Failure Report – Year 1 of Being a Senior Pastor

This post is ultimately inspired by my good friend Jeremy Courtney, who every year gives a statement on where they, as an organization, “failed.” You can read it HERE. You can buy his book HERE. Moving on…

Why would a leader or even a Pastor ever confess to the things they failed? I mean, are not his errors often pointed out by individuals in his church? Yes! Often readily and infront of others!!  But that’s okay. As long as we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and learn from the areas we need to improve in, the church will benefit, the Kingdom will grow, and the leader becomes a better leader.

Has my first year of being a Senior Pastor been good? Of course! There is little doubt that this is EXACTLY where God has wanted us. Sure, we miss our friends at Woodway, but being here in Bellville has allowed us to grown and trust in Jesus more than ever before. It’s been a grace-gift from Heaven. In fact, I believe my marriage is stronger, and my parenting is deeper than ever before. So thankful.

But there are two primary reasons evaluating one’s failures can be a benefit:

1. It keeps the honesty level high.
2. It keeps the pride low.

Leaders are not perfect, and when they share the struggles they’ve had, they become more human, and I believe, better leaders. People love to see transparency, it’s how we grow, learn, and become the leaders God has designed us to be. I think we become better stewards of what we’ve been entrusted with when we look back for a moment and reflect on the areas we can and should work on.

So what’s my failure after my first year of leading First Bellville? That’s the question you’re all wanting me to answer – and you’ve probably already scrolled down to read what it is, completely skipping over this entire sentence. That’s okay – as long as we’re honest with one another. Well, when I think of the thing/things I failed at in my first year, the list can easily become distractingly long. I say distractingly because if you look at all your errors, they pile up – don’t they? I mean, I see so many things that could have been better, that didn’t happen, things I would have done differently had I known then what I know now, etc. But that doesn’t help you grow – you just get depressed and want to take your Bible, go home and cry in the corner. Not a good idea for us leaders.

Therefore, I summarized my failure in one statement:

Thinking, and believing, I could fix everything.

What a mistake! Now, this is really not that much of a surprise, but this has truly been the biggest failure on my part in my first year as a Senior Pastor. I mean, you come into a new job you want to do well at what you’ve been called to do. That’s not bad – just distracting from the point. So you try to solve every problem that has existed in the 156 years of the churches existence. You try to repair ever broken relationship there ever was from the previous Pastor (who by the way is not there to share his side of the issue). You try to restructure old patterns of thinking in sweeping statements. You try to be all things to all people and in the end, you just burn yourself out because honestly, you’re not that great at fixing things in the first place. In fact, you often leave a lot of things worse than before!

My former pastor, Pastor Mike Toby, would continually say to me while at Woodway and also on the phone before he passed away: “You’re going to do a great job, I have no doubt. You’re already a great Pastor, and I’m proud of you.” This to me, was the legacy he passed on to me. I’ve thought a lot about that conversation he had with me a few days before he passed – thanks Mike.

But, as encouraging as it was, it caused me to place undue pressure on myself to perform in such a way that Mike (and others) would continually be proud of me. Therefore, I tried to fix everything that needed fixing, even if it wasn’t time for that thing/relationship/system, etc. to be fixed. That’s the overwhelming and impossible fact about leading a church – the job never ends and you can’t fix everything. It’s what causes burnout among pastors as they unintentionally put too many irons into the fire and become less effective and purposeful in their day.

What must change in year 2?

1. Strategic planning.

I had early on Vision and Mission – but being strategic about the implementation of the vision and mission must improve. Nobody every argues against those who have a plan and implement it – they become frustrated when they hear a plan, but don’t know what to do with what they’ve heard. (the same goes with sermons). I’ve got to pick 3-5 projects, 3-4 ways we will implement each, followed with how and who I’m assigning it to. Delegating must become my new friend in year 2. Strategy will be the second!

2. Preach the Gospel – TO MYSELF

Only the gospel fixes everything. Right? Church doesn’t fix you. Counseling doesn’t fix you. The Gospel fixes you… and it’s always in greater ways than you could have ever imagined. So, I’ll need to continually preach the gospel to myself. I must remind myself the ways that I cannot be the Messiah as there is only One who holds that position. Jesus fixes us. Jesus fixes churches. And my role as a Pastor (in a long line of Pastors at this little church) is to help her see the Gospel, for her to see how much Jesus needs to fix in our lives.

I mean, in the end, that’s how all of our failures could be summed up – right? We’re not the hero – Jesus is the Hero. We’re the ones needing rescue, and He always is so faithful to rescue us. We’re the ones sinking in the bottom of the ocean, and it’s His profound grace that draws us up every time. So, in our failures (and successes), we leave everything to Jesus. We are to be thankful of the places He puts us in as they give us opportunity to grow… and we need that. And our people need that too.

So, as I look to my second year of being a Senior Pastor, I want to remember these three things:

Unlike Jesus, I can only be at one place at one time.

Unlike Jesus, I cannot do everything that needs to be done.

Unlike Jesus, I cannot know everyone or everything.

So stop trying to BE Jesus, and allow Jesus to be Jesus. You be you for the glory of God and for the joy of His bride, the church.


  • Rob Collins

    Honesty and Humility! That’s probably not a bad thing for all pastors to keep close to heart. Thanks for the words Michael.

    • michaelcriner

      Thanks Rob! Appreciate it.