In the process of interviewing pastors who have recently retired or ended a call and I’ve discovered a pattern of regrets related to how they wish they would have spent their time, energy, resources and political capital.
As you view this list, consider which comments resonate with you and your particular setting :
- “I tried to please everyone and in the end, pleased no one.” Pastors who seek to please everyone and avoid conflict often create some of the most intractible and dysfunctional congregations. When problems are not addressed forthrightly, they diminish morale, lead to an atmosphere of hopelessness, and allow problems become powder kegs that eventually blow up.
- “I failed to delegate.” Pastors regretted not raising up sufficient leaders to caring on the ministry beyond their pastorate and therefore failed to leave a legacy for sustainable ministry.
- “I allowed the energy to dissipate.” Momentum is a challenge to build initially and even harder to get back if you ever lose it. Pastors often fail to celebrate short-term wins that are essential for building and maintaing momentum. Pastors need to excel in naming the bright spots of their organization and building upon them.
- “I didn’t make my family a priority.” In many cases pastors built their ministries while their family dynamics and structure crumbled. Unfortunately, too many pastors sought to repair the damage it’s too late.
- “I made friends with the status quo.” Pastors filled with regret stated that they slipped into the mode of accommodating the need for maintaining the status quo rather than becoming the change agent their congregation needed.
- “I avoided the real problems.” Real problems almost always involve people and rarely are they the problems that initially surface. Real problem are often related to perceptions, expectations and assumptions rather than actual facts. Pastors commented that they needed to be more intentional about learning ways to find out what people are really thinking, but weren’t willing to verbalize.
- “I helped people fight fires but didn’t teach others how to prevent them.” Gathering feedback on results and learning from successes and mistakes is almost non existent in most congregations. Pastors stated that they rarely followed up on unmet expectations and therefore, missed golden opportunities to learn, grow and correct mistakes in the future.
- “I focused on what was missing rather than what was present.” Several pastors said they wished they had spent more time celebrating their strengths rather than shoring up their faults. A few pastors mentioned that they wished they had spent more time learning about what they do best and then developing plans for more fully using these gifts.
- “I was too small minded.” Pastors stated that their visions for what God might do within their congregations was too limiting . One pastor lamented, “I left my congregation as a sleeping giant, vastly underutilizing its capacity to be a transforming presence in the community.” Pastors wish they would have spent more time recognizing God’s abundance and the extraordinary things God could do through ordinary people.
- “I failed to nurture the faith lives of my staff and congregational leaders.” A few pastors mentioned that they hadn’t nurtured the faith lives of their primary leaders and wished that they had sent more time befriending and equipping them to be authentic, available and affirming Christ-followers.
What might you do differently now to avoid ministry regrets later?