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FIRST-PERSON: Seven mistakes I made in ministry

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–My wife and I were in a conversation recently about our years together. We will celebrate 33 years of marriage this year, and we dated for almost six years. The simple math was a surprise. We have been dating or married for nearly four decades!

It was a good conversation. But I had my moments of regret. Times that I was too busy for my family. My tendency to want to win an argument with my wife rather than resolve the problem. Failure to slow down and enjoy life.

I then reflected on my years when I served as senior pastor of four churches. I have often said that I wanted to write a book entitled “Mistakes I Made in Ministry.” Then I realized it would have to be a multivolume series!

There are no “do overs” in life and ministry. But there are always opportunities to learn, correct and improve. So I decided to share with you seven of the key mistakes I made as a senior pastor. Obviously, the list is not exhaustive. Seven just seemed to be a good, biblical number.

As I just began thinking about the mistakes I made as a pastor, I realized how gracious most church members were to me. And I realized how my family’s love for me is a total gift of grace. Here are the seven, but they are really just the beginning of many more.

1. I would spend more time in the Word and in prayer. I would follow the biblical pattern of the church leaders in Acts 6:4: “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the preaching ministry.”

2. I would give my family more time. No one remembers the church committee meetings I missed. My family still remembers those times I was too busy for them.

3. I would spend more time sharing my faith. Paul told the young pastor Timothy to do the work of an evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5). Those words apply to all pastors today.

4. I would love the community where I lived more. I would try to live more incarnationally. I would prayerfully seek to see how I could serve the community rather than see it as a population pool of prospects for my church.

5. I would lead the church to focus more on the nations. I would lead in helping our church grasp that missions is more than just an annual offering.

6. I would focus on critics less. Most church members have no idea how many criticisms and “suggestions” a pastor gets each week. It can be overwhelming and distracting. Though I would be willing to listen, I would not obsess about every negative comment that was made about me.

7. I would accept the reality that I can’t be omnipresent. So many people and groups want the presence of the pastor. Saying “no” can be difficult, but it can free the pastor to focus on some of the priorities noted above.

While I can’t reverse the mistakes I’ve made, I can endeavor to move forward positively from this day on. Though my mistakes were made when I was a pastor, many of the lessons still apply to me today. And I hope that my mistakes can be a teaching tool for this and the next generation of pastors and church staff.

This life is so incredibly brief. I am amazed and sorrowful to recall how many times I haven’t been the steward of my life that I should be. But this is a new day. It is the day that the Lord has made. I have a fresh start.

In His power, I might just get it right this time.
Thom Rainer is president of LifeWay Christian Resources. This column first appeared at ThomRainer.com.

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  • Thom Rainer