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Pastors aren’t stupid, they just can’t see their own mistakes

By Ronald E. Keener

It’s not that pastors are stupid, says Geoff Surratt, on staff at Seacoast Church, Charleston, S.C., and author of Ten Stupid Things That Keep Churches From Growing, (Zondervan, 2009) “The challenge is seldom intelligence; the problem is often perspective. Many times we are so close to the action that we can’t see our own mistakes and we end up making decisions that undermine the very outcome we desire.”

Why do you think pastors don’t see their mistakes?

I think sometimes pastors are too close to the action to see the mistakes. I have watched a couple of NASCAR races from the pits and I have discovered that is a great place to be close to the action, but a very poor place to watch a race. I think pastors often have the same experience.

Have you done many of the stupid things on your list?

Of the ten mistakes listed in the book I have done 12 of them. To paraphrase the Apostle Paul, I am the chief of stupid pastors.

This book is funny at times. How important is humor in growing ministry?

I think the ability to laugh at ourselves and the mistakes we make in life is one of the key ingredients to learning and growing. I realized a long time ago that people are going to laugh when I fall down; I might as well enjoy the experience as well.

Do you think that most leaders struggle with at least one of these stupid things?

In writing the book I interviewed successful pastors such as Craig Groeschel, Perry Nobel and Chris Hodges, and each pastor shared that at different times in their ministry they had struggled with one or more of these mistakes. I believe that every leader at some time has committed at least one of the errors outlined in the book.

What advice would you give to a pastor whose church wasn’t growing despite all he’s done?

I think the first thing a pastor should do is evaluate if he is in the right role. Some of us simply aren’t wired up to be senior pastors, but will thrive in another area. If he is sure that he is in the role God has called him to, I think the next step is to gather a group of leaders from both inside and outside of his church and ask them to critique every area of their ministry looking for specific areas where he and the church can improve. Often a pastor will rely on family and friends for feedback, but the reality is that they may not be able to give the kind of honest input needed. Each chapter of the book gives discussion questions to aid in this kind of prayerful analysis.

What do you think is the most common stupid thing leaders do?

The mistake that I encounter again and again both in my own life and in leaders that I meet around the country is trying to do too much of the ministry alone. Sometimes pastors feel that no one will do the tasks as well as they do, or they feel that others do not have the time to do the work. And sometimes, even though we don’t like to admit it, we like the strokes we get when people tell us what a great job we are doing. When we hold on to too much of the ministry, however, we limit what God can do through us and we rob others of the blessing of being used in service. Many churches would grow immediately if the pastor would give away everything but the things that only he can do.

Do you think that these stupid things apply to even larger and megachurches?

I think these mistakes apply at every level. In the smaller church it may be the senior pastor who is making mistakes, but in the larger church mistakes can be made at every level. A children’s director may be doing too much of the ministry herself, a small groups pastor may not be taking care of his relationship with his wife, or an executive pastor may be mixing business and ministry in an inappropriate way. I can attest from working on staff of one of the fastest growing churches in America, being a megachurch doesn’t exempt a staff from making stupid mistakes.

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