My Favorite Mistakes of 2016

by | Jan 4, 2017 | Church Leadership

As each year ends, I like to look back at both my successes and misses. Both of them help me to adjust my trajectory moving forward.

I find that leaders must make some significant mistakes if they hope to make spiritual progress. I’m skeptical of the leader who doesn’t have a limp, or who are fearful of the whiplash that’d come from living transparently.

I like to share my mistakes with others, even to weave them into a weekend service message in the hope that others in my life will realize that sometimes their mistakes aren’t all that unusual. In fact, sometimes theirs are better and funnier than mine.

Here a few from this year to mull over:

Not enough margin for failure

I tend to see “margin” as the part of life that allows me to live in “balance,” but honestly I no longer believe in the concept of balance. That word comes from physical matters such as walking. If you record someone walking, then play it back in slow motion, it might surprise you just how unbalanced “balance” is.  Just as one leg comes to the end of its forward stride, it looks like we are about to fall forward. Then at the last second, the other leg comes forward. Step after step this is repeated, as we move forward.

In short, my thinking has been akin to “Either go for a win, or don’t try at all.”

To fail in ministry can sometimes bring finances stresses.

If you are the pastor of a church of any size and tick people off, for necessary reasons or not, chances are some will withdraw their financial support. We have to do what we have to do. Just make sure you must do it and the call to change comes out of necessity, not your personal anger.

Most of the heroes of the faith in Scripture went through large trials.  The trials weren’t as much a surprise as their source – sometimes from God alone, but often they brought most of it on themselves.

Without their failures and some of the suffering from it, I’m not sure we’d have the famous “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews chapter 11.

Didn’t move continue moving forward

If you are a leader you may have been told in one way or another that you’ve been too wild and dangerous. Some of those who look up to us want an absolute guarantee that they will not be challenged with possible failure. If you model by testing others, you will make some feel uncomfortable. Without saying a thing leaders send a message that how they live is how their followers ought to live as well. Some critics in your world of influence may interpret “failure” as real, lasting failure instead of seeing some of the spiritual growth that can come with following God into hard places.

You might be thinking, “I thought great models of leadership were ‘mature’ and had few missteps.”

I don’t want to be a killjoy about your 2017, but if you insist on playing life safely, you won’t make much progress this year.

Didn’t ask for help

When I don’t ask for help or decide not to wait for it, bad things tend to happen.

Twice in the past couple of years, I needed help with simple moving – once a desk and later a sign on the sidewalk. Both times I could have gotten help. In fact, others volunteered to help me if I could just wait a few minutes till they arrived.

A commercial from years ago modeled my impatience. It featured a bandito akin to revolutionary Poncho Villa. Ammunition belts crisscrossed his chest, and he gripped a six-shooter in each hand. His line was epic – “I don’t need no stinking help!” That could have been my slogan more often than not. After all, why wait when I can do it quickly by yourself?

I didn’t hold on, and I paid a huge penalty. On one of those occasions, I severely broke my arm and was in such pain that when the EMTs showed up, I passed out twice. With the other, it was my foot that broke two places.

Each injury limited my capacity for six months.

Even when I finally “healed” the bones were obviously misaligned. The doctor declared a better term was “basically cured” and that was as close it comes in their world.

God usually transforms the goofball blunders I make into opportunities to sow his wisdom into the soil of my heart.

Sometimes I didn’t stop when God stopped

Scripture and people’s testimonies convey this same truth: all things eventually come to an end. One day each of us will breathe our last. As an insurance sales friend puts it, “The latest stats indicate that the worldwide mortality rate still hovers right around 100%.”

All things come to an end.  Even what starts out to be exciting, useful and fun will one day cease. As a Swedish missionary says, “Fire tends to go out eventually. Plan and train others according to that truth.”

Are you thinking about starting or building a mega something? Don’t look at the initial costs. It’s even more important to be in touch with the reality of money, and people power you’ll need further down the path.

Be careful. It has been easy for me to confuse enthusiasm with wise, thoughtful spiritual direction. It’s hard to get an accurate bead on “real reality” when our default line is, “God told us to do thus and such.”

Like never before, I’m committing to two vital convictions:

  1. I will find at least one experienced coach/mentor in life. Most of being a great coach come from finding a person who is willing to open their calendar to you and who has made enough significant mistakes that they can share their discoveries.
  1. For the rest of my life, I intend to be all about training several people who can replace me, who have my same vision and heart. I want them to continue all the parts of the vision God sponsored. I want them to be far more successful than me. Most leaders make training far too a complicated matter. “But I want to produce high-quality disciples.” Let’s just do it the way Jesus did. Let’s just bring them along as we live life and do outreach and ministry this year.

Failed to express my love and appreciation

This year four friends passed. Three of them were completely unexpected.

The year before I lost 5.

Let people know today how valuable they are to you. Tomorrow may not come.

As you scan the list above maybe, you can relate to one or two. I hope the encouragement there will help you. If not, then just pray for me as a mistake-riddled person in 2017. I vow to make new and even better mistakes in the coming 12 months!

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