I am going to be a little open, honest, and self-revealing here.
The idea of failure is something that I struggle with. I realize that I am merely human and that failure, from time to time, is always going to be inevitable. But failure is something that, for some reason, is something that I have never wanted to be associated with. I think that I would like to believe that I am above failure. Perhaps this is only my own pride shining through but, for me, failure is just not an option.
Yet, obviously, failure happens — even to me. I am not above it and I cannot always avoid it.
About nine month ago now, my wife and I moved to a tiny town in eastern Oregon known as Vale. The purpose of our move was to pastor a small church of about 10 people. This was my first assignment. Within a year’s time I graduated college, got married, and ended up in my first pastorate. The transitions in life were coming hard and fast and I was just trying to hold on. Of course, I had no intention of failing.
The goal for this church, from the beginning, has been to bring it back to a healthy and stable place. It was not always as small as it has been but various factors resulted in some difficult times. I had hoped to be able to come in here and bring new life to a church that desperately needed it; however, I have learned very quickly that this is not a very easy thing to do. Nine months out from the move and not only has our congregation been unable to grow, it has shrunk.
A couple of weeks ago, I prayed before the service for God to give me a glimpse of what He has in store for the future of our church. I just prayed for a glimpse. On that Sunday, we had the smallest attendance of any week since I had been there. I do not think that anyone saw me, but as we sang the words to “Shout to the Lord’, I could hardly sing a note and I just there crying. Feelings of failure just overwhelmed me and I felt completely defeated. Somehow, I made it through the service with composure but I finally broke down in tears once I was back home with my wife. I told her, “I know it’s probably not true, but I feel like I’ve come in here with all that I have but I’ve failed”.
I have learned that sometimes failure catches up to you and it does not care whether or not you have considered it to be an option but it is going to overwhelm and consume you until you realize that you are not immortal regardless of what your pride tells you. Failure is always an option whether you, I, or anyone else wants it to be. I have had to learn this the hard way.
So, there I was. I had given it my best effort, but, obviously I had failed. What next?
Well, I am still working for the church and we have not missed a Sunday yet. Our attendance is not up (we have actually had a couple of Sundays with even lower attendance since). But my outlook is very different today than it was when I fist arrived in Vale because I am learning to live beyond the failure.
As humans, we will always experience failure. Not every moment in our life is going to be a success or an achievement. So, we have to decide whether or not we are going to allow ourselves to be defined by our failure or be defined by something greater.
The day after “Failure Sunday”, I spent about an hour or two in the church in prayer just asking God what He wanted from me. I spent most of the time just sprawled on the floor in front of the alter asking if God was done with me — He made it clear that He was not. But, finally, I was where I needed to be: face down before God. Over the next few days, I began to realize that there never was any way that I could “grow” the church. I could read 100 books about church growth and try all the ideas of this and that but the only way that the church would grow is if, in fervent prayer, we gave control up to God.
Living beyond failure is learning to first depend upon God and leave the results up to Him. Yes, I will work as hard as I can to be His hands and feet but, at the end of the day, it is not about me and it certainly is not depending on me. It is not about my pride or my fear of failure. It is about giving up control to God.
Since that Sunday, I have challenged myself and everyone in our congregation to find two hours over the course of the week to pray for our church. This is where it has to start. And let me tell you, I believe that our greatest days are ahead of us. I say this not because I believe that I cannot fail (I most certainly can) but because I do not believe God makes mistakes and it is more clear now than ever that this is where God has called me to be. We have exciting things planned for the next couple of months and I am blessed to see where God is going to take us beyond the failure.