When Pastors Mess Up

MistakeThis is not about when pastors mess up by having an affair, developing an addiction or being financially dishonest. I’m talking about the regular mistakes that pastors make on a regular basis. They are common mistakes, but when not dealt with properly, they can cause major problems.

I messed up on Sunday at church. The details are not important. The point is that I said I would do something and I didn’t do it. That kind of mistake can quickly lead to diminished pastoral effectiveness.

I will tell you that I had two immediate temptations.

  1. Make Excuses. I had some excuses, some good ones. But excuses do not make things better, especially for the other person. I grew up with low self-esteem and found myself often making excuses for not doing a good job at something. It took time for me to recognize my temptation to offer excuses and those excuses still rise up in my mind. But I don’t express them unless there is a very good reason to.
  2. Beat Myself Up. Part of my low self-esteem is to beat myself up for my failings. It is good to have some short-term regret for failing to do something as that can be motivation to do better next time. But self-condemnation is never healthy and it ends up being a waste of energy.

So if those are the things not to do, what should we do?

  1. Apologize. It is appropriate to apologize for a mistake and to demonstrate some regret for having failed the person. No need to bring out the sackcloth and ashes but a sincere apology is appropriate.
  2. Fix It. While acknowledge the emotional reaction of the person, we should seek to find some way to fix the situation. In my case, I made a suggestion for something we could do that would accomplish what my mistake failed to do. That doesn’t instantly repair the loss of credibility but it is the beginning of healing. Regret is good but regret plus action is much better.

The fact is that as pastors, we are all going to make mistakes. We will mess up often and hopefully will not cause too much damage along the way. We can’t always prevent the mistakes, but we can choose how we will respond to them.

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