5 Ways to Make Your New Year Great!

new year

By: bayasaa
How can this new year be great?

Every year over the holidays a nagging feeling begins to grow.  We all start wondering how the new year will be our best year yet.  We think about what kinds of promises we could make to ourselves or our loved ones that might help us succeed.

But, you know the drill.  We make 12 resolutions to do this or that.  But by the time Valentine’s Day rolls around we’ve failed at almost all of them in one way or another.

Well, how can this year be different?  I haven’t the slightest!  But I do know that there are some basic things we could all do to help every year be great.

Five Ways to Have a Great New Year

  1. Make no more than five goals.  Don’t think of your resolutions as resolutions.  We all know how we do when we resolve to do something…  Instead, form goals.  Don’t make too many or too few.  Five seems about right.  Don’t shoot too high, but don’t make the goals too easy either.  I like to think of them as stretch goals.  Imagine what seems doable, then stretch it just a bit.  For example: your may have a goal to save 3000 dollars this year for a specific purpose.  Great!  That’s 250 bucks a month.  So to stretch this goal just a bit, up your saving amount to 275 bucks.  Then, each month, check in on your goal to see how you are doing.  If you are able it would be good to find a person or two to hold you accountable to your goals also.
  2. Read at least twelve books this year.  The average American apparently reads around 17 books a year.  That seems like a lot!  But it is encouraging to know that folks are still reading.  So, here’s a suggestion: read one book a month.  It doesn’t have to be huge.  It doesn’t have to be one genre or another.  And it doesn’t have to dovetail with your vocation, but it could.  In fact, it might be good to alternate “useful” books with “fun” books each month.  For me that would mean reading one biblical studies/theology book and then one fiction book.  The purpose of this idea is not to just crowd your house or e-reader with more books.  And the hope isn’t to make you look or feel smarter.  The purpose is for all of us to be involved in some continued development and some stress-reducing downtime.
  3. Make prayer a habit.  I’m not going to prescribe to you exactly how you should pray or exactly how often you should.  But I will say that it’s highly doubtful that in 12 months from now you’ll regret having spent time in prayer.  My wife and I have found praying together and as individuals each day to be helpful.  You may want to do what we do or you may want to do something totally different.  Either way, my encouragement to you is for you to pray and to do so often!
  4. Have fun!  Would it be crazy to plan something once a month or so for the sole purpose of having fun?  You may even want to do it more often than that!  These fun things could be anything at all: taking an architectural tour of the town your live in; playing touch football in the park; going hiking; picking up a new hobby; throwing a party; attending a party; etc.  You really could do anything.  The point, however, is that if you plan to do something fun each month, then you’ll always have that to look forward to when things get tough (and we all know they will!).  So, you have full permission to have a blast!
  5. Invest in your community with your time and talents.  During the upcoming new year it would be awesome if all of us spent more time giving back.  There are literally millions of ways that we could serve folks in our neighborhoods.  Here are a few ideas off the top of my head:
    • Contact the principal at your closest school and ask how you can help out.
    • Find a local foster-care agency and see how you can be a blessing to the kids who are served there.
    • Volunteer regularly at your church.
    • Help kick start or continue a “beautify your park/town” initiative.
    • Be a mentor or a tutor for kids in your neighborhood through local non-profits.

 

What do you think?  What are some other ways that you can make the new year great?  Let me know below!

Lessons from My Weight-Loss (Hard Work)

hard work

tpsdave / Pixabay
There really is no substitute for hard work, whether when losing weight or fulfilling the Great Commission.

Not long ago I was obese, at least according to my BMI number.  I spent a year full of hard work in which I lost 65 pounds.  I’ve kept almost all of that weight off, which has also been due to hard work.

In fact, when people have asked me what the secret to my weight loss was, I almost always answer one of two ways: “math” or “hard work.”  “Math” because it’s all about tracking calories relative to the total needed to maintain your weight; and “hard work” because losing weight and keeping it off is no walk in the park (minus that actual walks in the park!).

In fact, hard work might be the best advice for losing weight ever.  Keeping track of your food and exercise is hard work.  Eating more reasonably when you’ve spent your entire life doing otherwise is hard work.  Exercising is hard work.  Dealing with the emotional issues along the way is hard work.  Etc., etc.

As I’ve been thinking about being more a more missional follower of Jesus, I’ve started to realize that hard work is needed here too!  Here are a few examples:

  1. It’s hard work reaching out to people who do not know Jesus yet.  Whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert, connecting well with people who don’t know Jesus is difficult.  Why?  Mainly because many of us churchy people have almost exclusively surrounded ourselves with other churchy people.  So we’re left with the problem of finding “natural” ways to encounter those who don’t know Jesus.  Another issue is that in many cases those who don’t know Jesus yet have lives marked by different values and goals than that of a sold-out follower of Jesus.  It can be hard work to connect over this barrier.
  2. It’s hard work bucking the attractional church model.  Most churches in the United States use the attractional church model, which means that most Americans associate this model with church in general.  A key idea of the attractional church model is that if we build it, they will come.  This leads us to talk about “going to church,” as if church is a building that we enter.  When we start trying to move away from this idea to a more biblical understanding of church as God’s people wherever he sends them, things get hard.  It’s hard work not to talk about church as a location!  Beyond that, it’s hard work trying to be the church among the people!
  3. It’s hard work not getting immediate, measurable results.  I think most of us want Burger King Christianity, my way, right away.  So if we take this same attitude with us as we start to shift toward being missional, we’ll be disappointed really fast.  Being missional means building relationships that create safe and natural spaces for people to discover Jesus.  That process can be slow and it can take time.  In other words, it takes hard work and patience!

I’m sure there are a million other ways that being missional requires hard work.  Can you think of any more?  Share them below!

The Ghost of Church Future: Part Three (On Mission)

My wife, parents, and I recently watched a stage production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  As I watched it I couldn’t help but imagine what the ghosts of church past (Part OnePart Two, and Part Three), present (Part OnePart Two, and Part Three), and future (Part One and Part Two) might say to those of us who follow Jesus.  This week we’ll look at what the future holds.

On Mission

on mission

By: gwire

What would the future of the Church look like if we were a people on mission?  What does it even mean to be on mission?  And, most importantly, what kind of fruit would be born in the American mission field from the Church being on mission together?

What I’d like to do in this post is to present the six parts of the missional DNA, as proposed by Alan Hirsch in The Forgotten Ways, and to dream briefly about how they might be lived out in the future.

 Jesus is Lord

For the Church to be on mission together we must put at our center the faith claim that Jesus is Lord.  Doing this would mean that other things that attempt to be the authorities of our lives would be explicitly set aside.  Thus, individualism, materialism, and consumerism would not be chief characteristics of the Church who lives out the basic assertion that Jesus is Lord!  We would be centered on and focused upon Jesus and nothing else!

Disciple Making

The engine that would move the Church on mission forward would be disciple making.  This activity is the basic call from Jesus (Matthew 28.19-20) and without it the Church stagnates and, eventually declines (in every way!).  Thus, the Church on mission in the future will be involved in making disciples.  In fact, everything that the Church on mission does will be seen in light of making disciples.  So, if something isn’t encouraging disciple making, then it will be abandoned or revisioned.  Nothing is sacrosanct, baring holding true to the gospel.

Missional-Incarnational Impulse

The Church on mission will be all about, well, being on mission!  What will this look like?  Small groups of followers of Jesus will band together in order to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a particular community.  They will do so for the sake of the gospel and for the benefit of those for whom they are on mission.  Then, these smaller groups will be networked together into larger entities through whom they will find support and inspiration.

Apostolic Environment

The Church, for a long, long time, has focused its ministries in such a way that those who are gifted as pastors and/or teachers could thrive.  The future Church on mission, however, will find a place for all of the Ephesians 4 categories of ministries, including the apostolic (pushing into new territories), the prophetic (telling the truth), and the evangelistic (relentless focus on making new disciples).  This will be difficult but, in the end, it will be much more biblical and effective!

Organic Systems

The Church on mission in the future will not find its organizational inspiration from machines, business models, or any other inorganic system.  Instead it will organize itself around principles found in nature, principles about which Jesus himself taught.  This will mean that top-down leadership models will be things of the past.  Instead leadership models that emphasize leading from among the people will be stressed, resulting in greater involvement and buy-in among everyone.

Communitas

Being on mission as the Church will mean that we will not be an inward-focused group.  Instead we will be a group of people who are always interested in living on the edges, pushing into the chaos of our world, taking risk when needed, and being the culture changers that we are called to become.  Church won’t be about getting fed, it will be about feeding the world the tasty gospel of Jesus Christ!

 

What do you think?  What will the church on mission look like in the future?  Let me know in the comments below!

Francis Chan: How Not to Make Disciples

I just watched a great video in which Francis Chan explains part of the reason why more of us who follow Jesus aren’t making disciples:

SOURCE: The Verge Network

The Ghost of Church Future: Part Two (Consumerism)

My wife, parents, and I recently watched a stage production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  As I watched it I couldn’t help but imagine what the ghosts of church past (Part OnePart Two, and Part Three), present (Part OnePart Two, and Part Three), and future (Part One) might say to those of us who follow Jesus.  This week we’ll look at what the future holds.

Consumerism

So, as we’ve seen in previous posts in this series, those who live lives authentically marked by faith in Jesus are a declining species.  One response could be to go all in with regard to American culture.  We, as the Church, could attempt to absolutely immerse ourselves into the consumerism around us, attempting to redeem it and use it for the kingdom of God.

I first encountered this idea in Alan Hirsch’s book The Forgotten Ways.  Here’s how he introduced it:

We try to redeem the rhythms and structures of consumerism as Pete Ward suggests in his excellent book on missional ecclesiology.  He advises that, rather than reject or denounce consumerism, we should see it as an oppportunity for the church to rediscover her missional and redemptive nature.  He maintains that in consumerism there is a massive search going on, and that the church cannot miss out on meaningfully communicating from within this context.  He suggests, therefore that the church must radically reorganize around consumerist principles but maintain its missional edge. (Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways, 111-112).

The book from Pete Ward that Hirsch is referring to is called Liquid Church.  While there is much to like about Ward’s ideas in this book, such as the church being a flexible network instead of a rigid structure, the idea of trying to redeem consumerism seems entirely too risky.  I love the way that Hirsch responds to Ward’s idea: “However, my warning is that if we are going to sup with the devil, we had better have a very long spoon, because we are dealing with a deeply entrenched alternative religious system to which Jesus’s disciples need to model an alternative reality” (The Forgotten Ways, 112).

In fact, some of the missional writers, thinkers, and practitioners argue that being a consumer runs counter to what it means to be a follower of Jesus in the first place.  For instance, Hugh Halter, in And: The Gathered and Scattered Church, says this: “A disciple is not a consumer and a consumer is not a disciple!” (emphasis original, 75).  Halter’s argument is that at its base consumerism is just selfishness in a different package; and Jesus explicitly calls people away from only looking out for number one.

So why will going all in with consumerism not work as a model moving forward?

  1. At its core, consumerism is selfish. — Consumerism has been defined as the attempt to acquire as many goods and services as possible at the lowest prices possible.  Vance Packard’s pioneering work on consumerism called Waste Makers highlights the truth that all this selfishness and consumption is ultimately harmful in many ways.  I think it’s pretty clear that we as followers of Jesus should avoid such things!  We’re already tempted to view God like a cosmic vending machine, and going all in with consumerism would make that tendency even worse!
  2. Consumerism will push the church to maintain the professionalization of ministry. — In 2 Corinthians 5 Paul says that we’re all ambassadors of the ministry of reconciliation.  But if we really want to imbibe consumerism then folks are going to demand that those who have the most training and skill at ministry be the ones to do it, ignoring the fact that God has given gifts to all of the church for the common good, not just some of it (1 Corinthians 11-13)!  Again, we’re already having issues in the church with folks sitting on the sidelines; why would we want to make that problem more prominent?
  3. It will simply be too expensive. — In the end, how could the church afford to be an entity totally defined by consumerism?  We’d be competing against Bud Light, the NFL, reality TV, and Hollywood.  We don’t have the resources to compete in that market!  We barely have the resources to maintain our paltry budgets now!  The cost of competing against the big boys of consumerism is simply too high, which makes this idea for addressing America as a mission field completely untenable.

What do you think?  Is it possible for the church to redeem consumerism?  If so, why?  If not, why?  Let me know below.

The Ghost of Church Future: Part One (Continued Decline)

My wife, parents, and I recently watched a stage production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  As I watched it I couldn’t help but imagine what the ghosts of church past (Part One, Part Two, and Part Three), present (Part One, Part Two, and Part Three), and future might say to those of us who follow Jesus.  This week we’ll look at what the future holds.

decline

geralt / Pixabay

A Continued Decline

For quite some time now the church, as we know it, has been in decline.  Numerous studies and surveys support this statement (David Olson’s book The American Church in Crisis and John Dickerson’s book The Great Evangelical Recession provide a ton of evidence).

What do we do?  I think there are three primary options: 1) keep doing what we’ve always done; 2) try to baptize American individualism, consumerism, and materialism; or 3) go down the missional-incarnational path.

This post will focus on the first option — more of the same.

If we keep doing what we’ve always done, what will be the results?

Famously, it has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again but always expecting different results (attributed to Albert Einstein).  And while this may be “the most overused cliche of all time,” it does help us think about why following the same strategies in the church won’t work going forward.

So, what have we been doing that we could keep doing (even though it most likely wouldn’t work)?

  1. Follow the Attractional Model — “If you build it, he will come.”  This is probably the most-often quoted line from the movie Field of Dreams and it serves to illustrate the attractional model like no other string of words can!  The thought is that if we have slick weekend services, engaging sermons, awesome music, fun programs for kids, thought-provoking adult classes, and great small groups, then people will just show up at the campuses of our churches to partake of all these things.  The research, however, is showing that this model isn’t working.  People simply are not coming to churches anymore, at least not like they once did.  Our buildings, programs, and services just aren’t all that attractive to the wider American culture these days.  So, if we continue with this model, then we will have shrinking congregations, which will lead to church buildings being abandoned (and possibly being transformed into homes, libraries, or nightclubs).
  2.  Limit Discipleship to the Classroom — Almost always when talking to Christians about discipleship they seem to think that it is a program, a ministry, or an event that the church should host and facilitate.  In my experience this has been true of folks everywhere throughout America, from Los Angeles to Atlanta.  There are some shining examples of leaders and churches who don’t view discipleship this way, but my educated guess would be that most American Christians think of it as a cognitive-based learning experience.  The simple truth is that this method of discipleship doesn’t work.  It has helped lead to 66% of Americans being what George Barna calls “casual Christians.”  That’s an astonishing number!  And if we continue doing discipleship this way, that number isn’t going to change in the positive direction.
  3. Protect the Christian Bubble — I was thinking the other day about how many friends I have who do not know Jesus yet.  The number is really pretty low.  Why?  Because I’m pretty consistently encouraged to completely inundate myself into the Christian subculture.  When I do so all my friends are Christians, my closest family members are all Christians, and all my neighbors are Christians.  Then I start reading Christians books, listening to Christian music, going to Christian websites, and even freshening my breath with Christian mints!  This cloistering-off of American Christians into our own little bubble has created a ton of unintentional problems.  If you’ve ever tried to share your faith with someone you know what I’m talking about.  Folks say that Christians are hypocrites, that we’re judgmental, and that we’re by and large detached from reality.  Our Christian bubble helped create space for these descriptions to come to fruition.  So if we protect our bubble going forward, then we’ll continue to erode our potential impact with folks who do not yet know Jesus.

To put it simply, the future of the church is pretty bleak if we keep going like we’ve been going!

Do you agree?  Let me know in the comments below.

Creating Missional Alignment

Creating Alignment

Hans / Pixabay

I read an interesting post on Fast Company’s website today called “Popularity Means Nothing–The Missing Step to Startup Success.”  In the article Bhavin Parikh and Aaron Schwartz make a convincing claim that alignemnt is a key factor for success.  They share five ways of creating alignment.  In this post I’d like to apply these ideas to creating missional alignment in a Christian community.

  1. Set Your Vision — Parikh and Schwartz begin by saying that a company should be able to say why it exists in one sentence.  I believe that a Christian community should be able to as well.  Why does your community meet?  What are y’all about?  Here’s an example: “Together, we want to connect with God, foster authentic community, and serve our neighbors.”  Pretty simple to write…but the challenge would be aligning all you do around that one statement.  Doing so would necessitate saying “no” to things that fall outside of the vision!
  2. Define Your Values — In order for a company to succeed, the people working there need to be able to make decisions.  How do they do that?  One way is by having clearly-defined values that help folks choose what might be best.  The same thing holds true for a missional community.  The community needs some core values or it will begin to drift from its vision.  Those values might look something like this: Inclusivity, diversity, honesty, sharing, incarnation, and proclamation.  Thus, when push comes to shove, any member of your community can call to mind your core values and make a decision in support of them!
  3. Identify your BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal) — Parikh and Schwartz label the BHAG as a goal 1-3 years out on the horizon that should be a stretch.  It’s important to have a BHAG because it lets everyone know what is the company is driving toward.  This can absolutely apply to a missional community.  But a word of warning: many of us followers of Jesus will make a way-too out of reach BHAG.  For instance, we might make it a goal that within the next three years we’ll eradicate homelessness in our neighborhood.  This is just ludicrous!  A better goal is more specific, measurable, and do-able (though a stretch).  So perhaps something like this: We will multiply our missional community three times in the next three years.  That’s a big goal that will help create alignment!
  4. Set Department Goals — Having a clear and inspiring BHAG is good but by setting department goals actual progress toward the BHAG can be tracked.  So, for a missional community that might look like this: We’ll have more people at our communal worship times, we’ll have 85% involvement in intentional communities, and we’ll average 2 hours of community service a person a month.  If those goals are met, alignment will be forged and progress toward the BHAG (multiplying) will come!
  5. Track Key Metrics — Measuring stuff is important.  Duh.  But what we measure might be even more important than the measuring itself.  Parikh and Schwartz write: “At the end, though, you need to make sure that the metrics you track and the targets you pursue on a daily basis will help you hit your BHAG and thus fulfill your greater vision.”  Thus, for a business to succeed it needs to track the right things well.  How does this apply to a missional community?  We need to track some stuff.  Traditionally Christians in the West have tracked butts, buildings, and budgets (AKA attendance, physical space, and money).  And while each of these things is important, so are intentional community involvement and community service.  It’s been said that what you measure tends to grow and this is, for the most part, true.  Why?  Because the things we measure are things that we pay attention to and celebrate publically.  Thus, we could possibly see significant positive change if we paid attention to and celebrated publicly intentional community and service!

Doing these five things can certainly build alignment into a missional community.  If we did each of them better, then  it would create a greater buy-in from everyone, thus helping us fulfill the Greatest Commandment and the Great Commission!

What do you think?  What other sorts of things might create missioanl alingment?

Advent: Jesus Is Coming, Brother!

geralt / Pixabay

Advent is a time when you anticipate the first coming of Jesus.  It gives us the chance to slow down and reflect on what the Incarnation means.  Jesus moved into our neighborhood, as Alan Hirsch, author the great book The Forgotten Ways, always says, and Advent gives us space to re-imagine our lives in light of this truth.  Advent is the time of year in which we allow ourselves to be moved by the unexpected mix of the divine and the human.

Advent is also the time to pick up your dog’s poo on a Sunday morning.

This is exactly what I was doing this morning when a man walked by.  We made eye contact, the man and I, and he said to me, “Jesus is coming, brother!”  I was taken aback by what this guy said!  After all, I had been hoping for an uneventful, morning stroll.  But this random man changed all that.

I need to set the scene a little better.  This man who said “Jesus is coming, brother!” sounded a lot like Hulk Hogan!  Some of you know exactly what I mean.  For those of you who don’t, check out this video:

“Jesus is coming, brother!”

This guys words are very appropriate: Jesus is coming.  This is what we celebrate at Advent!

But he is also coming again — his second Advent is yet to come.  And when Jesus comes again he’ll make all things new!  That’s good news!  There’s a bunch of stuff in my life that needs to be made new!  How about you?

So this Advent season, spend some time meditating on what it means for us that Jesus came, that he is the Incarnate One.  But also think about what it means in your life that Jesus’ second Advent is on its way.

Have you given Jesus’ second Advent much thought during Christmastime before?  Let me know in the comments below!

The Ghost of Church Present: Part Three (A Missional Response)

My wife, parents, and I recently watched a stage production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  As I watched it I couldn’t help but imagine what the ghosts of church past, present, and future might say to those of us who follow Jesus.  Last week I looked into the revelations from the ghost of church past (Part OnePart Two, and Part Three).  And this week we’ll hear from the ghost of church present (here’s Part One and Part Two).

A Missional Response

So the ghost of Christmas present showed us that the US is a mission field in need of fresh encounters with the gospel and that many of our churches are not responding to this reality all that well.  There are some, however, who are.

Here’s one such example: Adullam in Denver, Colorado.

A missional congregation in Denver

From Adullam’s Website

Adullam’s lead pastor is Hugh Halter, the author of Tangible Kingdom.  In his book Hugh tells the story of how God helped reignite the missional fire in him and how he and his ministry partner Matt Smay, along with their families, reluctantly planted a church in Denver.  In this post I want to explore how Hugh and Matt have led Adullam to be a community with a missional impulse.  (The source for all the material below is either my memory of reading Tangible Kingdom or the “About Adullam” page on their site.)

  • Missional Vision — Here’s Adullam’s vision statement: “Adullam is a congregational network of incarnational communities that are apprenticing kingdom people” (form the “About Adullam” page).  So, their centering values all lean toward being missional and away from being attractional.
  • Discipleship is the Engine — Did you note the word “apprenticing” in Adullam’s vision statement?  This is their code word for “discipleship.”  The purpose in shying away from the word “discipleship” is, in my estimation, because it is too churchy and has come to mean something (classroom-style, cognitive learning) that it doesn’t mean in the New Testament (learning from a respected person by living life together).  Thus, Adullam is saying that apprenticeship is the engine that drives them into their mission field.  Without it, there’s no evangelism, no growth, no conversions, no leadership development, etc.
  • Focus on Being the Church — You probably also noted that Adullam’s vision statement doesn’t use the word “church.”  This had to be intentional!  Instead we find the words “congregation” and “incarnational communities” and “people.”  Their focus is clearly not to become a place for people to come and receive spiritual goods and services (which is how I define our attractional understanding of “church”) and is instead on being the church.
  • Praxis, Praxis, Praxis! — Adullam also says that their explicit goal is to make the kingdom of God tangible.  By this, as you can read in Tangible Kingdom, Hugh means living out the good news in the lives of people.  This means serving, having fun, and, yes, talking about God too.  But it means all those things, not just the last one!  Thus, the people at Adullam are trained to and expected to express their love for God and their neighbors in real-life, real-world ways.
  • Symptoms of an Apprentice — Furthermore, Adullam spells out very clearly what the life of an apprentice of the kingdom looks like: 1) They’ll be involved in inclusive community; 2) They’ll experience communion with God (together, in smaller communities, and as individuals); and 3) They’ll be on mission for God in Denver.
  • Incarnation – You may have also noticed how much Adullam uses the word “incarnation.”  Their informed belief is that “the best environment for the kingdom to appear tangible is in the context of an incarnational community” (form the “About Adullam” page).  By “incarnation” they mean being Jesus in their own communities — in essence, enfleshing the gospel of the kingdom of God where the live, work, and play.  This is a missional way of thinking that stands in direct opposition to the attractional mindset that says “If we build it, then they will come.”
  • Discouraging Consumerism — Being a consumer Christian (meaning a follower of Jesus who just wants to be fed with as little effort as possible, whether on purpose or subconsciously) would be really hard at Adullam.  They don’t always meet together.  The purpose of their times of gathering is to be a blessing to the kids and for their various missional communities to connect.  In fact, Adullam is so serious about discouraging consumerism that they provide links to other churches in the Denver area where folks might find a better fit.  That is revolutionary!

Adullam is just one example among many that are out there.  Now, in fact, there are even missional networks that help congregation figure out how to get on mission together.  A few of these networks are Missio Alliance, Verge, Forge America, and Acts 29.  Now is a great time to start being more missional!  What are we waiting for?!?

Do you know of some more missional responses the reality of the American mission field?  Let me know in the comments!

 

Dealing with Failure

“Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer.”

This famous quote is from “The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived” or, as he’s better known, Ted Williams.  What he’s referring to, of course, is that if you get a hit 30% of the times you come to bat in baseball, then you’re a good player.

But think about that for a minute.  Ted Williams, widely considered one of the best, if not the best, hitter in baseball history got hits 34.4% percent of the time.  But the flipside of that stat is that he didn’t get a hit 65.6% of the time.  That’s a ton!

Ted Williams failed to get a hit almost two thirds of the times he went up to hit as a professional baseball player.  Francis Vincent, a former commissioner of baseball, said it best: “Baseball teaches us, or has taught most of us, how to deal with failure.”  So the secret to Ted Williams’ success, and that of any baseball player, was that he learned how to get past failing so that he could be his best during his next at bat.

Here’s the point: Are we able to do that?  As people, as leaders, as followers of Jesus, as missionaries in our neighborhoods, can we fail, learn from it, putting it behind us and trying again?  And how do we do this well?

Jesus taught his disciples how to fail.  Read Jesus’ words from Luke 10:10-11: “But whatever city you enter, and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, ‘The very dust of your city which clings to us we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near you.’”

Here’s the backstory: Jesus wanted to give some of his followers a task, so he trained up 72 of them to enter cities that he was planning to go to later.  They were supposed to do the same kinds of things that they had seen Jesus do, namely healing the sick and proclaiming the kingdom of God.  But Jesus knew that they wouldn’t be welcomed everywhere they went, so he prepared them for failure.  He told them to put the failure in the rear view mirror and move on.

Jesus’ words are true but so very hard to live out.  At least they are hard for me to live out.  When I fail at something it hurts me.  Maybe it’s because I secretly serve an idol of perfection.  Or maybe its because when I fail at something I interpret it very personally.  Either way, it’s hard for me to move on.

But how can we wipe off the dust of failure and continue following Jesus wherever he leads?

  1. Acknowledge the failure quickly.  It doesn’t do anyone any good at all to let failure fester.  We need to admit that we have failed so that we can begin to heal.  Why hide it?
  2. Apologize and mean it.  If it is your fault that you failed, apologize.  If your failure hurt anyone else, apologize.  If you think your failure hurt no one, then admit it in your journal, on facebook, on your blog, wherever.  We must take responsibility for our failures!
  3. Take time to process feelings.  When you fail you might get bombarded by a series of strong emotions.  You’ll probably be angry, nervous, scared, and frustrated.  Or you might be glad that you failed at something because what was on the other side of success looked pretty daunting.  Whatever it is you are feeling, well, feel it.  Give yourself time (but not too much time!) to experience what you are going through and be honest with yourself and those close to you.
  4. Learn from the failure.  What good would failure be if it didn’t teach us well?  So when we fail we need to take stock and learn from it.  Perhaps there’s some way to prevent the same failure from happening again?  In order to find that out, you’re must learn from it.  Or perhaps God is using your failure to teach you one thing or another, like reliance on him, patience, and humility?
  5. Get moving.  There’s no better road to mediocrity and boredom than wallowing in failure.  Instead you have the chance to work through steps #1-4 and then to take the huge leap of faith into the great unknown.  To put it differently, we can’t follow Jesus well if we stay put and mope.

How have you learned from failure?  Let me know in the comments below!