The Up-Side of Epic Failure

By Julie Roys
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Most people go to conferences to become successful. And, it’s no different in the church world. Church leaders flock to mega-church mega-conferences, trying to glean insights on programming, small group models, and methods of evangelism. But now there’s a conference that’s devoted – to failure.

That’s right. The “Epic Fail” Conference next week will gather pastors to process their failures. They’ll meet, appropriately, in a failed church-turned-bar in a small Pennsylvania town.

J.R. Briggs, a pastor and author inspired the conference with a blog posting last summer. “I’ve been to my fair share of church conferences in the past decade,” Briggs writes. “Some have been helpful. Most have not.”

Despite their big budgets, flawless programming, and big-name speakers, Briggs says he and most other pastors leave these conferences feeling inferior and insecure. What’s worse, some actually walk away thinking they’ve discovered the “silver bullet, the key concept, the perfect model” that will double their church overnight.

What if, Briggs asks, someone held a conference and invited speakers to share their failures, not their successes? Perhaps we could learn more from broken people sharing how God’s grace proved sufficient in weakness than we can from charismatic Superpastors.

I love this concept – not just for pastors. I think this should spawn an entire Epic Fail series. How about Epic Fail for businessmen, for parents, or for people like my dear friends who poured their hearts into a political campaign – and lost? How many of us yearn for a safe place to share, to cry, and to pray with other truly kindred spirits? How many of us would benefit from together “boasting in weakness,” so that Christ’s power could be revealed in us?

Recently, John Ortberg wrote in “Leadership Journal” about a survey on spiritual growth in which he participated. The survey asked thousands of people to share what contributed to their greatest seasons of spiritual growth. Participants didn’t name great teaching, small groups, insightful books, or even awesome worship experiences. No, they said they “grew more during seasons of loss, pain, and crisis than they did at any other time.”

We Christians are a strange bunch. We’re all moral failures. If we don’t think so, the Apostle John says “we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” But self-deception is a curious thing. I’ve found I cycle into it – often catapulted by some success; but then, I cycle out of it – usually dashed by some, at least to me, epic failure. I’ve come to understand that failure, submitted to God, can actually become this incredible gift. It reveals our inadequacy, yet help us discover God’s sufficiency. It wounds our pride, but failure increases our worship.

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