Failure is not final

Did you know that one well-known product was named to remember the numerous failed attempts? In 1953, a fledgling company with a staff of three people set out to create a line of rust-prevention solvents for the aerospace industry. After 39 failed attempts, they finally got it right on the 40th try. The rest is history as this specialized product became a household necessity that we all know as WD-40, or more technically known as “Water Displacement 40th Try”.

While reading through the Proverbs, I was struck by the leadership implications of Provers 24:16. The verse says, “For a righteous person falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in time of disaster.”(NASB)

Pastor Chuck Smith says of this verse, “We may fall but thank God we rise again. I’ve often said there isn’t any great evil in falling unless you just lie there. Everybody stumbles. Everybody falls. None of us are perfect, and God knows that we’re not perfect. He knows our frame, that we’re but dust.”

John Maxwell speaks of a friend who is always moving forward in life and work. When asked how he is doing, this friend answers, “I’m never down. I am either up, or I’m getting up.” His friend sounds like the person in the proverb.

Pastors and ministry leaders, especially those who are just learning to lead, will fall. Just like a child learning to walk – falling, stumbling, and missteps – are all part of the proving ground for a leader. But the righteous person rises again each time and keeps going.

Here are three key pieces of information to keep in mind about leadership fails:

1. We will fail: If you do not fail at some point in your leadership, you are probably not trying anything significant. None of us should fail purposefully. Decisions should be bathed in prayer and supported by wise counsel. There is safety in a multitude of counselors (Proverbs 11:14). None of us are omnipotent or omniscient. We will make mistakes.

2. We may fail in the same way more than once: Many of us do not learn easily and may need to repeat a misstep before learning our lesson. Someone has said, “Mistakes are meant for learning, not repeating.” Some errors are so painful; it is unlikely we will repeat them, but, unfortunately, for some, the memory of pain dulls in time, and we mess up in the same way.

3. We must get back up and try again: Leaders will make mistakes. We must learn from them and try to avoid them. God is a redeemer. He brings good out of bad. God worked through the mistakes of many people in the Bible to bring good. You can trust Him.

We must not quit. By God’s grace, we must get up, learn the necessary lessons, and move forward.

I am praying the Lord protects leaders from costly and repeated mistakes. May He use your missteps and failures for His glory, your good, and for the advancement of His kingdom.

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