The Danger of Ministry Overcompensation

It was a challenging season of life.  I was a full-time husband, new father, full-time pastor, part-time religion instructor, and doctoral student.  Needless to say, I wasn’t sleeping a lot back then.  On a certain trek coming back from Southern Seminary, I began to drift asleep at the wheel.  After about 6 days of classes and 6 hours on the road, exhaustion hit me and catastrophe wasn’t too far behind.

Gratefully, as I began to drift off the interstate, I was alerted by the tracked grooves in the road, and I was startled back to reality.  While I was grateful for the wakeup call, the sudden fright almost created a more dangerous scenario: I overcompensated.

Afraid of hitting the ditch on the right, I steered hard to the left and almost ran into nearby traffic.  While the ditch would have been hazardous, that semi-truck could have proved fatal.

The greater danger came not by steering away from the lesser danger but by steering too hard.

  1. Overcompensation in your car is dangerous for your safety.
  2. Overcompensation in your ministry is dangerous for everyone’s growth.

Here’s how it happens.  As a ministry leader develops through the years, he or she realizes certain things along the way.  With emergent ideas comes regretful revelations.  Finally aware of weaknesses or mistakes along the way, the leader wants to right the ship.

While the reasoning can have numerous sources, the desire to fix things if they come from a biblical conviction is a great pursuit.  The problem is not found in a desire to lead biblically.

The problem in ministry is when leaders overcompensate a weakness so much that it creates another weakness.

Here’s how it can play out:

  1. If you feel as if you haven’t portrayed yourself professional enough that you switch and attempt to be someone clearly you are not.
  2. If you think your music has been too traditional, that you turn the amp up to 11, get the fog machine out, and turn it into a night club over night.
  3. If you are convicted that you have been too comical in a sermon, you remove all sense of winsomeness and intentionally become boring.
  4. If your last hire was too ____________ (fill in the blank) that you hire the complete opposite and get a whole new set of problems.
  5. If you see danger signs in church growth practices that you actually attempt to justify your church’s current decrease.
  6. If an existing program didn’t accomplish the ministry perfectly, you belittle its existence while inherently insulting its leaders and forcing the polar opposite approach too quickly upon a congregation.
  7. If you rely too much on the on-the-spot leading of the Spirit that you begin to work and plan to a point in which you refuse His leading.
  8. If you used to plan so detailed and felt too rigid that you now demonize any attempt at structure while claiming to be dependent upon the Spirit’s leading.
  9. You believe the Spirit to work only in the pulpit and not the study (or vice versa).
  10. If your theology changes on a doctrinal issue and you make light of others who currently believe what you believed 5 minutes ago.
  11. If you realize an inconsistency in dealing with staff or volunteers that you do the overkilled opposite.

I’m sure that your ministry does need some adjustment, but maybe the danger isn’t as bad as you think it is.  Maybe your current path isn’t in the opposite direction of what was intended but just a little out of alignment.  Maybe instead of doing a 180° turn, you need to adjust only about 10°.  Maybe it’s not all or nothing.  Maybe it’s just something.

So, if you see a need to change but unsure if, when, or how, what should you do?  Pursue wisdom in your decisions (Prov. 4:6-7).  Many trusted advisers can help your plans succeed (Prov. 15:22).  If you think your recent revelation makes you superior to all your contemporaries or predecessors, realize that pride always comes before a fall (Prov. 16:18).

On this ministry haul, I’m sure we all need to make some adjustments.  Just maybe not that much.  The church of the past must have done something right if it helped produce you.

Don’t miss significant transformation because you endangered your people due to overcompensation.

Travis Agnew is married to Amanda and the father of two sons and one daughter. He serves as the Senior Pastor of Rocky Creek Baptist Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is What God Has Joined Together.