I’m a pastor and, I hate to say, I sometimes tell lies.

Don’t get me wrong, I hate lying. And I try very hard to live a life of integrity.

I’m guessing you do too. But do you ever let a lie… slip?

Pastors are under relentless pressure to be ‘on’ all the time. As a result, it’s way too easy to shade the truth in ministry.

I’m not even good at lying; my wife and kids tell me I’m a terrible liar. They can tell within seconds if I’m trying to pull one past them (practical jokes are really hard to pull off because of this).

But sometimes, as a by-product of what I do in ministry, I say things that aren’t 100% true.

And I’m not sure I’m alone.

In the hopes of keeping me honest (and maybe helping non-pastors understand a pastor’s world), here are 7 lies I’ve caught myself telling.

See if you have too.


1. I’m doing great 

That’s what I say to almost anyone who asks me how I am.

But it’s not always true. Don’t get me wrong,

I don’t think you should burden strangers or Sunday morning guests with the ‘real’ answer, but sometimes I’ve said this to people close to me when I haven’t been great.

The point is not to tell everyone when you’re struggling, but you do need to tell someone.

Just because you can’t tell everyone when you’re struggling doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tell anyone. If you don’t, your days in ministry are numbered.

Here’s how to be an appropriately transparent leader without oversharing.

2.  There were X hundred (thousand) people at the event

There’s even a name for this – pastor math.

I have a tendency to round attendance up if I don’t watch myself.

Maybe it stems from insecurity. Or a sense of inadequacy. Or insanity. I don’t know. But I have to check myself to make sure I’m accurate.

Why do I feel the truth is inadequate?

Anytime you feel the truth is inadequate, it’s a sign God wants to drill deeper into your character.

3.  It was awesome! 

Sometimes I’m tempted to spin events as better than they really are.

It’s a much better practice to pick out specific things that were genuinely wonderful and leave things that bothered me to a private debrief later.

And if you make it a pattern to say things were awesome when they weren’t, people know.

Fortunately for me, I’m part of a church where things are actually awesome a lot of the time. But I need to make sure my vocabulary matches the experience.

4. It was awful

And other times I can write something off as terrible, when the truth is that it had redeeming characteristics I’ve missed.

I have to discipline myself to call it what it really is.

Things are rarely as awesome or terrible as you tell yourself they are.

5. Yes

Sometimes I say yes when I don’t mean yes.

I say yes to make someone happy or to get someone off my case.

That’s not good.

Being nice is a poor substitute for being honest.

6. No

Sometimes I’ve said no when I don’t mean it either. Sigh.

For example, in a larger church, for years I had to selectively choose which weddings I’d do. Otherwise, I’d have almost no family time. Sometimes it was just easier to say I didn’t do weddings.

Even when it’s more complicated, it’s good to give the full answer such as “I do weddings occasionally…let me explain how that tends to work” rather than to simply say I don’t do them.

7. I’ll pray for you

This one hurts the most. I know I have sometimes told someone I’ll pray for them, and then I forget.

And sometimes (man, I’m trying to banish this tendency), I’ll even say “I’ll pray for you” because I know it’s the ‘pastoral’ thing to say.

To combat this, sometimes I’ll pray for people on the spot as I walk away so I don’t forget. These days I have a prayer app I use to help me remember to pray for specific things.

And I do try to bring to mind people to pray for when I pray. I’m also comforted by the hundreds of people at our church who are praying for each other. But I want to be 100% certain that when I say I’m praying for you, I am.

Canadian Church Leaders…. Time is Running Out

If you do ministry in Canada, join me for the first ever Canadian Church Leaders Conference in June hosted at Connexus Church.

We’re bringing top national speakers and practitioners for three days to learn together, grow together and equip you and your team to reach more people in your community. Plus, you’ll be seated around tables, not in rows, to learn and grow from each other.

The super-early bird rate disappears this Thursday, February 10th. So register your team today to get the best rates.

You can register here.

Any Other Lies?

Jesus’ words are clear; let your yes be yes and your no be no.

If you want to continue to build your integrity (like I do), here’s a post on 5 practical ways to build your integrity. And if you want a quick test on your integrity level, here’s a post outlining 5 signs you lack integrity.

Pastor lies need to go. Even the innocent ones.

How about you? Ever catch yourself in an ‘un-truth’? Any other lies you’ve noticed?

7 Lies Most Pastors Tell


  1. FieryBones on April 21, 2021 at 5:58 pm

    I have heard some incredible whoppers from the pulpit especially when it comes to missions stories. I struggled with the same as an evangelist making up whoppers to sex up the power of God.However I later found grace and it killed off that need to impress the audience. The Gospel is powerful enough and amazing enough.

  2. Christie on November 1, 2020 at 7:21 pm

    Not surprising that so many have a problem with lying.
    Authenticity is not the church’s strong suit because admitting that there might be problems goes against the “God has blessed me,” culture of churchianity which is largely about thinking that if things are “awesome” we are blessed by God. When, those he blessed (biblically) had pretty hard and unattractive lives. Lots of snake oil being sold in most churches. Again, not surprising that it is the pastor’s job “to care”. Being paid to care. Enough said.

  3. Janet on October 1, 2020 at 10:13 pm

    I play an instrument in a Praise band, but I just found out that the sound level to my instrument has been muted the whole time. I’ve asked repeatedly what the problem is, but both the sound tech and the pastor says it’s different things. The pastor says the instrument is muted due to a sound issue. The sound tech says there’s nothing wrong with the equipment. Neither person will be honest with me.
    I suspect the pastor hasn’t been honest with me because he wants to keep the volume level down so as not to upset the parishioners.
    What should I do?

    • Paul on March 8, 2021 at 8:46 pm

      If you’re playing the bagpipes it’s understood.

  4. Joel Bader on June 22, 2020 at 12:29 pm

    Here’s a bad one: “You are the most wonderful person in the world!” The pastor at my former church (United Methodist) ALWAYS used that when talking about me, about our music department (which was tiny, given how small our congregation was), a group of members who visited Israel and the Holy Land, even a couple of attorneys. I tried to point out that such a comment was a lie: For all of his travels, had he met ALL SEVEN BILLION PEOPLE on this planet? But the idiot pastor would not listen to me. Needless to say, I am no longer a member of his church; he is deceased. I wish I had never been in his presence in the first place. I am no longer a Methodist; his conduct was the final straw.

  5. Rev. Jon Smith on October 31, 2019 at 8:28 pm

    Here’s the issue 2 years later. Most pastors lie to their congregations weekly, either by ignorance or deception. They are clueless to the doctrine of truth and speak in meanderings and ambiguities constantly. They call their people depraved and broken and deny the Lord that made them holy, sanctified, and beautiful. Sin and shortcomings are drilled into the saints constantly. They’re told to “come back”, “repent”, “renew”. Pastors pull ridiculous ideas they call truth from texts (mostly from Matt, Mark, Luke, and John) to deride God’s people. They go on sin “fishing expeditions” every Sunday. They destroy people rather than magnify the goodness they have in Christ. They will be held accountable for their sin if they don’t change.
    Lies? It is a sorrowful day we live in. Most are not pastors at all. They are counterfeits who creep in to make a living off of Christianity. Thus saith the Lord.

  6. […] 7 Lies Most Pastors Tell by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  7. Jay on February 11, 2017 at 11:25 am

    Silly question – what is the name of your prayer ap?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 11, 2017 at 1:55 pm

      Not silly at all. The Mission of St. Clare Daily Office. It’s free I think.

      • Jay on February 11, 2017 at 2:58 pm

        Thank you

  8. […] 7 Lies Most Pastors Tell by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  9. samloveall on February 6, 2017 at 9:25 pm

    “How are you?” “How are you doing?” Here’s how I usually answer that question:

    “Mostly good. I’m doing mostly good.” And I say it in as positive a way as I can.

    Because it’s true for almost all of us. Most of us are doing mostly good. Some things are a problem, some things aren’t working out at all, but overall, I’m doing mostly good.

    Most people I’ve said it to seem to understand and appreciate that, and to agree that they, too, are doing mostly good.

  10. Stephen J. Bedard on February 6, 2017 at 3:41 pm

    Number one is the most common lie for me. Another is “I’m glad to hear from you.” Sometimes I am and sometimes I am not.

  11. A Amos Love on February 6, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    “Any Other Lies?”
    “Jesus’ words are clear; let your yes be yes and your no be no.”
    “Pastor lies need to go. Even the innocent ones.”

    After I was ordained…
    I realized… And had to admit… I was living a lie…

    I did NOT meet ALL the 17+, very tuff qualifications…
    Given by Paul to Timothy and Titus in 1 Tim 3, and Titus…
    For elder/overseer…

    My elder/overseers, and I…
    Did NOT pay attention to these qualifications at the time…

    I’ve noticed, “Most” who take the Title/Postion, pastor/elder/overseer…
    Tend to “Ignore,” or “Twist,” the 17+, very tuff Qualifications…
    Found in 1 Tim 3:1-7, and Titus 1:5-8…
    For pastor/elder/overseer…

    And, are also living a lie…

    Do any pastor/elders today, Know?
    Many? Any? pastor/leader/elder/overseers?
    Who meet ALL the 17+, very, very, tuff Qualifications?
    For elder/overseer?

    Which Qualifications are NOT important?
    Which Qualifications can WE, His Sheep, His Ekklesia, “Ignore?”

    Should a pastor/elder/overseer?
    Who does NOT meet the 17+, very tuff Qualifications?

    Remove themselves?

    And become a good example to the Flock?

  12. Jay Jones on February 6, 2017 at 9:15 am

    “Pastor Math”… Haha! That’s great… we call it being “evangelastic”! LOL

  13. Monday Picks ~ 2-6-2017 | Life on the Bridge on February 6, 2017 at 9:13 am

    […] 7 Lies Most Pastors Tell –Carey Nieuwhof […]

  14. Julie on February 6, 2017 at 8:07 am

    I am one of the non-pastors who avidly reads your blog. It helps me understand how my church works, what my pastors are going through, and how I can serve, support, and encourage them better. I love the increased, helpful content aimed at non-pastors. I really feel we are in this together.

    I work in a public library, and libraries have traditionally used attendance statistics to determine whether a program is successful or not. Recently we have moved away from this. We are looking much harder at the impact of our programs. Have people’s lives been changed from the support they received, or information they learned? We try to capture those stories. And we are looking really hard at everything we do. We have stopped doing programs that are very popular but don’t line up with our vision and strategic plan.

    So on the pastor math, math matters, but it isn’t everything. You can have hundreds come out to an event, but if lives aren’t changed, it doesn’t really matter. Conversely, if only a handful attend, but a life is radically changed, it means everything.

    Thanks Carey for what you are doing to encourage our pastors in leading our churches in the best way they can. And thanks for helping us church members do our part.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 6, 2017 at 3:52 pm

      So appreciate this Julie, and great to see your work in the marketplace. Some great points! Thank you!

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