7 Unwritten Rules of Church Leadership

Things don’t always go the way you want them to in life.

Church life is hardly an exception.

I’ve been in church my entire life and in leadership for half that. So there are a few things I noticed that you may have noticed too.

Leadership is hard and my guess is you’re throwing your heart into it. So for fun and a bit of therapy (and because I’m writing this on a Monday), here are 7 unwritten rules of church life to help you smile in the fray.

See whether you’ve experienced all 7.

Rule 1: When you ask someone if they’re new at your church, they tell you you’ve already met them three times.

This is never any fun. It’s so hard to keep track of everyone at a growing church, isn’t it?

“Is this your first time at our church?” you ask, only to have the person tell you:

  • Actually, this is the third time we’ve met.
  • No, we’ve been coming for years.
  • I helped start the church with you.
  • Dad, I’m your daughter.

In which case, your next question asking them for their name just went down in flames.


Rule 2: Attendance is always lower than normal when your friends visit

Whenever you host a friend or other leader, you want to make sure your church lives up to its reputation, or at least what you told them about it. For lead pastors, that means you want a full house.

Which is really about our fragile egos. And our insecurity.

But inevitably as your friend arrives, you look around and the auditorium is feeling a bit sparse.

So you lean over and tell your buddy that “Normally it’s waaaaay fuller than this.” Whether it is (or not).

Sometimes you add that your congregation is usually much younger than it looks that day.

Then you launch into a personal prayer of confession.

Rule 3: Before you preach on marriage, you and your spouse will have a fight

A big one at that. In fact, the more important the message, the bigger the argument.

For bonus points, it isn’t even resolved when you arrive at church.

Then you have to give that awkward look when you’re on the platform/in the foyer and you see your much better half and wonder if you should just stop the service and resolve it.

I think Jesus says you should, but you just preach through the weirdness and hope you’re still married at the end.

Which hopefully you are.

Which is always why your next marriage series isn’t scheduled until 2024.

Rule 4: Before you preach on parenting, you will melt down on your kids

Why just limit your problems to your marriage? Make it an all-skate.

Somewhere between hours and minutes before you preach on parenting, you end up being disaster dad or meltdown mom.

Your whole message should really be based on the famous John Wilmot quote:

Before I got married I had six theories about raising children; now, I have six children and no theories.


Rule 5: Your least favourite worship leader/sound guy/musician will be serving during your series kick off

You know how hard you worked on your new series that you can’t wait to kick off.

And you’re not opinionated about who gets scheduled to sing/play/do sound. Not at all. And you love everybody, but still…

Why on earth is your least favourite worship leader/musician/sound guy is on the Sunday you’re trying to kick off the most important sermon series in human history?

And it’s not throwing you off one bit…

By the way, if you’re a worship leader/musician/sound guy, your version of this rule goes like this:

Your least favourite preacher will speak on the week you’re most excited about.

Rule 6: The people who have the least amount of talent want to be on the worship team the most.

While on the subject of music, why is it that the people with the least amount of gifting in music want to be on the worship team the most?

I’m sure that question can only be answered in heaven, but it’s still a reality on earth.

Meanwhile, you have to beg the really awesome drummer hiding at the back of your church to audition. After all, he’s been pretty busy doing studio work for Imagine Dragons in his spare time.

There’s a special place in heaven for worship leaders who have to tell would be team-members what their parents and friends never had the courage to tell them.

Rule 7: The congregation will always vote the most uptight and financially conservative person to run the finances

And then there’s money.

How is it that congregations have a 100% chance of selecting the most financially uptight person in the church to run the finances?

I don’t know, but it happens all the time.

Which means no money for vision. No money for anything. No money for food.

(This, by the way, is why many churches no longer let congregations choose the finance person.)

Messed Up But Loved

A lot of people beat up on the church these days. I never want to be one of them.

Thanks for doing what you do. In the midst of our flaws and weirdness, God does incredible things.

Sure, we have to own 100% of the problems we contribute. But on this side of heaven, we’ll always make mistakes.

The more accurately we see ourselves, the more we can get past ourselves and move the mission forward.

In the meantime, thanks for showing grace in the midst of the crazy that is sometimes us.

The fact that God uses flawed people like us to do his work is a constant sign of his love.

Special Live Training Tomorrow (October 24th)

Jeff Henderson and I are doing a free live training outlining how to turn Christmas into your best outreach opportunity of the year.  Jeff takes all his learning from Gwinnett Church (#ForGwinnett)  and I take mine from Connexus Church and hand them to you.

It happens tomorrow and you can register and join us for free here.

Any Other Unwritten Rules?

Have you discovered any unwritten rules of church leadership?

Feel free to share them in the comment below (kindly keep your tongue planted in your cheek)!


  1. Dr. Bradley Smith on November 16, 2017 at 2:27 am

    People who complain the most about the church running support least financially.

  2. John on October 29, 2017 at 2:26 pm

    What’s a “church leader”? The only leader we have is Jesus. He never said anything about pastors, priests. That was Paul, the 13th apostle and liar.

  3. Rev Kathleen on October 25, 2017 at 3:12 pm

    This might be the funniest of your work that I’ve read, Carey! Of course, it’s not bad that I’m in my office, all alone, “working” and giggling myself silly, is it?
    Here’s another one, possibly for my female colleagues. You just went deep and did the best sermon of your year or career… and someone needs to comment on your clothing and how they’d be happy to help you fix that…. yikes.

  4. Phil Anderson on October 23, 2017 at 8:57 pm

    Oh here’s one…the day I have the greatest video illustration of all time is the day we need a new bulb in the projector. Which we do not have…

  5. Dr. J. on October 23, 2017 at 5:16 pm

    Also, I know for our church, when we put on a huge, gigantic service and everyone invites their closest friends, relatives, second cousins, hobos, etc. – lives are changed- marriages mended- addicts go into recovery- and then the week after we ALWAYS have one of our lowest attendance of the year (the highest followed by the lowest) … of course the irony is that when the attendance is averaged out we really didn’t end up any gaining more momentum than we would if we had 2 average weekends (aside from a packed house and connection cars of course)! YOU HAVE TO LOVE CHURCH PLANTING… I’m just glad it’s for His glory and not ours (hahaha)

  6. Dr. J. on October 23, 2017 at 5:09 pm

    The biggest attendance Sundays of the year have the lowest giving/offerings and your smallest attendance Sundays have the largest giving/offerings- GO figure because I certainly can’t make any sense of it (it keeps me humble)

  7. Steve McElroy on October 23, 2017 at 9:32 am

    When you lose your place and ask the congregation to sing the same song they just sang a few minutes ago, they will do it.

  8. Brian Diel on October 23, 2017 at 8:54 am

    When you’re really trying to make a statement to the next generation with your new worship service style, and your least “next-gen” guy is scheduled to do the communion meditation.

  9. Ty DesEnfants on October 23, 2017 at 7:30 am

    These are hilariously true! I’ll add one: When you think you bombed your message someone will always send you an email saying it was the best sermon they’d ever heard…and when you think you knocked it out of the park NOONE says anything.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 23, 2017 at 8:27 am

      That is 100% true Ty! And when you think you crushed it, you hear crickets.

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