11 Ways Leaders (Accidentally) Destroy the Churches They Lead

The problem with ineffectiveness and sin is it’s so much easier to spot in other people than it is to see within ourselves.

Chances are you’ve got some theories on why the leader down the road is struggling in their church.

Or why the latest mega-church icon cheated and fell.

But what about you?

Progress really starts when you and I look in the mirror and ask the hard questions.

So What Might You Be Destroying?

So what might you be doing that’s destroying the ministry you’re leading, the people you’re leading, the cause you believe in?

Okay, destroying is a loaded word.

I realize that for the most part, nobody means to harm or destroy others. And most of us might not fail catastrophically in that sense.

But what if by ignoring common leadership pitfalls, you destroy the potential of your ministry?

In fact, that’s a likely explanation of what is happening in many churches.

Think about it. In most churches, things aren’t collapsing wildly, they’re just not advancing. Or if they are advancing, they’re still not reaching their potential.

How much potential impact is being wasted or destroyed because leaders aren’t leading effectively?

Here are 11 ways I’ve noticed in which leaders sabotage their ministry. I’m personally working to address each of these daily in my own life and leadership.

Why? Because most of us never intend to destroy anything. But sometimes we do anyway. Here’s how:

Most of us never intend to destroy anything. But sometimes we do anyway. Click To Tweet

1. Caring more about your personal success than the success of others and the mission.

The battle against sin is a battle against the self.  If you don’t check your ego, it will check you.

Godly leadership means caring about the mission more than you care about your personal success and desiring to see others flourish.

Leaders who forget that destroy their potential and the potential of their mission.

The battle against sin is a battle against the self. If you don't check your ego, it will check you. Click To Tweet

2. Hogging the spotlight. 

In our celebrity-driven, social media culture, it’s easier than ever to try to draw attention to yourself. Best anti-dote? Push others into the spotlight. Align and equip people, and then let them lead.

3. An unwillingness to deal with your personal “junk”. 

I don’t know a single effective leader who hasn’t been to counseling. I’m not making that up. If you don’t deal with your personal junk—your issues and baggage—you will harm not only yourself but the people you love and lead. Deal with your issues. Your kids, spouse and the people you lead will thank you.

4. Micromanagement. 

I remember an elders’ meeting years ago where one of our elders looked at me and said “I don’t know whether you’ll ever be able to let go”.  Never forgotten that.

The more I micro-manage the more I interfere with the mission and leadership potential of others. I wrote this post about the journey away from being a control freak.

5. Distraction. 

Every day there’s a battle for focus. Stay focused on the ministry and mission.

Not on the critics. Not on neat shiny diversions. Keep your focus.

Every day there's a battle for focus. Stay focused on the ministry and mission. Click To Tweet

6. Not giving others permission to tell you the truth.

Many leaders say they want to hear what people think, but really don’t. Here are two questions I’m starting to ask my direct reports every month:

Is there anything I have done or said in the last month that’s robbed you of your passion or energy for our mission?

If you were me, what would you do differently?

Thanks to Clay Scroggins for introducing me to those incredible questions.

7. Caring too much about insiders and not outsiders. 

Focus on who you want to reach, not who you want to keep. Many leaders spend little time with outsiders because their 40+ hours are completely absorbed with insiders. You control your time, so decide carefully how you use it.

8. Letting your personal walk with Christ slide. 

It’s so sad that many people lose their closeness to Jesus in the name of serving him.  Don’t. You know what to do. Do it.

9. Letting your home life unravel.

Again, don’t sacrifice your family in the name of ministry. Here are 5 surprisingly easy ways to lead better at home.

10. Failing to care for yourself. 

This takes out so many leaders. And you’re not just taking yourself down, you’re bringing down everyone with you including your family. This post can help you see whether you are taking appropriate self-care or whether you are self-medicating.

11. Fear of taking actual risks. 

Yep. At some point, you have to do something. Study and pray for sure. But then act. Stare down fear. I think fear is why most leaders don’t pull the triggers they need to pull.

Fear is why most leaders don't pull the triggers they need to pull. Click To Tweet

What About You?

Have you seen leaders destroy the potential of ministries or outright destroy ministries? What characteristics have you noticed?

11 Ways Leaders (Accidentally) Destroy the Churches They Lead


  1. Vicky Cooper on June 30, 2021 at 3:13 am

    Thought provoking comments thanks Carey. Please can you pray about my husbands and I future and if you get anything please can you email me at vjsc42@gmail.com

  2. Rich Whitaker on September 16, 2019 at 9:40 am

    Challenging, helpful! Thanks Carey

  3. Stephanie Hullar on September 16, 2019 at 6:38 am

    Would love to read Jeff Brodie’s article you linked, but the link is down and I can’t find the article anywhere on the net! Is it gone for good?

    • Jason Kwok on September 17, 2019 at 2:56 pm

      I would love to read it too but the link doesn’t work.

  4. Evert Vroon on September 15, 2019 at 4:27 am

    How about a pastor’s wife who in refusing to follow Matthew 18 promotes gossip and slander and husband is unable to confront her?

    • Cindy on June 3, 2021 at 5:57 pm

      We are all responsible for addressing sun. As part of the body of Christ, when we think we have no role to play, we are sinning as the Bible says, to him who knows what to do but fails to do it is sin. I’m not trying to be critical, harsh or judgmental but I have seen the effects of a church standing by when sin is not addressed specifically because the pastors wife is not their issue. It is every one’s role for the health of the church to address the sinful behavior. Do it in love but don’t talk about it to others and ignore the person who needs to hear the trying and hopefully be set free from destroying their life and those in the church

  5. Mario Alleckna on July 30, 2016 at 9:14 pm

    (Quote) “The weakness of so many modern Christians is that they feel too much at home in the world. In their effort to achieve restful adjustment to unregenerate society, they have lost their pilgrim character and become an essential part of the very moral order against which they are sent to protest. The idea that this world is a playground instead of a battleground has now been accepted in practice by the vast majority of Christians. There is today no lack of Bible Teachers to set forth correctly the principles of the doctrines of Christ, but too many of these seem satisfied to teach the fundamentals of the faith year after year, strangely unaware that there is in their ministry no manifest Presence, nor anything unusual in their personal lives.”A. W. Tozer

  6. Dave Francis on July 29, 2016 at 6:37 am

    Excellent…except that in my ministry experience #7 could also read, “focus too much attention on outsiders at the expense of serving insiders”.

    • Scott on May 2, 2019 at 8:26 am


    • Jason on September 15, 2019 at 9:19 am

      Yes sir.

  7. Best Inspirational Articles on May 20, 2016 at 6:24 am

    Interesting points here. One of the ways leaders destroy the church is leaving the direction of the Holy Spirit and acting according to their own interest.

  8. Adelbéron Garrett IPB Recife on October 1, 2014 at 12:01 pm


  9. […] I was recently inspired by Carey Nieuwhof, a lead pastor who regularly asks his team, “Is there anything I have done or said in the last month that’s robbed you of your passion o… […]

  10. Allen Bonnell on October 28, 2013 at 9:43 am

    Carey, thanks again for challenging us. I was disappointed the “Drive” conference was not happening in 2014, can you recommend another church conference of similar nature?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 28, 2013 at 9:52 am

      Hi Allen. Many of us were! I’d recommend the Orange Conference or Catalyst Conference. Many North Point people teach at both, especially Orange.

  11. Eric Kimori on October 27, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    This thoughts are far-reaching, hard facts; the earlier I embrace them the better for my ministry.

  12. dunamispowers on October 26, 2013 at 6:20 am

    my observation is that when I don’t micromanage, I leave room for laziness. The work does not get done. What do you think?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 26, 2013 at 9:07 am

      I recognize that feeling but I think that’s not the right diagnosis. I’ve learned that ‘laziness’ is either a sign you’ve got the wrong people on board (remove them and hire/recruit new self-motivated people) or it’s a sign you have the right people who aren’t aligned around the mission, vision and strategy. Micromanagement is never a good solution to developing leaders or advancing a mission in my view. Hope this helps.

    • sempei13 on October 27, 2013 at 8:48 am

      Don’t micromanage the how. Lead the results. Be relentless in casting the vision for what you want and the timeline, but that’s it.

      I’ve had tons of leaders try and force their idea of the right process rather than the right result. I’m a tech guy and I even had one purchase software he never used and made out team use it without even asking if there was an alternative. It would have been fine if there weren’t better choices, but there were. A year later we switched to something that was better for the people using it and the results got better, which is what he actually wanted.

      • vishal gavit on May 29, 2021 at 1:07 pm

        It’s motivational and challenging guidance. thank u, sir.

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