Failures especially public failures are an embarrassment in our society and to be avoided at all costs. So let me say publicly I have failed a lot recently. Which perhaps is why my thoughts today turned to a chap I increasing relate to. Born into a blue collar family he grew up strong-willed, impulsive, and, at times, a brash young man with a temper problem. Failure. He walked away from the family business as a young adult. Failure. He chose to follow a charismatic preacher, teacher and mentor. It wasn’t plain sailing though, theology and mission and he were not natural companions. He would often answer incorrectly when questioned by his mentor on how best to reach out to people for God. Failure. Frequently chastised by his mentor, he seesawed between dedicating his life for God and at other times being frustrated with God. Failure. This culminated in him turning on his mentor and walking away from his faith at a crucial part of the growth of his church. Failure. Who was this failure? Well you may well have guessed by now the man I am speaking of is St Peter the apostle, his mentor was of cause Jesus.
I have too have failed in ministry, having recently invested emotionally and materially into one area of public outreach. I was convinced there was a need in this area, but we had a very poor response. So I tried harder, pushed it wider, prayed more, but still no response. So we tried again and kept trying and praying but without much in the way of response. Then we quietly shut it down. Failure. Even this weekend I have failed personally as I competed in a triathlon. I had publicly sought sponsorship and encouragement for the 1.1 mile swim, 33k ride and 10k run. I did not complete the triathlon, I had to retire from the swim succumbing to the mental mind games that had plagued my training. Failure.
I can almost hear you even as I type, that is not a failure, you tried your best in the triathlon, you tried your best in the outreach. You completed the rest of the triathlon, you don’t know how you impacted the few who you reached out to in that program. Indeed my own family have misunderstood me in this area and become upset as I have spoken of failure. But failure is not the end, and if we do not acknowledge failure how do we move forward into success? If, as I so often preach we are not defined by our success but by who we are in relationship with our God, then neither are we defined by our failures. If that is true, then why be so scared of acknowledging failures, why not embrace failure?
Embracing failure can bring a freedom to try new things and learn from them. It is something that in the Church I believe we need to do more. For example my triathlon failure:
- Why did I fail? – I failed because of mind games. I knew this was my weakest of the three disciplines. It was not general fitness, indeed I went on to complete the ride and run, so the fitness levels were on track. I failed because of a lack of confidence.
- What was good in this failure? – I broke through the initial despair of failure to go on and encourage my running mate and completed the remainder of the triathlon. I completed a duathlon, and my fitness levels now are light years away from what they were six months ago.
- What can I learn? – I failed because of confidence in one area. That’s not great, but if I over train in this area beyond what I need then I will become more confident.
- What next? – I know I can do this, it’s not beyond my capacity. Then why not book the next triathlon taking what I have learnt with me.
I have completed the same set of questions with my ministry program failure and leant a great deal from it that I can implement into church ministry life. Had I not admitted failure then I would have not have taken that learning forward.
Incidentally when Jesus was resurrected you will remember that he visited Peter on the beach. Jesus did not tell him that he had not failed, but simply encouraged Peter that his was moving in the right direction with the right motives. Peter was given the job by Jesus to grow the church. He became a great evangelist, preacher as well as a prolific church planter. Once again this was not plain sailing, he often had doubt’s, made mistakes, was imprisoned and eventually killed because of his faith. He failed and succeeded, it was just part of life or the journey God had for him. However he achieved way more than he would have done without admitting failure.
Perhaps us church leaders of the current age, can learn from our own failures, as well as those of the original church planter. If we dare speak the word out loud.