Revolutionary Sunday School leaders pray and plan–in that order. And despite our best efforts, sometimes we fail. There are many understandable reasons for this.
Sometimes it is an issue of timing. The teacher enlisted for the new class gets a job transfer out of town before the class even starts. Sometimes it is an issue of circumstances beyond our control. A fire in a corner of the educational wing of the church causes Sunday School to be cancelled for a month before temporarily moving into a local school facility.
Sometimes a decision is made without considering all the details. I will never forget purchasing double decker baby beds to accommodate the baby boom at Living Hope Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky. We had more babies than space. The problem was that I did not measure the metal door frames which were smaller than the beds. They were delivered and would not fit through the doors. They had to be disassembled and reassembled.
Sometimes we rush decisions. Other times there is conflict. There can be lack of communication. A person’s abilities may be overestimated or underestimated. Sometimes leaders are overambitious. In the face of all these reasons and many more, there will be failure in your Sunday School ministry from time to time.
What can you do during those times? How can you face and benefit from the experiences? How can you turn failure into a learning experience and a stepping stone toward success? In the most recent edition of Rick Warren’s Ministry Toolbox, Rick wrote an article entitled Failure–a one-of-a-kind teacher. In the article, he shared three ways that failure can benefit me. I want to apply them to our work in Sunday School. Here are Rick’s three ways failure can benefit me (in all capitals) followed by my commentary:
- GOD USES FAILURE TO EDUCATE ME. In those moments when you are facing a Sunday School failure, pause to reflect and learn. What happened? How can you avoid similar failure in the future? What can you learn from what happened? Allow the experience to make you open to what God wants to teach you at the moment. Allow Him to make you stronger as you move through it. The last class fellowship was a flop because you failed to enlist help and communicate the plans. You recognize what happened, pray through it, and learn from it. As a result, you organize a team to avoid that failure in the future. Learn through failure.
- GOD USES FAILURE TO MOTIVATE ME. A failure can be embarrassing, but it can also be motivating. It can motivate you to work harder, to pay more attention, and to seek counsel prior to future decisions. It can motivate you to try harder and work smarter. God can motivate you to pray more and become more dependent on Him. Failure can motivate you to be more aware of those in your class and community. You forgot to order the materials for the new group which started today. After prayer, this failure motivates you to set up a system for making notes and ordering materials. Get motivated through failure.
- GOD USES FAILURE TO HELP ME GROW. The majority of those times when I grew the most were some of the most difficult times as well. Muscle growth through exercise requires challenge. You don’t lift the same amount of weight for years. You don’t run the same short distance and same slow speed to prepare for a race. Stretch through times of failure. Expect more from Sunday School. Raise your vision for your efforts. Avoid procrastination. Seek accountability. May each step forward educate, motivate, and lead to growth. You were tired and blew up at one of your teachers. You pray and go to the teacher and to apologize and admit your failure. You establish an earlier bedtime for yourself on Saturday night. Grow through failure.
Pastor, director, teacher, or member, have you failed? It is not the end of the world. Allow God to use failure to educate, motivate, and grow you. Move through failure. Don’t get stuck in it. Be revolutionary!