The Gift of Failure
- Friday, December 02, 2011
"Failure is a detour, not a dead-end street." Zig Ziglar
"It is a mistake to suppose that people succeed through success; they often succeed through failures." Author unknown
John had always enjoyed studying the Bible, and felt an increasing desire to share his knowledge with others. He was wondering about a possible career change to becoming a pastor or college professor. He decided that teaching an adult Bible class at his church would be a good next step for exploring the area of teaching. After talking with the pastor of adult education, he scheduled John to teach a three-week series on Philippians the following month in the young adult class.
John spent many hours studying, writing up his teaching notes, developing handouts and praying about teaching this series. He felt he had done everything he could to prepare for the class. The Sunday came for his first session. Excited and nervous, he began the class. When the class ended an hour later, he felt many emotions—none of them positive. The class time had not gone well. People seemed uninterested and even bored. When he asked questions, he got no response. When he asked if they had any questions, he got no eye contact. When the class time was over, people seemed to rush out the door. He sat in the empty classroom feeling like he had failed.
Choosing to Learn from "Failure"
John faced a critical choice: he could either look at this experience as a terminal failure or as a learning experience. Faced with a similar situation, many people would think "I guess I was mistaken about teaching. I'm no good at it. I sure don't have the spiritual gift of teaching. I don't know what I was thinking about even trying it. I'll never make that mistake again! I'll stick to what I know I can do." Having fallen short of their goal, they label themselves a failure and become fearful of trying anything new.
Although he inwardly cringed when he thought about the class experience and his very public "failure," John realized that this experience would only have value if he learned from it. So he made an appointment to talk to the adult education pastor. Feeling rather embarrassed and concerned about what the pastor would think of him, he nonetheless gave an honest account of what had happened the previous Sunday. He admitted he didn't know what had gone wrong or what he needed to do differently.
John's willingness to use the experience to learn all that it would teach him became a key juncture in his life. During his time with the adult ed pastor, he found out that many of the people in the young adult class were new Christians with little background in the Bible. Several of them were dealing with difficult family issues and financial struggles. Many felt they were just surviving life and were looking to the church to provide a lifeline.
John had an "Aha!" moment. He realized that he had been focused on the content he wanted to teach but hadn't looked at the needs of his listeners. He had given them a good advanced-level introduction to the book of Philippians, but totally missed showing them how the wisdom and truths of the book related to their everyday lives. He hadn't made the content come alive for them.
The Gift of "Failure"
Henry Ford said that "Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently." The next Sunday, John began class by admitting the mistakes he had made the previous week. For the first time, the class' eyes showed real interest. He then asked the class members why they came to this class, and what they hoped to learn. His vulnerability in sharing his "failure" with them enabled them to be open about their lives, needs and hopes. John was then able to take the biblical content of the day's lesson and demonstrate how it related to the lives of the young men and women in his class. Interest, energy and interaction characterized that second class session. John went on to become someone whom others referred to as a "gifted teacher." That never would have happened if he had not chosen to learn from his initial "failure."
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