The Saturday night service before Mother's Day last May was one of the worst services in the 16-year history of New Life Church. Because the national news media had been reporting on people who were attacking the idea of a day set aside to honor mothers, I had decided to go the opposite direction and glorify moms.
But I couldn't put the words together to make it happen. I bumbled my way through one of the clumsiest messages I had ever delivered in my life.
The room filled with blank stares as I spoke. It was so eerily silent that I thought I could hear people sympathetically thinking, Poor Pastor Ted has become an idiot. When the night was over, I felt like I had completely failed.
But my failure that night wasn't the end of the story. By the 8 a.m. Sunday service the next morning, the tone and style of my message had been completely transformed. Because of my horrible experience the previous night, I was motivated to communicate the same message in a way that would be well-received.
As a result, we ended up having the best Mother's Day service we have ever had. The mood was just right throughout the service, and the mothers of New Life Church left the building knowing they had been honored and blessed.
How did that happen? How did things change so significantly between Saturday night and Sunday morning? The reason is that I have figured out how to fail well.
Failing gives us a chance to discover our weaknesses and improve. If we're careful to avoid depression and excessive self-criticism when we fail, we can learn from our mistakes and become stronger, more capable people. But if we stop learning from our mistakes, our lives and ministries can plateau or decline without us ever understanding why.
Christian leaders need to know how to fail well so that we can do a better job at serving others. The problem many of us have is that we hate failure so much that we act as if it never happened. When we tell ourselves that we're OK when we're not, we live in a fantasy world that will lead to heartache and trouble.
It is more comfortable to avoid, rather than to face, the truth about our effectiveness just after disappointments with big ministry projects or key sermons. We surround ourselves with employees and followers who love and support us. They assure us that everything is fine, and we begin to believe our critics are just people with bad attitudes or poor manners.
I believe this is one of the worst mistakes a Christian leader can make. We need to embrace our failures, learn from them and be empowered to serve people better. So, how do we fail well?
1. Don't rationalize failure. The fact is, we are responsible for what happens in our churches and ministries. When things go wrong, we shouldn't explain it away. Instead, we should pick up the pieces, examine the situation carefully and prayerfully, and do it better next time.
2. Avoid mysticism after mistakes. Because we are people of prayer, very often we take the optimism that God gives us in our prayer closet and wrongly translate that assurance into ministry toward others.
Too often, people leave prayer meetings saying a city has changed when it hasn't; or that a church will grow when it doesn't; or that God has given something when, in time, we see that He really didn't.
Simply put, if we choose to run from failure, our lives and ministries will dwindle and eventually become inconsequential. But if we respond well, failure can be one of the greatest teachers in our lives. *