Two chapters, co-written with Dr. Stephen Burrell, address “amoral minstry failure” — that is, failures that do not include a moral component on the part of the minister. Burrell had formerly led a church plant in North Dallas. As its financial support disappeared during the recession, its members voted to stop meeting. He grew angry as he reflected on the collapse of his church, asking:
How could God allow him to fail so miserably after calling him so clearly? How could he ever trust God again? How could he trust people or love them again? Could he lead another church? (122)
Looking to understand his own experience, Burrell discovered that pastors recovering from ministry failure went through a grieving process, complete with the classic stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, until reaching acceptance. For coming to terms with failure, Burrell and Briggs offer practical advice, such as finding a spiritual mentor and spending more time with one’s family. They also identify spiritual disciplines that are helpful for recovery.
- Reading the Scriptures
- Silence and solitude
- Attending church
While they were surely tempted to give up church altogether, “[a]ttending another church while grieving kept the pastors from a spirit of bitterness.” (138) These were often “out of ZIP Code” churches, “where pastors can be largely or entirely anonymous and are allowed to be an average person again.”
Through their failure, many of the pastors in the book were led into a deeper, richer relationship with God, finding a freedom and “acceptance rooted deeply in Christ.”
Wounds do not eliminate [failed pastors] from ministry; instead, wounds educate, mature and prepare. In many ways, failure, suffering and pain are the prerequisite for effective ministry. They strip away the false self and help us encounter the true self. They are part of the curriculum of life and ministry in a fallen world. (150)
Looking back at his “dark years,” Briggs discovers unexpected blessings, including a chain of events that led he and his wife to adopt their two sons. The book opens with failure, but ends in freedom – true freedom in the grace of Christ.
Fail will be a welcome book for pastors who have experienced failure or who are helping others through that journey, but it is also a challenge to the whole church. In many cases, pastors’ failures were directly related to their congregations’ unrealistic expectations, judgmental attitudes, and lack of spiritual support. I hope that lay leaders will read this book and discover ways to encourage and nurture their pastors, seeing them first as children of God who themselves need ministry. May this book contribute to breaking the idol of success within American churches and renew a spirit of faithfulness among us.