Learnings From My Top Ten Leadership Mistakes – Part 1

Mistake1 “There is something else wrong that happens here on earth. It is the kind of mistake rulers make” (Ecclesiates 10:5-15 NCV).

This past Monday our church was honored to host the Innovative Church Community’s monthly peer-learning gathering. Our band led in powerful worship, our many volunteers worked as greeters, ran the registration table, cooked and served lunch, and took great care of the over 50 attending pastors and their church staffs. I was privileged to be the presenter for this month’s learning.

Instead of teaching from our successes I decided to talk about our mistakes. Specifically, I talked about a certain kind of mistakes that leaders tend to make. With so many to choose from, I narrowed the list to my top ten leadership mistakes (Inspiration for this talk came from reading Hans Finzel’s The Top Ten Mistakes That Leaders Make and Geoff Surratt’s Ten Stupid Things That Keep Churches From Growing). I also included my learnings from each. Here are five of them (I’ll list the other five in my next blog, so stay tuned).

1. Attempting to do too much by myself. In the first years of the church I would unload and set-up our portable sound and nursery equipment. I led worship, preached, talked to guests, then took everything down and loaded it back in the van. It was the “come watch Gary do everything” show. I wore myself out and often struggled with bitterness because no one offered to help. I finally learned to ask for help. Learning: Give your job away. Keep only what only you can do.

 2. Putting the target ahead of the team. We’ve all heard the truism “Never start a ministry without a minister.” But I would add a new one, “Never launch a ministry without a ministry team.” When we first planted WCC, my team was my family. Our first sound man was my ten-year old son, Stephen. He became an expert at rewinding the cassette, so we could sing the last chorus again in our “Karaoke” version of worshiping to split-track tapes. I almost burned out my wife and my kids in the early days. I had put the target of launching a weekly worship service ahead of building a core team to support it. Learning: Make building a team your first target.

3. Failure to communicate adequately. Here are some of the things I used to say, “But I already told them during the announcements.” Or, “It’s in the bulletin!” I ultimately learned that you have to repeat messages over and over in order to be understood. Communication has not taken place until understanding has occurred. And don’t let the message get ahead of you. If you keep people in the dark, they’ll make up their own message. People are always down on what they’re not up on! So, use every tool in your communication toolbox to gain understanding. Learning: Communicate until everyone involved knows what’s going on.

4. Promoting competence over character. When you first plant a church you’re often so desparate for help that you’ll take anyone that’s breathing. Be careful. The Bible says that we shouldn’t “be too quick in the laying on of hands” (1 Timothy 5:22), and that they must first go through a “time of testing” (1 Timothy 3:10). After years of making mistakes in this area, we’ve come up with two lists of traits that we look for in our team players and leaders. One is the acronym F.A.T. Is the candidate Faithful, Available and Teachable? The other list we call “The Four Cs.” They stand for Character, Commitment, Chemistry and Competence. We used to look for competence first, but after we learned that you can teach competence but not the other three Cs, we shifted our order of priority. Learning: Make sure you test a person’s “F.A.T.” factor and their “4 Cs” before promoting/hiring them.

5. Failure to recognize my role as chief fundraiser. I always hated asking for money. In the early days of the church I would sometimes forget to take the offering. Of course, I’d remember when the church treasurer couldn’t pay me that week. Over time I realized my mistake. Jesus talked about money, so why couldn’t I? As the pastor I couldn’t delegate this job. I needed to learn to make the big ask. I was willing to give sacrificially. I believed in our church’s vision. So, why not believe that others would join me? Learning: Don’t be afraid to share the vision and make the big ask.

That’s the first five of my top ten leadership mistakes. I’ll list the other five in my next blog entry. Now, go make some mistakes of your own and try to at least avoid these.

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