Former Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino in a recent commencement address to graduates of the University of Pittsburgh said, “If you find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.”
How many of us find ourselves on a course that leads to oblivion? How many of us find ourselves in a status quo that is stifling and spirit depleting? Is the story of our lives one of mediocrity and lost potential, or one of adventure and opportunity?
What is the difference between a person who lives a life of God’s dreams and one who continues to grapple around in the dark? A key element is one’s capacity to own failure as central to one’s ethos of success. Yes, I said that failure is central to success. By failure, I am not talking about moral failures or ethical lapses. I am talking about failing to achieve an end or goal. If you do not have room in your theology for failure, you may find deep rooted disenchantment with God and with your community of faith.
Many of us carry the false belief that we cannot fail if God is with us. This is a half-truth. The Scriptures are clear that our future is secure in Jesus Christ, but this does not mean than our moment by moment walk will unfold without any setbacks or troubles. Moreover, too many Church leaders are stifled in their creativity and willingness to take risks for the sake of advancing the Gospel because of a fear of failure. The fear of failure leads to a life of mediocrity. Jesus did not call his disciples to a life without risk or to a mediocre existence. In Jesus’ own words, he called his disciples to a life of selfless mission: â€œIf anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and continually follow meâ€ (Matt 16:24). In essence Jesus is saying this: Die up front and follow me into the world on mission. Jesus will lead us to places where only dead men and women can go. If our capacity to live lives of faithful obedience to Jesus’ radical call is dependent on immediate tangible/visible success, we will be disappointed at the first sign of challenge, opposition, setback, or failure.
Rosalyn Carter has written, â€œIf you don’t accept failure as a possibility, you don’t set high goals, you don’t branch out, you don’t tryâ€”you don’t take the risk.â€ As missional leaders seeking to reach the 21st century world with the Gospel, we must embrace risk and the possibility of failure if we are to live as the unleashed people whom God created us to be. Think of the setbacks of Joseph (Gen 37-50), Moses, Peter (rebuked by Jesus, sank in the water, denied Jesus 3x, rebuked by Paul, etc), or Paul (read 2 Cor 6:3-10 and 11:16-29). Moreover consider our Lord Jesus himself - the setback of rejection by the people, arrest, and even death on the Cross preceded his Resurrection and Exaltation as LORD (Phil 2:9-11).
If God has called you to advance the kingdom, you will experience setbacks, even failures. Are you ready?
What is your definition of success in ministry?
What part does failure play in your understanding of success?
How would our communities of faith be different if we created an ethos of risk and failure instead of safety and predictability?
How would your life be different if you quit playing it safe and predictable in your “faith”?
Am I willing to learn to move through setbacks, mistakes, opposition, and failure in order to become the person that God desperately needs to serve as an ambassador to the world?
Â© 2008 Brian D. Russell