My first ministry failure came when I was asked to lead a small group in a parachurch women's Bible study. I had only been a believer about three years, but I was on fire for Jesus and eager to serve Him. I was determined to be the best small group leader in the entire study, even though I had not learned to depend on the Lord and was still operating out of my own strength.
Every week, fewer and fewer women showed up in my group. In my defense, we were studying the book of Hebrews, and the homework was tedious. And a couple of studies from throughout the city combined that year as an experiment, and as a result, women had to drive long distances. Some dropped out and looked for Bible studies closer to home.
In my naiveté I called the women weekly, an urgency in my voice, with questions about their attendance. As I faced the looming reality that my first attempt at leading a small group might bomb, the enemy successfully and relentlessly whispered discouragement. As year end drew closer, I wondered if the leadership would give me another chance. I wasn't sure I wanted one. But when I met with one of the leaders to discuss the possibility, she said, "We are only called to be faithful, not successful. You have been faithful." A significant life lesson that I have never forgotten. Thank you.
The second big ministry failure came several years later, after I had led small groups that bonded and thrived. Thank you, Lord. This time, the leadership asked me to take on the responsibility of class administrator for one of six classes in the city. I said yes. One of my duties was to recruit small group leaders for the following year. But when several of the current leaders decided they could not return the next year, I took their resignation personally. The enemy successfully and relentlessly whispered "This is about you. They don't want to work with you." Obviously, I was not ready for this role.
New in faith and still insecure in heart, I crumbled under the pressure. With less than a month before the study was to kick-off, I called the leadership and resigned. My immaturity caused the leaders to scramble to replace me, amidst much angst, I'm sure. But, amazingly, they kept me on as a leader, and continued to pour into my life to build my spiritual and emotional strength. Thank you. I could go on.
Now, after almost forty years of ministry to women, I thank God for these dear women who continued to forgive me and invest in me. My service to others builds on the shoulders of my spiritual mothers, women who reparented me in my early Christian life. They did not give up on a naive insecure woman who loved the Lord but failed miserably many times. Jesus is about second chances, and third, and fourth, and fifth. I'm constantly reminded of His grace and mercy, evidenced by women like those I have described. Some are with the Lord now. Others have retired. Some still serve. I thank them all.
Maybe one of the marks of a Christ-like leader is the gift of second chances. Oh, Lord, help us all to remember our own failures and your tender mercies, and pass it on.