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The definition of failure (and success) is subjective. For our purposes, failure is not pastoring a small church or never writing a book or never being featured as a conference speaker. Failure as a pastor is not fulfilling the call that God has placed on you. With this definition, failure is not an option.

So how do we prevent failure as pastors? This is a list of a few things to avoid.

Isolating yourself

It’s been said that leaders are loners. That simply is not true. Leaders are connected with people—the people they are leading and the people who are leading them. Pastors who pull back from relationships and especially those who disconnect from other pastors will likely fall. Remember Ecclesiastes 4:12: “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Don’t pastor in a bubble—you need other people.

Practicing secret sins

Only a few pastors are caught in the high profile sins—those sins aren’t the problem for most leaders. It’s the little foxes that spoil the vine (Song of Solomon 2:15). If we allow little sins to invade our private lives, our integrity will be compromised and our faith will be weak. While nobody is perfect, pastors need to aim for purity. God’s grace is the only way this is realized. Practice grace in your personal life.

Becoming bitter

It’s only a matter of time until every pastor is hurt or disappointed. My advice for you: get over it quickly. Don’t allow the pain of local church leadership to turn into a bitter root in your life. Once bitterness sets in, it becomes toxic to your soul. “Guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23) Flush offenses from your system as soon as possible and keep your heart tender.

Selling out 

A terrible trap for pastors is to become a people pleaser. We want to be liked or we need the finances of a particular family—so we do what they want, in spite of our convictions to do otherwise. If you become a slave to a special interest group, you will lose your self-respect and the respect of the church. Be strong. Serve the people, but sell out only to Christ.

Neglecting your family

Your family is your first ministry. If you habitually put the church ahead of them, everyone will know it, and no one will be impressed—especially your family. There will be times when duty calls, but let it be known that regardless of what happens at church, you will fight for your family. If the church kicks you to the curb, your family will still be with you.

Being driven by your emotions

James Dobson wrote a book entitled Emotions: Can You Trust Them? The simple answer is “no.” As a pastor you will have up days and down days. People will like you, then they will loathe you. We’ve got to remain steady, levelheaded, and even-keeled. We must lead from a position of balance and stability. If you are guided by your emotions, your ministry will be short-lived.

Relying on your strength

No doubt you have a ton of leadership abilities or you wouldn’t be where you are. But the day we trust our gifts more than we trust the Lord, we are doomed. Pray hard and depend on the Spirit. He is better at your job than you are.

Having all the answers

If we ever get to the point where we have it all figured out; if we don’t need to learn anything more; if we can lead the church “with our eyes closed”… failure has already happened. Arrogance tells us we know enough, but reality tells us we have a lot to learn. Keep learning! There is always someone smarter than you. Never stop reading. Seek advice. Solicit input. Be a lifelong learner and keep growing. Remember, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5b).

You may think it is foolish to publish such a list because most of us don’t need help in trying to figure out how to fail. The point of this article is this: I have made these mistakes as a pastor and I hope to prevent someone else from repeating them. Each of them has the potential to cause you to fail as a pastor. If failure is not fulfilling the call that God has placed on you, then failure is not an option.

This article was used with permission from


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