The Bitter Pill of Failure

By Daniel H. King

Surely the most harrowing experiences which life sends our way are our failures. No matter what the particular failure, or the area of life wherein it protrudes itself, still the feeling of inadequacy, of impotency, of inability, seems to make-the whole world come crashing in around us. All of our successes of the past and even potential success for the future plans into insignificance in the face of that one failure. We are like the man who got sick on a bologna sandwich, just one mind you, and spent the rest of his life despising bologna, judging all bologna sandwiches in light of that one. We tend also to do that with our failures.

There are cases where churches think this way when it comes to preachers. One time they had one who would not work, or would not pay his bills, or chased women, or in some other way disgraced the noble work of preaching and shamed the name of Christ, so they are forever left with a bad taste in their mouth about men who preach. The baby is cast out with the bath water. Every preacher is a scoundrel.

Then there is the church that appoints elders and one turns out to be a tyrant. The eldership is dissolved and the brethren from then on take the position that a congregation is better off without elders. All elders are judged in the light of one elder who failed. Little thought is given to the clear teaching of the New Testament that it is God’s intention for the church to be shepherded by such pastors (Acts 14:23; 20:28). No church is organized in’ complete harmony with the word of God when it has men who are qualified to be bishops but has none who serve in that capacity. That congregation will never function smoothly nor will it be administrated properly until men of wisdom, experience, and proven efficiency are given the work that God intended for them to do.

Too, those of us who preach taste the bitter pill of defeat. Perhaps it is our fault, the burden of failure being our own and not some other’s. In that event it would not hurt for us to develop broader shoulders and carry the weight without trying to throw it off on others. Though blaming someone else is easy, it is also cowardly and we can be assured that before too long the chickens will come home to roost. You can only move away from a bad reputation a few times before people begin to see the pattern and know that it will perennially be your lot.

But there are going to be times when we fail, our preaching is rejected, and we are fired or simply asked to leave under stormy conditions – yet it is not our doing. They have rejected the word of God. It is always hard and never easy, but it is as certain an event as the rising of the son wherever and whenever God’s word makes contact with hardened and impenitent hearts. We may take heart at knowing Pharaoh rejected the word of God at Moses’ mouth, Ahab at Elijah’s, Israel at Jeremiah’s and all the prophets, the Pharisees at Jesus’, most of the Athenians at Paul’s, etc. In spite of this, however, there is always the tendency to take it as personal slight, a personal affront to me. We commit the error of Samuel whom God had to correct with the words, “They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me . . .” (1 Sam. 8:7).

What follows such rejection can be even worse for us than the failure itself. In my brief experience, I have known men who grew bitter, hostile and caustic because of one brief encounter with such ego-assaulting defeat. They turn inward and selfish, judging all congregations of Christians by one little band of malicious men, likely only a small minority of one congregation.

Learning to handle defeat is no simple affair. But it can be turned into a learning experience, instead of a rotten apple that ruins the whole barrel. When we were little we fell many times before we learned to walk. But we never gave up. Our upright posture and proud gait is today a testimony to our having overcome the bruises and the bumps that we all received along the way. Likewise, success as a Christian, a church of Christ, an elder or deacon, a preacher, a husband or wife, depends upon an individual and cooperative effort at overcoming the failures that we meet along life’s way. Seeing each one as another learning experience (after the first shock is over) will help us all immensely.

Truth Magazine XXIV: 26, p. 426
June 26, 1980