Have you ever done anything dumb? Specifically, have you ever made any mistakes in ministry?
I have. More than I’d like to admit.
And yet, these failures have taught me more than my successes. Pain teaches.
I believe that all of us, who serve as ministry leaders would be much better off if we talked openly about our failures and mistakes. Some of the most impactful conversations in my life have come when someone I respect says, “Watch out for that pothole!”
Here’s what I want to share in this post. I want to share two of the potholes that have tripped me up. My hope is that my mistakes might keep you from falling into the same potholes.
So, here we go: Two of my biggest mistakes in ministry.
Making It About Me
When I entered into student ministry, I discovered a level of personal meaning and fulfillment that I’d never experienced in my life. I felt like I was doing what God created me to do. I loved it. Maybe you’ve been there.
Because of this, I went all in. I did everything. I was the teacher, I was the worship leader, I was the counselor, and I was the trainer. I took on all the roles. I spent five years in my first church having the time of my life. The ministry was effective. The ministry grew and I grew. There was just one problem. When I made the decision to leave, the ministry struggled. Why? Because I put myself I the center. I made it all about me — my skills, my presence, my personality. It was all about me.
In the years since that mistake I’ve reflected on the magnitude of my failure. My choosing to focus on myself instead of empowering others severely limited the effectiveness of the ministry. I robbed others of the privilege of exercising their gifts and I set the ministry up for a season of struggle when I left. I’d give just about anything to go back and redo those five years.
If I could offer a challenge to those of you who lead: Empower others! The lesson I missed was that the scope of your impact is exponentially increased when you empower others to lead.
Another challenge that a mentor if mine consistently talks about is this:
“What happens to the ministry when you get hit by a beer truck?”
I’ve never understood why it has to be a “beer truck” with him. Anyway, the point is this:
“Are you empowering and training others so that when the day (planned or unplanned) comes, the ministry will be in a position to keep moving?”
Let’s get practical:
- Who will you mentor?
- Who will you empower to lead?
Don’t make it all about you.
Burying My Frustrations
About nine years ago I discovered that I had developed a bitter, caustic and toxic attitude. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t life-giving. In fact, it was destructive. I found myself thinking, writing and saying things that shocked me.
“Where did that come from?!?”
Have you ever been there? If you’ve been in ministry for any length of time, I bet you have.
Here’s what I’ve learned about bitterness. It doesn’t flood into our hearts like a tsunami. It doesn’t rush into us, uninvited in a day. No, bitterness seeps into our hearts like a leaky faucet. It happens so slowly that we barely even notice.
In my case, the leaky faucet was my frustrations with volunteers, programs, decisions, parents, leadership and specifically, my decision to bury those frustrations. Each decision to stuff my frustrations down was a drop from a toxic, leaky faucet. Eventually, over several years, I finally woke up to the fact that I was angry and bitter.
It took a very long time to leech out all this toxicity. There were relational and ministry consequences. The big lesson I learned from this experience is this: There is a cost to burying your frustrations. It’s like drinking poison.
I’ve had to learn the discipline of embracing conflict. These days, I’m much more likely to vocalize my frustrations with staff members, volunteers and friends. I have learned that being honest with my frustrations is a far more healthy way to live and lead.
So, if you want to survive and thrive in ministry over the long-haul, I would plead with you to find ways to talk about your frustrations.
Perhaps you’re sensing the value of verbalizing your frustrations but you’re worried about going too far and being seen as “that guy” or “that girl” who is always negative. Here’s a suggestion: Instead of attacking, ask questions about your frustrations.
Here’s what I mean: Go directly to the person who is frustrating you and instead of accusing them of something, ask them questions. For example:
“I felt frustrated by your comments in the team meeting, could you share a bit more of what you meant? Maybe I’m not understanding you.”
“You haven’t been showing up on time lately. Is everything ok? Is there something I can help you with?”
“I don’t understand the purpose of this program. Can you help me understand the value?”
In my experience, asking, rather than attacking gives you an avenue to share your frustrations without putting others on the immediate defensive. And, if you’re able to regularly discuss your frustrations, you’ll begin to close that leaky faucet and protect yourself from developing a bitter and caustic attitude.
Making a Change
Let’s wrap this up. Two of my biggest mistakes in ministry have been making it all about me and burying my frustrations. Both of these mistakes led to deep regrets and seasons of ineffectiveness. Here are two challenges for you:
- Who are you going to empower (check out our article on delegation for more information on how to do this well)?
- What frustrations do you need to discuss?
If you’re willing, we’d love to hear about some of the mistakes you’ve made and what you learned from them.
Feel free to leave us a comment. The more we learn to be honest and vulnerable with each other, the more we can learn from each other and keep each other healthy.