When You Fail in Ministry

Jacob Eckeberger
November 28th, 2017

I wouldn’t say anyone really enjoys failure. I have had just a few epic fails in my life and my ministry over the years. Just this past weekend for example, while I wouldn’t go as far as epic…it wasn’t a shining moment in my career either.

And while I may not enjoy failure, more often than not, I do thrive FROM it. My mistakes are my greatest lessons. I do/don’t do certain things in my ministry more because of things I did wrong than because of things I did right.

Now I am not advocating that we all go out and blow up our ministry (theoretically speaking) to kingdom come this Sunday. I am advocating for giving ourselves a little grace and a lot of space to be human and learn from our mistakes.

Here are some tips I have gleaned over the years about learning from one’s mistakes that you might find helpful.

  • If one of your teens has a complaint about something – listen, empathize and even apologize if necessary. But when you get to the point of groveling (which I have done) or when you won’t allow any leeway for grace toward yourself (which I have done even more) you have gone too far.
  • When you feel you have done something wrong, step back and discern whether it was a human mistake/error or a sin. There is a vast difference between the two and how you would then handle the situation. When my Mom pointed this difference out to me years ago, I found I was labeling most of my mistakes as sin – which allows ZERO room for grace. Put down the whip and pick up the Neosporin. Beating yourself up is only wearing you out and no one else.
  • When you are criticized, take in the information as just that – information. Sift through it and find the gem or two that is helpful and trash the rest!
  • When you fail, epic or otherwise, actually take the time to think through why it might have happened that way. Sometimes you might have an answer and sometimes not. Either way, allow yourself time to process it. However, don’t stay there! Once processed, don’t keep re-living. Push yourself to move on.
  • Remember that even when you think you fail – you might have done just the opposite. I remember one lesson I thought bombed and that was the lesson a kid come up afterward (which NEVER happens) and talked about what a great lesson that was (were we at the same meeting?!). Give the Spirit credit to do what He does best – fix our bumblings.
  • Going off the last one, something my Dad said that really helped me when making mistakes, relates to the Holy Spirit again. I truly believe there is what I term, “holy space” between what we sing/say/do (when we are well-intentioned yet fallible) and what the audience receives. We may do/say one thing and the Spirit “changes” it in the between “holy space” so the audience hears what they need to hear.

Failure is part of life and one of life’s greatest classrooms if we let it be that for us. But part of failure is allowing for grace and peace to follow right behind and not live in the failure. But instead let’s use it to better our life and ministry, which only glorifies God all the more as it would be His strength coming through our failure.

Sarah Vanderaa is currently serving as a full-time youth director in a church located in the south suburbs of Chicago. She is currently in her 11th season and is excited to see what the year will bring. On her rest days, she can often be found behind a computer writing and updating her blog, while drinking lots and lots of coffee. In between naps, she still finds time to read novels. You can connect with Sarah through her blog at UNLOCKANDRELEASE.TUMBLR.COM or her Facebook page @UNLOCKANDRELEASE

Jacob Eckeberger

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