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My 5 Biggest Mistakes

Last week I shared 5 things I wish I had learned sooner.

Here are my 5 biggest mistakes as a congregational leader:


I didn’t consistently invest in leaders. Didn’t disciple them to be better women and men who followed Jesus. Better leaders. More character and faith. Greater competency. I encouraged a lot. I could cast vision with the best. Recruit…for our ministries and programs. We were a big church and I was always on my way to somewhere. This fundamental change would have absolutely transformed the trajectory of our congregation if I could have stopped to disciple a few who each could have discipled a few. Jesus modeled this way. I was too short sighted. And, my “lagging indicator” measurement was always worship attendance or offerings.


My most ready connection with people that didn’t know Jesus would have been our neighbors. I made token attempts. It always seemed awkward. And I never pressed through it. BLESS would have been such a simple think to practice back then. But, I hurried to church to preach sermons, lead worship, orchestrate programs in the building so that we could advertise, encourage members to invite, promote so that people would come and the Spirit could work to bring people to faith inside our church building. I didn’t have much time for just a few neighbors. I’m embarrassed to say that there was a day that made sense to me. Two problems: 1. Almost all of our members followed what I modeled. They didn’t consistently BLESS anyone either. 2. Very few churches will survive and thrive today on what I did yesterday. They’ll figure out, starting with the leader(s), how to embody the Good News where they live, work and play, or they’ll have a short future.

3 – CHARACTER COUNTS with staff and leaders.

I had a few times where we hired or called staff that were highly competent even though I had an inkling something might not be right with their character. Lay leaders a few times, too. Maybe we were desperate. The dangerous: “Anybody will be better than nobody.” Maybe I thought we could correct that inkling. It almost always caused problems later. Now we encourage leaders/churches to watch for 1. Character 2. Competency 3. Capacity 4. Compatibility. Bottom Line mistake: Great ability never trumps questionable character. 


I worked too much. Gail and our kids suffered too much. The dark truth? More of it was likely driven by my need for the approval of others and I sought approval by working too much. 


It’s a common mistake that leaders make when they propose a change, a new vision, a fresh direction. It’s an even greater risk today when congregations must consider significant, fundamental changes that leaders promise too much to reluctant congregants. My biggest overreach? When we decided to venture into multicampus ministry from our inner city congregation. I said that we would “always”…hear “always”… maintain an English-speaking worship service at our historic campus. A mistake! Big mistake! 20 years later our neighborhood was completely different. It was unsustainable. But… some folks never forgot that I had promised “always” and 20 years later I “underdelivered” when we relocated to the new campus and passed the mantle to the HIspanic ministry that had been birthed.

So, like last week…

  1. Which of the 5 did you learn quicker than me?
  2. Any of the 5 that you still need to learn?
  3. Who needs to read this too?

Leadership Essentials helps you get the basics better.

Senior Leader moves leading staff and the complexities of ministry from trials and errors to competent practices.

Discipleship to Missional Community (D2MC) delivers the character and competencies to advance into a secularized world rather than allow your congregation to surrender in defeat.

1000YoungLeaders sends gifted, godly young women and men as missionaries into the vast, unreached mission field of the millennial generation missing from your church. Who would you recommend for 1000Young Leaders?

When leaders get better, the people they lead benefit!

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One Response

  1. It’s a good thing it’s God’s Church and not our’s. Did the Paul, or Peter worry about any of this? I’ve made and am still making every one of the five mistakes you mentioned, and I’ll probably continue to make them as long as I’m in ministry. I do really appreciate you naming them, and it validates my role as a fallen, sinful pastor (shepherd, under-shepherd) of Jesus’ flock. I can list my failures, too. It’s seems we do a lot of that these days: blame the church, or the pastor for why the church is declining these days. I heard it at the Youth Gathering last weeks. “We need to show kids their baptismal worth,” the speaker said, but not a lot about how we do that better than we are doing.
    I appreciate what you are doing and pray that God will use what you and Gail are doing for the good of God’s people. I read you emails every time, and look forward to what you have to say.

    Brother in Christ (& fellow Cornhusker!),

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