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Learn From Failure

Man with arms outstretched near a cliff

Every pastor makes mistakes; every pastor has defeats. Mistakes are a part of life. Sadly, so is sin. Not even a pastor can escape Romans 3:23: “All of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory” (CEV).

None of us are perfect.

The difference between successful and unsuccessful leaders isn’t that the successful people don’t fail. The difference is that successful leaders learn from their failures.

I heard a story years ago about a young man who asked an executive, “What is the secret of success?”

“The secret of success is the right decisions,” the executive responded. 

“How do you make the right decisions?”

“By experience.”

“How do you get experience?”

“By making mistakes.”

I always told my staff at Saddleback to call failure an education. We did more things that didn’t work than did. That means I had a highly educated staff!

But the important part was we weren’t afraid to admit our mistakes and learn from them. The road to success is paved with failure. But what’s critical is this: We need to learn from those failures.

You can read a good example of learning from failures in Joshua 7. After the Israelites’ great victory at Jericho, they came to the little town of Ai.  

The Israelites had just taken on the greatest, most fortified city in the land—and had a resounding military victory. Then they got a little cocky and presumed upon God’s grace. Joshua sent only about 3,000 troops into the town to capture it—and his soldiers were defeated. 

But take note of how Joshua responded. He threw himself onto the ground and prayed, and God told him he needed to take care of a problem in the community. A man named Achan had taken some spoils of war when God had clearly told them not to; the entire camp was suffering because of Achan’s sin. 

God told Joshua to act, and that’s exactly what he did. Joshua could have defended Achan and refused to confront his sin. Instead, he admitted that Israel had sin in the camp. 

He allowed himself to be corrected by his defeat—and that’s a mark of a great leader. 

Pastor, be big enough to admit your error.

The real mark of leadership is the willingness to say to your people in your church, “I was wrong. I made a mistake.”

But do you know what’s better than learning from your mistakes? Learning from the mistakes of others. It’s wise to learn from experience, but it’s wiser to learn from the experiences of others. We don’t have time to make all the mistakes ourselves.

Of course, that means learning from people you know. When you see people failing, talk with them. Ask questions about what they’ve learned—and be alert to what they may still have to learn. 

And do these things too: Read biographies. Be teachable. Pray for insight. Always be on the lookout for people who have failed and recovered. 

Whatever you do, be corrected by your defeats and learn from the mistakes of others so you won’t have to make all of the mistakes yourself.

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