Mea Culpa — My bad. My fault.
These are some hard words to say, aren’t they?
Not many of us like to admit our faults, confess that we were wrong, let alone “learn from our mistakes.” Especially in ministry. Who among us wants to admit that we were prideful, arrogant, theological snobs? That we didn’t handle our family well in the midst of ministry responsibilities? That we were mistaken in how we tried to preach, ending up sounding like a bad Tim-Keller-wanna-be?
Not many of us like to say those words – Mea Culpa. But sometimes they are necessary. And sometimes, not only we can learn from our mistakes, but others can as well.
It’s that conviction that drove Kyle McClellan to write this new book: Mea Culpa: Learning from Mistakes in Ministry. Kyle did not set out to be an author, especially not an author writing about all of his mistakes that he’s made. But through the prodding of a good friend in the ministry, Brian Croft, he was convinced that some of his mistakes, and the lessons that he learned from them, may be all too common among new pastors who may be able to learn from him and escape some of the heart-ache that he experienced (and caused).
Kyle was a preaching-award-winning seminary student from SBTS, ready to go into churches and bestow his preaching genius on them. What happened in reality, though, looked a little different. From 1996-2006, Kyle says that he pastored 4 different churches, with only 1 of the 4 really being sad that he was leaving. Not a very good start.
But through it all, the Lord was faithful and enabled Kyle to see many of the mistakes that he had made, and allowed him to learn from them.
Kyle identifies 7 mistakes in the book that plagued him in his ministry, and which he thinks are prevalent among many young pastors today:
- Lesson 1 — Kyle had to learn that theological knowledge alone does not make a good pastor, nor does it erase his sinful heart. He had to learn the importance of shepherding his people to greater knowledge and understanding; not just lecturing to them.
- Lesson 2 — Kyle had to learn the importance of place — that God not only calls a man to minister as a vocation, but calls him to minister in a particular place, with all its quirks, regional peculiarities, and such.
- Lesson 3 — Kyle learned the value of making sure that you are, in fact, a good fit for the church in which you are interviewing with to pastor, and that they are a good fit for you. No one is served by you “faking it” in the interviews just to get the job. That will only end in heartache for you and the church.
- Lesson 4 — Kyle had to learn the absurdity of competing in the ministry with other ministers and churches, a sad reality that is all too common among young pastors.
- Lesson 5 — Kyle had to learn to preach like Kyle, not like Tim Keller, John Piper, or Al Mohler. When he tried to sound, act, and preach like them, he ended up sounding like a cheap knockoff (at best).
- Lesson 6 — Kyle had to learn how to balance the tightrope of being authentic with the people he was shepherding, while at the same time modeling a lifestyle of godliness.
- Lesson 7 — Kyle had to learn how to lead his family well first and foremost. Rather than let the ministry come before his family, and in essence destroy his family, he had to learn the importance of leading his family first and the church second.
Each of these mistakes and lessons that Kyle identified in his book were spot-on. I have seen each of them, to one degree or another, in my own ministry (public), my own heart (private), or in the ministries of some dear friends from seminary in the ministry today.
Strengths and Weaknesses
One of the biggest strengths in the book is the author’s honesty and transparency. He lays it all bare for the sake of encouraging and helping other ministers. Just like a game film that athletes watch in the days following a game, where they analyze their every success and failure, Kyle is not afraid to lay out his game film for all to see here in this book. I am sure that each chapter was hard to write and brought up memories that were hard to relive. But I am certain that through his honesty and the lessons that he has personally learned through his mistakes, many pastors are going to be helped.
The biggest weakness that I would identify in the book was the writing. It’s not bad, but oftentimes the paragraphs or sections seemed disconnected and disjointed. He would be talking about one thing, and jump to a different thought, without a logical transition. It felt more like I was sitting down talking to a good friend in the ministry who was telling me his mistakes and lessons he’d learned – rabbit-trails, random trains of thought, and all. That did not make it a bad book by any means. But as a reader, I found myself on more than one occasion scratching my head, saying, “What does that have to do with what you were just talking about?”
Overall, I thought that the book was good. As a pastor, it is encouraging to read the honest and transparent reflections of a fellow pastor who has “been there, done that,” has made mistakes, has messed up, and is willing to say “my bad” and learn from them. It is encouraging because we’ve all been there. We’ve all done things we wish we hadn’t, said things we’d rather we didn’t. It’s easy to look at the “celebrity” preachers that we all like to listen to and think, “Wow! They’ve got it all together. How do they do that? I just feel like I take two steps back for every one step forward.”
But then you have someone like Kyle McClellan come along and say: You know what? Me too, brother! I’ve been there, and worse. Let me tell you about it.
If you’re in ministry, or thinking about entering the ministry, I think that this would be a helpful book for you. At just 100 pages, it’s an easy read, but one that may help you avoid some of the mistakes that Kyle made, and the heartache (for you and your people) associated with them.
In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Christian Focus Publishers for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.