value.
2.    I have found that communication between leadership eradicates 98% of all potential problems and cuts off Satan’s game of deception and accusation.
3.    For years, I made it a requirement for those serving with me in leadership to receive Communion together and promise to walk in the principles of Matthew 18:15-18. Those failing to make this vow were asked to step down until they were willing to comply. I refuse to work with people who can’t promise that they will come directly to me or my wife or with another team member in cases of offense. The reason for this is because experience tells me that offense is inevitable among those who work the closest together. Those not walking in the light are a train wreck waiting to happen!

XVIII.    They fail to get their congregation to have ownership of the vision and develop proprietors instead of employees
1.    Employees check in at 9 a.m. and clock out at 5 p.m., even if there is an emergency and more work is needed. In contrast, a proprietor clocks in early and leaves only when the work is done; even if it is 5 p.m., if a pipe breaks in the basement of their business, they will stay until midnight to make sure it is fixed, long after employees have left for the day.
2.    All effective organizations successfully transfer ownership of the vision to their adherents.

XIX.    They preach individual blessing and destiny instead of the biblical model of corporate blessing
1.    The typical preaching in America is about individual destiny instead of corporate purpose. This is so in spite of the fact that 95% of the Bible was written to either the nation of Israel or the body of Christ.
2.    A person can’t “write their own ticket” with God if they are not flowing with the corporate destiny of their local church. Our historical faith teaches us that it is never just us and God, or just an individual and their Bible. Second Peter 1:20 teaches that Scripture is never about one’s own private interpretation. For example, our fingers need a hand which needs and arm which is connected to a shoulder, etc. in order to function properly!
3.    All biblical prophecies are corporate; there is no such thing as individual prophecies because all biblical examples were either to the nation of Israel, to the church, or were for an individual regarding their ministry to Israel or the body of Christ.

XX.    They build one-generational instead of multi-generational works
1.    God revealed Himself to Moses as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and has called us to think strategically for at least three generations in everything that we do.
2.    Most leaders act as though God is just the God of Abraham since they plan concentrically around only their present lifetime. I tell leaders all the time that if they reach their highest purpose and potential while they are alive, they have failed miserably because Scripture teaches that those who follow our footsteps should do greater works than us (John 14:12; Psalm 78:1-4).

XXI.    They glibly say “God spoke to them” and lose credibility when it doesn’t happen
1.    I tell our leaders never to say “Thus saith the Lord” when they either attempt to prophesy or speak out what they feel God has spoken regarding their church or organization.
2.    If you say the “the Lord said” then you already preclude judging the word because who can judge God? We should always say “I believe the Lord is saying” because everyone’s faith and prophecy is always subjective and should be scrutinized by the counsel of core leadership. I have seen many pastors and leaders glibly say the Lord has spoken to them and then not long afterwards the Lord told them something else (after the word didn’t come to pass!). I have especially seen this when a leader says that God promised them a building for the church, etc. When a leader speaks out like this, they begin to lose credibility with their congregation; then the next time they speak no one will listen!

Article used with permission
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