No one’s life is an unbroken chain of victories. We all experience setbacks, defeats, losses and failures. Consider the example of baseball—not even the greatest of players bats 1,000%. The same is true in ministry—we all make mistakes, even as we seek to serve God.
Since failure is something every one of us will, at some time, experience, one of the most important skills you can acquire is the ability to respond to it in a godly fashion. It has been my observation that successful ministers know how to turn every failure into a learning experience—creating a stepping stone for future success.
The first thing to do when you’re faced with any failure is to analyze why it happened. Although there may be a variety of reasons—many out of your control—here are five common causes of failure:
When you don’t plan ahead
As the old saying goes, “If you fail to plan, then you’re planning to fail.” Proverbs 27:12 says, “A sensible man watches for problems ahead and prepares to meet them” (LB). Moving your church toward greater growth and health requires a lot of planning. You not only need to plan how to attract new people to your church, but also what you’re going to do with them once they arrive: Are there enough seats to accommodate visitors? Is there adequate and safe childcare? How will they get plugged into a small group Bible study? Remember, Noah began building the Ark long before it started to rain!
When you think you’ve “arrived”
Remember the lesson of the whale: Just when you get to the top, and you start to blow—that’s when you get harpooned! Proverbs 18:18 says, “Pride leads to destruction and arrogance to downfall” (TEV). My friend John Maxwell once said, “When Jesus walked through New Testament times, people had trouble seeing him as God; when some pastors walk through their churches, people have trouble seeing them as human.”
When you’re afraid to take necessary risks
The fear of failure can cause failure. We worry about what others will think of us if we fail, so we don’t even try. Fran Tarkenton says, “Fear sets you up to be a loser.” We fail to take advantage of golden opportunities. “Fear of man is a dangerous trap,” according to Proverbs 29:25 (LB). One way I encourage my staff to try new things is I tell them they are allowed to make one mistake a week, as long as it’s not the same mistake over and over!