Failing is inevitable in ministry. Every pastor or ministry leader feels inadequate at some point. Tim Keller says no matter what you do, your first 200 sermons will be terrible. Ed Stetzer said he struggled with feelings of inferiority his entire ministry. Scotty Smith admitted it wasn’t until he reached a breaking point at 50 years old that he got comfortable with his weakness.
This isn’t a unique struggle. Your missional impact feels stagnant; a member with lots of potential leaves; you underperformed last week. The temptation to quit grows the more you feel like a failure.
Whether you’re crushing it or barely hanging on, there’s no getting around that feeling that you’re not good enough to accomplish the task Jesus has given you. So if you’re going to finish your race well, you need to learn how to overcome inadequacy, perhaps even utilize it. Here are two suggestions that will help.
1. Embrace Strategic Failure
My friend Shane Shaddix says failure is so inevitable in ministry that churches should practice “strategic failure.” This means accepting that a church or a pastor can’t do everything well and strategically choosing what they will be bad at for a season.
At the beginning of our church plant, we strategically failed at kid’s ministry; it was just a rainbow cage in a corner—as if putting colors on a fence made it better. Our social media team was me, so we posted online once a month. The worship ministry was one guy with a guitar. These were all strategic failures because we had limited leaders and resources. We were willing to fail at some of the good stuff, so we didn’t fail at the essential stuff, like preaching the gospel, church membership, evangelism, etc.Failing in a particular area doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It means you have priorities. Click Para Twittear
The apostles strategically failed at caring for widows (Acts 6). Paul strategically failed to keep everyone on his team (Acts 15:36–41). Jesus strategically failed at keeping the big crowds (John 6:66). Even Marie Kondo, the famed cleaner who has sparked joy through books and shows on tidying up, is strategically failing right now at keeping her house clean because she has two little kids. Toddlers matter more than tidiness.
Failing in a particular area doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It means you have priorities. What areas are you willing to strategically fail in right now, so you can succeed in what matters most?
2. Go Back to the Gospel
I’ve felt inadequate in every season of church planting, from 10 people in a living room to a crowd of over 400 in the building we bought. There are so many things required of church planters—leading staff, communication, casting vision, fundraising, counseling, community outreach, finding real estate, etc. You may feel like you’re failing at most things, if not everything, you do. The way you handle that feeling of failure without quitting is by going back to where you started—the gospel.
Every pastor knows the gospel. But not every pastor lives in light of its truths. Peter knew and preached the gospel (to thousands!) but had to be reminded by the apostle Paul to get back to it (Gal. 2). It’s possible for us to know and preach the gospel yet not live in light of it—especially when it comes to our feelings of inferiority.May our lives be a living example of the gospel we proclaim. Weak men and women, unintimidated by failure, saved and used by a strong Savior. Click Para Twittear
The very starting point of our faith is embracing our failures and throwing ourselves completely on Christ’s mercy. The entire redemptive narrative of the Bible is person after person with significant flaws. From Gideon, who said, “I’m the weakest in my family.” To Paul, who said, “I’m the worst sinner.” We come from that redemptive history. And our weakness is a bleak backdrop illuminating Christ’s perfection.
Many church planters today are known for peacocking around the room. I’ve been in some green rooms and talked to some “big pastors.” It’s often the most bombastic pastors, the most inflated leaders, the ones who act like they have all the answers and no weaknesses, that are the most insecure. They’re loud and puffed up with knowledge, seeking to overcome their feelings of incompetence by making themselves look better than everyone else in the room. But this undercuts the very gospel we proclaim! We need to go back to the beginning.
Proclaim and Live the Gospel
The same gospel that saves us sustains us. Every day in ministry should begin with, “I’m not good enough, God. This isn’t good enough. I underperformed here. But thank you, Jesus, for loving me and using me amid my weaknesses.” People can walk away from your ministry seeing your strength or Jesus’s strength. Let’s show them his strength. May our lives be a living example of the gospel we proclaim. Weak men and women, unintimidated by failure, saved and used by a strong Savior.The great irony of embracing weakness in ministry is that it’s more effective. People would rather follow someone who is always real than someone who is always right. Click Para Twittear
The gospel frees us to fail because it’s only when we collapse into an admission that we’re not good enough that we are then saved. And the great irony of embracing weakness in ministry is that it’s more effective. People would rather follow someone who is always real than someone who is always right. There is more might in your ministry when people see you don’t have it all together, but you have a Savior who does. Our weakness is the perfect megaphone for Jesus’s strength.
So let’s fail to the glory of God.