“Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement,” observed CS Lewis. But how are we to view failure as we serve God, how does God use my failures? Does he simply help us to recover from failure or can be failure part and parcel of his plan?
Important questions –we fail so often and we need to learn. How does God work in his world? Answer – you would be surprised!
Last Saturday at our PCC and Ministry Team away day at Sandymount, we reflected on the story of how the Ministry Centre came to be built.
It took a long time – basically the 16 years from 1994 to 2010. The first five years were acquiring the site of the old school building from the County Council.
However, as most of you will recall all too readily, we worked for seven years, 1999 to 2006, on the proposed parish centre until it was finally rejected on appeal by the planning authorities. The big question is “Was this effectively a mistake, our mistake, which God was able to use?” or “Were we essentially in God’s will throughout this painful process?”
We need to understand in order to appreciate how God works in his world and in our lives.
I realise that you may well disagree with our conclusion but on consideration we ventured the conclusion that the whole parish centre saga was an integral part of God’s purpose for Christ Church.
From my own perspective, the parish centre process gave us invaluable experience so that we were able to produce an excellent Ministry Centre. None of us had built a church hall before. Looking back we had so much to learn and not much could have been learned by reading the manuals or attending seminars. There was simply no alternative but to learn by doing – and the doing was the parish centre project.
This enabled us to build the remarkable Ministry Centre, from start to finish, in just over three years. We were seasoned hands by 2006.
Moreover, looking back to this experience we cannot recollect a moment when we made a significant mistake so as to be able to say today, with the benefit of hindsight, that is where we went wrong. None of us can recall such a juncture.
You could argue that the any first building would have failed planning, even the present Ministry Centre. Even somewhat cynically to say (and this is totally wrong) that in order to get the Ministry Centre through planning we presented an even bigger building before scaling it back!
So where does all this leave us? That God works through failure and setback as an integral part of his plan. It is how he works.
In fact, visiting us tomorrow is a team from All Saints Childwall are coming to pick our brains as they prepare for an extensive building project. I wonder what they will make of all this.
One of the most formative Christian books for my understanding of the Christian life is the 1963 epic “The cross and the switchblade” written by NYC pastor David Wilkerson, who died this May. This remarkable ministry with the gangs of New York begins with Wilkerson making a complete fool of himself in a city courtroom. He was devastated, totally humiliated. How could have he been so foolish?
And yet this abject failure gave him the way straight into the whole gang culture. God used his failure an integral part of the process; it wasn’t simply a setback on the way which God was able to redeem.
But there again, this should come as no surprise to any Christian. My Bible reading this morning from BRF Guidelines was the crucifixion of Jesus and Matthew pulls no punches in his account – a total, unmitigated disaster. “He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” And yet, without realising it they were totally right!
For God does not work the way you would expect. And that takes some getting used to! The next problem is deciding which failures are God ordained and which failures are the result of my own disobedience and wilfulness. Yet again, once more, we need the Holy Spirit gift of wisdom.