The Top 5 Ministry Excuses You Absolutely Need to Stop Making

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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.

You can make excuses, or you can make progress, but you can't make both. Click To Tweet

I was reminded of that twice this week. The first time was 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 schools 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 teammates 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.
Leaders who make the most progress make the fewest excuses. Click To Tweet

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 to 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.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.