If you’re a leader, you make mistakes. I’ve made plenty.

In fact, it’s impossible to lead without making mistakes because you are moving into new and often unknown territory. The important thing is not to repeat your mistakes. If you do, that indicates you’re not learning as you lead.

So let me say it again this way.

Make mistakes, learn from them and get better as a leader; just don’t make the same mistake twice.

With that said, here’s a mistake I’ve made.

I’ve failed to learn from others’ mistakes.  

As a leadership coach and having made plenty of mistakes of my own, I’ve encountered a wide variety of ministry leadership mistakes.

This is your opportunity to hopefully avoid some or most of them.

As I wrote this post, many possibilities came to mind, so my goal was to curate a list of the more dangerous ones.

(Maybe you have a minute to add one more for all of us to benefit from in the comment section below.)

11 leadership mistakes you really want to avoid:

1) Drift from your calling

Slow drift from your calling is common. It’s not intentional, but busyness, pressure, sustained stress, fatigue, discouragement, and spiritually dry seasons can dampen your calling and cause you to drift from it.

Remember the clarity and passion of your calling; it’s the spiritual fuel that keeps you going through the seasons when leadership is difficult. It’s God’s kind voice reminding you that He’s with you.

What are a few specific things that help you keep your calling fresh?   

For example, when I’m in a worship service with baptisms, coaching a young leader who discovers their gifting and calling, or seeing a church break through a barrier… my heart says, “Oh yeah, this is why!” 

How about you? What keeps your calling fresh?

2) Confuse activity with productivity

One of the early leadership principles John Maxwell taught me was that activity is not the same as productivity.

In ministry, that is ever so true. In fact, you can exhaust yourself doing ministry with minimal results.

Ministry is highly relational, and that’s a good thing. Personally, I wouldn’t want it any other way, but it must also be purposeful. Jesus’ mission is very specific.

Be very purposeful in your meetings and with the mechanics of ministry. Remain focused on your mission to maximize your productivity and minimize wasted activity.

3) Surrender the mission to the pressure of the machine

It’s far too often that the machine of ministry hijacks the mission of ministry. Fight to keep the machine serving the mission.

This is never intentional, but the larger the church gets, the easier it is to become event planners with theological degrees.

We are organizers and equippers of Christian community, and that’s a good thing, but we can lose touch with that community if we don’t personally stay engaged with the mission.

Regularly ask your teams, “Are the mechanics of our ministry serving our mission?”

If not, make changes immediately.

4) Add prayer to the end of your energy

When I’m out of my normal daily rhythms, for example, when I travel, it’s easy for me to grab time for prayer whenever I can rather than a time when I’m fully engaged and focused.

Praying at any time during the day is good, but if your mind is distracted with problems to solve and tensions to manage, you may not be able to fully connect with Jesus. So give Jesus some of your best focus and energy.

5) Fail to tend to personal soul care

About fifteen years ago, sustained stress and overt pressure gave way to a season of anxiety that lasted about three months.

From that experience, I learned three important things:

  • How to recognize the symptoms of sustained stress and pressure, and what to do.
  • That I have limits and to exceed them is foolish.
  • How to let God carry what I can’t carry.

These are simple lessons to read about but tough to learn in the crucible of anxiety. Nevertheless, God was kind, and that period was relatively brief.

3 questions for you and your personal soul care:

  1. Do you know your early warning signs of too much-sustained stress and pressure and what to do?
  2. Do you know your limits and create healthy boundaries?
  3. Do you let God carry what you can’t carry?

6) Allow vision and strategy to become disconnected

When visionaries cast vision in the big room and the strategists meet separately to figure out how to do it, the outcome is never ideal.

Visionaries and strategists must regularly sit at the same table to keep the dream robust and alive and simultaneously be honest about the strategic realities.

The best way to minimize frustration and maximize outcomes is to keep communication fluid and open with the visionaries who dream the vision and the strategists who help make it happen.

7) Want more from people than for them

Desperation in leadership can cause you to flip the biblical script from serving to surviving.

In forty years of ministry, I’ve never seen a time with more pressure and temptation in the lives of leaders to, unintentionally, want more from people than they want for them.

Do everything you can to remain the real you, express your true heart and calling, and want more for people than from them.

8) Lose your joy for the sake of progress

If you are like most leaders I know, you are working harder than ever but not seeing the same results you once did.

I’m so glad that you remain focused on the vision and committed to moving forward. But if you will allow me to be your pastor or coach for a minute, please don’t sacrifice your joy.

Progress is great, but productivity without joy is drudgery, and you won’t go the distance that way. So take the time you need to sense genuine inner joy in your work.

  • What are some of life’s little things that bring you joy? Take time for them.
  • Who are a few of your friends that bring you joy? Don’t go too long without some time together.

9) Use spiritual authority to resist change

We’ve always known that change is constant, and now more than ever, we can literally feel the speed of change.

As a leader, you get to choose when and how you lead change, but leading change is not optional if you want to see your vision become a reality.

There are times when you have no margin for change, you just don’t like the change, or perhaps, you’re not quite ready for it.

Be honest about that.

Don’t use the God card or your spiritual authority to passively resist change or say no. Just own it. Those who follow you may not like it at the moment, but they will continue to trust you.

Your job then is to prepare yourself for the changes that need to happen.

10) Please people over pleasing God

Every leader I know has at least been tempted to please people with the risk of doing so over pleasing God. It comes from a good place, a love for people, and a desire to serve, often resulting in unintended consequences.

It’s fun to make people happy, and that’s not a bad thing, but our job is not to make people happy; it’s to make them better – in Christ.

It’s when insecurities or impure motives kick in that pleasing people turns into people-pleasing.

Serve people well but keep God first.

  • Stay connected to the vine.
  • Listen for God’s voice.
  • Live like you love God.

11) Abdicate integrity and therefore violate trust

My heart aches, as I’m sure yours does, too, at the number of leaders who violate their integrity.

However, I’m not referring to celebrity leaders. They are a small number who get big press. It’s those of us who are “everyday leaders.”

And it’s rarely about a big scandal of some kind.

It’s more about everyday things like:

  • Do we do what we say we’ll do?
  • Are we honest?
  • Are we trustworthy?
  • Are we authentic?
  • Is our private life the same as our public life?

That’s the irony of integrity. It’s often what is not seen.. until it is. Then people are disappointed, hurt, or disillusioned. Live your life as if it’s all seen.

None of us can live up to the scrutiny of perfection, and it’s extra tough these days when you can be “canceled” for saying, doing (or not doing) anything. But that doesn’t let us off the hook to live the best God-honoring life we can.