Three Common Mistakes Pastors Make

I was honored to discuss leadership on a panel at the Southern Baptist Pastors Conference with Greg Matte, Rodney Woo, and Jack Graham. People submitted questions beforehand, and one of the questions that Pastor Greg sent my way was “What are the most common mistakes pastors make?” Here are three:


Marcus Buckingham said, “Clarity is the preoccupation of the effective leader. If you do nothing else as a leader, be clear.” Wise church leaders clarify, guard, and preach the essentials over and over again.

Most importantly, pastors must be clear on the theology that serves as the foundation for the church. Without theological clarity, churches will drift from the faith that was delivered once and for all to the saints (Jude 3). Without continually reminding people of the gospel, a church will no longer stand on the strong foundation of the faith (1 Corinthians 15:1-2). Or as D. A. Carson has stated, “To assume the gospel in one generation is to lose it in the next.”

Pastors must also be continually clear on the ministry philosophy and direction of the church. People long to have a direction painted for them, to see how all that the church does is built on the theology and philosophy of ministry that drives the church. Pastors who fail to offer directional clarity leave a massive vacuum of leadership. Consequently, others will step in with competing visions of what the church should be and do, and the church will move in a plethora of directions, unsure of who she really is.


By culture, I am not referring to the ethnic or socio-economic mix in the church (though this is important too). I am referring to the shared values and beliefs that undergird all the church does. Peter Drucker is credited for famously saying, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” He was not diminishing the importance of a wise strategy, but he was stating the overpowering strength of culture on an organization.

If a church leader attempts to implement a strategy without first addressing the culture, if the two are in conflict with one another, the strategy is doomed before it even launches. Culture will win. And while the doctrinal confession in a church is absolutely critical, if the culture is in conflict with the confession, the culture will trump the confession.

For example… A church has the doctrinal confession that all believers are priests and ministers because Jesus’ sacrificial death for us tore the veil of separation and His Spirit has empowered all believers. But that same church has a long-standing culture that the “real ministers” are the professional clergy—that whenever a need arises, it lands on a staff member’s plate. Thus, when a tragedy occurs or someone needs counseling, it is the culture that drives the behavior, not the doctrinal confession.

Wise church leaders will continually check the culture and, by God’s grace, seek to bring it into deep alignment with the theology and ministry philosophy of the church.


Many churches never realize the full potential of their plans or strategies because they switch them too frequently. They abandon their direction for a new direction and confuse the people as to where the church is really headed. Switching strategies too frequently is really a symptom of not possessing or providing clarity and not having a culture that is deeply connected to the theology and philosophy of the church. Continually switching strategies will harm the overall effectiveness of the pastor’s leadership.

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Eric Geiger

Eric Geiger serves as the Vice President of the Church Resource Division at LifeWay Christian Resources. Eric received his doctorate in leadership and church ministry from Southern Seminary. He is also a teaching pastor and a frequent speaker and consultant on church mission and strategy. Eric authored or co-authored several books including the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church. Eric is married to Kaye, and they have two daughters: Eden and Evie. During his free time, Eric enjoys dating his wife, playing with his daughters, and shooting basketball.

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What say you? Leave a comment!

jim mcfarland — 03/23/14 7:13 pm

I would also suggest Culture eats Strategy for lunch, dinner and the midnight snack! Unfortunately the emphasis on excellence and quality in ministry execution robs the Eph 4 priesthood of their God directed ministry because staff need to show a competitive product come Sunday. That's what we hired them for and if the unpaid staff fall short, fall off or fall flat, well...ya get what ya pay for!

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I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright
"While I understand the intent behind this phrase" Expound please. What do you understand to be the intent behind that phrase?
— Ken

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