“I will fail them.” The early church fathers reflected on the relationships between pastors, the world, satan, and the church flock and developed a series of statements that described each relationship. The first of these statements was that of the pastor with regard to his people: Ego Deficiam (I will fail).
At first, our response might be to think that this is a rather pessimistic view of the relationship between shepherd and flock. How is it that a pastor could go into his role with the assumption that he will fail his people? As churches, do we want to hire a pastor who says up front, “Oh, by the way, I will fail you.” It is food for thought.
There are two aspects of this statement, that we must understand. The first is the “I.” I will fail you. I will fail as your pastor, as your counselor, and as your friend. I will fail as a husband and as a father. I will fail as an employee and as a representative of the church in the community. I will fail. Yet, this is not a pessimistic view, but a realistic view (as well as a Biblical one). For while I will fail you; Christ will not do so. Christ will gloriously succeed not because of my efforts, but in spite of my best efforts. And when I serve not in my own strength, but in the strength of Christ, then glorious things will happen—not for my praise, but for God’s.
This is the reason that a pastor (all Christians really) must be a man of prayer. And not just a prayer in the morning or evening, but a pastor must be a man of constant prayer through the day. One of the reasons that I like Nehemiah is because he exemplifies this. Not only are there formal and structured prayers recorded coming off of his lips, but also he lifts up short little “bullet prayers” throughout the day as he is making decisions. Those of you who know me or who have sat under me teaching on Nehemiah know that I am not overly fond of his model as a manager of people (even though lots of books present him that way); read Nehemiah 13:23-27 and ask yourself if you want a governor or office manager who leads in this fashion☺. I do believe, though, he provides us with a good example of perpetual prayer, seeking God’s wisdom and strength.
The second aspect that we must understand is that the fact that someone fails is not nearly as important as what someone does as a result of that failure. The true humility of a man will always present itself in failures, not in successes. If a person covers up their failures or seeks to shift blame to others, then the person’s character is such that you ought not have him as shepherd. If he is humble, repentant, and takes responsibility for his actions, then that is a man you want to lead you. The Gospel is the good news of God reconciling us poor and spiritually bankrupt sinners to himself; we are all in the same boat together within the church—wretches who have been redeemed by grace. Why should we expect our pastor of not being a sinner and thus a failure in God’s economy?
Sadly, we often create a standard that a pastor cannot hope to live up to and then make him feel like he has to hide his sin to keep up appearances. Yet, if the pastor is living hypocritically, why are we surprised when the members of our congregations live hypocritically? Our goal must be very different. We must endeavor to create a culture of honesty and transparency within our church community that is seasoned with abundant grace. Then, when one fails, the community comes together to work toward grace-filled reconciliation. It must be said, that there are some failures that must, by their very nature, remove a man from the office of shepherd, but not that ought to remove him from the church.
In discussions and counseling sessions with members of my congregation, one of the things that I have said over and over is: “We are going to make mistakes; we are going to mess things up.” The fact is, we are fallen and sinful and despite the grace we have been shown by Christ, we will not always show the grace we ought to show. At the same time, what I have told people is that when we mess up, if you let us know, we will fix it.
Indeed, I will fail you. But in Christ, I will repent and strive to make it right.
Posted on March 19, 2011, in Pastoral Reflections, Pensees and tagged counseling, deficiency, Ego Deficiam, failure, Forgiveness, Grace, how to deal with failure, I will fail you, Nehemiah, pastoral failure, Prayer, repentance. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.
I like this because I am going through a time of felt failure right now–my book is not selling. I like what you said about Nehemiah, always puting up prayers. Thank you so much. I need to read this again. I look forward to reading more of your posts.
Thank you for your comments, I am always humbled that our Father has allowed these reflections and musings to bless others. Let me offer you a word of encouragement on “felt failures”: cast them before the Lord’s throne. I spent 3.5 years working with homeless men in Jackson, MS while in seminary in a transient shelter, so often I only had one or two interactions with these men, though there were others I got to know well over the years. The point is that I had to learn to redefine my definition of success and failure. Do not base your sense of success on the sales of your books or the response people give to them, but base your success or failure on whether or not you are doing what God commanded you to do. If you are being faithful to doing what God has designed you to do and called you to, then you are a success in that realm. We will all fall flat on our faces while trying to work out those plans, but that is a good thing because that is the best position to be in when we pray, so be encouraged.
On another note, your book on prayer intrigues me, though I am not much of an ebook person. Have you considered publishing through a service like Lulu (www.lulu.com)? That will allow print copies to be available on demand (so there is no stockpile of books to buy). I have published several that way and have been pleased with the results. It takes about 6 weeks to get it listed on Amazon.com and all the selling is done online by a third party, letting you focus on the creative aspects of writing. Something to consider.
Blessings in Christ,
Thanks again. What you said is like mana from heaven, what I needed. And it’s also a prayer answer. I’ve been praying and fasting over this for the last week. I’m starting to feel better about the whole thing. I started writing the books about 20 years ago and all along I could without a doubt feel the Lord leading me in it. So you can imagine how I feel now that they aren’t selling. But yes I need to cast it before the Lord and just trust Him. After all it’s His work not mine.
You should know that when I came across your blog I was not looking for help. I was looking to encourage someone. But it looks like I am getting the better of it. I feel that God has put you in my path to lighten my load and set me straight. I will consider Lulu. Yes I want to eventually get them printed–one at a time. Money is the set back right now. I’ll just have to wait on His timing. When I get them printed I will try to sell you one–ha ha! I want to read through your posts and books too–I saw them. Thanks again.
Stephen, I am glad you found this encouraging, I have found that our Lord orchestrates even the most “chance” encounters. As Solomon writes, the lot is cast in the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord (Proverbs 16:33).
It seems that we are birds of a feather in terms of our writing and for what it is worth, I sell very few of my books–rarely more than one or two a month on average. At the same time, while it would be nice to have an added trickle income from selling books, my purpose in writing really hasn’t been to make money. My primary reason is to leave to my children and grand children a legacy in writing. God gives us no guarantees of tomorrow and I want them to have a snapshot of my heart and the things that I value. Secondarily, I am writing as a way to teach my own congregation while they are in the comfort of their homes. In fact, I began writing these when I was in seminary to supplement my preaching in the little country churches I served as pulpit supply. A shepherd does not only feed his flock once a week, but feeds them daily.
There is another element that I have discovered that I believe you can relate to. There are many things that I “cannot not” do. Writing is one of them. For one of the blogs I did, I created a little logo that reads “Cogito Ergo Blog” — “I think, therefore I blog.” 😎
In terms of Lulu, the initial outlay of funds is almost non-existent. You are only ever required to buy one copy of what you put into print–that copy being the proof copy. Beyond that, you are required to buy nothing. The ISBN number is free. The process of listing it with Amazon and Google is free. Your big book on prayer is 1200 pages, so that would have to be broken into two books or a smaller font chosen to get it under 740 pages, but your initial investment would only be about $20.
Lulu then lists the books on their website and uploads it to Amazon.com. People then buy the book directly from Lulu, either directly or through Amazon, and then about once a month Lulu will send you a royalty payment assuming that the book sells at least a certain amount (I think about $20). You even get to set the retail price as well as your profit margin. You get a discount, so you can buy some and sell them directly to make a higher profit margin, but that is your decision if you wish to do so; you are never required to ever buy more than one of your books.
Blessings in Christ,
p.s. let me know when it is published, I may buy one. 😉
Thanks for the info on Lulu. I didn’t know there were any publishing co. that cheep. I will look into it. But I’m in no rush. I want to do what will sell the most books even if it cost me a little or a lot. I’m willing to wait for the right time. I pray you can do something to get more sales for your books–not so much for the money but for the influence.
I was thinking of printing my big book in a bigger size–8×11–like a text book with two columns and the font a little smaller. It would be about 550 pages. Oh, by the way, the six smaller books is the same as what’s in the big book. All the prayer topics in the big book are arranged in alphabetical order. I took those 52 chapters and arranged them under 6 different themes to make the six books. I plan on putting out a blog post on the making of my book soon–in a couple days. I read your most recent post. Another good one.
My prayers for you and your congregation.
Thank you for your prayers; they are well appreciated.
One advantage to using an 8.5×11 format is that it is the same price per page as the smaller formats; largely, I assume, because of the way the paper is cut when making small runs. A book as large as yours would likely do well in that format.
In terms of selling books; they key is not so much the publisher as it is the marketing strategy. For me, I don’t have the time to try and market my books and it really hasn’t been a high priority. I still sell some via word of mouth and I suspect over time, that will grow some, but again, that is not the primary motivation, though I agree, it would of course be nice to have the extra income to apply toward something useful.
Those that I have known who have been selling books have marketed their books very aggressively. They send out batch emails, schedule radio spots to talk about their book, and in person speeches and conferences to which they take books to sell at a discount. Lulu is pretty fair about the discounts you get when you buy larger quantities of books; plus they regularly run promotions, so if you time your purchases correctly, you can do rather well on the pricing.
I know that many people are going the way of ebooks, but I am an old-fashioned guy. I like having it on a shelf for reference and I like reading with something physical between my fingers. I do have a large digital library in addition to my physical one, but largely these are things that I have downloaded free from online or are a part of a larger set like the Ages Software or the Accordance Bible software. This is primarily for documents that I cannot otherwise get or to give me resources when I travel. My guess, though, is that most people who would be your primary target audience, would be a lot like me in being willing to invest in a physical, not an electronic book. That is my take, at least.
Thank you again for your comments on my posts and blessings to you as you look for the opportunity to see your work in print.