5 Temptations Every Pastor Faces

You’d think that being in church leadership would ensure you’re not tempted to fall into the same temptations as, say, leaders in the marketplace.

As nice as that line of thinking is, it’s wrong.

A few years ago, Patrick Lencioni did a great job outlining the 5 temptations of a CEO. All of those apply to anyone in leadership, and Patrick’s books are always packed with helpful insights.

I think all of those temptations apply to any senior leader, but ministry adds a layer of complexity or two.

You and I are human. We are subject to the same temptations as anyone else.

Recognizing that we’re vulnerable to a whole host of temptations, pitfalls and set of issues is actually a good thing. Self-awareness is a gift. It can lead you to confession, repentance and a different future.

Denial is a different story. If you think you have no sin, or that these things can’t and don’t happen to you, well…good luck with that. I think there’s something in the scripture that says those of us who say we have no sin deceive ourselves.

When it comes to temptation, denial is an accelerator. The more we think it will never happen to us, the more we position ourselves to have it happen.

I’ve struggled in different seasons with all 5 temptations. I’m not above any of it. But the good news is self-awareness is such a big factor in keeping yourself from making some very common mistakes.

If can you see yourself as you are, you can become a different self.  Confession and repentance are powerful like that.

So here are the 5 temptations I see pastors struggling with:

1. To Choose Popularity Over Courage

Oh to be popular. While it’s the dream of every elementary and high school kid, it doesn’t make for a great leadership quality.

So many pastors, at heart, are people pleasers.

A key goal of leadership is to lead a diverse group on a common mission. That’s why leadership isn’t for the faint of heart.

Your job is a leader is to take people where they wouldn’t go except for your leadership.

That requires courage. Deep courage. But when you try to please all kinds of people, you usually end up sacrificing the mission.

Instead of moving forward with boldness, people pleasing pastors end up with a lot of people (or diminishing number of people, actually) going nowhere in particular.

Is that what you want your legacy to be? Didn’t think so.

If you want to be liked, you won’t lead.

2. To pretend things are better than they are

So you live in a fishbowl in ministry, and people are always asking you how you are.

It’s so tempting to say things are going great, when they’re not.

Maybe it’s hard at home or your relationship with God seems flat. Or you’re really struggling with discouragement or defeat.

The pressure to say everything’s fine when it isn’t is intense.

Your public talk should match your private walk.

And while you don’t need to tell everybody that things are tough, you need to tell somebody.

To people who don’t know you well, even acknowledging things aren’t perfect keeps the dialogue real and authentic. When they ask you how it’s going, you don’t need to throw up all over them and spill your guts, but you might say “We have a few challenges, but I’m grateful for what we get to do here. How are you?”

That’s real. And it’s accurate. You don’t need to say anything else.

The better you know someone, the deeper you can go.

And you should be at full transparency with at least a handful of people, and of course, with God.

3. To change the win to justify current results

It’s strange how many of these temptations have to do with not telling the truth. But if you’ve hung around with pastors long enough, you quickly realize that truth is often the first casualty of an environment filled with high expectations.

Take how we handle ministry ‘results’ for example.

Let’s say your church isn’t growing, for example. Who wants to admit that? So it becomes very easy to say “We’re not about breadth, we’re about depth” or “We’re not one of those shallow churches that uses gimmicks to attract people.”

Or, let’s flip that. Let’s say you are growing but you have a gaping back door. It’s just as easy to say “We’re about reaching people, not keeping people.”

Both approaches compromise the mission. Because the mission of the church is to reach people with the love of Christ and see them mature in the love of Christ.

Pastors, don’t just preach truth. Live it.

4. To pursue false unity

One of the hallmarks of a New Testament church is unity.

But it’s so easy to work toward false unity, kind of like a dysfunctional family that pretends everything is great when it’s not. Or the family that stifles truth for the sake of appearances (“everything’s fine kids, just fine….”).

Even a cursory glance at the New Testament church shows that the unity of the first century wasn’t easy or false. Paul and others had some long, honest conversations and fought more than a few battles to get it. Just read First Corinthians.

True unity comes on the other side of honesty.

False unity sweeps things under the rug, ignores warning signs and pretends everything’s great when it’s not.

Honest conversations, humbly undertaken can lead to true unity.

5. To attack people, not problems

Speaking of conflict, when you really engage it, things can get intense.

It’s so easy in that moment to attack people, not problems. In fact, many leaders conclude that people are the problem. But wise leaders refrain.

When you attack problems, not people, you can begin to make progress.

People aren’t the problem… the problem is the problem. People, as hard as it is to believe, are the solution.

Don’t Assume the Worst

There may be some people who are out to harm you, but most people aren’t. They are sincerely doing what they believe is best for the future. Their vision just conflicts with yours and that of your team.

If you have a habit of taking non-personal things personally (as I do), it can be easy to impute bad motives where none exists.

If someone is threatening the vision I’m advancing, it may seem as if he or she is somehow against me. However, the more I’m able to believe the best about other people—especially people who disagree with me—the better leader (and person) I become.

It allows me to separate the person from the problem and attack the problem, not the person. Believe the best about the person who disagrees with you, not the worst.

Leaders who assume the worst tend to get the worst.


Still struggle with that? Try empathizing with your opponents.

You may want to dismiss them, discount them, counter them, or even belittle them (on bad days). Don’t.

Instead of beginning a conversation by stating your differences, why not begin by emphasizing what you both agree on and trying to understand why your “opponent” is upset? For example, instead of saying:

Josh, you and I completely disagree and I’m not sure there’s anything we can do about it. I just can’t see it your way and you can’t see it my way.

Why not say something like this:

Josh, I’m grateful we share a commitment to Christ as our Lord. And I’m thankful for what you’re doing to help us advance our mission. I sense you’re upset with the direction we’re heading in. I just want you to know I understand that, and I hope we can discuss our differences.

Do you hear the difference? I think if you or I were on the other side of the changes in an organization, we’d want a leader to approach us with the second attitude, not the first.

When you show empathy, you help people understand that they were heard. And that’s huge. Sometimes that’s all people want.

You may discover that after being heard, some (not all) opponents will change their minds and even support the proposal at hand. That’s the power of empathy.


Make the Interior Leadership Journey Easier

Of all the journey a leader takes, the interior journey is the most arduous.

My book Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That Nobody Expects and Everyone Experiences can help.

Didn’t See It Coming tackles the seven core issues that take people out: cynicism, compromise, disconnectedness, irrelevance, pride, burnout, and the emptiness of success and provides strategies on how to combat each.

I wrote the book because no 18 year old sets out to be cynical, disconnected or burned out by age 35. Yet it happens all the time.

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here’s what top leaders are saying about Didn’t See It Coming:

“Seriously, this may be the most important book you read this year.” Jud Wilhite, Lead Pastor, Central Church

“Powerful, personal, and highly readable. ” Brian Houston, Global Senior Pastor, Hillsong

“Whatever challenge you’re facing, whatever obstacle you’re hoping to overcome, whatever future you dream or imagine, there is something powerful for you here.” Andy Stanley, Founder, North Point Ministries

“Uncommonly perceptive and generous…You have to read this book.” Ann Voskamp, NYT bestselling author

“Masterful.” Reggie Joiner, CEO Orange

“Deep biblical insight, straightforward truth, and practical wisdom to help you grow.” Craig Groeschel, Pastor and NYT bestselling author

“This book is sure to help you.” Daniel H. Pink, NYT bestselling author

Over the years, one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about being a public speaker is having opportunities to hang out with Carey…It’s not a matter of if you’ll run into these challenges; it’s a matter of when. Be prepared by spending a little time with a leader who has already been there.” Jon Acuff, NYT best-selling author

“Nieuwhof’s book provides expert guidance…with an accuracy that pierces the heart.” Nancy Duarte, CEO Duarte Inc.

“A refreshingly transparent guide for all leaders in a wide variety of industries.” Bryan Miles, Co-Founder and CEO, BELAY

You can learn more and get your copy of Didn’t See It Coming here.

Any Other Temptations?

Well, there are more than just five temptations pastors and church leaders face.

What are some other’s you’ve encountered?

How have you battled them?

Scroll down and leave a comment!



  1. Don on February 7, 2019 at 3:18 pm

    I can be so guilty of #5. It can become the go-to excuse for leadership deficits. People are never the problem unless of course, you have a true blue wolf in your midst. That can happen, but I believe 99% of the time it is a challenge with leadership, communication or clear expectations. Or D, all of the above! Ephesians 6:12

  2. Paul Koshy on February 3, 2019 at 3:55 pm

    Thank you, Carey, for sharing this. Really insightful and helpful. All the best. Paul

  3. William on September 27, 2018 at 11:42 pm

    What about overworking in our own program and failure to consult Jesus Christ as the owner of the church for proper guidance.
    Thank you Carey Iam growing every time I read your mail,thank you for the good work.

  4. Ryan on August 27, 2018 at 2:06 pm

    How about the temptation to quit…I appreciate your heart and your work.

  5. Monica Terdoo Samuel on August 23, 2018 at 2:59 pm

    Thank you,your articles always give me hope and encouragement

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 25, 2018 at 6:23 am

      Thanks Monica. That’s my goal. Appreciate the encouragement.

  6. Michael on August 23, 2018 at 12:43 pm

    Carey, thanks so much for your honesty and transparency. I get so much from your posts and this one stirred my heart. I want to be a better leader and I know that means leading myself first and doing it well. Thanks for helping me and so many other leaders navigate the murky waters of self-growth… it’s working. God Bless.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 25, 2018 at 6:24 am

      Thank you so much Michael. We’re playing the long game here, and I just hope we all get better the longer we serve Christ.

  7. Mike Duke on August 23, 2018 at 10:32 am

    Thank you. The interior journey is most certainly the hardest looking forward. Looking back, it was beautifully scripted, perfectly made. I’ve found concentrating on the jewels of the past always help forward thinking. Personally, I failed at all five throughout my ministry and then some. If I hadn’t failed miserably, I would cease to be human and therefore without need of a Savior. My jewels are all my failures that made me stop and take an honest look at myself and others around me. Finally, truth is able to break it’s way in and release me from myself. To all shepherds, hold tight to your text. He is always using you even when the only thing you can see is yourself staring back at you.
    Thank you so much for allowing me to post.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 25, 2018 at 6:24 am

      So true Mike! Thanks!

  8. Norma Wynn Tilton on August 23, 2018 at 10:10 am

    Your articles are always enlightening and makes me think THANK YOU😋😋

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 25, 2018 at 6:24 am


  9. Marissa on August 23, 2018 at 9:37 am

    Great great article! Thank you! Such wisdom & insight as always!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 25, 2018 at 6:24 am

      Thanks Marissa!

  10. Larry on August 23, 2018 at 9:12 am

    I needed this today – big time!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 25, 2018 at 6:25 am

      I do too some days, Larry!

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