We are certainly to move forward from past failures and regrets. Paul told us to “forget what is behind and reach forward to what is ahead” (Philippians 3:13). But we can learn from the wisdom of others, even if it includes their past struggles and failures.
So I asked several pastors if they had any specific instances in their pastoral ministry where they wish they had a do-over, an opportunity to reverse something they said or did. To the person, each pastor laughed at my question, not because the question was pointless, but because the answer was so obvious. Every pastor has one or more desired do-overs. Here are the seven most common I heard, with a representative comment from a pastor.
- Said or wrote something out of anger. “I wish I could have waited a few hours before I responded. I think everyone needs to put a heated email in the draft folder and wait 24 hours before choosing to respond or not to respond.”
- Obsessed with one or a few critics. “I spent way too much time worrying about and responding to just a few negative people in my church. I now realize that my ministry lost its focus, and I neglected the healthier members of the church.”
- Failed to admit a mistake. “All I needed to do was to say I made a mistake and apologize. Instead, I dug in and let my pride take control. My ministry at that church never recovered. It was the primary reason I left less than a year later.”
- Neglected a family member for a church need. “It seems like I was always able to justify neglecting my children or wife by saying that the church members’ needs were God’s work. But the Bible is clear that I am to take care of my family first; they are God’s work too. I failed too many times.”
- Pushed an initiative rather than getting buy-in. “The building program became about me rather than God’s work at the church. The members voted for it because they love me. But they never owned it for themselves. As a result, we have no momentum to move forward.”
- Left a church too soon. “I am guilty of the ‘grass-is-greener’ syndrome. I now live in regret about leaving my former church. I wish I could stop asking ‘what if?’ “
- Focused on/obsessed over another church in the community. “For over two years I stayed mad about a new church starting near us, and a megachurch taking families from us. I know I was not the leader I should have been. My obsessions often caused me to have bad attitudes about my own church members.”
The purpose of recollecting these mistakes and desires for do-overs is not to heap guilt or to dwell on past failures. Rather, the purpose is to hear from the wisdom of others so that we may not make the same mistakes they did.
I would love to hear from you about do-overs. Are some of these consistent with your experiences? Are there others you could add?