Failure as Speed Dating
Job interviews can be nerve-wracking: We sit down with strangers and let them ask us questions for 30 minutes. We put a lot of weight on that one moment, letting it define us. If we get the job, we win. If we don’t, we consider it a fail. We put too much pressure on ourselves to get an amazing job, have the perfect marriage, the best youth ministry, the perfect life.
Although I’ve never tried speed dating, the goal—as I understand it—is to meet as many people as possible. Speed daters have short interviews to see who they connect with. In this system, there’s no failure. Speed daters know going in that they’ll meet 10 people and that it’s possible—but not guaranteed—that they’ll meet someone who’s a good match. There’s no pressure to be perfect.
In many ways, life is one long speed-dating interview. We sit down with life, and sometimes the interview goes well—other times it just sucks. We can’t put a ton of stock in one moment, one job, or one person. The good new is that if we do fail, there will be another possibility for success ahead.
Think of it this way…
You have 45-50 times a year to crush a youth group talk. If you flop at one or two, so what? You can improve and crush the next one.
You have 24-30 small group teaching times between Sunday school and other Bible study opportunities. So what if there’s some inconsistency with students’ attendance? So what if the material stinks? You have time to change it, get better, or build it up.
If you do one special activity a month, you have 12 for the year. If a third of them flop, you still have eight successes. You can learn from the flops, plan more effectively for next time, and do the event again.
The bigger the canvas, the more failures you can survive and learn from. If you’re painting the Mona Lisa on the back of a napkin, your margin of error is small.
Marriage, parenting, and relationships all have small margins of error, but if you’re planning to be married for 50 years, you know you’re going to make some mistakes and have some fails—it’s the law of averages. If you’re planning to be married for only one day, you better get that one day right.
Ministry is the same way.
I’ve been in youth ministry for more than 25 years. I’ve made tons of mistakes. I almost ended my career over a perceived failure, but I jumped back in because I didn’t want to allow my life to be defined by one event. Stay in ministry long enough, and you will fail from time to time, but you will also experiences success.
If you plan on living a long time, failure is just part of life. But you’ll also have a ton of opportunities to succeed. Like with speed dating, you’ll sit down with these opportunities, chat for a while, and see if things will work out. If it’s clear that something won’t work out, take a deep breath, and move on to the next thing.
God fills our lives with all kinds of opportunities—more than we can count. We have to be grateful for every one of them, including the ones we fail at, because they teach us to love and relish our moments of success.
PAUL TURNER is a long-time youth worker, speaker, and blogger of all things youth ministry. He’s the youth pastor at Pleasant Grove Assembly in Birmingham, AL and writes regularly at THEDISCIPLEPROJECT.NET.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.