I'll let you into a secret. Most months I feel like I'm failing. It's true. I live with an expectancy that sooner or later someone somewhere will call me out and point out that everything I've ever done in ministry has been wrong and that I cannot and should not have done all the things I've done. More than that, I'm half expecting it to be true that quite frankly everything I've tried to do over the years has amounted to next to no improvement or advance in anyone's life or the kingdom of God. O how I'd love to know what a better, more prepared, skilled and gifted and experienced person would do with my job; I'll copy them.
I don't say this to elicit cries of 'Oh poor you, that's not true - you're not a failure.' it's just how I feel.
The thing is, I've felt like this the entire time I've been in ministry and in whatever aspect of ministry I've worked in. When I worked with children and ran the Kidz Klub and Sunday children's work it was the same - 'failure'; ill equipped, poorly organised, lacking legacy, failure (standard fair in my mind). When I did youth work, it was the same and now as a pastor of a small church it's still the same - only now I find that the fear actually grows as I become aware of the potential reputational damage to the gospel and the lives of the church members.
These feelings and this reality is interesting to me and is something that's worth thinking more about.
The truth is of course that in some (many?) people's eyes and minds I am a failure. I have not met their expectations, I have not been and am not being what they want me to be. I am not succeeding in spotting and resolving the right tensions and problems in the church. As a leader I am not taking them anywhere fast.
But how long does a building have to stand for or a community have to exist in relative health for before I/we are willing to say 'maybe it isn't that terrible after all'? Whilst I wouldn't want to take any credit for the health or strength of the community, I may have played a part in it not collapsing or disintegrating into ill-health.
And in that, lies some hint of a way through the latent fears and feelings of failure I have. If I try to answer my anxiety by pointing to success I'll always fall short and stay where I am. For success to offset feelings of failure, success has to be Total. I have to be able to point to every part of everything I've done and everyone who has been affected by it and see health and strength. Then and only then can I say with absolute certainty 'depart from me feelings of failure, for you are a liar.' But Total success like that of course is impossible, but does that mean that the elimination of failure-anxiety is impossible as well? I hope not.
If instead I point to a lack of catastrophe, I may perhaps find that to be a better defence lawyer.
Am I a failure? Not right now.
Will I fail in the future? Maybe. But even then 'failure' is too much a term of identity for me to allow it to be slapped on my head as a label. For even in a potential future where I am shown to have failed on a colossal scale (I mean failed in skill not moral character), I am much more than the sum of my labour.
Will I still be known and loved by God? Yes, definitely.
In which case, I'll ask it again: Am I failure? It doesn't matter. Case closed. The question is the wrong one, and the fear is spectre and I have a life motto on that one: don't waste time fighting ghosts, they don't fight fair.