Pastor, do you feel like a failure?

In my many years as a pastor, I often felt like a failure.

Part of the problem lies with the reality that success in pastoral ministry is hard to define. It’s people work, and the victories that happen in people’s lives – due in part to your work – often go unseen and unexpressed.

The other problem is that the way our culture defines success – bigger budgets, new buildings, more people – is outside of a pastor’s direct control. A church is a community of people and the community, together, impacts the whole much more than a single person.

But, perhaps, the biggest problem is that feeling like a failure and actually being a failure are two different things.

In a recent post, Seth Godin takes on the topic of feeling like a failure. What he says is a good word for Pastors, too.  He writes;

Feeling like a failure has little correlation with actually failing.

There are people who have failed more times than you and I can count, who are happily continuing in their work.

There are others who have achieved more than most of us can imagine, who go to work each day feeling inadequate, behind, and yes, like failures and frauds.

These are not cases of extraordinary outliers. In fact, external data is almost useless in figuring out whether or not someone is going to adopt the narrative of being a failure.

Failure (as seen from the outside) is an event. It’s a moment when the spec isn’t met, when a project isn’t completed as planned.

Feelings, on the other hand, are often persistent, and they are based on stories. Stories we tell ourselves as much as stories the world tells us.

As a result, if you want to have a feeling, you’ll have it. If you want to seek a thread to ravel, you will, you’ll pull at it and focus on it until, in fact, you’re proven right, you are a failure.

Here’s the essential first step: Stop engaging with the false theory that the best way to stop feeling like a failure is to succeed.

Thinking of one’s self as a failure is not the same as failing. And thus, succeeding (on this particular task) is not the antidote. In fact, if you act on this misconception, you are setting yourself up for a lifetime of new evidence that you are, in fact, correct in your feelings, because you will ignore the wins and remind yourself daily of the losses.

Instead, begin with the idea that the best way to deal with a feeling is to realize that it’s yours.

Maybe They Don’t Believe You

In a post about marketing, Seth Godin writes

The only things we spend time and money on are things that we believe are worth more than they cost.

He goes on to briefly explain three key words: belief, worth and cost. He then concludes by writing

If people aren’t buying your product, it’s not because the price is too high. It’s because we don’t believe you enough, don’t love it enough, don’t care enough.

As I pondered Seth’s post, I couldn’t help but think about how (or if) this applies to evangelism. I’ve heard Christians say that people don’t respond to the gospel we present because the cost is too high. What if it is something other than that? What if they don’t believe us enough? What if the good news as it is presented and lived out by many Christians doesn’t seem that good? What if people fail to see the relevance of the gospel to their life and, therefore, just don’t care?

I can’t help but think of Jesus’ parable of the pearl of great price. He seems to be saying that the kingdom of God is so valuable that when people recognize it, they believe it is so valuable that they believe it is worth more than it costs. Therefore they do anything to obtain it.

Something to ponder…


Sticking Together

Some relationships survive the test of time. Others don’t.

Some relationships thrive over time.  Others don’t.

There are an infinite number of reasons why that is true. Those reasons are as unique as the people involved in the relationships.  Yes, there are some basic dos and don’ts that make one outcome more – or less – likely than the other. But there are no guarantees.

I think I can guarantee this:

No relationship can survive and thrive, when the partners in the relationship are not committed to stay.

Why?  Because the minute one party says, “You know, I’m not feeling it.  I think I’ll go!”, the relationship changes.

One example of this is when one spouse tells the other that they are contemplating divorce. Once the possibility of divorce enters the picture, the focus becomes not getting divorced.

It’s hard to have a good relationship when you’re trying not to get divorced.

I see this same dynamic in churches and denominations as well.  As soon as the possibility of a church split enters the picture the focus becomes not splitting. As soon as some congregations or conferences (depending on your denominational structure) threaten to leave, the focus becomes how do we keep “them”  from leaving.

Please don’t hear me say that divorce is alright, that church splits are good, that congregations leaving conferences is not an issue of concern. I’m not saying that.

What I am saying is that not getting divorced, not splitting, and convincing people not to leave are poor ways to build healthy, thriving, relationships.

Here, I take my cues from Jesus. Jesus laid out a compelling case that the kingdom of God was breaking into the world – it was present and real – in and through him. Then he invited people to join him by repenting and living a new life (it’s much deeper and wider then that, of course, but for now…).

What happened when people heard this proclamation and saw it confirmed through Jesus’ actions? How did they respond to his invitation? Some repented and lived a new life. Others didn’t. Some did at first and then didn’t.  Even so, Jesus led with the same proclamation – the Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the good news.

The key difference between those who repented and persevered in faith and those who didn’t was a commitment to stay with Jesus.

There is a scene in John’s gospel where Jesus teaches about eating his flesh and drinking his blood.  It says that after hearing this everyone left Jesus because his teaching was too hard.  Jesus turned to his twelve disciples and asked if they were planning to leave, too.  Peter said, “Where else would be go, you alone hold the words of life.”

Good answer. But embedded in that answer was a commitment to stay with Jesus even though they didn’t fully understand Jesus.

Of course, staying put doesn’t always guarantee a good outcome…a healthy relationships…a thriving community.  More importantly, there are times when health, safety and good personal boundaries make leaving a necessity. Yet, too often people leave and relationships fracture because the basic commitment to stay isn’t there.

I do know this: It is very hard to build a healthy relationship with anyone who has one foot out the door.