I have been thinking a lot about failure recently. As vicar in a new parish, you are forever getting things slightly wrong, and forgetting how things work. More than that, there is a desire to do good, to build the church, to serve God faithfully. You want to do well; you don’t want to fail.
It seems that in the church, too often, we are averse to failure. We don’t think we can, or should, fail as Christians. Failure is not talked about, or even tolerated. Everything should be a success and encouraging if it is to be discussed within the church, it would appear.
But I think it’s okay to fail. First of all, because being a failure, and recognising yourself as such, is the first step in the Christian life. It is precisely because we cannot save ourselves, and we fail if we try, that Jesus had to come and die. Human beings are failures as followers of Christ. As Paul tells the Romans, “there is no one who does good, not even one.” We are failures, each and every one of us. It’s not fun or pleasant to say, but it’s true.
Yet, despite our failure to follow and honour God, he welcomes us to himself in Jesus Christ. God knows we are failures and makes us family nonetheless. Grace takes failures like you and I and turns us into holy people, precious and chosen in God’s sight.
That’s why it’s okay to fail. Because our standing and status before Almighty God does not depend on our success, and is not threatened by our failure. If we fail, as we will, it does not turn God against us or remove Jesus’ saving work. We can admit to failing because failing does not change our identity.
Now, as we embrace failure, we shouldn’t aim for it. We want to do things well for the glory of God, and we want our endeavours to be a success. We certainly don’t want to legitimise or celebrate moral failure. Where we have failed to honour God or obey his commands, we ought to come to him in repentance and ask for forgiveness. That is crucial. But embracing failure means we can do this and we know we will find that forgiveness in Christ. Failure finds forgiveness in Jesus.
For this reason, we ought to be a church that embraces failure. That will mean we can also be a church that embraces risk too. Because you will never take risks if you can never take failure. But a church that embraces failure and learns from it, will also be a church that takes risks and goes all out for God’s mission. Because it is a mission that does not depend on our success (thank God!) and it is a mission that is never sunk by our failures.