Working with leaders is difficult because they sometimes make mistakes, and even fail in the ministry tasks they chose to do. How lenient should I be as the director, and what should my attitude be toward their failures?

Answer: I remember the day well! It was my first church staff position at First Assembly of God in Huron, SD as a youth and music pastor. My senior pastor had asked me to come to his office, sit down, and talk with him for a while. Being new to the ministry (my first few months), and eager to please, I welcomed the opportunity to sit and chat with him. We talked about how things were going for me in my ministry. He asked questions, I gave him excited answers.

Whether he thought I didn't understand the need to risk, or didn't completely understand his style of leadership, I am not sure. One thing I do know, though... I will never forget what he told me and how I felt as a result of it.

Pastor looked straight at me with an intense, firm, yet compassionate gaze and said, "Dennis, I want you to make three big mistakes every month you are here."


At first I thought I misunderstood him and asked, "What did you say?" 

He repeated his words again, this time with a smile upon his face.  "I want you to make three mistakes every month."

I couldn't believe it! "You want me to make three mistakes every month?" I asked. "I thought you brought me here to be be effective in reaching youth and helping them to grow in their relationship to the Lord and each other," I responded.

"I did," he retorted. "I DO want you to be effective in your ministry!"

"Then why do you want me to make mistakes?" I quickly responded.

I will never forget his answer. It was one that has helped me throughout my 38 years of ministry.

"I want you to be successful in ministry," he said.  "To do that, though, you will have to stretch yourself by dreaming new dreams, thinking new ideas, trying new things and stretching yourself. SOME of those new dreams and ideas will work. SOME of them will not. I want you to have the freedom to fail, Dennis!"

"You mean it's okay to fail at some things?" I asked.

"Yes," he confidently exclaimed! "I have, and you will too!"

I can't describe the feeling of relief that came over me! I could fail and my pastor would not be upset with me!  From that day on, until years later when God moved me to another ministry location, I not only felt his support of me and my ministry, I felt I had a pastor who understood my desire to succeed, and also my fear of failure. He gave me permission to fail, so that I could learn to succeed!

I began to realize that failure does not mean I am a failure. I began to understand that to be effective in ministry didn't mean everything I did had to be a big hit. Failure just helped me see that the idea, plan, or way I was doing it was not the best way, and inspired me to find a way that was effective.

I don't know of anyone in ministry who wants to fail at what they believe God has given them to do. I know of no one who desires to be known as a failure! All of us desire to be successful in fulfilling our ministry pursuits. What I didn't know years ago, until pastor helped me understand, was that we all need the freedom to fail to learn to be successful in what God has called us to be and do.

As a leader, ask yourself these simple questions.

  • Do you give your staff the freedom to fail?
  • How do you react when someone under you does fail?
  • Do they know they have permission from you to make mistakes and not experience your wrath or extreme disappointment?
  • Do you realize if they don't hear "permission to fail" from you, their mistakes may cause them to distance themselves from you, or even squash their desire to try again?'s not something we all want, but something we all need the freedom to have.

The purpose of Assemblies of God Single Adult Ministries is to help districts, churches, pastors and leaders build spiritually-strong single and single-again adults of all ages.

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