Grace to Fail at Faith and Life

by Sandy Drescher-Lehman, Methacton congregation

As I abandoned my warm cozy couch by the fire on Thursday evening, February 7, to head into the cold and rainy night toward Swamp Mennonite Church, I couldn’t remember anything about why I was doing this except that I had registered for another Faith and Life gathering. The thought of being with other credentialed leaders, whoever would show up, was meaning enough for my heart and soul (think: ENFP, Enneagram 7).

Being the first to arrive, I watched Swamp’s pastor, Nathan Good, putting the final touches on a welcoming table of fruit, cookies, and chocolate bark and then enjoyed the arrival of other pastors.   These were “my people”.

As we settled down around tables and J.R. Briggs, author of the book Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure, began his talk, I finally remembered what the topic was.  I also remembered that when I had registered, I wasn’t sure why I’d need to hear about this, since everything’s been going so well for me and the community at Methacton Mennonite Church.

But that wasn’t the point really.  I had voted a few years ago at conference assembly to affirm a group of pastors to provide quarterly gatherings for study, enrichment, and fellowship around how we practice our faith in life. They have delivered and I’ve never been disappointed.

J.R. Briggs, author of “Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure”.

What I soon realized was that the points the speaker was making were good to be reminded of, because even on my best days, I do make a lot of mistakes.  We all do, of course! What we do with those failures, and the accompanying feelings of rejection—and ultimately shame—was the topic for discussion.  How do we attend to the failures that we should expect and that Jesus does not keep us from, so that we can continue to find joy in our ministries?

After reading 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 & 16-18 several times together, we  shared our definitions of failure and success and vulnerability.  What do we do when we get BLASTed (Bored, Lonely, Anxious/Afraid, Stressed, or Tired)?  We were invited to think about the lies we’re tempted to believe about ourselves when we make mistakes, and the masks we put on to cover them. Instead of defining our success by the 3 Bs (Building, Bodies and Budget), we were encouraged to find freedom in the 4 Fs (Faithfulness, Fruitfulness, Fulfillment and Fellowship).

And those are the words I left the evening with: the good news that God uses people who fail, the good news that is only available to those who have failed, and the good news that freedom is found in nothing to hide, lose, or prove. J.R. and those around my table that night, in honest and vulnerable sharing, renewed my joy of being a pastor, alongside so many other wonderful people, who all fail at times and can then talk and pray about it together.

Thank you to the Faith and Life Commission members, for another good time of study, reflection, and renewal.

Faith & Life gatherings for credentialed leaders are held quarterly.  This year’s topics revolve around issues of leadership.  Our next gathering will be held in several locations around eastern PA and via Zoom on May 8 & 9, focusing on women in leadership with Carolyn Custis James.