A well-seasoned, self-confessed “church addict” who has tasted both the joy and pain of being a church pastor recently completed a humorous yet painfully honest book on the ten most common mistakes pastors make that keep their churches from growing.
Pastor Geoff Surratt, who had pastored a small, rural church with under 100 members and is now part of a megachurch with over 10,000 attendees on a given Sunday, shares his insight in his latest book Ten Stupid Things That Keep Churches From Growing.
Before diving into the top 10 mistakes, Surratt made sure to clarify that the purpose of the book is not to point out the flaws of fellow pastors, but to offer them perspective on what could be hindering their churches from growing.
“I want to be that friend … the one willing to point out the unzipped zipper, the broccoli between the teeth, the glaring mistake that others can’t or won’t bring to the struggling pastor’s attention,” Surratt offers.
But why is he qualified to “point out other people’s mistakes,” readers may ask.
Because he has committed all ten of the mistakes highlighted in the book, he readily admits.
“My role is not brilliant guru bringing down wisdom from the mountain, but rather experienced fellow traveler,” Surratt says. “When I point the ‘stupid finger’ at you, three fingers are pointing back at me.”
Out of the 10 mistakes he covers, the most common and the first to be addressed in the book is “Trying to Do it All.”
A comical quote at the bottom of the chapter page cleverly conveys the problem that pastors often find themselves in: “Just because I’m the janitor doesn’t mean I can’t perform your wedding.”
“Pastors tend to default to doing everything themselves rather than working through people in the congregation,” Surratt explained to The Christian Post. “They take on a lot of different hats and wind up overworked and underproductive because of that.”
When Surratt was the pastor at Church on the Lake in Texas, a small church with less than 50 people when he took over, he was simultaneously the head pastor, Sunday school teacher, bookkeeper, worship director, administrative assistant, groundskeeper, maintenance man, and janitor for a time.
“As I look back on my time at Church on the Lake, I can’t help but wonder what I was thinking,” Surratt confesses. “Trying to do all (or most) of the work themselves is the number one stupid thing pastors and leaders do that inhibits their church from growing.”
Not far behind is stupid mistake No. 2 - “establishing the wrong role for the pastor’s family.”
The pastor’s wife, Surratt highlights, often picks up odd jobs around the church that no one wants or that haven’t been filled. Too often, the pastor in “pursuing God’s vision” will put ministry before his family and without asking for his wife’s opinion will dump church work on her.
A subheading in the chapter called, “How to Destroy Your Family,” lists five “stupid ways” a pastor or ministry leader can destroy their family while chasing after God’s vision for the ministry.
Throughout the book, Surratt reveals intimate details about how his “destructive path of ministry” nearly ended his marriage. But at what he calls the lowest point in his marriage, the two were able to rebuild their relationship and it has become progressively better over time, Surratt says.
“The idea holds that if we simply arrange our lives according to the formula God first, family second, and ministry third, then everything will flow together smoothly,” Surratt writes. “It’s a great theory, but unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way.
“First, God isn’t a priority in life; God is life. He isn’t more important than your family any more than air is more important that your shoes. I don’t prioritize breathing; I breathe so that I live.”
Surratt highly recommends any pastor or church leader to seek Christian marriage counseling if they’re having trouble in their relationship. Rather than feeling embarrassed that they need help, pastors should understand that sometimes they need a third party for them to open up and share their thoughts and feelings.
“A funny thing about pastors is that when they need to fix their car, they go to a mechanic, and when they need to fix their health, they go to a doctor, but when their marriage needs help, they are almost never willing to go to an expert for help,” Surratt writes half-jokingly.
“Of all the stupid mistakes a pastor can make, not getting help with his marriage is the dumbest of all.”
Although the book was written with pastors as the intended readers, Surratt contends the tips in his book can be helpful to any leader in the church.
Other mistakes covered in the book include: promoting talent over integrity, clinging to a bad location, copying another successful church, mixing ministry and business, and providing a second-rate worship experience.
The book Ten Stupid Things That Keep Churches From Growing is scheduled to be released in May 2009 by Zondervan publishing company.