How To Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy


We hear about it everyday – really smart people doing really dumb things.

Turn on the news, and it won’t be long before you hear another sad story like Mark Sanford, the sitting governor of South Carolina, claiming to hike the Appalachian Trail while secretly seeing his mistress in South America or a highly regarded pastor torpedoing their ministry because of an inappropriate relationship or reckless leadership decision.

It’s not always a “moral failure” that can blow up our ministries. It could be losing our temper with a staff member, elder, or member of our church. It could be launching a building campaign or expanding staff before the church is ready for it, causing crushing debt or debilitating low morale. We hear about these mistakes of judgment that ruin relationships and damage churches and we say, “What were they thinking? I thought they were smarter than that!”

It’s not that they aren’t smart. In many cases, the people making these foolish mistakes are incredibly smart and talented. We shouldn’t be shocked. 

We all have the capacity to be our own worst enemy.

If you question that, a quick survey of the Bible should change your mind. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Saul, David, Peter, and countless others in scripture all made bad decisions that had long term negative consequences for themselves and others that make us scratch our heads and say, “What were they thinking?!”

The truth is, because we are all fallen people in desperate need of a Savior, we all have the capacity to be our own worst enemy. Those of us in leadership positions, and especially leadership positions in churches are at greater risk of damaging others and ourselves through reckless decisions.

Too often, church leaders and pastors will focus on the externals - how we are perceived by others in the church or in the community and the tangible measurements of “success” – rather than the internal dimensions of church leadership and emotional, spiritual, and relational health. We are often driven to succeed, and more often than not, terrified of failure. And in our churches, senior leaders are placed on a pedestal from which it is all too easy to fall. Before too long, we may begin to believe our own publicity.

So how can leaders avoid this tendency to become our own worst enemy?

1. Realize that we all have the potential be our own worst enemy.

In just about every case of self-destructive decision making, the leader experiences a disconnect from their fallen-ness, and how their behavior affects others around them. They begin believing that they can handle it or that somehow they are immune to the consequences of a poor decision. In some cases, we are subconsciously looking for a way out of the pressures of leadership and ministry.

Successful leaders who last over time are invariably highly self-aware. They know their strengths and weaknesses in both their professional and personal lives.  They are also deeply aware of their own propensity for sin and self-delusion, and therefore surround themselves with systems and people who will help them avoid the potential pitfalls of leadership. 

2. Be relentlessly authentic.  Resist the temptation to shape other people's opinions of you or your church.

I can remember sitting at a restaurant with my kids and realizing that there were some folks from my church sitting nearby. I found myself acting like I was the best dad in the world, not because I was really a great dad, but because I wanted people in my church to think that I was a great dad. I had to acknowledge my actions and take ownership for my motivations.

It is difficult to be real in the church because many people have varying opinions about who you are supposed to be. Many of us spend our lives in leadership trying to meet those unrealistic, and in many cases, inappropriate expectations. The truth is that being who we really are often makes people uncomfortable, but pretending to be someone you are not will erode your soul and will inevitably lead to becoming your own worst enemy. 

3. Surround yourself with people who know the worst about you and love you anyway.

When you look into the lives of people who have made really bad decisions, what you tend to find are people who have isolated themselves from others. They don’t have really close friends who have been allowed to see the darkness that exists in their souls and love them anyway. They don’t have a group of trusted friends who have been allowed into their lives at a level where they feel free to say to us, “You are about to make a huge mistake. How can I help you navigate your way through this?”

These are people who get to see you in your element, see how you interact with your church staff or your family and have permission to sound the warning bell when you get close to crossing a line that should not be crossed.

I have a friend who put together a personal Board of Directors for his life. We had complete access to his personal world. Once a quarter, we’d meet and go over the details and direction of his life. We’d ask the hard questions and make recommendations. We’d make note of potential danger zones or areas where he might not being seeing things clearly.  We had permission to ask about his relationship with his wife, kids, and co-workers. He knew we loved him, and he trusted us to tell him the truth. Leaders need these trusted friends to speak the truth in love and be willing to listen.

4. Stay rooted and grounded in the Grace of God.

Chances are, if you are a church leader (or just a regular human being), you’ve already made some decisions that you regret. You’ve already been your own worst enemy.  I know that I have.

How can you find the strength to move past those poor decisions and start fresh?

There is only one way – relying completely on the grace and mercy of God. 

That’s not just a Christian cliché. It’s the source of life. 

It is grace that empowers us to look at ourselves with ruthless honesty, which frees us from the need to pretend, which empowers us to choose life, and which allows us to start over when we fail. 

How do you keep from being your own worst enemy?