8 Big Mistakes I Made as a Young Pastor

Okay, this post is confession. To be honest, I’m not sure why I’m writing this one, since it can probably only embarrass me – but perhaps it might help a young leader not be as dumb as I’ve been. Here are eight big mistakes I made in my first years as a full-time pastor.

  1. I depended on too many other people and resources for sermon preparation. It was easy to do, actually – just go buy a sermon outline book and fill in the details with good stories. This is agonizing to put in print, but we really didn’t even need to pray much about it.
  2. I learned how to preach for “amens.” In my day, that’s how you evaluated the worth of the sermon. The more, and the louder, amens you got, the better the sermon was. What I learned was that you earned “amens” by (a) preaching only against obvious sins that everyone detested; (b) determining the sin first and then going to find a Bible text to support your position; (c) screaming more loudly.
  3. I didn’t realize how strong family lines are. I made a recommendation once that we secure a new leader for a position that clearly (at least in my mind) needed a new leader. Nobody who was breathing could have missed that fact. What I didn’t know then is that sometimes family members don’t always see – or won’t admit – what others see.
  4. I had no accountability in my life. I was the single staff member in a small church. As long as I showed up on Sunday and Wednesday night, no one knew how many hours I worked. Many were the hours when no one knew where I was. I look back now and realize how unwise that was.
  5. I led by conference more than by conviction.  I allowed whatever was the trend for the day – that is, the topic of the last conference I attended – to govern what the church did. I was always excited about something, but my constant changing wore out my more seasoned leaders. 
  6. I was far more legalistic than loving. That’s another way to get “amens”: declare almost everything a sin. I recall with pain my excitement one Sunday afternoon after I preached about the evil of Atari video games. Perhaps there was some point buried deep in my sermon, but I’m certain the gospel wasn’t there.
  7. I was also far more tolerant than loving. I had seen church discipline take place once in my life prior to pastoring, and then only from a distance. I could preach hard, but I knew nothing about actually holding people accountable to holy living.
  8. I bragged a lot about numbers. We did see a large number of non-believers turn to Christ the first few years of my ministry. I’m grateful for those changed lives, but I realize now how much credit I took for those changes. I was simply wrong.

What other big mistakes did you make as a young pastor? Let’s help young pastors avoid making the same mistakes.


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