I’ve been a seminary professor for 26+ years, and I’ve mentored young leaders and pastors most of those years. I’ve watched young leaders do really well as they started ministry, but I’ve also seen many face struggles really quickly. My conclusions are anecdotal, but here are some of the most common mistakes I’ve seen young pastors make:
1. Trying to change too much too quickly. They see a need—one they see as obvious—and they assume everyone else in the church sees what they see. “Surely everyone will be ready for a quick change,” they think. They’re often wrong.
2. Focusing almost exclusively on preaching, to the neglect of pastoral care. Preaching must indeed be a priority, but I’ve seen young pastors retreat to the office, focus almost exclusively on study, and spend little time with the church family. They then find themselves preaching to a people they don’t really know.
3. Enacting church discipline quickly even if the church has not done discipline in decades. I agree that local churches need to give more attention to the discipline of wayward members. That we need to do it is not in question, but how and when we do it matter. When we do it quickly without adequate education and preparation of the congregation, the church often pays a price.
4. Being impatient with undiscipled church leaders. Many churches have wrongly placed members in leadership who have been faithful in attendance and giving, but who have never truly been discipled. They remain baby believers trying to lead other baby believers—and young, idealistic pastors sometimes seek to correct that problem before helping the church understand the problem.
5. Giving too little attention to “Senior Saints.” It’s natural for young leaders to gravitate toward other young singles, couples, and families, and there’s nothing wrong with that general direction. The problem comes when the young pastor gives little time to those who have often paid the bills and kept the doors open.
6. Giving up too quickly. It’s seldom easy to change overnight what has been ingrained in the church for decades. Young leaders, however, are often accustomed to a microwave world where everything ought to be quick—including church change. They get frustrated with the slow pace of change and often leave a church too soon. The problem is that they don’t recognize their departure was speedy until after they’ve left.
7. Assuming they would never fall morally. I’ve seen some young leaders fall before they ever got started in ministry – but none of them assumed it would ever happen to them. They were convinced they would not fall into traps that have taken down other leaders. Again, some gifted young leaders have been wrong.
I have focused on young leaders with this post, but older leaders and pastors sometimes make the same mistakes. None of us is immune from making bad choices or moving in unhealthy directions. Based on your own experiences, what would you add to this list?
Want more helpful resources on this subject? Check out Leading Change When Nobody Wants It by Sam Rainer, Five Things Older Pastors Would Tell Their Younger Selves, and Church Answers Membership
Posted on November 8, 2022
Dr. Chuck Lawless is a leading expert in spiritual consultation, discipleship and mentoring. As a former pastor, he understands the challenges ministry presents and works with Church Answers to provide advice and counsel for church leaders.
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All the 7 points shared are so true, but point 1. Trying to change too much too quickly is the biggest mistake of all by young leaders I guess. thank you for sharing, God Bless
Alas, I’ve seen several older preachers fall victim to #7. I often tell people, “If you think it could never happen to you, chances are the devil has you right where he wants you.”
In my previous career, the answer to the first point was offered by a wise person. Don’t change anything in the first 6 months of your tenure unless the process is completely broken. And broken meant not functioning or so dysfunctional that it might as well be not functioning.
Even well disciplined leaders need patience. I would bet there will be things which appear minor with regard to discipline that will be a sticking point for a seasoned leader. Like the previous point (#3), all leaders will most likely not share the same vision of enacting discipline. The point is being patient working toward the goal.
As with most things in the church, and as is exceedingly obvious in my context as the 36th (or more – records are not that thorough when the church began) pastor in nearly 400 years, patience is important. Churches really work with an assumed eternal event horizon. Even a church less than 10 years old expects to last forever.