Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure
by J.R. Briggs
Reviewed by Clint Walker
I suppose I am a glutton for emotional punishment. My wife sighed when she saw me with this book. And rightfully so. I have been feeling like a failure lately. I have especially felt down about my ministry work, but because I tie so much of my self-value to how successful I am as a pastor, it cannot help but also find its way into how I feel about who I am as a father, husband, friend, and human being. I feel like their is a big "L" for loser on my forehead at this point in my life, and try as hard as I may to feel different, I struggle to overcome it.
J.R. Briggs, in his book Fail, talks about the sense of failure that many pastors experience and/or feel, and sees that sense of failure at the very least as not fatal in life or ministry, and at best perhaps fertile ground for growth as a disciple of Christ and perhaps as a minister.
Briggs discusses all sorts of failure that a minister can experience. He speaks of failure in the ministry that is the result of sin. He shares about ministry failures that are a result of a lack of wisdom, or perhaps a series of poor communication patterns between the pastor and the congregation or congregational leadership.
Perhaps, what Briggs really grabs onto that is helpful is a study about amoral ministry failure. He describes in detail how that process comes about, how it wounds the soul of the Christian leader, and healthy ways of recovering from such a failure. I found this section of the book worth the price of the entire text.
Another thing Briggs does that is helpful, however is that he describes the landscape of the modern American church and the modern pastor's ministry. Using Eugene Peterson as a foil against the modern business and success model of doing church, he then borrows statistics that speak to the scene of pastoral ministry on pages 46-47 of this text. These include:
David Hansen put it correctly in his book The Art of Pastoring; Ministry Without All the Answers. Ministry is a journey to the cross, or at least of taking up your cross and following Jesus. It is not supposed to be easy. But, there are points when you really wonder if God wants you on his ministry team anymore. Briggs gets this. He acknowledges this sense of failure as part of ministry, and then he leads ministers, not necessary out of failure, but to a place of healing and perhaps hope. Praise the Lord.
- 40 percent of pastors seriously considered leaving ministry in the last three months
- 25 percent of pastors have been forced out or fired from their church at least once
- 45 percent of pastors experience depression or burnout to the point where they express a need to take a leave of absence.
- 70 percent of pastors report not having a single close friend
- Pastors who work less than 50 hours a week are 35 percent more likely to be terminated