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Failing Forward- What helped me

When I was 21 years old I helped a church get started in Corpus Christi, TX. I was invited to join a group of high capacity leaders to launch this church in a Holiday Inn ballroom. It was a great and challenging period of my life.

My first meeting with our students was in the lobby of the hotel and I sat around a table with 4 middle/high school students. My budget for that year was next to non-existent. My salary was low and I didn't have insurance. I had a pre-law degree but no one cares about that when you're a Student Pastor at a fledgling church that meets in a Holiday Inn. So I cast vision and encouraged these students to invite their friends and off we went. Over the next 12-18 months we blew the doors off in terms of numerical growth. At our first year anniversary the church had 320 people show up and the youth department was a success. (I remember one staff meeting where I was told 70% of the church was connected somehow to our youth department through relatives of our kids). We were using the hotel's bar and dance floor for our services, I was preaching every week and learning leadership lessons. Well, I say I was learning but really I was doing a lot of failing.
Up to this point in my life I was successful at nearly everything I took on. Typically if I tried something I excelled at it. During my time in this youth ministry however I experienced a lot of failure. While our numbers were growing I found myself falling behind when it came to leadership, organization and follow-through. Balls would get dropped on a regular basis and the team of volunteer leaders (nearly all could be my parents) were often left picking up after me. Compound that with the fact that the leader I was serving under didn't take time to teach me but rather humiliate me in staff meetings and come down hard on me on a regular basis.

All of this ultimately became too much and I lost respect for my Senior Pastor. I asked a friend one day in McDonalds. "What do you do when you can no longer see your Pastor as a Pastor but simply a boss?" My friend said he wasn't sure. I ultimately came to the conclusion after much prayer that my new bride and I would move out of this situation and get closer to our families on the East Coast. I honored my Senior Pastor and I only spoke about our desire to be near family, not about my feelings of distrust for this Senior leader. I believe in honoring those in leadership so I modeled that at a time where I couldn't muster respect for the man but honor isn't tied to respect.
During that transition I felt like a complete failure. Here I was married with a beautiful new bride whom I was treating like garbage because I was so frustrated with my job performance. While on the outside everything looked great on the inside I was shaken to the core. To be honest I felt like a shadow of myself. I'd look in the mirror and think things like "This isn't me! I've never felt this beaten and broken. When I touch things they turn to gold. Life is turning to garbage."

Over the next few months I was blessed to find a great position in Virginia with a church and leadership structure that allowed me to grow. During that transition time I read several books that helped me. For the first time I read Doug Field's book "Purpose Driven Youth Ministry" which outlined a lot of what it takes to systematize a ministry to develop organization and purpose to each thing you do. To this point I was building my ministry off of a calendar, not a reason for existence or spiritual development. This was a big help to my ministry especially since the church I moved to was 100% a Purpose Driven Church. Even if you're not a PDC church I'd fully recommend that book to anyone who needs to get a framework for the 'whys' behind the 'whats' of ministry.
The second book I read was a book on marriage by Tommy Nelson called "The Book of Romance" from Song of Solomon. This book helped me refocus on my bride. As a young guy who was allowing ministry to take a front seat to my wife this book helped me refocus.

The third book I read during this transition time was possibly the most important for my own ability to recover emotionally. This book is called "Failing Forward" by John Maxwell. I highly recommend it for anyone feeling down on their recent performance. In this book Maxwell really gets into the concept that everyone fails and feels like a failure but you don't have to stay there. When you fall you can fall forward or backward. The book goes into detail about how to ensure that with each of your 'failures' you evaluate, grow, learn and move forward. Ultimately life will hit you with some failures.

You will make mistakes, you will slip and you will fall. The question isn't about whether or not life will happen to you, the question is really what will you do to fail forward? Make the most of your mistakes.

The promting for this post is because of a post I read today by John Maxwell (@johncmaxwell). He describes an account of a recent mistake that humiliated him and serves as a reminder to even him-- this great leader-- that he's human and can fail forward. Check out his post here.

To be honest I'm not sure why I decided to walk you through this period of my life. It's not a fun one. It doesn't show me in the best light. It brings up a period where I felt miserable and like a failure. I guess what I hope is that if you're going through a period of perceived failure that you will do what it takes to fail forward. I pray you will see yourself as a child of the King and that you will believe God's promises about his children. Take this period of time to get with God, ask Him to search your heart and take steps to make this moment a time of growth and not despair. When nearly 17% of the American workforce is without work, when many churches are struggling to pay bills and in the winter when weather doesn't provide us a 'pick me up' sometimes it's good to be reminded to keep moving forward, even if you fall forward to get there.

God is not through with you so learn what you can, dust yourself off and look forward to what God has in store for you just across the horizon.

posted by Tally Wilgis @ Saturday, January 30, 2010


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