Failure is a part of our human experience. No one plans to fail, and as a church leader we absolutely should not set ourselves up to fail. Yet we cannot deny that failure is bound to happen and we need to have a plan for failure…or rather, a healthy mindset in regard to failure.
Failure is really just a matter of perspective. We will go into something expecting certain results. If those expectations aren’t met, we call it failure. From God’s perspective, he saw this coming and, in faithfulness to his promises (see Romans 8:28-29), is working within the events for a greater good, for all who love God. In other words, what we experience in our lives is not solely for us, but for the common good. This is bigger than our own life and ministry. In the way of example, many of my failures and frustrations have resulted in this blog, which seems to serve as an encouragement to at least a handful of others…who each touch the lives of a handful of others. What we see as failure, God may see as great success in the life of someone else. Failure is often (though not always) simply our realization that our efforts are about serving God and his will, not serving our own expectations. What if Moses took our attitude in regard to failure and gave up after Pharaoh’s first rejection? What if the apostle Paul was discouraged after being flushed out of the first synagogue, never reaching out to the Gentiles because “even God’s chosen people won’t believe?” What if Nehemiah determined nothing could be done to help his kinsmen in Jerusalem because he didn’t have the resources or authority to help?
Because failure is only a matter of perspective, we cannot be afraid of failure. Too often we determine that we cannot do something because we lack what we think we need to accomplish it. Without the right resources or circumstances, we are convinced in our minds that our efforts will be a failure. We need to be transformed in this regard by the renewing of our minds–changing the way we think about how we lead our churches. We are setting an example that if we aren’t certain we can fulfill our expectations, that we shouldn’t try…and then we wonder why those under our care are paralyzed in their walk with Christ because they “don’t know enough,” or “don’t want to offend,” or “don’t feel qualified.” Attitude very often reflects leadership.
If we believe we need to try something, even though we seem to lack the resources, we need to determine that we can still do something in that regard–a first step–because we are following God. If we experience failure, then we need to fail fast and try something different. We can’t fail and just lie down or give up…or worse yet, never try. Some of the best running backs in football provide some of the greatest highlights because they don’t go down at first contact. If they run into someone they stutter-step, change direction, keep going, put their head down and drive the pile, roll out and press on. We need to be like that. The goal never changes–we are committed to doing God’s will–but the method changes, the route takes a turn, and the schedule adjusts to fit where we are and what God is doing in us, not just through us.
In Jesus’ parable of the talents, the servant who was condemned was the one who did nothing. Afraid to take a risk, and distrusting his master’s heart, he hid his talent in the ground. The others trusted and did what pleased their master. We’re not told the road they took to get there, but they were active and above that, obedient. They reaped the blessing of their obedience. Likewise, Paul had a desire to visit believers in Rome, but was hindered. This in no way prevented Paul from continuing to follow Christ and do all he could.
We can, because God… That doesn’t mean we will on the first try, in the way we expected, and with the results we’d hoped for. We aren’t called to produce results, we are called to follow Jesus. Jesus called his disciples and said, “Follow me, and I will make you…” He also said that on Peter’s confession that He would build His church. Peter was charged with feeding Jesus’ sheep. We are purposed to follow Jesus, and to lead others in the same.