Feelings of Failure

At first, I had to deal with my feelings of being a failure.

Not because other people were saying that I was—they weren’t–but because my usual way is to just stick with something until I get it goes my way.  Failure?  I just need to read another book, work a little harder, or something.  I am from the tenacious school of ministry and so raising my hand and asking to be excused felt like failure.

The tenacious school of ministry specializes in the course—Revitalization 101: also known as stop your complaining, figure it out and get to work! Which had served me fairly well in church work.  But, it wasn’t making enough of a dent—at least that is what it felt like. I never felt I “caught up,” not once did I feel I was making enough progress that someday (like in six months, maybe in one year), things would be working well.

So what wasn’t working?

The list had become much smaller over the five years.  But the last BIG one on the list wasn’t getting any better.

I hate it came down to this but it was the money.

This was a church that could never pay their bills.  No matter how big or small the church was.  No matter who the pastor was. No matter what the economy did or did not do.  No matter if the congregation received 1 million dollars or not.  Didn’t matter, they couldn’t pay their bills.

And really I think the money was at the root of all the other issues too. But that is another post.

When we started working on this new model for them (one church on two campuses, which enabled them to continue using the current location and in keeping the worshiping congregation together while streamlining administration and staffing) I received an “its-all-your-fault” email.  In it the writer listed all the people who left since I came and drew the conclusion that if they hadn’t left we would be paying our bills.  Never mind that in 22 years they hadn’t been paying their all their bills—somehow that didn’t count.

And sure, I knew it was way more complicated than that, but it got to me.  Not right after I read it, but it would go through my mind a couple times a day and I’d think, maybe it is me—maybe I failed the church.

But then this serendipitous thing happened.  I am cleaning out my office and I came upon the church directory that they were using when I got to the church in 2006.  I saw that of the 222 families listed only 88 were active when I arrived.  Some of those 222 had moved or faded away or moved on once a woman was appointed/once a beloved pastor left/who knows?

As I looked at the directory I thought, so, how many families did leave after I arrived?  In my mind it was 50%, but I thought, let me count: and it was only 14.  Wow, really?  Fourteen?  That doesn’t seem terrible in light of all the changes we made.  I mean, it is often sad when people leave but in this case these were folks who didn’t want to be the church we were hearing God call us to be and they decided to move on.  That happens.

Then I took it one step further: how many families are in the new directory who were not in the old?  In other words—how many new families have come over the last five years and are currently active?  Fifty one.  So 14 left and 51+ new families came and stayed.

Does all this make me feel less of a failure?  I admit it does.  My self-esteem has taken real hits over the last five years and so anything that makes me feel better, I will admit I am for.

But the bigger issue is, why did I get so stuck on the whole idea of failure to begin with?  Why did I jump from this isn’t working—to I should be able to fix it and if I don’t, I am a failure.

I got there because of ego and pride and other hate-to-admit things.  And I got there because I thought there was one way things needed to be, and if that isn’t doable the issue is the pastor or the church or whatever when instead, it may mean that the model isn’t working.

Why didn’t “the usual” model work?  You know the model—you start a church, eventually buy some land, build and grow (and pay your bills).  Ahhhh, that is a very good question, we will get there.