One of the best teachers I ever had began the first class of each semester with a confession of how he had been fired from his last job.
There was something about that opening confession that set the whole class up to succeed. In fact a majority of his students did very well.
One time his students’ success brought him into question before the academic dean. The dean felt sure he was making exams too easy for his students. My prof brought a copy of his final exam and challenged the dean to pass it. The dean declined and dropped his concerns.
A few months ago I came across a post entitled “The 13 Biggest Failures from Successful Entrepreneurs and What They’ve Learned from Them”. These are not light-hearted confessions about failing to show up to work on time or missing project deadlines. I was struck by some of the “black-eye” confessions of wasting money and letting growth exceed the ability to lead.
I have worked in churches for over 18 years and I’ve rarely heard a pastor confess a leadership failure unless it was attached to moral failure. I certainly haven’t heard confessions from 13 prominent pastors.
This is unfortunate since so much more is learned from failure than success. To quote a line from Bill Gates,”It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”
Here are a few reasons why the church would benefit from a pastor’s confession:
People are impressed with success but they connect with failure.
When my college-prof opened class with a confession, he suddenly became human in our eyes.
Pastors often seem like spiritual super-heros, an impression that’s not healthy. People need to see a pastor’s humanness. Let them know specific ways in which you have failed. We know specific failures of the Apostles: Peter’s denial, Thomas’ doubting, Paul’s abandonment of Mark. Those failures help us identify with their humanity.
People are prone to imitate success and avoid failure.
Instinctively when we hear of someone’s success we wonder how can I do that? But when we hear of someone’s failure we think how can I avoid that?
I’ve talked with many people who were discouraged by the apparent success of pastors. Not because they wanted pastors to fail, but because they couldn’t copy the same success.
The truth is imitating the success of others is always more illusive than avoiding your own failure.
I may not be able to imitate the success of some husbands, but I can avoid the failure of being an unfaithful husband.
People believe there is a secret to success and a “no-duh” to failure.
How many books have been sold offering the inside track on a person’s success. Success sells because we believe there is a “secret formula.” We think anybody can fail, so it’s hard to sell books filled with “no-duh” revelations.
Pastor’s need to offer a more complex confession of failure. Failure is not always due to a simple cause and effect.
- Failure is often complicated. When a marriage crumbles simple answers don’t always reflect the cause of divorce.
- Failure is sometimes inevitable. Businesses filled with hard working, dedicated people fail every year. It’s not someone’s fault that markets change and technologies become outdated.
An over playing of successes and a negligence of failure is what fills churches with people who are judgmental about the faults of others while dismissive of their own. If only pastors were as honest about their failures as some entrepreneurs, then perhaps churches would become places where the secret is out that failure is a part of success.