The F Word

success_failureFail. 1. The opposite of success. 2. To be unsuccessful in achieving a goal. 3. To make a mistake. 4. To fall short. 5. To be deficient, lacking or insufficient.

I read a book review today (you can check it out here) that totally resonated with me, and I wanted to share it. Whilst it particularly addresses pastors, I also think it speaks to anyone who holds a position of leadership within the church.

Here are some quotes from the book made by pastors who have supposedly failed. My heart broke with each question because these same questions could have been asked by Tim or I at any point in time during our ten years in church leadership and ministry. In fact, some days I still ask myself these questions.

“I thought God had called me to plant this church. Why then did we have to shut our doors after only three years?” FAIL.

“I was at my breaking point.” FAIL

“I would have quit ministry forever, but I had no other employable skills.” FAIL

“False accusations were made against me and my family.” FAIL

“I’ve served my church for the past 27 years and I’ve grown that church from 150 to 24 people.”  FAIL

Each of these people asked the same question: “What do we do when we’ve failed?”

I think the question should be, does it really mean I have failed if I haven’t achieved success? Just look at the picture I have used for this blog. The opposite of success is always failure isn’t it?

Or is it?

What if “success” in the church was measured differently? Instead of measuring it by the three “B’s” – Buildings, Budgets and Bums-on-Seats – I measured success differently. The problem is, I’m not even sure I know the answer myself. How else do you measure success?

I think, sadly, the church we pastored had a tendency to slip into this “success” mentality towards the end of its ten year season.

You see, there was so much pressure to be successful. And that pressure was usually heaped on generously by other pastors – usually pastors of bigger churches. I would go to those mega church conferences and feel like a failure sitting beside someone who’s church was bigger. Because bigger equated with better. Didn’t it? I felt broken. Unsuccessful. Deficient. I felt like I fell short of some invisible mark. Mega churches, and mega church conferences have their place, don’t get me wrong, but they shouldn’t be the benchmark of Christian success.

That’s the premise of JR Blogg’s book “Fail” and why he began a conference called “Epic Fail”. Instead of pastors and Christian leaders talking about their successes (the three B’s), they could only speak of their failures – and then share how God showed up anyway in the midst of that failure! No speaker could be a pastor of a church larger than 200 people and there was to be no green room, t-shirts, lanyards or merchandise tables. Each conference ended with communion.

My friend reminded me today of church conferences where there were special invite-only VIP lounges. Over the years, as the conference had grown in size (and therefore by definition, was obviously a “success”), the conference even had V-VIP lounges!

It’s so wrong!

When will church leaders stop equating bums on seats with “success” and realise that whatever size the church is, it is a community of God’s people.

The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. . .The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God. (Eugene Peterson)

When we handed the church over to another church after Tim’s burnout and depression, it was easy to believe we had failed. That other church took on the responsibility of pastoring the people we had lovingly done life with, but rather than congratulate us on the “success” and achievements of the previous ten years, they instead declared they had planted the church and loudly proclaimed, “wow, look how it’s grown these last four years!” Success.

I hear the words and they cut deep, like a knife. I feel like I failed.

So today I dwell on that question I asked at the beginning. How else can I measure success?

The one word that comes to me is impact.

Making an impact isn’t just up to pastors and Christian leaders. It’s up to every one. As a wife, mother, friend, daughter, nurse, grand-daughter, author, sister, cousin, niece…whatever my “title”, I want to make an impact on those around me.

How will I do that? I will throw seeds on the ground and I will do whatever it takes to protect those seeds. I will plant seeds of life. Seeds of grace, forgiveness, kindness, mercy. Seeds of hope.

And I will measure in love.

It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that it is God that makes seeds grow.” (1 Corinthians 3:6).

God will never tell me “well done good and successful servant” if those seeds grow. But He will bless me for being faithful in the little things.

Today I’m reminded to never let success go to my head. And never let failure go to my heart. I will live for an audience of One. And I will measure success in love. (Seasons of Love, Rent)



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