Learning to Fail by Ryan Williams (Raising godly men and leaders!)
“. . . a time to break down, and a time to build up . . .” Ecclesiastes 3:3
There will be a time when you fail. In life, you will be presented with a litany of opportunities to try something and fail, from school, sports, work, relationships, family, or your faith in Christ.
For some men, failure can create an overwhelming sense of shame, heartbreak, and disappointment. For others, they sweep these feelings underneath the rug of their masculinity and pretend like nothing is wrong. Both of these responses to failure are bad examples of how we should respond to failure.
In Christ, our performance does not determine God’s love for us. We are free to own up to our failures because they cannot ruin or define us.
Show them godly men repent and follow Christ with renewed vigor.
I know this bristles against everything we were brought up with, namely, the notion of victory and the thought that we can do what we like without having to reap the consequences if we fail and somehow still manage to come out on top when we do.
Tough and Tender
I was speaking recently with a young man I pastor. He has struggled with responsibility and, as a result, works a menial job, isn’t given leadership roles, and isn’t put in positions where people need to count on him.
I have sat in his place many times when I failed, times when I needed a firm, direct assessment of where I was failing, that how I was acting wasn’t how I had said I would, and a clear exhortation to stand up, be a man, and take responsibility. I needed this tough conversation—it used to be known as the “man-up talk.” This talk could be pivotal in the journey of the young men we are leading, but it can’t be all that we are about. It can’t be the same old tough-guy routine—no, now we are dealing with another beast entirely.
God calls us men to be tough and tender, challenging and loving. Some people are willing to be tough but never tender, and some are always too tender and will never be tough. Are you willing to step up to the task of being both?
There has been a distinct change in how men have been treated over the last 20 or so years. Rather than being able to fail and fall, the current generation of young men has been coddled and over-protected. They have been molded by a vacuum effect in the wake of a lack of strong Christian men and father figures. This vacuum has created men who are more passive and confused about what it is to be a man than any other generation of men in history. This generation must be dealt with differently, and the current understanding of a man-up talk needs be re-shaped if we are to reach these young men for Jesus and encourage them to grow up to be godly men who love, protect, and provide for their families and their churches.
Show, Then Tell
As we engage with younger men over the next few years, it must be with a more emotionally engaging firmness. They have never been allowed to feel the full weight of their responsibilities or failings. Rather than calling them to what they should be doing, we need to show them what it is to be a man in the first place.
Engaging young men in what they are foundationally called to be as a man is essential to raise up the next generation of Christian leaders. Why do you think young men flock to strong male figures like Mark Driscoll and Matt Chandler? It’s because they see in these men something they haven’t seen in others; they see strong Christian men who loves his family and church but not at the expense of their masculinity.
Let them dare to live a life worthy of the calling.
Once we have laid the foundation of what it is to be a biblical man, we can begin to move the young men we pastor toward the example of Jesus and the building of his kingdom (Matt. 9:32) and away from the comfort of their own kingdoms. Jesus as both tough and tender is our always-perfect example of what God designed a man to be like.
Build them up in love. They must know that we, as their pastors, love them—so tell them. These young men have grown up in a sexually perverted, relationally fluffy existence. They want to know you love them and that you want to see them grow into godly men.
Godly Men Repent
Then let them dare—dare to live a life worthy of the calling to which they have been called (Eph. 4:1). They will fail, but they must know failure is not a bad thing. They have been protected from it for most of their lives; they must know that it is essential to growing in Christlikeness. Give them examples of men who failed, repented, and followed Christ with a new passion: King David (Ps. 51), the Apostle Peter (Acts 2:14–41), and yourself! Show them that godly men repent and follow Christ with renewed vigor (Luke 3:8).
May God grant us grace as we toil to call the next generation of men into the great responsibility of leading and loving their families and their churches.