If you haven’t figured it out yet let me encourage you to see something that will greatly help you. Not all of your ideas are good. Some of them are bad. And God will often let you flail and fail out there for very good purposes. And when you fail do not lose the opportunity to find grace in the midst of it.
I believe this is especially important for pastors to understand. It’s one of the most important lessons I have learned in 16 years of pastoral ministry: failure is to be expected and learned from. I have misspoke, misstepped, and missed the mark in more ways than I can explain here. And failing hurts. Most of us of are afraid of it. Leaders in particular are afraid of failure since it’s always a bit more of a public spectacle.
I’m not talking about moral failure that disqualifies someone from the ministry, but ministerial failure. It may sometimes involve sin, but more often it’s poor judgment or simply the bad execution of an idea. And while we must always take ownership for our failures, we don’t have to be defeated by them. In fact, I have found that there is much grace to be found in failure if I will seek the Lord through it.
Four Ways to Find God’s Grace in Our Failures
Our failures remind us that we are not the Savior
When we fail it is a painful and helpful reminder that we are not God. This should be an obvious truth to us all, but in leading we sometimes begin to think that we can do it all. It is tempting to believe that only we can do “it,” whatever it is. But our failure can be a means by which we are reminded that we not only need God to go before us and give us success, but also that we need saving even from our best efforts in ministry. We are weak and frail, yet called to serve and lead others. Failure helps us to see this tension and return to and rely on the grace of God for all we need in life and ministry.
Our failures teach us humility
Humility is not a natural character train in us. We are born proud sinners who boast in ourselves and our plans. Humility, on the other hand, is something that God must develop in us. It is grown by the grace of God, and often cultivated through failure. For even when we fail God is at work. We might not have accomplished what we wanted to, or even what God has called us to, but he uses such circumstances to make us more dependent on him, less dependent on ourselves. He helps us to see our smallness in contrast to his greatness and in this the grace of God shines brightly. He loves us anyway. He will use us in spite of ourselves. Here humility grows.
Our failures encourage us to be learners
This is very important for leaders–to remain teachable. When looking for leaders and future church planters in our church humility and teachability are indispensable. Success can breed pride. It’s doesn’t have to, but it often does. Failure, though, reminds us we have much to learn. It orients us to seek wisdom and help from God and those he has placed around us.
Our failures are used by God to show a better way
Whenever I am asked about what I have learned in church planting and pastoral ministry I always explain that at least 50% of what I know I learned through making mistakes. I have often done things wrong before I’ve done things right. But this is the grace of failure. We can see very clearly, painfully clearly, that there are things to avoid, fight against, prepare for, and die over. And there are other things worth letting go. Failure always shows us there is a better way.
We will fail. A lot. But God will use all of it for his glory and our good if we are willing to find his grace in our failure.
Joe Thorn is Lead Pastor of Redeemer Fellowship in St. Charles, IL and blogs at joethorn.net. His book, Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself, was released through Crossway/ReLit. You can follow him on Twitter @joethorn.