Failure Is Not an Option … Not!
Review of “I Blew It!” by Brian Dollar
Is There a Santa Claus?” is a hilarious post written by Linda Harden that uses the laws of physics to prove that Saint Nick doesn’t exist. Or rather, as her conclusion puts it, “If Santa ever DID deliver presents on Christmas Eve, he’s dead now.” I laugh out loud every time I read that last line.
Others aren’t so easily amused, however. Two decades ago, while giving announcements during a Sunday morning worship service, I read the post to the congregation. Most saw the humor in it. One of the church’s elders didn’t. His Kringle-believing grandkids were in the service with him, which led to hard questions directed at him, which in turn led to hard questions directed by him to me.
As mistakes in ministry go, mine was fairly small and easily contained with a personal apology and a promise not to flippantly mess with people’s Christmas traditions again. I wish I could say that was the last mistake I made in church work, but the reality is that it was just one of many, some of them more consequential.
“We’re human, and mistakes are a normal part of life,” writes Brian Dollar in I Blew It! “Ministry (and every other part of life) is packed with difficult choices that require wisdom; and often, we have to face problems we’ve never encountered before. Mistakes are inevitable — sometimes really big ones! No matter how hard we try to do things right, the question isn’t, ‘Will I make mistakes?” but ‘How will I respond to my mistakes?’”
Dollar is associate pastor at First Assembly of God in North Little Rock, Arkansas, where he leads over 500 volunteers in nearly a dozen ministries. In this book, he draws on his personal experience over the course of three decades in ministry to help others learn from his ministry mistakes. The result is an honest, funny, and insightful book from one second-chair leader to others, though senior pastors also can read the book profitably.
Mistakes are not the end of the story in ministry or life.
Here is how Dollar summarizes the mistakes he made:
- Accepting God’s destination but forging my own path to get there.
- Thinking every good idea is a God idea.
- Allowing my greatest strength to become my greatest liability.
- Trying to be the Lone Ranger instead of building a team.
- Having tunnel vision and missing the big picture.
- Ignoring my responsibility to develop a healthy relationship with my Lead Pastor.
- Being blind to my weaknesses and flaws.
- Allowing fear to keep me from taking risks.
- Falling into the procrastination trap.
- Becoming self-reliant instead of trusting God to use me.
Other mistakes could be added, I’m sure, but based on my personal experience as a second-chair leader, I think these cover a good swath of the topic.
The book’s two concluding chapters focus on what Dollar calls “process” and “commitment.” When ministers make mistakes, the process is “learning to confess, repent, and reconcile.” In the past few years, we’ve heard many ministry leaders’ quasi-apologies that usually follow a script: “I’m sorry if my actions or words offended you.” The implication is that if no one was offended, then no wrong action had been taken.
Dollar isn’t buying that qualification. Rather, citing his senior pastor Rod Loy, he writes that genuine apologies contain three sentences: “I’m sorry.” “I was wrong.” “What can I do to make it right?” No ifs, ands, or buts about it! The chapter on confession, repentance, and reconciliation is a practical master class on how to make things right when you’ve done another wrong.
Finally, there’s the chapter on commitment, centered around “moving past the past.” Mistakes are not the end of the story in ministry or life. We can reconcile with the people we’ve wronged, and we can move on to a better, more productive ministry … as long as we’ve learned the right lesson, which at the end of the day is this:
“Don’t look at your qualifications or your failures to qualify [you]; look to the Father who has qualified us by our faith in Jesus to be whole, strong resilient, joyful, and effective as we trust God to use us in the lives of those around us.”
That’s good news for anyone in any position of leadership in the church.
Brian Dollar, I Blew It! The Biggest Mistakes I’ve Made in Ministry … and How You Can Avoid Them, 2nd ed. (Arrows & Stones, 2023).