- The outreach didn’t work. You’re a failure.
- The meeting bombed. You’re a loser.
- That talk you gave was flat. You should quit teaching.
- Your team lost because you called the wrong play. It’s all your fault.
- Your outreach didn’t reach anyone.
- Your volunteer meeting was not good.
- Your talk left plenty of room for improvement in your teaching technique.
- You did call the wrong play, and it did cost your team the game.
I once dropped a $5,000 projector from a ceiling onto a concrete floor when getting it down to take to summer camp. Let’s just say that projector had a lot in common with Humpty Dumpty.
Speaking of summer camp, I left a teenager there once. Oh, he got on the bus. But then he got off the bus to go to the bathroom. We left him three hours from home. It was long before the days of cell phones where he would have called a friend to alert us. So I just drove the bus home. Never knew he wasn’t on it until we got back and then had to send his parents 30 minutes away to get him from the people at the other church from our camp who had found him and brought him home for us. Awesome.
In the past 19 years of full time youth ministry, I’ve amassed plenty more failure stories than those two and discovered that if we want to have any kind of longevity in ministry, we can’t limit the word success to only those things we think went well. Success is not only about an event that goes right. Sure, that’s a form of success—but not if that means you’re done or that if it didn’t go well, you’re a failure. It’s about a much bigger and much larger goal.
This is because my ultimate goal is not to plan great talks and perfect retreats, even though they’re helpful. I want success, but if the ultimate goal I have is a God-sized goal where students follow Jesus for a lifetime, then it’s not going to happen in one event or meeting. To that end, as I pursue that goal... I should expect some failures, setbacks, and even legitimate criticism along the way. But if you put a “period” after every experience, this will kill you. We need to accept the fact that a failed talk, a bad decision, or an event we deem a flop does not mean we’re a failure. It means we have some things to learn and now we can be wiser for it.
What we need to all remember as parents, leaders, teachers, pastors, coaches, and coworkers is this: success is not a goal we worship; it is a process we embrace.
So as we look to that process to bring us to our goal, our critics will come and go-- even in the mirror—and because it’s not all on the line all the time, it won’t be the end of us.
[this was a little teaser taken from my upcoming book: "Criticism Bites" available in March 2013. If you found this post encouraging, you might find the book helpful too. Keep checking back. I'll post some links when you can download or grab the print copy.]