The Top 5 Ministry Excuses You Absolutely Need to Stop Making

Top 5 Excuses Ministry Leaders Make

Excuses. We all make them from time to time. But we should banish them from our vocabulary forever.

And here’s why I believe that’s so critical:

You can make excuses, or you can make progress, but you can’t make both.

Most of us want to make progress, but instead we make excuses.

I was reminded of that twice this week. The first time was in in this great post by my friend Casey Graham.

The second time was the day when my 17 year old son Sam and I were driving to his track meet (that’s Sam above racing on a really nice track near Toronto).

He and his team have qualified as provincial finalists in the 4×100 meter high school relay.

Sam and I were talking about training and which school have the best facilities.

My son’s school has a gravel track.

It has no marked lanes.

It’s not great for training.

They have to estimate hand-offs on the relay and practice their steps with best guesses because their track isn’t marked for any of that.

And yet his team has advanced to the provincial finals.

The team with the best track in the county (a multi-million dollar top rate install) has been eliminated.

I said I was surprised… Sam was too. He said as a rule the team with the great facility rarely does well, and yet his school always places first or second, even with the inferior training facility.

The conversation reminded me of the power of excuses.

It would be so easy for Sam and his team mates to try less hard and convince themselves that they’ll never make it to the finals unless they got a track like other schools.

But they didn’t. They trained like crazy anyway, and went all the way to the finals.

The conversation convicted me again: you and I absolutely have to stop making excuses now.

Question: Ever notice that ministry leaders often have a whole list of well-rehearsed excuses as to why their ministry isn’t more effective than it is?

Tell me if this isn’t true:

The leaders who make the most excuses make the least progress.

The leaders who make the most progress make the fewest excuses.

So in the name of getting on with our mission, here are the top 5 excuses I’ve heard church leaders make. (And regrettably, in different seasons, I’ve made some of them.)

1. Our context is different. Take those four words and burn them. I live in a country where over 90% of people aren’t in church on a weekend and 24% now identify as having ‘no religion’. Many churches are dying but some are thriving. Sure it’s hard work, but you can lead a growing church in a dying culture. Because we are aligned with North Point and Orange, people always ask me how much translates to Canada. I always answer ‘about 90%’. We listen to the same music, wear the same clothes, watch the same movies and TV shows and pretty much drive the same cars. If it doesn’t work, we tweak it or change it. But we don’t dwell on the differences. We dwell on what’s effective. So stop making excuses about your context. Or for goodness sake go invent something that works in your context. Just stop focusing on what doesn’t work.

2. I don’t have the right people. Great people don’t randomly assemble. They are attracted by clear and compelling missions (like the mission of the church). They are challenged, nurtured and inspired by skillful, humble, passionate leaders who have devoted their lives to a cause greater than themselves. The reason your ‘people’ aren’t like the people of the churches you admire is because you haven’t led them there. Get on your knees, look in the mirror and start leading or find someone who can. When you lead with all diligence, you call something out in people that God planted within them. People who have lived ‘ordinarily’ can begin to live ‘extraordinarily’ under the right leadership.

3. We don’t have the money. Vision and passion always precede resources. Here are three reasons most leaders don’t have enough money.

1. Your vision isn’t big enough. People give small sums to small visions.

2. Your vision isn’t fully aligned with the real purposes of the church. When your mission vision and strategy are aligned with the biblical vision of church, it resonates with people. They give more to something they know is authentic.

3. You haven’t challenged people to give sacrificially. My wife and I have always tried to give generously and sacrificially to ministry. But we weren’t seeing a completely generous culture at our church. I asked Casey Graham for help. Casey told me that I did a great job informing and inspiring people to give. But I did a terrible job asking people. I learned to ask, directly. People now give sacrificially. We’ve freed up significantly more money for ministry as a result.

4. I can’t get permission to do that. Really? Well go change your constitution (this post by Jeff Brodie on why your church constitution might be killing you is a must-read). Challenge the status quo. I’m not talking about being an obnoxious leader, but quietly, humbly, skillfully work for change. If it gets you fired, so what? Would you rather be ineffective, betray your calling and have job security, or would you rather change the world? I always say to our team, if you don’t do something that could get you fired once or twice a year, you’re probably not doing your job.

5. If our church was in Texas, we’d have 10,000 people. Listen, I’ve actually thought that too. Kind of embarrassing to put in writing though, isn’t it? What a terrible way to think about leadership. If you really think your church would be 10,000 people in Texas, move there and start a church. Otherwise shut up about it. You don’t have to be faithful with what God gave other people. You just need to be faithful with what he’s given you. So get moving.

How are you going to spend the rest of today, this week, or this year?

Making excuses?

Or making progress?

Because you can’t do both.

Any other excuses you’ve heard? Leave them in the comments.

And in the meantime, what excuses are you going to banish from your vocabulary today?


  1. […] But, you ask, what if I don’t agree with the advice? Great question. Then share your struggles. Tell your mentor why you don’t think it’s a good idea. (But don’t make excuses like why it won’t work in your context…that’s a mistake. Here’s why.) […]

  2. Solomon Rexius on March 18, 2016 at 9:54 am

    LOL to the Texas comment. I’ve thought that about our college ministry. Great stuff, Carey.

  3. Jon on March 1, 2015 at 10:23 pm

    Carey, I wonder if you could tell me the origin of the phrase “You can make excuses or you can make progress, but you can’t make both…” Thanks!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 2, 2015 at 6:27 am

      Hey Jon. The phrase started for me in a sermon I preached 3 years ago. I then wrote a short book built around it (still unreleased…waiting for the right publisher) and will be doing an entire series around it later in 2015. It’s just something I really believe and refer to often.

  4. Marty on August 15, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    Hey great post, How do I become a great leader so that those I am leading will begin to live “extraordinarily” Im open and willing. Besides praying I do that!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 15, 2013 at 6:02 pm

      Thanks Marty. I think you discover the gifts God has given you and the people around you and get to work on a common mission vision and strategy.

      • Marty on August 15, 2013 at 9:09 pm

        Thank you. I am working on some strategic plans now. Thanks for the response.

  5. Kasey Van Daley on August 15, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    Just in case there are any doubters out there…as a part of a Strategic Partner church in Texas, I can assure you that #5 is on point. Don’t move here if you think it’ll be any easier to grow your attendance.

  6. Jim Fraser on July 23, 2013 at 4:42 pm

    I would love to serve in a church that serve that unchurched that knew how to worship/

  7. pastorkaren on June 3, 2013 at 6:12 pm

    Excuse #5,234,999: If we don’t spend our money on the building, we won’t HAVE a church.

    • cnieuwhof on June 4, 2013 at 6:42 am

      Heard that one too. Ouch it’s bad, isn’t it?!

  8. Maureen Kelley Small on June 3, 2013 at 11:26 am

    Unfortunately, my favourite excuse has often been “I don’t have the time.” Much of my ministry has been as a volunteer, but I’ve used the excuse in both paid and unpaid ministry positions. The reality is that it’s true that we make time for what’s really important. Often I think “I don’t have time” is actually just a lie to cover up the truth: “This is going to take a lot of effort and I just don’t feel like doing it, so I’ll do other, less essential tasks so I look busy.”

    • cnieuwhof on June 4, 2013 at 6:42 am

      Great insight Maureen. Excellent self-awareness too.

  9. Jon Stallings on May 31, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    Thanks Carey for the great post. I was just speaking with our ministry team yesterday that we can’t focus on what we don’t have, but we need to be thankful and bless what we have. I will be sharing your post with them.

    • cnieuwhof on June 1, 2013 at 4:52 pm

      So glad to hear that Jon. Glad it helped!

  10. Pam Cullen on May 31, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    For You Carey: Don’t tell me the sky’s the limit when there are footprints on the moon! You should get your pastoral team to the tough mudder competition, Coldwater Sept 2013!

    • cnieuwhof on June 1, 2013 at 4:52 pm

      I’m a-scared of the Tough Mudder competition…:) But some of our staff have done it and actually placed in their age category!

  11. JW on May 31, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    I’ve just begun reading your blog in the past week and think you share quite a bit of good food for thought. The above post mentions context, and here’s one thing I’ve been thinking about as I read your posts: it seems as if you are writing to a middle or upper-middle class demographic. Am I right? One example: in your list of the characteristics of unchurched people you remind readers that unchurched people aren’t unintelligent. You’re right…in most places. I pastor in a small Appalachian state, and many (not all) of the unchurched are uneducated and very poor. I appreciated your kick-in-the-butt of “for goodness sake go invent something that works in your context” because I think you’re right–lots of people use context as an excuse, and pastors who want to think about ways to serve in their own context will find ways to be inventive. However, I want to point out the *burden* of inventiveness often falls upon pastors who serve in underserved populations. I’ve attended national youth ministry conventions, which I think offer a lot of helpful, adaptable stuff, however no one there is offering workshops on how to be in ministry with poor kids who come from homes that look like hovels. There are numerous workshops talking about ministry through texting but our kids don’t even have enough food stamps. (on a recent mission trip, one 12 yr old had never ordered from a fast food restaurant. Several kids “packed” in plastic grocery bags, and several came without anything to sleep on, so we had to go buy them sleeping bags at a store near our mission site.) I’m not using this as an excuse for myself or the churches I’ve served because we’ve found ways to be in very fruitful ministry in our own contexts. We make do with the ecclesial equivalent of gravel tracks. It’s just sad that pastors who are already serving in very difficult places must also be the ones who have to work very hard, with very little guidance from the outside, to figure out how to be in ministry in those places.

    • cnieuwhof on May 31, 2013 at 1:49 pm

      JW. I think what you’re doing is great. We have a pretty diverse socio-economic profile at Connexus. We reach people on social assistance and people who do very well in life. But you need a car to even get to us, so you’re right, that excludes many. Our context is more suburban than urban (although Connexus is in small cities – 30K and 130K) We have partnerships with several downtown organizations and many of our people serve there. I think what you’re doing is great. David Platt has a strong record in making an impact with the poor. ( I’m sure you’re familiar Shane Claiborne as well. Mark Batterson’s church, National Comunity Church, is launching a dream center to work with the poor in DC. I wonder if others could connect you with churches that are working with the rural poor.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.