Tip: Let Them Fail.
On Tuesday, I shared the tip of students leading within your ministry. Today, I want to follow up with an important part of student leadership. In fact, I think this idea is good for everyone in leadership. When working with students in the leadership role, we as mentors have to allow them the opportunity to fail.
Now that might sound harsh, but let me explain. Early in my ministry, I felt an enormous pressure to produce and succeed. Getting things wrong was something I wasn’t willing to allow to happen. But failure is inevitable. No matter how hard we work, no matter how many times we review, go over, or rework, something somewhere at sometime will fail. However, when the pressure is on, failure becomes a killer.
But through the years, I’ve learned that I can’t control every variable. Sometimes a storm postpones the year end cookout, even when the weather-guy says sunny skies. And sometimes, despite all the phone calls, radio spots, posters, and advertisement, only 20 people will attend the big concert.
Failure is part of life.
When it comes to your students leaders, the lessons that come with failure are lessons that apply to more than just ministry.
1. Let them Fail.
– Failure isn’t the end of ministry. A couple of years ago, I saw a student ministry turn over a weekend worship to the student body. I thought this was a great idea, so I stole it. (Because that’s what we do with great ideas.) I set aside 4 weekends that we designated as student-led weekends. We asked each class to take a weekend and plan the worship, games, welcome, skits, everything. For most of the classes, this was great. Students stepped up and did a great job. But one class, despite their planning, ran short; almost an hour short. They went through all of the materials; games, worship, speaking, skits, all of it, and the clock said we still had almost an hour left.
My initial reaction was to fix it. Everything in me said, run to the office, grab some games, and step in to save the night. But I didn’t. Instead, I let the students figure it out. They planned the night. They were put in the place of leadership. And they were going to work through the situation.
The night turned out to be fine. The students threw together a couple more games, and then gave some time for a spontaneous dance party. It wasn’t what I would have done, but allowing the students to fail created a valuable lesson for my young leaders.
2. Let Them Learn.
– Failure can be embarrassing. Nobody likes to fail, especially when others are watching. But each failure comes with lessons we can learn from. One of the things we did following our student-led worship was to get together to talk about what had happened. The students were given time to review and talk about the program they created. They were able to recognize and pinpoint the mistakes they made. As it turned out, the content they put together would have been sufficient to fill the time. The problem was, everything was rushed. One game that should have gone for 15 minutes lasted only 5. The same was true with the worship. Instead of 20 minutes, it was over in 10. The students learned that they needed to slow down and not rush through things so quickly. They also learned to have a plan B, just in case things go wrong.
3. Let Them Try Again.
– One thing I am thankful for is second chances; and third chances, and forth chances, and fifth chances… If I was fired every time I failed, well, let’s just not go there. Failures are opportunities to try it again. No one has ever invented anything that worked perfectly the first time out.
Yesterday, Apple announced the new iPhone 4s. It’s sharp. And I want one. But I have no plans on buying the first one. Why? Because there will be bugs, glitches, repairs, and updates. Despite all the testing that Apple puts their products through, there will still be issues. So I’ll wait until they work out all the bugs and get it right.
When students fail, they need to be encouraged to try it again. Help them to take what they learned from the first time ’round, and apply it this time. Knowing the mistakes from the first time help them to avoid the same mistakes the second time. It’s how we grow.
The mistakes I made twenty years ago have helped to shape who I am as a youth pastor. It was the men who mentored me along the way who helped me see and learn from those mistakes.
Let your students lead. And let them fail. They will be better leaders when you do.