a : omission of occurrence or performance; specifically : a failing to perform a duty or expected action <failure to pay the rent on time>
b (1) : a state of inability to perform a normal function <kidney failure> — compare heart failure
(2) : an abrupt cessation of normal functioning <a power failure>
c : a fracturing or giving way under stress <structural failure>
Two years ago, I took a missions team on a trip. It was a disaster. The leader team was too big, the student team was too big, the focus wasn’t on serving, but on having a holiday for most people. I came home defeated, and discouraged. How could this happen? Did God show up? Yes. Did students have a great time? Yes. But, it was still a train wreck. I learned a lot on that trip. I learned about being a leader, and about my weaknesses. I could have gone on that trip, came home and blamed others (what did happen to a certain extent) or I could face the reality, and work at things so that I get better from it.
This past march, I took a team on the same missions trip, but it ended up being one of the best things I have done in the past 10 years in ministry. Was it a different trip? No. What was the difference? It was the fact that I failed the first time, and it pushed me to make it the best and learn from the pros who run missions trips.
We live in a culture where failing at anything is horrible. Actually, we are anxious about failing. We are so anxious that we end up becoming apathetic.
What do you do with failure? I am not talking about moral failure. I am talking about when no one shows up to your event? When you forget that the newest movie is coming out, and you plan a lame event. When you lose money on an event. When your student leaders don’t even show up. What do you do in those times? Who do you become?
Embrace failure. If you plan something and it fails. It’s ok. One of my friends used to say to me all the time, “what’s the worst that could happen?”. If I am trying to reach students, students who have never heard about Jesus before we are going to need to fail sometimes.
We planned three events last year to reach students. Two bombed, and one was a huge success. We did that successful event again this year, and students said that it is the best event we did all year. In order to fail, you will need to take risks. You will need to plan events into your calendar that might work, or you might lose a $1000.
Building into your ministry some room for failure is good. It means that you are trying some new things. It means that you and your team are trying to reach people in ways that you have never thought about before. When you get some successes make sure that you remember or write down those stories. When the board chair or lead pastor asks you questions about why this event was a failure, share a story about a risky event that was a success. It’s easier to sell why you need a few extra dollars in your budget when you failed big if you have a story.
Failing will hurt. There is no way around it. If you are getting your identity and fulfillment in your work as a youth pastor and you fail it will hurt. It will show you what matters most. Is it really reaching students or is it about building your kingdom?
Last year, we had two event that lost about 20% of our budget. Yikes! It helped us know what our mission was. It isn’t just about doing cool things with students. For us, it’s about reaching unchurched students. Students that have never stepped in a church building. It helped us have a conversation about what our student leaders friends would actually come to. It hurt us as leaders, but it really helped all of us clarify our mission together.
Failing will push you and your ministry to another level. It will push you as a leader. It will push your ministry, and it will help you stay on mission. If you want to build an awesome ministry you will need to embrace that failure needs to happen, you will need to build it into your ministry, and you need to understand that it will hurt, but you will recover from it.