The Process For Failing Forward As A Preacher

The Process for Failing Forward As A Preacher

In the last couple of posts we have been considering the need to fail forward as a leader and preacher.  It is likely, as we have seen, that you will fail to live up to Paul’s description of leaders, that they be “above reproach” at all times.  So, what do you do then?  In this post we will look briefly at a process for failing forward as a preacher of the gospel.

Step One In Failing Forward

Note that I am seeking to consider how to personally fail forward, not how others should restore a fallen leader.  If you want to know more about a suggested process for that, check out this blog by Duke Taber.

The first step in failing forward is repentance.  As I write this post today the news in the United States is about the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo.  He is resigning after 11 women accused him of sexual harassment.  An investigation found that the women were credible, and that there was apparently a pattern for the governor’s actions.  However, his approach has been to deny and accuse his accusers of lying.  Unfortunately, this pattern is also true very often for preachers when someone identifies their failures.   A time of sorrow is the appropriate response in the process for failing forward as a preacher or leader.

What is the content of the repentance?  I have found that there are two levels of repentance: the first level is sorrow for the failure itself; the second level is sorrow for the deception that usually accompanies sin.  When you know you are doing something wrong, it is easy to try to cover it up, and that is why we repent of that tendency as well.

Step Two in The Process For Failing Forward

The next step is to withdraw from ministry–if the failure warrants it.  I once had a man in my congregation who would take his Greek New Testament to church on Sunday morning.  One week I had failed to do the background on the two primary words for “time” in the New Testament.  As a result, I made a big point of saying that the word under consideration was kairos, which is a special moment, when in fact it was chronos, the marching of seconds to minutes to hours, etc.   My church member pointed this out to me in an email.  This type of failure doesn’t require a withdrawal from ministry.  I apologized to the person and to the church the next Sunday, acknowledging that I didn’t do the homework required, and pledging to do better.

Later, however, I failed in a way that the elders determined it was necessary for me to step back from active ministry.  I agreed.  I needed to figure how I had gotten to the place I was–what led to my choices?

Step Three: Begin or Design a Process

The third step is to enter a process toward restoration.  Depending on the failure, this will likely involve counseling by a professional, as well as spiritual support by others.  It is important to note here that different denominations will likely have differing processes for such restoration.  You will need to be in contact with those in places of authority in your denominational church family.  If you don’t have such a process, you will have to work to create your own with leaders in your church.

You also need to get spiritual support.  I look back with deep appreciation for seven men who surrounded me during my time of failure.  They listened to me, prayed with me, encouraged me, and held me accountable for my behaviors and attitudes.  You may not need seven people, but you will need some who play this role in the process for failing forward as a preacher and leader.

Step Four in the Process of Restoration

The fourth step is to deeply experience discipline.  John Piper puts it this way, in his blog, Desiring God:

What I’ve seen is this: men who have lived in deception and immorality and hypocrisy for a significant time, and then are caught, have hardened their hearts and dulled their capacities to repent for so long, that their ability to see things for what they really are is profoundly impaired. They’re calling themselves repentant, but they can’t see. They don’t have the sensibilities; they’ve been deadened for so long. And so, they are in no position — now mark this; this is really important — they are in no position, soon after their discovery, to make any good judgments about their fitness for ministry and what is good for the flock and the glory of Christ.

He is referring to someone who has committed adultery here, but the truth holds for any failure we have been covering up for a long time.  Don’t hurry your time of discipline, following the plan set out for restoration.

Step Five: Celebrate Restoration and Remain Broken

The last step is to celebrate the time when you are restored to preaching.  Rejoice in God’s goodness, grace, mercy and forgiveness.  Secondly, don’t forget your brokenness.  Remember what it feels like to come humbly before God.  This will enrich your ministry.

Much more could be said about the process for failing forward as a preacher, but this is enough for this post.  For further reflection, here is a couple of  leaders talking about restoration.