No leader enjoys the notion of failure. In the split categories of good and evil, failure is considered evil, success is considered good. Just thinking about certain failures in my own life brings back emotions that stir the depths of my being. Why? Because failure in front of those we live, play, and work with is embarrassing. It just plain hurts.
But we all fail. And some of us are persistent failures. It happens, it is how humans learn, and how we deal with it makes all the difference.
A while back I was not a Youth Director, but rather, I was a Youth Ministry Assistant. In gradations of youth ministry scales, that is just above an intern, and just below a director. You’re supposed to know a few things about youth ministry because you’ve already been an intern and now you are set loose to discover freedom with a few oodles of responsibility.
Upon being hired and oriented, I was given the reigns to a very important ministry in the youth group: the Friday night outreach program. The youth director told me that I had the freedom to brainstorm, propose, and implement the program with hopes that I would be successful in creating a space that community youth would like to come. The guidelines were that it would involve food, music, fun, and some form of evangelism.
Given freedom, I was terrified. When someone is in charge of you and gives you orders, you can always blame the orders or the one giving the orders for failure. Freedom changes that. I had to take responsibility for what would be implemented and I would be making a culture all by myself. In charge of the programs destiny, I began to worry. What if my ideas were not received well?
I tossed and turned during the nights, and wrote up drafts and proposals for the program and presented what I had come up with. It was very practical. We had been moving into a new building with a gym, a game room with pool tables and ping pong, and we had a stage in a gathering area with a nice sound board. So I decided that each week I would bring in a local band. We would start the night off with a big game in the gym that would bring everyone together, and those who didn’t want to listen to the band could hang out in the game room. It seemed simple, and so I presented the whole shebang with schedule from band load in to sound check to a quick devotion and the night would end. The presentation was well received and I was given the go.
And I was terrified.
As I thought through my simple plan I realized that there were many moving parts. (1) I had to bring a team of volunteers along to get used to a new building and a new program culture. (2) I would have to email and call and MySpace about 15 bands in order to fill in every Friday night for a season. (3) I would need a sound tech to work with several servant oriented people to help get the bands in and ready. (4) Amidst the hubbub, I would be giving a short devotion, a reflection, or a scripture verse. And (5) I would have to build relationships as the host to all the students coming through the doors and ensure that they were connected to each other and to leaders in a positive way. Lastly (6) I would have to get the gym game up and running. Oh, and I forgot to mention (7) I would be self conscious of my evaluation from my director.
Thinking through all the moving parts made me more nervous than ever, and as the first date got closer I became somewhat paralyzed. There was a point while I was searching for bands, in which I did not know if I wanted to move forward. I knew I would, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to. But I thought about how I felt and the notion of failure continued to weigh on me.
In passing with my director I decided to let him know how I felt. I told him that there was a lot to get going and I wasn’t sure of the excellence of everything that needed to come together. Time was going by and not all the t’s were crossed, nor all the i’s dotted.
I’ll always remember how he responded. He said, “Don’t be afraid to fail.” It was simple. He told me that I was allowed to try, and if it failed, then it failed. What was I going to do? Permission to fail! I couldn’t believe it. Suddenly I felt much better. Being a perfectionist that often falls short of my own expectations, I realized that the possibility of failure should not stop someone from doing something that needs to be done. So I went ahead and booted up the program.
After four years with spits and spurts of growth pains, and with the perspective and help of a new Youth Pastor to work with midstream, I would say that the program got to where I wanted it to be. But it took many failures and people still believing in me to get it right. In the end, students were getting connected, leaders were doing relationship evangelism, student leaders had developed, I scrapped the band every night idea (allowing it to be special when a band did come) and added video games and music from an iPod set list, and the gym games continued to be popular. The program grew, and new elements added either failed or succeeded. Even after leaving, that program continues to minister to students.
If only I had listened to Christ’s words on the Mount:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? -Matthew 6:25-27
All ministries are a risky venture. Many of us will fail, but the weight is not squarely on our shoulders. The spirit of God is looking out for us when we are trying to do good for Him. Trusting, obeying, and in that, not worrying too much about failure is a part of serving God. He is greater than us and takes us to places and builds things we cannot imagine. Fear and trembling at anything other than God will paralyze you and you cannot do the work you are called to do in a state of paralysis. Just start doing what God is calling you to do. Persevere, and you will find something valuable at the end of the road.