Last month, I had a great moment with one of my favorite teens! (Yes, I do play favorites. You can ask any of my teens and they will proudly tell you why they are my favorite.) After a night of trying to pray with teens (a night that I had spent countless hours developing, praying through, and finally executing according to plan), this teen walked up to me and gave me a simple, concise explanation of her experience: “Fail.”
Just one week later, I tried to have some relational ministry time with our Core Members. After calling them, personally inviting them, and “ensuring” they would be there – only two showed up. Fail again.
The other day, I had a great conversation with another one of my favorite teens. This particular teen prayed through the entire Mass and couldn’t wait to tell me how amazing his experience was. As I stood there listening to how he prayed for his family, friends, for me and for the Core Team, I found myself planning Life Nights aimed at teaching teens to truly pray the Mass. Then, I realized something. This teen was looking for someone to share in his excitement and I was failing at that. Honestly, he prayed for an hour and all I could think of was my programming. I was failing to celebrate that moment with him.
Later, I apologized for not being present to him in the moment and we joked about how I’d failed. In the midst of our joking the teen did something that I will never forget – he thanked me for failing. I was stunned and slightly confused until the teen pointed out something I never considered: people fail. What matters isn’t how often we fail but how we handle the failure.
It made me think of my own failure and how I handle it. Two of Life Teen’s Core Values are authenticity and joy. If I am going to be a better youth minister (or just a holier person), I need to exhibit those two values in all areas of life, including my failure. Here are just a couple of ideas of how to embrace (and even celebrate) our failure so to grow in holiness and humility:
- Create a vision and set goals that are greater than your own ability. When your goals are bigger than yourself it makes three things possible: #1 it allows for others to share the vision and its success or failure. #2 it forces you to lean on God, so you pray more. #3 you allow yourself to fail.
- Own Responsibility. Whether or not the failure is completely your fault, it was your failure. Take responsibility for the failure and thank others for any assistance they provided or offered.
- Have fun with ministry I’m often reminded that we have one of the most fun jobs in history. Seriously, hanging out with teens is part of the job! If you enjoy what you are doing, teens will probably enjoy it too. Then, if you fail it won’t sting so badly.
- Laugh. The holiest people I’ve ever met laugh often and can laugh at themselves. So practice laughing at your small failures (like when you lock your keys in the car or run out of gasoline).
- Share. When you do something like locking your keys in the car, remember to share the story with your teens. Teens love a good story and what’s better than a funny story of your youth minister being less than perfect?
- Pray. Failure can often teach us how to succeed. Pray for the wisdom to see how you failed and what to do differently.
Remember that giving yourself permission to fail joyfully will teach teens that they don’t have to be perfect in order to be holy. I’m praying for you and your ministry and I pray that even your moments of failure are profound moments of grace.