Failure is going to happen. It is inevitable even for the best people, the best workers, and the best leaders. No major league hitter will bat perfectly. No professional football receiver will catch every ball. No engineer will design perfectly each time. No plant worker will do car assembly perfect each time.
No leader will get it right every time.
We all know failure to be a reality so the only question we are left with is: “How will I handle it?” If you are a church leader, it is particularly important for you. The mission has been set before you as the marching orders of the church and it is huge. We are to carry the whole gospel to the whole world in order to make people whole again. For this mission, the ultimate in failure means that people are lost forever. Keeping focus is a non-negotiable.
Unlike every ball club, engineering firm, and assembly plant, the church has the promise from God that nothing can stand in her way because He is her King. Therefore, we know that ultimately, He will not fail in His mission. However, along the way, we know from everyday experience that we will fail in the carrying out of His mission. So, as leaders in the church, we need to know what to do when there has been a failure in participating in God’s mission for us. Here are three ideas to help you.
Know what to say. The Christian life is one of truth and words. Certainly, it is a life of work as well. The mission cannot be accomplished unless we are out there doing it. When it comes to leadership, what comes out of your mouth at the moment of failure first will set the tone for the moment and the near future. Our first impulse should be to acknowledge the failure. In the church, we are to be a confessional people. Yet, as humans, we hate to admit our flaws. Leaders must be willing to lead even in this practice. I will be forever puzzled as to why we try to obscure reality with a “cheer-up everybody” sermon. Instead, we need to point to Jesus the King, His mission that will not fail, our opportunity to participate, our personal and corporate failure, and then our commitment to reengage. In other words, when failure happens, leaders need to say what is true. It builds trust and emboldens people for the next step.
Know what not to say. The disposition of a leader can be a cage from which you must often escape. It can lead you to be unrealistically hopeful or unrealistically sour. Either attitude can cause you to say something that is untrue and harmful. Leaders in the church must not lead by the force of their personality but by the mandate of the gospel. When failure occurs, do not say what is your personal opinion about it all. If you give in to that temptation, then your personality type will take over and people will be hurt. They can be hurt by a lack of accountability because you want everyone to be unrealistically optimistic about the failure. They can be hurt because you are mad/sad/depressed and want everyone to join in with your misery. By sticking to the truth of the circumstances with an eye toward eternity, we can hold one another tightly to the Scriptures and allow wisdom to win the day.
Know what to do next. After failure, your next move is critical. My counsel is to keep moving. When failure happens, it does not mean that everything must come to a grinding halt. Assess the problem as you are moving to the next step of the mission. Life on the planet is not going to take a momentary pause while your church determines what just happened. Our mission is ongoing and so we must be also. As a leader, you must learn how to evaluate with other leaders while you maintain the pace of ministry. Sure, there will be times that you need to completely stop everyone for honest confession of sin and/or failure but ministry must not cease because your community needs what we have. So, keep lifting up the gospel because it will provide enough grace for everyone. By doing so, it frees you to: Admit the failure. Point to the mission again. Tell them the next step for your church. Start doing it.