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A New Kind Of Failure

For a year and a half, I worked as a youth intern providing administrative support for our church’s youth pastor. During my second summer as an intern, my youth pastor got married. Our church was very generous with the amount of time they offered him for his honeymoon vacation. That, combined with all of the trips that summer brings to the life of a youth group, meant he would be gone for a majority of the summer, leaving me in charge of young adult ministry (The Gathering)—a thought that petrified me from day one. At the age of 23, I had never run a ministry on my own and thought, “What in the world am I going to do with 30 young adults?”

My youth pastor and I had just finished reading Brian McLaren’s book A New Kind of Christian, and we thought it might be an interesting book to take the group through. He was confident that I had a good grasp on the book’s concepts, and had faith that I could manage guiding small groups and their leader. He had such strong confidence that I too began to gain a little confidence.

The summer started out in pretty good shape. I worked with six other leaders who were enthusiastic, reading the material and excited for the months ahead.

We decided the groups would be chosen via random selection, which was our first mistake. Somehow, all the outspoken people were in one group, the non-talkers in another and the socializers in the third. Accomplishing anything in these poorly setup groups was near impossible. As the weeks progressed, things turned ugly. Eventually my leaders stopped reading the material, as well as the handouts I gave them on a weekly basis. Members of the small groups slowly became restless and more and more disinterested in the material. Complaining abounded, and the groups began to diminish. I slowly lost momentum as well. I found myself falling behind in getting the handouts to my leaders and slowly losing steam while facilitating group discussions. Every ounce of confidence I had was gone and seemed lost forever at the statement, “This is the worst summer the Gathering has ever had.”

I felt like a complete and utter failure. My heart ached for our group to challenge and encourage one another. The only encouragement they were providing each other was that our pastor would soon be back and things would be back to normal. Not only were my peers dissatisfied, but when my youth pastor returned, I feared he’d have to spend a lot of time undoing the damage I had done. I had failed my friends, I had failed my pastor, and I had failed God. Instead of reading A New Kind of Christian, I felt like I was living a new kind of failure.

As I think about that summer, I am reminded of the story about the night where Jesus was walking on the water to meet His disciples. In the NIV version of Matthew it says, “Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said. ‘Why did you doubt?’”

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I was always taught this story as if Jesus had said, “Why did you doubt ME?” One of my favorite teachers of the word once offered a flip-side perspective. What if Jesus was asking Peter why he doubted himself? Peter cried out to Jesus, knowing He would save him. What Peter didn’t believe was that through Jesus, he could accomplish anything—even walking on water. Peter took a chance, but when he saw the temper of the storm, he became afraid. Losing faith that he would make it, his feet began to sink. He failed to see himself as Jesus saw him—a man who, through Jesus, had tremendous abilities, if only he believed.

Looking back, I realize I didn’t fail because I wasn’t capable. My failure was to recognize the abilities God had given me and the work He could do through me. As I continue to experience the victories and failures of ministry, I yearn for more opportunities to walk out to Jesus amidst the storm. My hope is that each time, I make it out a little further until finally my feet don’t sink.

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