I’d love to learn what other pastors have done in recovering from a misstep? Would you share (1) a mistake you made in pastoring, and (2) what you did to recover from that mistake?
Probably the most significant mistake that I made in pastoring was being a “micromanager” when it came to our church leadership. In holding a very tight grip on our leadership, without realizing it, I was continually suffocating their ability to shine as leaders. So, under the wise counsel of a former Bible College instructor from my alma mater, I decided to “let go” of the reigns of leadership, and gradually allowed our church leaders to grow and develop their ministry with their own personality and take ownership of the ministry that they have been entrusted with by the pastor. Now of course, we still occasionally provide direction and purpose for the ministries; however, we have allowed the church leadership to celebrate their victories and even allowed them to make mistakes, and with grace, we have helped them to recover from their mistakes rather than “beating them up” for making those mistakes in the first place.
I’d like to say I have only ever made one mistake in pastoring, but I have fallen prey to several, all of which were based on a character weakness of my own or maybe just being “super sensitive.”
A fault I have fallen into time and time again is that of becoming so attached to the people that God sends into our congregation. I know, of course, never to be personally involved in the lives of the people, and certainly friendships are out of the question. There is an invisible line that must be observed which avoids familiarity, lack of respect for the anointing, and also privacy and free choice that everyone in the congregation has. However, my weakness and flaw in the past would be that I have taken it very personally when someone decides to leave our church family. When people would come with, “I really love you…” and offer me a potted plant and those were their exit words, then I knew they were leaving the church. This would leave me distraught and questioning what I had done wrong, and would also cause me to focus on the person leaving and not on those who are happy in our church. It would be, for me, all consuming. I would console myself with, “Well, people left Jesus so they will leave you!” However, that never really worked, and I would still question, “Where did I miss it??” My husband always says, “Wendy, the church is like a revolving door; people come in and people go out.” However, it never really comforted my heart.
Naturally, some self-examination on the responsibilities we have all been given are healthy, but mine were not.
So, how did I conquer this and bounce back?
- By leaning into the call (Romans 11:29). Everything about God is loving and comforting.
- By realizing that I have a responsibility to the gifting I am carrying, and a love for God and for people were never my issue.
- By knowing my heart was right. Unfortunately, none of us fit into a box. Even as pastors, it’s not a cut and dry role; all our personalities are different. There are different offices linked to the pastoral office as well for some ministers.
- The answer for me was taking time to thank God for the treasure he had gifted me with (acknowledge every good thing that is in us) and that I would do my best to perfect it through communication and understanding and acceptance of my calling.
I have endeavored to do that, so much so, that I’m comfortable in my own skin. I’m comfortable in my Call. Of course, we will never be able to please everyone, but being comfortable with what God has given you to give to others must be comfortable to you. The Holy Spirit is our friend and He loves to reveal the treasure entrusted to each one of us.
Not to sound like I have a careless attitude, because that certainly is not the case, but I have learned to protect the anointing that God has entrusted to me. I treat the office with respect and honor, and with a thankful heart; knowing that I’m not everyone’s pastor.
The trick of the devil would be to get us to question our call and to take us down a dead-end street of wondering and over-thinking. But the thing I learned about dead-end streets is that you always have to turn around and come back. A dead-end street is exactly what it says it is. There is no way out, so there is no point in going there.
- Take time with your call. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to scriptures to focus on so you can learn about yourself and your calling.
- Never listen to negativity. Whether you pastor five or 5,000, it is irrelevant.
- Don’t compare with other pastors. They are not you!
- Be thankful and acknowledge your calling.
- Keep your heart tender, and keep preaching God’s Word. How people see you is processed through their thinking and their issues. Other people’s issues are not yours. Live happy!
Watch out for potted plants!! Ha! Only joking…
The biggest mistake I have ever made (up to this time) happened over 20 years ago. I was still relatively young in ministry and our work here in Europe grew faster than my character. Success can be a real challenge for all of us. God warned Israel not to forget Him after they had taken the promise land.
…And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth. But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day.
We had moved the church into a large facility in 1986, and in 1991 it was time to renegotiate our contract. Finding a building like ours is a very big challenge for us here in middle Europe and I was sure that God wanted us to continue to expand. We prepared to take even more space, and in my over confidence, I signed the new contract (2.5 million) without getting any expert advice concerning the fine print and I was so confident (or maybe arrogant) in my faith that I hardly prayed about it.
To my surprise, after the first month into the new contract, we were faced with the reality that the additional cost for the added space was 25,000 Euro a month more than we had budgeted. I was already managing not only the church, but a two year Bible School, a publishing house for faith-building books in the German language, a day care center, 24 employees and now this additional cost was more than my faith could handle.
I come from an Italian family and that means I can be thick-headed. And in my strength, I carried all this for over one year. But it just got to the point where the tail started wagging the dog. I would dread the beginning of every new month, knowing I would have to face all this again. I finally did the one sensible thing; got on my knees and said God help me.
In this time of prayer, God showed me, what I had called ‘faith’ was really over confidence in my own gifting. I had not sought His guidance nor His wisdom in all of this and I quickly repented. What happened next changed me forever. God spoke to my heart and said, “I forgive you. Now go on and don’t worry; all is taken care of.”
The additional cost of 25,000 Euro a month was impossible for us to pay and though we tried to renegotiate on this point, we got nowhere and the debt started to add up. I would go to God in prayer and the answer was always the same; “Don’t worry; everything is taken care of.” At a point where we were 430,000 Euro (this renegotiation went on for four years), I had a dream. And in my dream, I dreamt about tax laws. I knew when I woke that God was showing me something and immediately called my tax accountant. My dream gave him new insight and when all was said and done, we were given 430,000 Euro back from taxes paid we should never had paid.
God, in one dream, wiped away every bit of debt. When people ask me why I think God had me wait so long, my answer is very simple; He wanted to help me change from the inside out. After this four year experience, I was no longer the same man. My heart was changed, my faith had grown to a place of knowing real resting in God, and the drive to prove something was no longer there. I simply wanted to know His plan and purpose. As my dear friend Ray McCauley always says, “God is more interested in what we are becoming than what we are doing.”
Making mistakes is something we all share in common. The problem that arises for us as pastors and leaders, is when we make a mistake, we often feel that we must hide it from those we are ministering to so that we won’t lose their respect. But I have found over the years, that as I am open and transparent about my mistakes as well as my successes, I truly can help those that I am ministering to. We must never forget we too are growing in Christ just like those we are ministering to, and we are in this together.
We had a good friend in the Assemblies of God church we were saved in who had a son at Rhema. The son would mail his father Kenneth Hagin tapes and this man would give them to me, since he was not going to listen to them. The secular job I had required a great deal of driving, and I listened to those tapes by Brother Hagin religiously. These tapes also introduced us to Kenneth Copeland and Fred Price, and about a year later, the Lord spoke to my heart about going to Rhema. This friend had another son, who went one year to Rhema and one year at Christ for the Nations. This man (I will call him Tom) and his wife became missionaries to Jamaica. Evidently, they had horrible experiences there and returned to the states, relocating in CT. We were in need of an associate pastor, and though I did not know Tom, I offered him the position without praying. Tom readily accepted the position and it turned into a nightmare. Tom, who had a marvelous attitude when he wanted the job, showed his true colors of disrespect and ulterior motives. We had a terrible rebellion in the church in 1990. Tom knew all about it before it happened and sided in with those in rebellion. I believe that his motive was to take the church. The Lord spared us, and the rebellion was quelled after several people left. Tom stayed for a while, but he was always a thorn in our side. He finally decided to leave and start a church about 20 miles from us. I was glad he left, as we were going to ask him to leave. He took with him a very prominent man who he said was evangelistic, because he would help Tom grow his new church. Unfortunately this man that he took with him ran off with Tom’s wife and the church folded. This was in 1992 and I have never heard from Tom or any other member of this family again.
Tom was given the position primarily by me. This has not—and never will—happen again. The entire staff is in on all decisions concerning additional staff members, and we pray diligently asking the Lord for His direction.
It was a very painful time. I thank the Lord Jesus for sparing the church.
Every person has made mistakes in the ministry. Sometimes it seems that the mistakes of pastors may be scrutinized more closely, as people tend to hold leaders to much higher standards than they have for themselves.
The good news is that God has made provision in His Word for our faults. 1 John 1:9 says, “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Also, it is a good thing for ministers to belong to a ministerial association for partnership, fellowship, accountability, and counsel.
Early on in ministry, we led our church to be a ministry of excellence. The misstep was that we expected perfection from people, which they constantly fell short of. We figured that they just weren’t zealous enough for the Lord and would allow them to leave the church without a word from us; even those who had been with us for years! Eventually we realized the truth behind the Scripture that we have the treasure of Christ in earthen vessels. It simply means that every person has strengths and weaknesses, and even as God is patient with our faults and flaws, we should also extend His grace to others.
We still have standards, however, we have much more grace with folks and much more communication with them than we used to. People are precious to God and valuable to us as pastors. Missteps are recoverable if we are willing to judge ourselves in the light of God’s Word and to continually develop ourselves personally as leaders.