The internet is a great thing.
One of the bright spots of the internet is what the global community of Christian bloggers is doing. (Well, at least the ones I read.) I can look around and find dozens of pastors, bloggers, twitterers and churches. I can see that a church in Nashville is reaching out to their flooded neighbors. I can see a pastor in Atlanta rallying support for missions work in Tanzania. I can find pastors preaching to Muslims in the UK and missionaries in India and pastors that just baptized a hundred people in their last service.
It’s all amazing and incredible. To look around, you’d have to think that God is just flooding churches, pastors and missionaries with wild success stories. You’d think that because He is.
But I think there’s something missing.
The internet should absolutely be used to share what God is doing in your church, your city. It’s exciting to read about the success stories other people have. It’s a good thing to be happy for what God is doing around the world. But all this boasting we’re doing over our blogs and twitter accounts is hiding a subtle detail…
Actually I’ll take that back. I don’t think you can fail at ministry. But so often, the results of ministry don’t meet our expectations, either because of our own stupidity or because of…well, God. And when the result isn’t what we expected, we feel like failures. And we don’t boast about it on the internet.
I think I know why…
The internet is not fail friendly
Approximately half the YouTube videos that are watched today are of people failing. This is a highly scientific fact. People failing at singing, driving, eating, jumping on trampolines, dirt biking, lighting things on fire, dancing, doing magic, and re-enacting Star Wars fight scenes make up the biggest internet population. I wonder how much time is spent reveling in the hilarious failure of strangers. You’re probably thinking of the last fail video you watched. I’m thinking of keyboard cat playing after the girl fell off the table while dancing.
And before YouTube there was America’s Funniest Home Videos. The show was full of people failing at life, getting de-pantsed, or falling from high places, and Bob Saget being not funny. And everyone loved that show. I truly don’t understand why the show still exists now that the internet provides an endless stream of failure.
But when failure happens to you, it’s not the thing you want to brag about. And when your ministry work doesn’t yield what you had wanted, it makes you feel like a huge failure.
The internet makes you feel like the only failure
I understand, no one wants to be Debbie Downer. Why bust up the huge group pat-ourselves-on-the-back party that’s constantly happening on the internet among Christians to tell them what went wrong at your church, or worse, what wrong with you as a Christian?
It’s a cyclical thing, really. Since few people are sharing their difficulties in ministry on the internet, you could look around and believe that God is just squeezing every last drop out of every church and pastor. You don’t see pastors on TV having a difficult time of things, do you? Everywhere I look, it’s all good and no bad when it comes to ministry. Why would I be the first in the whole internet to admit that God doesn’t always “use” me the way I had wished?
Christians love to use that phrase “God is using this,” or something like that. But what if you don’t feel God used you quite enough last Sunday? Failure for Christians is a two-edged sword (i.e. it has a regular blade, but where the handle is supposed to be, there’s just another blade, which makes you wonder why anyone would make a two-edged sword to begin with.) When ministry is tough, or doesn’t live up to expectations, is it my fail, or God’s fail? And why am I the only one failing, or why am I the only one God is failing? That’ a lose-lose situation.
We’re all missing out on your failure
No one wants to be the first to talk in a small group. Everyone wants someone to go first. But when we hold back, when we only boast about the good and hide the bad, we’re depriving everyone of a true sense of what ministry is all about. We’ve got some pastor out in nowheresville convinced he’s the only one who can’t get a crowd to come to the front for baptism. We’re convincing a lay leader that he’s the only guy who embarassed himself with an idea that was a spectacular flop. Everywhere, we’ve got Christians who think they’ve failed, and they think they’re the only ones.
And we’re depriving ourselves of the chance to pray for each other.
I’ve come to realize I don’t like George Barna, if only because he’s always the bearer of bad news. But he gives strong evidence that despite all the boasting that we’re doing online, the church in America is shrinking. That means there’s a whole lot of failing going on that isn’t being shared. It’s being hidden, ashamed of.
The fact is, disappointment and feelings of failure have been a part, nay, a necessary part of ministry since…well, forever. We might as well be honest so we can actually do something to encourage one another.
I’ll go first.
I’ve been disappointed by God. More than once. My work hasn’t always yeilded what I hoped. My prayers have not all been answered with “yes.” Church events, youth programs, sermons and Sunday school lessons have all failed to have the impact I wanted. I’ve failed at being a pastor at times. There were times when God did not seem to give me the right words to say. There were times I was uncaring or insensitive or lazy or unprepared to speak or pray or teach. I have preached words that I can’t live up to myself. There have been times that people have failed me. They have sabatoged, betrayed and discouraged me, and it has made me feel like a failure.
But, I am not a failure. And neither is God. God is good. That all the reason to be positive, even in disappointment.
I don’t think you can get too far through life or ministry without disappointment. So let it out. What’s disappointed you lately? What do you feel like you’ve failed at?