Navigating Failure: Lessons from My Life

Twenty-five years ago, I was in charge of Young Life in Central Florida. At the time, Young Life was only present in one part of Orlando, so after working with my board to write a strategic plan, we embarked on a journey to start Young Life across seven areas in Central Florida. Among these areas, South Orlando held special promise with its rapid growth spurred by the development at Disney and Universal Studios. However, as seasons change, the early 2000s brought an economic downturn that caused the work we started in South Orlando to come to a halt. The fact we had to stop the work in South Orlando felt like a personal failure.

Whenever I thought about the Young Life ministry coming to a close in South Orlando and Young Life leaders no longer pursuing kids at Cypress Creek High School, I would get a lump in my throat and my stomach. I couldn’t escape the conclusion that I had failed because the ministry there did not endure.

Time has a way of unveiling the impact of our efforts, often far beyond our immediate sight. Several years later, I had a random encounter with a young woman from Cypress Creek High School who had met Christ as a teenager at the Young Life Club that had been shut down. She approached me with joy and gratitude, sharing how her life had been transformed through Young Life in high school. She had been a Young Life leader in college and was now going into full-time ministry.

This young woman was oblivious to the fact that the ministry had ceased in South Orlando. Rather than a sign of failure, her testimony was a living testament that the seeds planted during those Young Life meetings had grown, flourished, and continued to spread their branches.

This encounter served as a profound lesson for me: the success of a ministry cannot always be measured by its longevity or visible structures. Instead, its true impact lies in the transformed lives that continue to bear fruit long after our direct involvement ends. Ministry, in essence, is not a destination but a journey—a series of starts and stops, highs and lows, all woven together in the pursuit of touching lives.

Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So, neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” – 1 Corinthians 3:6-7 ESV

This passage reminds me that our role in ministry is part of a greater divine purpose. We are called to plant and water with love, faith, and dedication. However, the growth—often unseen and beyond our reach—is in God’s hands. Our efforts in ministry, whether they seem to flourish or falter, are never in vain.

The story of Young Life in South Orlando is a testament to that. What might appear as a failure in our eyes can, in fact, be a stepping stone in someone else’s faith journey. Our call is to be faithful in our planting, leaving the growth to God, for it is He who transforms lives and writes the lasting stories of faith.

As we navigate the highs and lows of ministry, I challenge you to remember that our ultimate goal is not the preservation of our work but the transformation of lives. In the end, we don’t always get to see the fruit of our labors. However, while the impact of our ministry may not always be visible to us, in God’s grand design, every effort counts, every seed planted matters. It’s about the lives we touch and the faith that flourishes beyond our time and sight.

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