4/13/2008

Theology of Hope (and failure)

I'm thinking this week about hope and failure.

So, what do you think? --Keith Drury

31 comments:

Richard said...

We need to learn how to serve God in all things and at all times. Have you succeeded? Continue to serve God. Have you failed? Serve God anyway!

Kris said...

One thing we do not realize is that sometimes, there is nothing we can do. Sometimes, no we can't. And to accept that, makes living more bearable.

There are lots of things we could do, like intensifying discipleship/membership to prepare us..instructing parents in ways to raise us in a way that makes us more capable, mature individuals, taking the training wheels off of us..But, I would advise my senior pastor that the best way to prepare the youth he interacts with is honesty.

Tell it like it is, without forgetting God, and that sometimes, pain is more profitable than pleasure to the Christian.

'Though He slay Me, I will trust in Him.'

::athada:: said...

Coach & others -

What have you found is a common "breaking point" time after graduation? I'm one year out. Frustrations so far, but no meltdowns yet.

Ryan Budde said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tricia said...

To the senior pastors/denominational leaders I'd say join the ideal, young graduates in their service, and walk with them in their efforts even if you are not convinced it will save the world. (Assuming the service is nothing that compromises your core convictions.) Celebrate their successes. Your support and service will give you the influence to speak into their lives when they need it, and make it easier for them to hear your words when you have to disagree with them about whatever it might be.
Create an atmosphere where tough questions can be asked. As young leaders realize things are not working out as expected in their real lives, they would be well served if they had a safe place to think (talk) through what the spiritual implications are.

pastorchris'place said...

I would say to the church, "Please, shift from the business model of 'success' and back to the biblical model of faithfulness and fruitfulness." This would help us all.

I am afraid for my denomination that we no longer act out of a theological but pragmatic base. We might even focus on what works over and above what is right. We only expose our up-and-coming leaders to the 'successful' leaders from stations where things are working. We never expose them to folks serving in unknown places who have poured their lives out in service God and his people following a call rather than building a career and regardless of recognition.

Youthful enthusiasm and hopefullness is always to be welcomed and encouraged. We older guys (39 year-olds and older) need the energy that comes from those not yet cynical. The fresh ideas and energy infuses all of the church with new life.

We need to be more humble and stop trying to "control" everything. Servant leadership is not control, but care.

I look at the life of Joseph when considering living a dream life. Before he, or we, can lead big, we must serve small. I think therefore, the church must provide and require more "ministry" involvement in less demanding stations before a person is dropped like a paratrooper for Jesus to lead in a place of great responsibility.

Amber Janelle said...

I don't think I'm qualified to suggest answers to this yet... because like thada, I'm only a year out. However, I've been wrestling with this whole idea of success/failure lately... And I've been forced to ask myself some questions that might prod some good thoughts from other people. What is more valuable, obedience or success? Does God sometimes ask us to obey in such a fashion that it leads to what we might see as failure? Do I serve God and the Kingdom so I can succeed, or do I serve out of love that isn't self-seeking? I don't think I'm the only person who struggles with having a performance-driven, people-pleasing mindset. That mixed with young idealism can be dangerous--because I think I can actually convince myself (even though I know better) that God won't love me as much if I don't pull the A and lead someone to Jesus every week. I've been challenged by looking at the life and ministry of Jeremiah recently. Might God call me to a ministry that I'll never view as "successful?" I think He very well may.... and Lord Jesus, let my heart be in the right place so I can value obedience and love over success. I'll be checking back to see what you all have to offer on this one.

Keith Drury said...

I don't want to take the discussion off in the direction of "what the kids should do" (rather than how we in the church should help them in their coming ten years...BUT, Amber's comment above reminded me of the best book on the subject of "true success = obedience" --a book the REL faculty here read through this year... (probably have to get it at abe.com as a used book)

The Keys of the Kingdom, by A. J. Cronin...written in the 1940's placed in the late 1800's and early 1900's, a novel about a Scottish priest-becomes-missionary-becomes-old-man-pastor... Chris Bounds and Dave Smith said it was one of the most important books they read in seminary--I never read it until this year.

OK , sorry for the sideline defying my own suggestions... now, back to how the church can help these idealistic "world-changers" from crashing in the next ten years when their dreams and visions of grandeur hits the wall of real life

Dave said...

But what advice do you have for us—the church, in dealing with this coming wave?
How would you advise senior pastors? What would you say to local church board members or denominational officials?

1. We need to tell them the truth about the world. Jesus said I am sending you out as lambs to the wolves. There is a theology of suffering and failure in the Bible.

2. Give them secular classics to read like Candide by Voltaire to understand the cynicism of the world they are entering.

3. "Your Best Life Now" is not a classic book on how to engage the world.

3. Refuse to "stroke" this generation for every nice thing they do as if they just won the nobel peace prize. Faithfulness and fruitfulness to God is an expectation of a Christ follower, not a reward.
This begins in elementary school where principals "shave their heads" if a kid reads a book.

4. Most pastors/church leaders think that the best way to motivate people is to constantly affirm people even in areas they know it's not true. How many people end up at seminaries because someone refused to tell them you're not seminary or pastoral material?

Mark Schnell said...

The Keys of the Kingdom by A.J. Cronin is in print and in stock at Amazon.

The AJ Thomas said...

I'm not sure how you prepare folks as spoon fed and optimistic as the ones you describe for the emotional impact of failure but as far as what to do when you have failed I think schools could literally just teach it. Give them case studies, problem based learning stuff, where they have just failed in ways A,B, and C and let them figure out the next steps. If there are people they need to apologize to make them draft a letter. If they wasted a bunch of money on it and now need to find more make them come up with a strategy for that. Basically they have to put together a plan to right what they messed up and move forward again towards the goal.

It would take more work on your part but it would be even more effective if you gave them the original goal/situation and made them come up with a strategy to accomplish it. Whether that goal is specific as "run a good youth rally" something medium like "preach well" or massive like "lead a church through a major turn around.

Once they have completed that project you "grade it" and describe their failure. You write them a half-page summary of everything that went wrong. If it was a really bad plan this part is easy. If it's a good plan you get to throw in fun stuff like "turns out the people in your church think you are an idiot and don't want to help you" you know, self-esteem building stuff.

If you want to take a crack at the emotional impact side of things give them a failing grade on the first section of the project.

Beth said...

In my TAWG last week I was reading from Deut. 31. God told Moses that he was soon to die and join his ancestors...that after Moses was gone the Israelites would begin to worship foreign gods, that they would abandon God and break His covenant with them, that they would be devoured and He would hide His face from them.

Just think - after all Moses' years of pouring himself into these people, sharing with them what God had shared with him, giving himself totally to the work of leading...as soon as he's gone they'll abandon it all?!

Why would God choose to put such a heavy burden on Moses right at the point of death? Was God telling this old man that all he had done was for naught? That he had failed?

There have been many times during our 25 years of ministry that I've felt like after pouring myself into the lives of people, sharing with them what God has shared with me, after giving myself totally to the work, that it was all for naught…I couldn't measure any level of "success" I'd had. But I truly believe God honors faithfulness and obedience.

Did the prophets of old change the lives of those to whom they were sent? Not always, but they were faithful to go when God said, "GO!" They were faithful to proclaim the truth when God said "PROCLAIM!"

The church has a responsibility to teach this YES-WE-CAN generation that serving God is all about obedience and faithfulness…let's begin teaching obedience and faithfulness while they're still young...let’s go back to teaching the “keep on keepin’ on” way of living for the Lord! ;)

adam profitt said...

Idealism is possessed by every generation of ministers, isn't it? I'm in the "younger" generation - out for two years now - but those I've talked with from the older generations have their "used-to-be-more-idealistic" stories to tell.

I feel that I left college with a pretty realistic mindset. I credit that to my profs. We were taught not only the positive side of ministry but the realistic side as well. That teaching was implemented in senior-level classes.

But, having said that, it sometimes feels that if I am not as idealistic as I could be or as I know others to be, then I won't accomplish as much for God. So somewhere (perhaps just from the voices in my head), I've picked up on that line of thinking.

A reminder I give myself frequently is that I'm not called to *see* amazingly huge things done for God from my efforts. I'm called to do my absolute best and be faithful where God has called me. And if that's "planting seeds" for the next 40 years without seeing mega-moves, then I'm content with that, knowing that I'm fulfilling the plan that God has for me.

Teaching that failure happens is something that we need to be doing. Perhaps we're afraid that in teaching it we will crush the idealism that we find valuable. And yet, if we can get students to be ready for failure/disappointments/etc. when they come, I think we will see much less burnout resulting.

Webb said...

There is a new television series that addresses this reality head on, though it is presented from a secular point of view. (this means that the solution to everything is get drunk and have sex) It is called "Quarterlife" and follows the stories of 6 friends who are just beginning to experience their lives after college. Perhaps the most poignant and descriptive line is delivered by Brittany (the show's blogger-cum narrator)

"A sad truth about my generation is that we were all geniuses in elementary school but apparently the people who deal with us never got our transcripts because they don’t seem to be aware of it."

The problem - it seems - is larger than the church; it is a cultural phenomenon.

Believe it or not, I am going to argue that this might be related to grade inflation. Somewhere in the late 70's or early 80's the focus of our educational system shifted from a "content" driven system, where some people succeeded and others failed, to a self-esteem driven system. In 1978 Bridgeman and Shipman published a paper which suggested that "self esteem in preschool predicts third grade achievement". With this pronouncement (and others by Kifer et al) the establishment of a strong self image began to trump academic success. To accomplish this everyone must pass with a pat on the back.

In the 30 years that followed, higher education, elementary sports, and the church adapted to this model pretty well. Mediocrity became the new excellence.

Now, we are faced with a generation of students (myself included) who have nearly been told that they "cannot fail" at least that is what their self-image believes. When they do actually fail (see Keith's note) the cognitive dissonance is nearly impossible to cope with - leading to loss of self and loss of faith.

How can we help - let's take a page from what God does on this one...

God has allowed me to fail - several times! I think he may have even set me up to fail on a couple of occasions. It was not fun! I did not like it! I cried, kicked, and screamed a LOT!

But you know what, I learned:
1. Failure happens
2. Failure is (generally) defined more by my response to it that the failure itself.
3. Failure is a great opportunity to learn.
4. I will pay for failure - sometimes pay big - but that is part of the lesson.
5. My self esteem is not anchored in my success or my failure.
6. I do not need the applause of others to succeed, nor do I need their condemnation to fail.
7. I often cannot recognize success or failure - my life may be too short a time to measure these things.
8. God's love for me does not depend on my success.
9. My love for God is not conditional to my success or failure.
10. Sometimes failure is for my long-term benefit, or for the benefit of those I will teach.

Perhaps that is what we should teach.

Yes, We Can - Fail... and still live to tell.

Chap said...

Nice post Webb.

Our society is now harvesting the "self-esteem" model of education, much like we are still harvesting the Dr. Spock modelf for parenting.

I've realized Keith that what has been left out of this discussion is parenting. (this is something pastors/churches) can impact.

Chip Ingrahm in his series "Effective Parenting in a Defective World" suggests that as Christian parents we need to teach our kids a theology of suffering...

1. Life is hard, but God is good.
2. Life is unjust, but God is Sovereign.
3. Suffering is normal
4. Teach kids to work "unto the Lord"--regardless that everyone else could care less about work.

Foundational passages like Joseph (Gen. 37-50) and 1 Peter 2:21-23 should be read in every household.

Pastor Rod said...

I'm very encouraged after reading these comments. Maybe the entire church hasn't sold out to pragmatism after all.

The Western church prays at the altar of success, wealth and political influence.

The only kind of failure that is tolerated is the kind that happened a long time ago and that eventually lead to overwhelming success.

We need a theology of failure and weakness.

The problem is that as soon as a prophet arises to proclaim this message we will turn him or her into a hero and miss the point all over again.

Rod

Erin Crisp said...

I think I may still fall in the category of the "younger generation" as my husband and I are still preparing for full time ministry in seminary, but I heard one of our denominational leaders speak recently and he said to a group of soon-to-be graduates, "Don't make the same mistakes we've made; make new mistakes of your own." You all have offered great advice for the church in helping us, and I would add his statement to the list.

To me, he is saying that you (church leaders) know that I'm young and idealistic and ready to change the world, and that you are ready for me to fail at something, but that you value my enthusiasm and willingness to try. You don't expect me to be perfect, but you do expect me to be a good steward of my education- to think carefully about the mistakes and triumphs of the past while on my journey. Just by hearing him state that he expected me to make a mistake at some point allowed me to let out a sigh of relief. A possible unfortunate result of failing to make this expectation known is that we may be tempted to attempt nothing- to live in mediocrity- out of fear of failure and lose our idealism altogether. That would be tragic.

Kevin Wright said...

Maybe reading 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 and then seeking to model our communities after Paul's words will help us live more faithfully in light of expectations we cannot possibly meet.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Why do we "talk" of success or failure at all? That paradigm is America's biggest "lie"...Don't choose a career because it will make you "somebody", but choose a career that you are "made for" and it is "made for you"...one that gives you pleasure, a sense of satisfaction, one that is based on values you uphold. Those are the "goals" we should seek....not "money and political influence"...(unless that is where you "fit")...

John Mark said...

Angie, you are right. Still, it is always painful to pour your life into something and have no visible, tangible results or negative ones, and I think that is what we are speaking of here. I think of my former youth pastor who was very popular here, left to move west and is, I hear, barely treading water with his new youth group who sit and stare dully at him during teaching sessions. Stanley Jones said something about commiting your all to the Lord and not worrying about "success" or "failure" for in Gods economy there is really only faithfulness. I probably butchered that, but I think I am essentially right. Still, it can be frustrating to "fail" in the human sense.
I read A. J. Cronins book over the weekend. Worth the time, for sure. Has anyone every read anything about J. O. Frazier, an early missionary to China? I have been told to read about him, he had many struggles, but overcame eventually as he learned to pray.

James said...

We (the Church)ought to set our priorities so high, ought to hold ourselves accountable to such lofty expectations, ought to demand such dramatic results, that if we do not grow spiritually, we (as the Church) will utterly fail.
I am a gullable X-er, and since Advent, I have been preaching every week about our hope in Christ. I have failed, and will fail again, but my hope is still in Christ.

Daniel G. Shipton said...

I appreciate all the thoughts given on this subject. I am ten years out of college, and have experienced my share of failure. One thing I realized over the past ten years, is that God accepts, and works through failure. Our world is far too focused upon worldly sucess, and it does come into churches. We compare numbers and activities when we gather with others instead of focusing on fruit and love.

I read the Bible and see God working through David, Moses, Paul, Peter, and viritually ever person written about. Yet, in almost every case they failied. Abraham the father of faith was a liar, and yet God chose to make him the "Father of Faith". Moses, a murder, and in some sense a coward led Israel out of Egypt. Paul attacked Christ directly, and yet became one of the greatest missionaries God has ever had.

We need to foucs on faith and fruit more, as others have said. We need to teach reality that life is hard, and not everything we touch will turn to gold. Most importantly, we must show them that God wants to help us through those times of failure. He sees the bigger picture beyond the moment, and He can help us to a new place in Him.

Wes McCallum said...

TWO ISSUES: First, the Millennial Generation (or Gen “Y”) IS THE LIFE AND HOPE OF THE CHURCH. I love them, they are optimistic, enthusiastic, and tech savvy! However, they may be somewhat spoiled. They’ve enjoyed “the good life”, had far greater experiences and exposure (than X’ers or boomers), and have much higher expectations out of life.

Secondly, THE CHURCH ISN’T READY FOR THEM. Their view of the world and the church is so radically different, that the church doesn’t know how to incorporate them. Traditional or revivalist churches aren’t ready for the radical changes that GenY-ers expect to make.

SO, HOW CAN THE CHURCH PREPARE FOR THIS WAVE?

1. MENTORING – I find that young adults want to be mentored in honest, open, authentic relationships. The professor / student model needs to be replaced with a pastor / partner model of learning. Church and college need to be integrated. Also, pastors and teachers can also learn from these collegians.

2. COMMUNAL LIVING. John Wesley trained lay preachers through a monastic / life-application model. He used small groups to train up leaders. He disciplined them in ancient disciplines of prayer, fasting, study, meditation, alms-giving, and service to the poor. Young adults will respond well to communal living and “doing church as a team”. Many GenY-ers have experienced “the good life”, yet never have experienced “the simple life”.

3. INNER CITY MISSION – local churches might adopt young graduates to plant inner city missions and churches. Many young adults are enamored with city life where they can field test their vision of a radically different church. They need the support of an established church to finance an inner-city outreach.

4. CONTEMPLATIVE WORSHIP – Many young adults enjoy liturgical worship with creeds, candles, communion, icons, etc. John Wesley would love it!!! Today, he would adopt these collegians as “TRUE WESLEYANS”. Wesley would channel their creativity to minister to the poor, evangelize the lost, disciple believers, and build an authentic worshipping church. Okay, so it’s not our revivalist kind of church, but it does have deep meaning to them and appeals to their generation.

5. EXPRESSIVE / ENERGITIC WORSHIP – Many young adults enjoy contemporary, even charismatic worship. Although such “enthusiasm” was not John Wesley’s style, he would channel their energies to reach a lost culture though innovative ways. Many graduating seniors have yet to discover that the “worship wars” are still not over. My denomination (Wesleyan) has over 1200 small churches under 100. Many of these still resist changing the music or the aesthetics. Some still don’t have a video projector!

A TSUNAMI WARNING – this wave of “world changers” is a tsunami that potentially may engulf the church. Watch out, they’re out the change their world! We’d better ride the wave and help channel the current, or get out of the way. If the church isn’t ready for them, they will pursue other venues to express their talents, energies, and optimism. Many church and campus leaders do listen to their vision and passion. Okay, so we don’t embrace all of their methods. But we can help mentor them and mutually learn together in the process.

Almost Left Coast Drury said...

Clearly this is a compelling topic. Here are a couple of my observations:
1) Why do we think the answer to youthful optimism is to send them to the school of hard knocks--and fast? I don't get that. As if Drury failed more of his students this would somehow better prepare them for the rest of their lives. I had a few of those kinds of professors--they weren't that helpful. Schooling is fundamentally flawed, but it isn't because it doesn't teach enough about failure. If anything, primary and secondary schooling is a perfectly designed venue to crush youthful optimism with or without grades. I digress.

2) I haven't seen anyone say that the church should just love these folks. If you want to prepare people for failure, love them. While I see the failures in my life as quite important to my personal development, I do not view them as something to be sought out for personal edification. Failure is not a vitamin. Learn from it? Yes. Survive it? Absolutely. Embrace it? I don't think so. That's like telling a 17 year old who has just watched a beloved father die on a floor that such things are really for the best. Thanks. But for all you budding counselors out there--try telling such kids that they are loved and that you are hurting along with them. The kid in scene 4 needs someone willing to love her. Very likely, someone she loved and respected just jumped out of the way and threw her under the bus--probably the senior pastor who hired her. You can't be taught how to "handle" that--you need someone to be there to help you pick up the pieces.

3) The words obedience and faithfulness have come up a few times in the comments. If teaching the value of obedience and faithfulness is the key, what do we tell these kids when their failure is that they knowingly disobeyed God or were not faithful to a friend--and in fact betrayed a friend they professed and thought that they loved. Obedience and faithfulness sound a lot like euphemisms for Christian success. I'm not sure that's a solution. I would suggest we the try the word 'perseverance.' What drives people to not give up when they have failed? Love (see #2 supra). Compassion is another word I would throw out there for consideration.

4) My suggestion for an appropriate balance between reality, optimism and perseverance the church might consider using. The real Winston Churchill "Never Give Up" speech
Note the actual date the speech was given--two months before the U.S.A. even entered WWII--and that it wasn't just three words long.

Amber Janelle said...

Almost Left Coast,

I really appreciated your clarification about obedience/faithfulness vs. perseverance after experiences of spiritual "failure." You make a valid point... It's so easy to drop a worldly view of success and failure just to look for a new way to "measure up" our lives based on spiritual "success." Could this be something specific to address within the holiness movement? We preach and teach (and rightfully so) that Christians are called and enabled to live lives which are victorious over sin. But, how can we still prepare people to persevere--to press on--if they fall spiritually? Especially those of us who are optimistically heading into ministry?

PKF said...

I think that it is nice to talk about how to prepare young people for real life, but most young people don't believe you when you talk about real life, failures, etc. They tend to think that it won't happen to them.
So...I suppose that an effort could be made to "teach about failure and how to respond to it". However, it is true that after "going thru the fire" is when God tends to be able to use us to effectively minister in His name.

Timothy said...

One of the most liberating moments in my Christian experience was discovering (in college!) that the only thing in my life that cannot glorify God is sin. My successes and my failures -- if it all is His, then it all will bring glory to Him.

Wess Stafford (and others) has said that, "Failure, to the Christian, is to succeed even wildly at something that does not matter."

I think the secret is teaching young people what really matters and what is non-essential.

elizabeth said...

This summer I will be teaching my daughter to ride her bike without training wheels. She is the one who initiated this endeavor upon seeing the older kids sail up and down the street. She is very excited about this whole new found freedom and sees the success of all of those more experienced riders around her. They make it look so easy. However, I do know what goes into learning to ride without those two important support wheels. There will be falling into the bushes, skinned knees, and bruised pride before any "sailing" begins. I already had the little sit down talk with her about how she will fall and that she will have to get back up and try again anyway, ect. Even after our heart to heart it is as if none of it has sunken in. She is still ready to ride!!!
Now... am I ready to run? Even more... am I ready to let go when I know she is about to land face first in what I hope will be the grass not the pavement?

The church needs experienced "runners". People who embrace these young adults' enthusiasm and will run along beside them to encourage them. People who know how to encourage but also know how to let go and let gravity ( aka. failure). Yes this is a hopeful generation who seems to know no failure, but they are enthusiastic. And it is enthusiasm that jump starts almost all great new chapters in life. Few new ideas see the light of day without it. Optimism is something to be embraced.
Now, back to my daughter... when she does fall, as she will, I doubt it will be helpful to look into her tear-filled eyes and hiss, "See, I told you that you would fall! Hurts doesn't it!!" These "runners" in the church should also be experienced and sensitive enough to be available to sit beside these young adults while they pick the grass out from between their teeth and cry. The new to the ministry don't need someone to look at them and say, "I told you that was a stupid idea and no one would like it", but someone to just be there to support them and give them encouragement during the hard times as well. Someone to encourage them to get back on the bike and try again. The church has some of the most experienced adults in all fields of life who are just waiting to encourage those who have fallen. The challenge is getting the two involved together. The senior staff ( usually ) seem to know their congregation well and it would seem like they would be good at matching up mentors for the new beginners. Not to sound like a church dating program but mentorship has always been important to the lives of anyone new in any field. Why should it be any different in the church? If most american businesses teach out of mentorship, why can't the church pull off such an act and do it ten times better? There is a lot to be said about nine holes of golf or an evening coffee in the company of someone who has been there and done that. It can bring a lot of encouragement and wisdom to someone trying to learn the ropes.
Well, not to way over simplify a topic, like I have just done, but I really do believe that the right mentorship program in a church could be a real contributing factor to the success of new leaders in the church.

David Drury said...

As someone who hires other pastors (and is currently leading a young adult pastor search) I think it would be good for your students to know that failure is some of the most important experience I'm looking for in a leader.

The perfect prospect is someone who has experienced success in some ways--but gives God the glory... and who has experienced failure in some ways--but continues to give God his or her faithfulness.

Brokenness is not to be avoided--but is to be embraced. Walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Now, as to whether you can teach someone how to fail?

Well, you might as well ask if you can teach someone to have character. Failure itself may be the best teacher.

-David

Scott Hendricks said...

I'm not glad I failed already inside of college . . . since it was my fault, I think. But should I be? What about my incapacity to understand what it's like to fail when it's not my fault? Or is that failure at all?

John Howard Yoder would remind us that it seemed like Jesus failed. So, obviously, the world's vision of success leaves out what is most important to God, which looks a lot less pleasant, and more painful. +

Nicole5181 said...

I graduated from IWU in December 2003 with a glow of confidence about me. (Seriously, if you would have seen me you would have thought I was in love or pregnant or something else that classically causes a woman to radiate.) It was a confidence in who God had created and trained me to be, a confidence in God's awesome power to do something great in the world, and a confidence in His willingness to include me in that great work. I expected to be on the front lines -- seeing great victory after great victory. -- In a word, it was going to be -- glorious.

Now folks I wasn’t an idiot. I knew that it would be difficult, but difficulties weren’t the problem. It was unmet expectations. I did what I was sure God was asking me to do, but I did not arrive where I thought God was leading me. I fell FAR short of that mark and decided I must have misunderstood. So I listened again to His voice and followed Him to another mission and task – I’m afraid to say I think I may now be in the middle of another failure. Striving for the gospel, pressing in close to God, accomplishing not much of anything, I’ve wondered, “Has God set me up for failure?”

I write this to say I was the girl twirling the flaming baton in the YES-WE-CAN parade. And I am the woman still believing God has something incredible in store – just maybe it requires the fruit the failure produces in me.

Now, what can we say to the church to prepare them for the optimistic graduates? I think the church WANTS their optimism and passion. I think the church of tired Christians thinks it can bring in a peppy young pastor full-of life and that will help turn the church around. I say to the people in the pews (or plush stackable chairs as the case may be) – excite yourself! Don’t see a lively 20-something pastor and expect their passion to fuel your fire. Instead – meet fire with fire. Recover your first love for Jesus (if you’ve lost it) – because that pastor, no matter how pumped-up he or she is can never jump-start your passion. That’s your job as an individual. What I’m saying is, don’t expect them to stir you up. It will exhaust them to try.

Senior pastors –realize the new graduates still need mentoring. Meet with them often. Let them lead but help them process through the experiences they gain while under your watch. Share yourself with them. Let them know of a time you’ve failed and how you have grown from it. Affirm what you truly see them being skilled at while carefully pointing out what they are not skilled at. They can take it – they have to “take it” in order to find the area of service God intended them for.

I too have been thinking a lot about optimism and realism, hopefulness and failure and, you know, I don’t think you can really learn about how to handle failure until you fail while holding God’s hand.