Horribly Embarrassing Ministry Mess-up? Here's What to Do When It Happens to You
Membership Level› Guest
Author/Source: Trisha Peach
Topic: Leadership, Mistakes, Growth
Sometimes it seems like some mistakes signal the end of your ministry! Fear not. Here's how your ministry gaffes can lead to growth.
Ever had a really embarrassing ministry mistake? A really really BIG mistake? What now?!! Ministry leaders fall into two categories: (1) those who admit they’ve had embarrassing flub ups and (2) liars. We are human and sometimes we fail ... sometimes spectacularly.
For instance, I actually knew a lead pastor, a kind older man, who left his lapel microphone on for several minutes of the worship service while he was in the bathroom. I remember the worship pastor desperately trying to signal the sound people to cut the offending mic, while he sang louder and louder to try to cover over it.
Another pastor I know proceeded to lead a couple's marital counseling (a very rocky situation) in his office, but forgot to turn his lapel mic off, even after second service had started. That was more than THAT startled morning congregation had bargained for!
Or how about the associate pastor who forgot to turn on the baptismal heater on a Saturday, leaving 14 new Christians to submerge in painfully freezing water that Sunday, and then waddle home still partially damp. In Wisconsin. In January. In a snowstorm.
My own father once declared in the heat of one of his great sermons, “And then Jesus cast seven women out of that demon!” Perfect. And it was all on tape for his radio show.
And me? I've probably got too many to count! Like the time I was doing a fire trick at a large camp and just about blew my left hand off (shockingly I hid it well, and no one noticed). After the altar time I hurried to a paramedic.
But, one of my most embarrassing Sundays of all time started innocently enough. I just wanted to hold up a Bible, an impressive Bible, in front of kid’s church while I talked about how God’s Word endures forever. But when I got to church, right before second service, I realized with horror that I left my impressive looking antique Bible at home!! What could I do? Scrambling around in a frenzy, I suddenly spied this PERFECT Bible in our church foyer. It had been there on its pedestal for as long as I could remember. I thought, “Today this old decoration will be put to great use for God! I’ll go use it for my object lesson, put it back, and no one will ever know it was gone. It’s like a Bible manna from heaven.” I excitedly and gingerly picked up the Bible—it was a lot heavier than I expected—and brought it to the kid’s church stage. And it was a magnificent Bible indeed! This Bible was striking and made quite an impression. And everything was going better than planned, until I opened the Bible to read the Bible verse. Instantly the spine cracked. Parts of the cover turned to dust in my hands and began floating through my fingers in the stage lights down to the floor. UH OH. I knew this was bad. “Well,” I thought, “I won’t put it back right now and alarm people. I’ll go find a book repair person tomorrow. For now, I’ll leave it here on my podium.” The next morning, the lead pastor wanted to speak with me. He had walked through the kids area after church and saw the Bible. I explained what had happened. He stared at me in (understandable) ire and disbelief. He said, “That Bible was donated by one of our church’s founding members. It is a certified antique. The man who donated it died but his widow and grown sons attend our church every Sunday. It’s dedicated in his memory.” I think he was contemplating if “Thou Shalt Not Kill” applied to those who really really had it coming. His face was shock and disbelief. My face was a round horrified O. Inside, I desperately prayed that the ground would rip open and swallow me whole—anything to not have to face that man’s sweet, adorable elderly widow and tell her that I murdered her beloved late husband’s Bible.
I don’t remember all the details, but I probably backed out of his office in silence and ran to hide in a dark corner of the church’s basement. How do you minister after that? What can you possibly do when you’ve blundered like no one has ever blundered before? While I cowered in that dark basement, begging Jesus to come back QUICKLY, I felt that God gave me a verse that helped me through that particular awful incident of stupidity.
“If a ruler’s anger rises against you, do not leave your post; calmness can lay great offenses to rest.” Ecclesiastes 10:4
Which leads me to my first point. When you’ve made a huge embarrassing mistake:
- Stay at your post. Don’t run. As much as you want to hide in a hole and never ever show your face again, you need to face the situation and keep doing your job to the best of your ability.
- Expect that people may be mad at you. Or they may laugh. Or both. Keep doing your job.
- Own your mistake. A lot of people want to be “in charge” and call themselves the “leader”, but then they look for an “underling” or a peer to blame when something goes wrong. Don’t blame others. Take responsibility for your mistake and its consequences.
- Apologize. Yes, we need to say it out loud or write it to whomever we have hurt or offended even if it was unintentional. I apologized to the lead pastor, and to that sweet widow who was so kind about it ... You don’t have to keep apologizing for the next 6 years or you’ll just annoy everybody. But do apologize and move on.
- Do whatever you can to help the situation. Some embarrassed ministers run from the situation and avoid it. A leader needs to work to fix the situation. I offered to pay to fix the Bible, and take it to a professional. But the lead pastor, knowing I’d be paying till I retired myself, took pity on me and took it to his friend, who is a professional antique book dealer. The Bible was repaired beautifully, and put back on its pedestal with a sign saying, “Never to be removed from its place.” I’m serious. And no one has touched it since.
- Get back to work—This is number 1 all over again. When your embarrassing situation is done, do not continually stir up strife and drama over it. Don’t get derailed by it. Get back to the work that God has for you to do.
And yes, you will survive this. You have many fantastic years of ministry ahead. This won’t end you. And oh yeah, everyone will be talking about it at your retirement party. So how about you? Have you survived a REALLY embarrassing ministry moment? What got you through it?