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Leading and Learning From Past Mistakes

As a teenager, my buddy fancied himself a hotshot skateboarder. Trying to do an ollie (a jump and board flip in midair) he landed badly and snapped the bone in his arm. The real ache was 6 weeks of summer spent in a cast. Finally he got the cast off and … well, he immediately went back to the same spot and tried the same thing … and broke his arm. Same move, same bone, same result.

He’s an adult now and he’s vowed to never stand on anything that has wheels. He also has this weird place on his arm where it still feels broken when you touch it. Moral of the story is the old adage: “Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them.” I like to put a positive spin on it: “Hey stupid—study mistakes!”

If your mission is church planting, at some point you’ll encounter failure. You’ll send out a guy who isn’t really gifted to preach. You’ll gather a team that turns out to be a collection of personal agendas. You’ll underfund a work. You’ll overreach your budget. You’ll burn out your best servants. All these mistakes and more have been personally authorized over the years by yours truly. Sometimes I can wonder if a successful church plant is more an accident than an action plan.

But we serve a sovereign God, and the church belongs to him, not to us. The mission marches on; it’s bigger than our mistakes. Several years ago, I was involved in bringing closure to a plant that wasn’t working. The church enjoyed meaningful relationships but began to stagnate and didn’t display necessary signs of ultimate viability. In retrospect, the pastor wasn’t a church planter. We sent out a guy, a team, and some cash all wrapped in serious hope. But I blundered. People were disappointed, some disillusioned. Still, it was an important lesson that helped refine the profile for our planters. It was also an opportunity to take solace in gospel truths.

By studying our mistakes, we learned that humility and love for God were essential but not sufficient for planting.  We learned the importance of the preaching gift and the essential role that a burden for evangelism plays in the heart of a planter. Learning from our failure provided opportunities for growth an improvement.  It also provided an opportunity to take solace in gospel truths.

The cross is the answer to the biggest blunder in human history, and it is more than sufficient for any blunders we can make. In fact, the Redeemer of sinners loves to redeem the mistakes forgiven sinners make. He loves to remind us we’re not God. And he wants to teach us from the mistakes we make so we don’t continually break important things that don’t need to be broken.

If you are a church planter you need to have a way to mine your inevitable mistakes for wisdom. Study what’s been done wrong. It will help you do it right.

This post originally appeared on Desiring God.

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