Epic Fails: Confessions From the Front, Learning… | UMC YoungPeople
Connecting young people and their adult leaders to God, the church, and the world
January 2016

Epic Fails: Confessions From the Front, Learning From Failing Fast and Remembering God's Grace

By Carl Gladstone (NCJ & NEJ)

It Happens.

There you are. Sitting at a bus stop outside Nairobi. Just hours away from your return flight on the last day of your mission trip in Kenya. Surrounded by luggage, watching your tour guide disappear down the road as he catches a ride into town. Your group’s van has just broken down and you are totally aware of how out of place your youth team looks. At the other end of the shelter, some local residents glance over to see what is up.

Then it hits you. The world isn’t ending. Even if a flight gets missed, it won’t be the disaster you thought it might be. The local residents aren’t really eyeing you maliciously. They are buying snacks from the vendor nearby, chatting amongst themselves. You know…waiting at the bus stop like normal.

Take a breath, one of your adult counselor says. We are OK.

There comes a time when we all need to recognize that failures in youth ministry are part of the whole experience. God calls imperfect people to lead young people’s ministries with frustrating regularity. And, those “plans just blew up, now we’re stuck at the bus stop” moments will happen when we broken misfits are in charge.

But take a breath. You are OK.

We at Young People’s Ministries want you to remember:

1) We will all fail at some point while leading youth and young adult ministries.

2) God will not abandon us in those moments.

3) And, God may use these experiences to reveal hidden strengths of our young people, adult helpers and the communities in which we practice ministry.

Just like the disciples in Mark 8 who forgot the bread for their journey, and forgot the miracle of the loaves and fishes that Jesus just performed, we need to remind ourselves of God's grace in the midst of our mistakes. So let’s hear about some other “fails” in youth and young adult ministry to remind ourselves that we are all in this together.

Some stories sent in from youth and young adult leaders who shall remain nameless.

  1. One of your adult leaders started doing donuts with a van full of high schoolers on a Winter Weekend retreat. Everyone thought he was the coolest! That is until the small town sheriff showed up and spent an hour writing up the ticket and reading this counselor the riot act. Let’s be honest. Sometimes our failures stem from our own poor judgment. And even fun automobile stunts probably aren’t on the Safe Sanctuary Approved list of activities. But, as long as we’re learning how to be better, safer, more spiritually grounded adult leaders, paying attention to how God is calling us to grow up just as our youth are, then at least we’re moving int he right direction.
  2. While on your self-planned urban mission trip, one evening you load up the bus to take your 80 youth and adult counselors to a downtown shopping center for an evening of fun. But when you show up you realize that said center has been converted to the city’s newest gambling casino. It is a long hour and a half spent in the two ice cream shops down the street just to fill the time. Sometimes a fail comes even when we’ve planned appropriate activities, but just didn’t have enough of the details. These are the moments that remind us of the power teams have in setting up a ministry program. God’s grace to avoid failure might come through that one unsuspecting adult volunteer who just happened to read a blog recently and who has the opportunity to share that information at a planning meeting. Or maybe that’s the request you can make of your team planning next year’s trip: are we planning for any field trips to places that don’t exist anymore? Everybody check your internet connected devices and let’s be sure this time!
  3. As your team is busy welcoming hundreds of young people from around the globe for a convocation, a typhoon hits on the first night. Seriously God? But leaders step in, find alternate meeting space and housing. All the participants are kept safe. And, in the next few days these youth and young adults are able to take part in relief efforts for the surrounding local communities. Even with the best planning, failure can come as a storm in the night. Or maybe a social or political upheaval in the world might derail your ministry plans. Whatever external disaster may occur, it is God’s grace in those moments that helps us help young people see their role flip from victims to agents of holy transformation. In fact, it is probably the flexibility of our young people that can recognize opportunities like this in the midst of what might otherwise become tragedy. Thank goodness for youth and young adults who can keep imagining how God would be at work in such situations, and who take action to make that vision a reality.

So, remember.

You and your ministry will fail at some point. It might be when you forget the food for the retreat back in the church kitchen. Or it may be when you drive the van under a too-low parking garage and knock the air conditioning unit off the top. You may have planned an amazing talk about holy friendship on the very night when two of your youth get in a huge argument. You may invite an adult counselor to chaperone who never once looks up from his game of Flappy Bird on his phone during the whole bible study.

But remember, God’s grace is with you. Your youth and young adults are stronger and more forgiving than you think. And besides, what’s more Wesleyan than “moving on toward perfection,” learning from our mistakes and mishaps and helping next time be an even better opportunity for young people to grow as disciples of our patient savior Jesus Christ.

And hey, at least you aren’t this guy: https://youtu.be/vZRoOx5L0DE !

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