In a previous article I started to look at the question of failure. Here I want to offer x good reasons for why we as believers and particularly church leaders should embrace failure. What happens if we refuse to encounter failure?
First, if I don’t embrace the reality of failure then I am unlikely to be bold in my ministry. I will become risk adverse. It is much easier to sit back and to give reasons why something won’t work than to try and make it work. I think this fear of failure is one of the reasons why we are not seeing as much gospel mission into hard to reach areas as we desperately need. It is easier to be pragmatic and to plant a church in an area where we know we can take 20 people with us and are confident of a church of 60-80 within five years than to start a work in an area where I can’t guarantee that people will come with me and where there’s a good chance that in 30 years it will still just be me there.
Secondly, we are unlikely to support gospel ventures unless there is guaranteed success. A lot of funding models from those with resources assume rapid success. You can expect funding to be tapered off over a couple of years until it ends. Potential planters find themselves pitcing to would be investors like they are on the Apprentice or Dragon’s Den. The investors are looking for a guaranteed return on investment. The risk then is that support never goes to the neediest of areas. There is also the risk that people start to spin the results. Suddenly a Christian union at a school counts as a plant, 4 or 5 homegroups are a network and before we know it we are talking about a movement.
Thirdly, we don’t actually know how and when to stop. There are two sides to this. On the one hand, a fear of being a failure may cause me to quite when I don’t see the results instead of persevering faithfully. On the other hand, sometimes the fear that stopping amounts to admitting failure causes me to keep going. There we were with our ActBC initiative encouraging multiplication. There we were as a church with the temptation to compare ourselves to other churches. We had gone from one Sunday morning service to 4 services across the day and one on a Saturday night. That sounded good on our website and when talking to others. Stopping one of them would have felt like a backword step, a sign of weakness and failure. However, stopping it mean that God could open up new doors. Yet, over the years I’ve had conversations with people about ministries that clearly were not bearing fruit, were exhausting people and were preventing them from engaging with other opportunities. I’ve encouraged them to evaluate but they have not even been willing to consider stopping as an option. To stop would be to fail and we don’t fail.
Fourthly, if I do not embrace failure, then I may lose out on truly enjoying God’s grace. I am likely to evaluate myself before God in terms of how I am doing, my success , my usefulness to him and my reputation with others. When I embrace failure, I recognise that I am completely dependent on God and that his love for me is in no way dependent upon my gifts, abilities or success rate.
Knowing that failure is possible and that it is okay frees me up completely to enjoy God’s grace in my life.
Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace:
Foul, I to the fountain fly,
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
 Rock of Ages Cleft For Me, Augustus Toplady