My 7 Worst Mistakes as a Pastor

Joe McKeever
Published Jun 15, 2023
My 7 Worst Mistakes as a Pastor

There is a huge reason for not dwelling on our failures and mistakes: God works even in our mistakes and can make good emerge from them. On to my list of worst mistakes as a pastor.

In a national publication, one of our denomination’s leaders gave seven mistakes he had made in ministry. Every preacher will identify with them…

He wishes he had spent more time in prayer…given his family more time…spent more time sharing his faith….had loved his community more…had led his church to focus more on the nations…he wishes he had focused on critics less…and last: he wishes he had accepted the reality that he could not be everywhere and meet every need.

That started me thinking about my own list. Now, a list of goofs I have made since entering the ministry in 1962 to the present would be limited only by how much time I had. I can think of 10 mistakes I made as a preacher, ten as a pastor, ten as a visionary leader for my church, ten as a leader of the church ministerial staff, and 10 as a denominational worker….

Get the idea? Anyone who does anything for the Lord and mankind in this life is going to do a less-than-perfect job.

No one wants to grovel in regrets. I assure you I don’t. (Even though I fully intend to give you my list.)

But there is a huge reason for not dwelling on our failures and mistakes: God works even in our mistakes and can make good emerge from them. As a result, even though we look back and see the times we dropped the ball, we give thanks for what He accomplished through it all.

God can bring much out of little and good out of bad. He knows what he is about.

Okay. On to my list of worst mistakes as a pastor.

1. I should have found a mentor early in my ministry and made good use of him.

After majoring in history in college, I began pastoring. Not exactly great preparation for this work. My efforts were like trying to invent the wheel. I started from scratch in every sense of the word. What I wish I had known–and had the gumption to act on–is that behind the door of almost every Baptist church (and a lot of others) was a veteran preacher who would have been glad to spend time with this kid pastor and help him. All I had to do was ask. And I didn’t.

I didn’t ask because I didn’t know they were available. So I tried it all by myself. Over the years, I’ve worked to mentor a lot of young preachers. I remember what it was like being in their shoes.

2. I wish I had become a better, more disciplined student of the Word.

Now, my hunch is most of my professors thought I was a pretty good student. I made good grades. Not the best in the class, necessarily, but did well enough to get into the doctoral program without taking anything of a remedial nature. But I knew I was coasting.

What I wish I’d done back in college was to get with some excellent students and copy their study practices. As it was, I seemed to do as little as I could get by with.

Wish I’d applied myself more in the study of Greek and Hebrew. I took the required courses and enjoyed them. But I needed another year of each to have enough skills to function. When I meet a veteran pastor who can open his Greek or Hebrew Bible and read it, my heart is filled with admiration.

3. I wish I had made myself buckle down and begun writing over 30 years ago.

I’ve written articles for Christian magazines almost from the time I finished seminary. The list of published works (like that) probably would number in the hundreds if there was any way of running them all down. But all along, I wanted to write books. Over the years, I did write a couple, and when the publishers turned them down, they were relegated to the closet floor. No telling where those manuscripts are now.

My dad was probably pleased by the eight books of cartoons I did with Baker Book House of Grand Rapids. They sold a combined total of 300,000. But he once said, “I want you to write a real book.” And I understood completely what he meant.

One day a few years back, I was wandering in Lifeway Christian Store on the campus of our New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. A man whom I did not know, and to my knowledge have never seen since, said to me, “You don’t need to be buying them. You need to be writing them.” Pow.

So, good news, as of 2023, I’ve written eight books. There! And I’m only 83 years old. Smile, please.

4. I failed to master the craft of preaching early enough.

What I needed was one-on-one instruction from a mentor. The classroom classes on preaching did not work for me. I was too much of a rebel, I’m thinking, looking back. Too determined not to make my sermons sound like everyone else’s. And therefore, I failed to pick up some needed pointers on basic sermon preparation that could have made me more effective much earlier.

By now, I feel that I’ve finally learned to preach. Not as good as anyone else, but just the way the Lord wants me to do. As far as I can tell, I’m preaching the best I’ve ever done right now. A little late, perhaps, but one does what he has to.

5. I wish I had achieved a proper balance in my self-confidence and kept it.

I was in my mid-30s and pastoring the wonderful First Baptist Church of Columbus, Mississippi. A missionary who visited our church and sat in the congregation said to me later, “I have never seen a preacher so relaxed in the pulpit.” I’m still trying to figure out whether that was good or bad.

Wonder if it was a reference to my cockiness? Over-confidence. The feeling that “I can do this.” Oh my.

In time, the Lord would send along some church members–and in one case, an entire church–with the assignment to clip this young upstart’s wings. And they did. I went to the other extreme in my confidence, even wondering if I could do this at all.

Somewhere in the middle is the road. It’s a confidence in the Lord Jesus Christ, a confidence that He called me into this work and is accompanying me, and “it’s about Him, not me.”

6. I wish I’d had a stronger, more consistent prayer life through all the years.

Everyone says that, don’t they?

It’s true. Period.

7. I regret that I was not a consistent and persistent soul-winner for much of my ministry.

Very early in my pastoral ministry, I set myself to learn how to approach strangers and steer the conversation to spiritual things, and to lead those responding to Christ. When we brought a pastor or evangelist to our church, I would take him visiting with me in order to learn from him. I attended the conferences, took the training, did the work, and led a lot of people to the Lord.

So what happened? What happened was that the pastoral work gets busy, the denomination calls, the phone rings, the invitations to do this or that multiply, and soul-winning visiting and even casual witnessing become a thing of the past.

I’ve heard this story from numerous pastors over the years. Some were successful in holding to their evangelistic personal work, but only by saying ‘no’ to other things. It requires a discipline that I did not exercise and wish I had.

Thank the Lord I’m still alive, still in the work even after a number of serious health challenges, and still have the opportunity to finish strong. That’s real big in my book right now.

This article originally appeared on Used with permission. 

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/AntonioGuillem 

Joe McKeever has been a disciple of Jesus Christ more than 65 years, been preaching the gospel more than 55 years, and has been writing and cartooning for Christian publications more than 45 years. He blogs at