By Ps Edmund Chan
My fellow-pastors, as I reflect on over three decades of pastoring and the numerous conversations I’ve had with pastors all over the world, I find some common mistakes pastors make. Let me list ten of them. Obviously this list is not exhaustive but it serves to stimulate thinking and discussion.
Ten Common Mistakes Pastors Make –
1. Many pastors know that pastoring is hard work. But they didn’t realize it’s THAT HARD!
Often, pastors fail to realize how hard pastoring is (and why they are so stressed) for a simple reason – they fail to grasp the REAL reasons why pastoring is hard!
Often we just know it’s hard work but we don’t reflect on its etiology. We misguidedly think that just as nursing is hard work, for example; likewise pastoring (in terms of caring for people) is also hard work.
But pastoring is complex. And it’s exceedingly hard work for five basic reasons:
a. It is demanding because of its competency requirement. It is a people-oriented work where a variety of core competencies are required, particularly preaching skill-sets, shepherding skill-sets and leadership skill-sets. And no one has all of it!
b. It’s demanding because of unspoken expectations. The bottom line is unclear and the work is never finished!
c. It is demanding because even if you do well in it, you will be criticized, no matter what! Criticisms come with the turf and there’s a huge emotional toll that comes with the job!
d. It’s demanding because the pay is usually not that high, compared to secular jobs with a similar magnitude of responsibility.
e. It’s demanding because it is a sacred calling. In other jobs, you can quit and walk out of it; but this one has a profound stigma of failure attached to walking out!
2. Many pastors try to please everyone.
Okay. The demands are great. Let’s try and get along on friendly terms. What can I do for you, in order for you to like me? What should I NOT do, in order not to offend you – or your wife, or your children, or your mother-in-law!
Being pleasant is good. But be aware of two dangers here.
a. There is an insecure, self-serving tendency that might lead pastors to becoming Man-Pleasers, rather than God-pleasers. A danger of being politically correct and attempting to do what is right by men, rather than what is right by God!
b. It doesn’t work! Pastors must accept that inevitably, someone will simply dislike them – no matter what they do! Inevitability, though regrettably, someone will leave the church because of YOU, pastor. Get real.
It’s impossible to please everyone! Even Jesus Himself did not please everyone. And HE IS PERFECT!
Just keep focusing on humble learning, maturity growing and doing what’s right!
3. Many pastors under-estimate the critical need for LEADERSHIP in the church.
They misguidedly think that simply preaching well or shepherding well would suffice.
There are five basic leadership skill-sets to develop and master:
a. Visioneering Skills
b. Decisionmaking Skills
c. Change-Management Skills
d. Conflict-Resolution Skills
e. Personal Leadership Skills
Few pastors give the intentional time and energy to GROW IN LEADERSHIP!
Many simply “cruise along”, hoping (and praying) that things will work out by themselves. They don’t.
We cannot substitute by prayer what we lose out by a lack of leadership know-how. Faith without works is dead! Put in the effort!
Moreover, I’ve observed that in trying to please people, many pastors shy from conflicts, and are often ill equipped with effective conflict resolution skills. Things get badly out of hand – and divisiveness and a toxic culture cripple the church!
4. Many pastors look for a sure-fire formula to do church.
There is no magic formula. Many mistakes have been made by pastors in the tough terrain of pastoral leadership.
For example, pastors mistake articulating destination for giving leadership direction. Or, they mistake mere leadership agreement for solid leadership resonance. Or, they try planning five years in advance, without focusing on immediate goals and the next steps. Or vice versa.
But the most common mistake is that they look for a sure-fire formula to do church; without realising that church is complex and there is no sure-fire formula.
Make time to learn from other pastors – from their best practices to their worst nightmares!
5. Many pastors are overly impressed by numbers.
We have shifted our yardstick for success. Many equate success with numerical growth. Also, many pastors get caught up in the celebrity-syndrome, either to envy it or to pursue it, or both.
These pastors often hope to fast-track their vision of success and numerical growth, exchanging worthy mental models based on God’s principles, for glitzy methodologies based on current marketing norms.
For many, it is part of the performance trap and the approval addiction.
I am not saying that numbers are not important. I’m simply saying that we must put first things first!
There is of course an opposite mistake with regards to numbers.
6. Many pastors are intimidated by numbers.
While there are pastors who are impressed and preoccupied with numbers, on the other hand there are pastors who are intimidated by numbers.
In their insecurity, some might be prone to criticize “the mega-church stuff” (rather than celebrate the good in it!) and then self-righteously declare themselves the faithful remnant becasue they are small.
Sure, being big is not necessarily a mark of spirituality; but so is being small! Stop comparing with other churches! You need the faith, courage and wisdom to think big, start small and build deep – and to lead tenaciously towards ALL that God intends for your church!
7. Many pastors fail to pay their dues.
Often, pastors misguidedly assume that things will work out for the better by themselves. After all, they are doing God’s work and God will work these things out.
True, God does help us. But faith without works is dead. There are dues to be paid.
Due diligence must be given, for example, to sermon preparation, to building a leadership team, to developing people skills (and applying them!), to reaching the lost etc. We cannot make up in prayer what we lose out by a lack of diligence. It would be like a student praying for excellence in an exam he has not studied for!
8. Many pastors neglect their overall health.
There are four dimensions to holistic well-being to care of –
a. Physical Health. As you get older, you’ll learn pretty quickly you can’t run on like you did in your younger days.
b. Spiritual health.Many pastors ignore taking their sabbath rest or in maintaining their time alone with God.
c. Emotional health. Pastoring is an emotionally demanding calling. Pastors burn out with angst and emotional churnings within. Take care.
d. Relational health. We all need a strong support system. It begins at the home front (a God-pleasing marriage for those who are married) as well as a godly company of wise and supportive friends.
9. Many pastors think that they are alone in their struggle(s).
They give up when things get tough and quiet the ministry. Many may not walk out – but something inside has died! They simply go through the motion.
Some think that moving to a new church would solve their problems. This doesn’t solve the problem. It merely carries the baggage to the next church!
Get help. You are NOT alone. And your best days are still ahead of you!
10. Many pastors put off intentional disciplemaking in their pastoral work.
Disciplemaking is the core mission of the church. Many pastors think that they don’t have the time (or if truth be told, the know-how) for such an intensive ministry as disciplemaking. They thus give mere lip-service to the core mission to the church – promoting discipleship as a programme, without being a disciple of Christ themselves and making disciples!
We’ve got to get intentional with disciplemaking. One mega-church senior pastor said to me in a somewhat regretful tone, “we have disciple-making in our church – but it’s not INTENTIONAL disciple-making”.
So, my beloved pastoral friends, pastoral ministry is hard work and there’s a minefield of mistakes. But if you are called of God to pastor, embrace the awesome calling! If I were to have a thousand lives, I would consecrate each one to serve my Lord as a pastor! It’s a calling. We are not perfect but God has called us!
And as we embrace our pastoral calling, let us learn from those who have gone on before us. Have mentors in your life.
My mentors, like Ray Stedman of Peninsular Bible Church or Doug Sparks of the Navigators, have helped me much in understanding the true nature of pastoral work and leadership. I am gratefully indebted to all of them!
My fellow-pastors, don’t ever give up. Keep on equipping the saints and discipling the remnant! PRESS ON! PRAY ON! And PASTOR ON!
As a final reminder – when things get difficult (and there will be tough times) – ask the Three Clarifying Questions: “What must I REMEMBER? What must I LEARN? What must I DO?”
And to my friends who are not pastors listening in – Pray for us! Pastors are an endangered species. There’s a minefield of missteps to entrap us. We need and value the prayers.
Together, we press on valiantly.