Learning from Failure

December 27th, 2016

We must allow teens to fail. Don’t do anything for a teen that they are capable of doing themselves otherwise you will make them emotionally immobilized, always relying on you and not on God.

Failure in the Bible

It is a Biblical principle that Jesus emphasized many times. When Peter asked if he could join Jesus in his walk on the water, Jesus encouraged him to jump right in! (Mathew 14:29). We don’t know exactly what happened next. Maybe Andrew yelled out “Watch out for the wave on the right, Pete!” But for some reason, Peter took his eyes off Jesus, got scared and began to sink. Jesus allowed Peter to learn through failure. Through his failure, he learned to keep his eyes on the Lord.

In the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), the father allowed his son to fail. The father knew the boy would waste his money in riotous living, but he also knew that some things can only be learned through failure. When the son came to his senses, the father was waiting with open arms.

Failure Isn’t Fatal

We need to teach teens that life is not a game with cheerleaders yelling, “Go, Christian, go!” but rather a battlefield. Better that teens fail in the youth group and succeed in the world than vice versa.

Failure is usually not fatal. I think too many times we are too quick to rescue the perishing instead of helping them learn how to swim.

It begins in the elementary years. When a child goes to school but forgets his lunch. What do we do as good parents? We bring them a lunch. Listen, it is a scientifically proven fact that it takes 71 days for a child to starve to death (I just made that up). But it takes a long time. That child is resourceful. They will figure something out. This is called weaning and it is not fun for the weaner or the weanee but we have to do it.

Working Through Pain Rather Than Removing It

We often overreact to pressure in a teen’s life. Especially pressure that is causing pain and we can relive it.  Instead of helping them work through the pain we too quickly try to remove them from it.

Jesus used this principle in developing His 12. After lecturing on the subject of faith, Jesus took his disciples out in a boat to face a humongous storm (Luke 8:22-25). The disciples panicked. Where was Jesus? He was asleep on the bottom of the boat. He knew what was happening. They woke Jesus up, yelling, “We are all going to drown!” (v.24). Jesus then calmed the sea and turning to them said, “Where is your faith?” (v. 25). It suddenly dawned on the disciples why they needed those lessons on how to have faith: They didn’t have any!

Too often we are so anxious to share our great wealth of knowledge with our teens in our group that we fail to help them see why they need the information.

I am thrilled with the increased interest in “stress camping” in recent years. It allows teens to stretch themselves in many areas and to rely on God in times of difficulty. Stress-camping principles can be used with bicycling, canoeing, rock climbing, repelling, solo camping, etc. An important part of the stress-camping experience is the time each individual spends with other group members, evaluating what occurred in her life during the experience—her victories and her defeats. These teens are allowed to fail and yet experience the loving response of the group.

What we can learn from the emperor moth

There is a story of a man who found the cocoon of an emperor moth. He took it home so that he could watch the moth come out of the cocoon. One day a small opening appeared. He sat and watched the moth for several hours as the moth struggled to force its body through that little hole. Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could and it could go no further. It just seemed to be stuck. Then the man in his kindness, decided to help the moth, so he took scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The moth then emerged easily.

But the moth had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. The man continued to watch the moth because he expected at any moment the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time. Neither happened! In fact, the little moth spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly.

What the man in his kindness and haste did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the moth to get through the tiny opening were God’s way of forcing fluid from the body into the wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.

Freedom and flight would only come after struggle. By depriving the moth of struggle, he deprived the moth of health. Sometimes the struggle is exactly what we need. If God went through life removing all the obstacles, He would cripple us.

Les Christie has been in paid youth ministry for 50 years. He chairs the youth ministry department at William Jessup University and has spoken at each NATIONAL YOUTH WORKERS CONVENTION for 37 years. He’s the author of seventeen books, including Best-Ever Games for Youth Ministry. Les has spoken in 19 countries and in every state but Alaska. Les loves God and kids and is a passionate, enthusiastic speaker.


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