10 Really Dumb Things I Did as a Young Pastor

Sometimes I cringe when I think of my young days as a pastor. I started pastoring full-time at age 20, and only the grace of God and the love of forgiving churches helped me survive. At the risk of my embarrassment – but perhaps to help others – below are some of the dumb things I did. Tomorrow, I'll deal with some of the smarter things God helped me to do.  

  1. I didn’t clarify the terms of the calling with the first search committee. I thought they were calling me as a part-time pastor, but they instead voted me as a full-time shepherd at part-time pay. God worked it all out as I served them full-time, but I learned a lesson.
  2. I refused to admit I needed help. I wanted to prove that my youth wasn’t a problem, so I worked overtime. The result was an ulcer and a semester off school before I was 22 years old.
  3. I advertised for a new pianist even though our church already had a pianist. I thought it was obvious to everyone that we needed someone with more training. It wasn’t.
  4. I failed to ask about how to pay taxes. I learned this problem the hard way, when I realized I owed the IRS an entire year of self-employment taxes. 
  5. I took women with me alone to make visits. Granted, they were often old enough to be my grandma, but not always. I was a single guy at the time, and one of these women even informed me later that God told her that she and I should begin dating. We didn’t.  
  6. I chose not to reach out to other pastors in the area. I’d been told by veteran pastors not to trust other pastors, so I started ministry with a negative slant. I could have learned from the others, but I didn’t give myself that opportunity. 
  7. I called on a man to read the Bible aloud without his expecting it. I thought he and I both would die on the spot when it became obvious that he, a strong leader in our church, could not read.   
  8. I had no follow-up plans after doing evangelism. God blessed our evangelism, but the result was a church full of baby believers because I didn’t know how to disciple them.
  9. I preached other pastors’ sermons. It didn’t happen often (you had to buy books, journals, or cassette tapes back then to get access to sermons), but it happened.
  10. I tried to solve every problem. I stood between couples as they were fighting in the street—literally. I checked the water level in the cistern. I purchased the microphones and the tape machine. I ran the sweeper. I bought a pager so members could find me anytime, anywhere. I realize that pastoral ministry sometimes demands we do these things, but I did them because I thought I was supposed to do it all.

Pastors, what dumb things did you do when you were a young pastor? 


  • Caleb says:

    As one aspiring to be a Pastor, this is very helpful. Thank you Dr. lawless.
    In Christ, Caleb.

  • Noah says:

    Hi Chuck, do you have some ways we can work through #8? We’ve always thought our plans were good but after self evaluating we’re realizing we are falling short in this area.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Noah, this is always a tough issue. A resource that has been helpful to me in this area is Jim Putman’s book, Discipleshift.  

  • wcbcpastor says:

    All of them – though I never stood in the street I have sat in a few living rooms and I never bought a pager, though my cellphone sometimes is the most frustrating piece of equipment I own!

  • I mistook the people as tools to accomplish my ambitions.

  • Skip says:

    I ordained three men who were not ready because I needed help and the bylaws said we had to have a certain amount of deacons. All three betrayed me. I will never do that again no matter what the bylaws say.

  • Ruch says:

    I trusted people blindly, thinking no one would stab his preacher in the back, especially when they befriended him. And trusting that everyone who made a clear commitment to the preacher would honor his word. As a result I was not only let down, but shocked and hurt.

  • Matt says:

    I’m kinda doing some of these thing right now. Except the pager…I mean, how old ARE you?! 😉 My biggest problem is balancing the work-side of the load between sermon prep, seminary, outreach, and inreach. I do a pretty good job “turning things off” to spend time with family, but the other had continued to be a struggle, especially when I’m constantly told it’s not enough. As for major dumb things I did as a pastor…I’d have more if I added in my time as a youth pastor or music minister:

    Took on a youth group of about 2 and was desperate for it to grow, so I made a deal that if they got 15 kids to sign up for camp, I’d pierce my nose. They did.

    I swallowed a goldfish.

    During a particularly busy time, I put about 12 songs on a rotation…same call to worship, same response, and same songs in between…every three weeks. Got busted when I had copied the bulletin from three weeks prior and forgotten to change the date.

  • Kenny Rager says:

    In our modern day of cell phones what suggestions do you have in regards to text messages and phone calls at all times of the day?

  • Mike Massey says:

    First time as a pastor that I was full time & having to pay taxes certainly surprised me this year because I wasn’t aware of self-employment tax (I still don’t really understand it). Thankfully, I had a savings account for taxes from a previous year we thought we may owe to sale of house which will cover most of them.

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