Sitting in the church parking lot, I glance at my time on my cell phone . . . again. The rental van is gassed up, tickets are purchased, and I am ready to take eight students and one volunteer to a basketball game. The volunteer has already arrived. The students were supposed to be there at 5 p.m. They never show.
Any youth worker who has been in ministry longer than five seconds has experienced failure. Whether it is an ill-advised prank, a goofed word during a message, or something more serious, failure is a part of life in ministry. Failure is a part of life, although it is usually frowned on by a results-driven culture. In ministry, we always strive for success: high numbers, great volunteers, growing budget, flashy programs. Yet every ministry has its ups and downs, its successes and failures.
Rather than repressing those painful experiences, as student pastors we should not only learn to embrace failure, but also learn from it. Our mishaps and mistakes are a valuable learning tool, especially in ministry. A professor of mine told me, “I hope you are not cursed by success, but rather blessed by failure.” He realized the importance of failure as a learning experience, a chance to improve.
Here are four ways to embrace failure:
Learn what NOT to do.
Youth Ministry is an art, not a science. Some techniques work, and some do not. An awesome youth event in one church may utterly fail in the next. The same event may work during one season with your group, but not connect with a new crop of students. Ministry is dependent on context, and the best person to know your students’ context is you. Every failure is an opportunity to learn more about your students. When asked about his repeated failures in developing the incandescent light bulb, Thomas Edison replied “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Was the event something the students didn’t like in the first place? Did the event’s purpose line up with your ministry’s purpose? Make sure events serve a purpose in your ministry–and not just to make you happy.
Prepare for the Future.
Every day is a new learning experience. Some days may seem like monotony, while others are downright dreadful. Yet every single day in ministry is one more day God has to mold you into His servant. The lessons you learn now may not help in this season of your ministry, but they will help later. They will also help those you mentor and train.
Dependence on God.
Ministry is not possible without relying on God. If ministry were all about us, we would be in trouble. Use failure to evaluate your relationship with God, and make sure He has prime position in your life. One professor also told me “It’s not about you, stupid.” I knew he was right about the second part, but I have been learning the first part. Ministry is not about me. It is all about Him. Failure helps me make sure it is all about Him.
Now when a program falls flat or students do not show for an event, do not be deterred by it. Embrace mistakes. Do not be discouraged, but be blessed by failures.