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Nine Lessons We Learn From Failure :: Keith Drury

I've had plenty of success in my 'career' in ministry. Probably too much for my own good. But I've had a few whopping failures too, the most recent being a six-year attempt to resurrect my denomination's Sunday schools. However, all failure is not loss. Even failures can be successful, if we learn from them. What are the lessons that failure can teach?

1. It reminds us of our limitations.
Failure shows us we're not invincible after all. It purges personal pride, crucifies arrogance. Success teaches us self-reliance and to trust our own cleverness; failure instructs us to rely more on God.

2. Failure helps us empathize.
A leader who never fails comes to dismiss unsuccessful people as lazy, stupid, or just plain 'losers.' Once you've laid an egg or two of your own, you get more empathy for people who do their own bellyfloppers.

3. Failure teaches us about timing.
Sometimes our timing is off. I learned this several years ago when I launched a massive program to persuade my entire denomination to unplug their TV sets during the first week of January to spend more time with family, read the bible, and pray. It sounded like a brilliant idea to me. But it fell flat on its face. Not just because of the playoffs (though that was a timing factor too) but for another reason. My denomination still has a lot of refugees from legalism. They wanted nothing whatsoever to do with unplugging their TVs -- the whole idea sounded like we were turning back the clock. So it flopped. But in the years since, there have been several totally secular movements with the same goal which have achieved grand success. I suppose with such secular support the idea might fly today. My timing was off. I've seen pastors do this with votes on building programs or adding staff. Sometimes we try to do the right thing at the wrong time so we fail.

4. Failure teaches us to see the parts, not just the whole.
When the whole enchilada is going up in smoke, we learn to look for little successes within the larger failure -- people we have ministered to, lives which have been changed, prayers answered, early signs of a turnaround. And, after all, when we all finally retire and review our life of ministry, we'll not remember the big successes anyway. It will be the individual people down through the years that we helped and whose lives were changed.

5. Some failures happen because of the size of the task.
Some goals will never find total success -- winning the world to Jesus, discipling people to perfect Christ-likeness, developing a well trained ministry. Yet these tasks are worthwhile anyway. In fact, perhaps they are worthwhile because they are too big to accomplish. With such tasks, the romance is in trying even though failing. More important than our failure may be determining what we failed trying to do.

6. Failure can tell us we've got the wrong job.
There's such a thing as a 'person-job match' or a 'pastor-church match.' Some jobs don't fit some leaders. Some leaders who would do quite well somewhere else flop where they are. It's a bad fit. Sometimes we have to fail at one place so we can leave and go succeed somewhere else. Our successor may succeed where we have failed... not because they are better, but because they are different. They 'fit' better. And so do you, now.

7. Failure reminds us of the 'Nazareth principle.'
Face it, there are some churches Jesus Himself couldn't resurrect. Causes too.

8. Failure reminds us of the Kingdom's seasonal nature.
Taking in a grand harvest is the most 'successful' work of all. But, sometimes we are on duty when harvesting is 'out of season.' What then? We must ‘be instant in season and out of season.' Sometimes God uses one leader to plant a crop or prepare the soil or do the watering, but it will be a later pastor or leader who gets to reap the harvest. Our 'failure' is really a stage in the cycle.

9. Failure reminds us of our faulty definition of success.
How is 'success' defined in the church? The same way it's defined in the world: numbers, money, fame. And though we deny having these values, most of us still live by them or at least keep our eye on them. However, when you experience failure, God's corrective definition of success (eventually) looms much larger. And His definition is the only one that counts.
So, have you ever failed? What did you learn from it?
© 2006, Keith Drury
Author:Keith Drury

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