Seven Do-Overs Pastors Wish They Had

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.

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.”
  5. 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.”
  6. 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?’ “
  7. 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?


  1. says

    I’ve only been a pastor for approximately five years, but one that definitely comes to mind at my first church is building relationships with other pastors, even different denominations. I was a bit of a hermit, and I felt isolated at times. Thankfully, I’ve corrected that now and I have some amazing pastoral friendships where I currently serve!

  2. Wes Brockway says

    I can definitely relate to #1, the angry response.

    Regarding #6, leaving too soon, mine is the opposite. I should have left sooner. At my last pastorate I believed that while I was the right person to lead the church through its relocation and building program, I was not the one to lead in the process of reaching their new community. I was seeking the Lord to relocate me but nothing opened up. About 18 months later a conflict arose and I resigned. I leave it all in God’s wisdom.

  3. says

    When dealing with a sin issue involving an emotional affair or at least a relationship that was affecting a marriage, I wish I had acted quicker than I did. Things snowballed and we did deal with it but a lot of ongoing pain could have been avoided. Thankfully, by God’s grace, we were able to work through it.

    Another do over involved a situation in which there was conflict between our diaconate board and the young mothers of my first church out of seminary. Rather than encouraging the diaconate board meeting with the mothers, I volunteered to be the go between the parties which made the problem worse. I learned the hard lesson of triangulation and being sucked into an issue that was not my issue.

  4. Thomas Bounds says

    I wish I’d been more intentional about transparency with search committees. Honest about self is hard for candidates and search committees, but success faces a difficult stumbling block when starting with facades. I’m getting better at it, but I wish I had started sooner.

  5. Troy says

    My list is more than a few, I wished…….

    1) I had recognized my need for taking time off with my family sooner. Thankful my son is still young enough to do that with him and my wife.
    2) I had learned to listen to my wife sooner. God gave hrr gifts and abilities that I don’t have.
    3) Quit trying to please the brethren (preacher circle) and more concerned about what the Lord thinks about me.
    4) Taken better care of myself.

  6. says

    Thanks Thom – I have fallen into #7 from time to time. Much less in our community, as New England is in dire need of Church planters and Church revitalization, but from listening to popular pastors and reading bestsellers. A few years back I simply wearied from it and decided to just teach the Bible until I die and drown out the noise. Thank you for this site – keeps me grounded.

  7. Mark Dance says

    I regret giving as much time and attention to critics as I have (#2). I now realize that they exist in every church and that often the best way to disarm them is to ignore them. Your blog last month on how to handle critics was gold.

    A go-to verse that has helped me is, “The fear of man is a snare, but the one who trusts in the Lord is protected.” (Proverbs 29:25 HCSB).

  8. says

    Right on Tom! It actually encouraged me as I have had those thoughts recently. I have been involved in Student ministry for over 20 years! I would add one or two as: 1) learning to let go of these failures as Paul instructs us and 2) not stressing over the critics or worry what they may say. Thank you

  9. says

    Thanks for the post Thom! I’m in my “in-between” right now, but I can relate to a couple on your list. I would love to put my do-over on here, but the hurt is still a little too fresh.

  10. Bob says

    really like the concept and idea….my do-over…to challenge some really negative criticisms when they happened instead of holding back (kinda the reverse of the first one, but acting face to face in honesty and love.

  11. says

    This is a little dicey, but hang with me.
    There have been 1-2 occasions I wish I had the nerve to ask someone to leave the church. It would have saved countless sleepless nights.

  12. says

    My do over would have to be letting a small church and its two deacons run me off after asking the church to agree to bring in a church consultant. I should have just stayed and continued to lead.

  13. Wes Brockway says

    Thom and others, I have wondered how much grief we bear because we are under financial bondage for whatever reason, and they can be myriad, from poor financial stewardship, to low pay and so forth. I believe this causes many to have to sacrifice what they know is right because they can’t afford to lose the job. I’m not discounting that we need to trust God, but the reality of taking care of a wife and children and meeting our expenses can certainly, humanly, affect our decisions.

    • Mark Dance says

      Very good point Wes. Pastors indeed feel trapped when their finances are a factor in how they lead their church and family. As a profession, we have unfortunately earned a reputation of talking about stewardship more than we practice it. Of course there are many exceptions.
      We can add that to a growing list of topics to discuss on Dr Rainer’s blog or “Pastor’s Today” e-newsletter. Many of the ideas are inspired by feedback like this.

    • Dan Childers says

      Am not a pastor but it would seem as someone who feels God has called them into ministry…why/how does one feel like God wouldn’t take care of the…don’t understand that disconnect…unless the “calling” was “my will not thine”…is that what starts us wearing masks to church…

  14. says

    Such a good post. I can relate to most all of them. My seminary training prepared me to preach/teach. But, I wish my education would have prepared me more for the leadership challenges that a pastor faces.

  15. says

    One of my greatest regrets is not following up on a couple of families who came to our church seeking assistance. Their financial, emotional and family needs were simply overwhelming to me at the time (during my early 20s). I did what I could for the short term but didn’t follow up. That bothers me 30 years later.

  16. Ebonie Scarborough says

    After only being a Pastor for a little over a year I’ve learned Alot. Ive fallen into number seven as well. Focusing to much on other churches instead of taking time to allow th. Holy spirit to develop our uniqueness. Also i started focusing so much on ministry and neglected to spend quality time with God. So thankful for the Holy Spirit bringing me back on track.

  17. says

    Dr. Rainer, I can relate to all 7. The one do over from your list I experienced the most was listening to critics. Jon Acuff talks about critics math which is “10,000 compliments + 1 criticism = 1 criticism.” That has stuck with me and one that I can relate too quite often.
    One personal do over I experienced early on in ministry was I didn’t lead out of who God created me to be instead I lead out of who I thought other people wanted me to be. I tried to be like other leaders around me instead of just being me. I still struggle with this but I’m more aware of it. Thanks for your post. Always enjoyed reading them.

  18. Cindy Antonuk says

    Being too transparent, and not being transparent enough. It’s a fine line for me. My congregation loves my authenticity, but I think I sometimes circumvent myself as a leader because of it.

  19. shawn says

    Not removing people from leadership more quickly who needed to move on and were being divisive with their agendas.

  20. says

    I’m guilty of all of the above, and my main one besides them would be to dump the Messiah Complex. I get involved in too much of other people’s drama that they’re not really interested in solving.

  21. says

    The questions remains, “why did these things happen?”
    Self-awareness is only part of the problem. The problem is that most in ministry are completely unaware of these tendencies because of tendencies toward self-righteousness and unhealthy egos. Driscoll’s most recent confession is a perfect illustration of such behavior. The celebrity pastor feels entitled to carry-out each of the issues identified as his MO. It’s only when these measures absolutely fail that the mistake is recognized. It is difficult to be self-aware for most of us. We need to offer others in Christian community permission to “call us out” on this type of inappropriate behavior, rather than acting as if pastors have it all together. Pastors are people to, only more so!

  22. Glenn says

    As I read this article and thought about my own list, the first one that popped into my mind concerned my previous church. Did I stay too LONG – if I could do it over should I have left years ago rather than being there until it finally closed its doors. Could someone else led them down a renewed path toward health? I stayed 20 years never sensing God releasing us (or was that my own ego?) Do it over – I probably should have left 15 years earlier.

  23. Jimmy says

    Oh, #4. I told my wife last week, that for the first time in over 20 years, I don’t feel like the church is a mistress. She no longer is pulling me away from my family. Retiring from the pastorate has been wonderful for my marriage. Evenings with my beloved bride, Saturdays spent working with her on home chores, or just doing whatever she wants to do. Without the pressures of pastoral ministry, I find that I love my wife even more than I realized.

    I can’t have a “do-over”, but I can make the most of this day, and resolve to not repeat those mistakes again.

  24. John Farmer says

    My problem was saying, “Yes” to easily and becoming overloaded. A wise friend helped by telling me one day that, “No” is a complete sentence.

  25. Hal Hunter says

    Not having difficult conversations sooner. Taking too much time to address and correct a problem ALWAYS results in more problems and a wider circle if pain.

    Dr. Rainer, thank you for your time and energy spent in your blog and other writing. It is thought-provoking and valuable.

  26. John W Carlton says

    I stayed too long at one church. I almost made the same mistake later on in my ministry, but thanks to a faithful and loving wife who has much better insight on things and reads people much better than I do, I am serving as an interim pastor at a church. They are supposed to be voting on a permanent pastor this week. If they do not call this man, I am going to tell the church that I will be with them until the end of April because I feel that they will not call a permanent pastor until I am completely out of the picture. I am supposed to be retired, but that really doesn’t happen for pastors and minister. thank you for this list.

  27. Ramon Arroyo says

    Great article. Unfortunately, I served in a mainline denomination where the board is sometimes composed of people who have agendas and leave much doubt by their behavior that they are Christian’s. One mistake is to allow church members to preach in a regular basis and to give to much praise and authority to lay people. In my situation, they used that power to do great harm to me and my family. I misunderstood the concept of “the priesthood of all believers” and most of the church though they were Pastors and my role became as “one of us”, in bad a sense, taking away from the office of Pastor. It was like everyone was in charge, the most horrible and painful experience of my life in this one church. I’m now retired and wish I would it left that church weeks into the ministry. There is a mainline denomination that recently changed their constitution to call board members and pastors “Elders”. Pastors have very little to say in the running of the church. In a perfect world, having a board sold out for Jesus with that kind of power may work and could release the Pastor to do the Pastoral duties. I have a couple of friends that would leave their denomination if given a chance, but have family obligations, they are looking at leaving and finding another church or denomination that respects the office of Pastors. On a side note, do some research on Pastors that leave or driven away and if any profession had the statistics it would be alarming and probably the labor department would it look into it. I hope that more is written about this and pastors burn out and depression. Any good articles of the subject of ” the priesthood of all believers” and how that is play out in the workings of the church?

  28. says

    How about being impatient and stepping out ahead of the Lord? Upon graduating seminary I accepted a call to the first church that extended a call. It was a bivocational pastorate following a pastor who had served over 20 years and was remaining in the church. He was very supportive but the members could not adjust. I only lasted a year.

  29. says

    For me, being a pastor of rural churches for over 20 years, I have continually struggled with losing members to bigger churches that can offer more than we can. Some will leave our church, and drive another 15 miles into a separate community that they have no real connections with, to attend a church that has more programs and does more activities. It really hurts, and I can allow it to become more than it should be in my mind. I need to trust the Lord, and focus on the ministry I have with the people whom God has planted here.

  30. M.Simons says

    I left the Ministry for an extended sabbatical due to my lack of focus on my family and my special needs child.

  31. says

    I wish I had learned sooner that my family is supposed to come before the church. After 25 years in ministry we are just beginning to take vacations. Sadly, our children are grown and my wife and I are retirement age.

  32. Ted Haws says

    I too echo some of these: tried to leave too early (God didn’t let me, but I lied to my wife as I went to an interview secretly to seek another place to go), pushed an initiative thinking I had the buy-in. But I now am back pastoring that church after an 8 year absence with a main regret: beyond all I did teach/lead them into, I failed to prepare them on how to call the next pastor. The man immediately following me ended up ruining it/causing a split for personal insecurity and the next one couldn’t bring much help in healing or restoration. god reopened the door for me to return, but we are in the deepest hole it has ever suffered – yet seeing slow rejuvenation.

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