4 Lessons Gleaned from Ministry Failures

For years, I thought the key to life was to work harder. But it’s deeper and more spiritual than that. Here are four life lessons I have gleaned from ministry failures.

1. Talent and Opportunity Are Not the Key to Your Success

Those who act like everything they touch turns to gold—as if they are Midas—are faking. There is no golden key to success and there is no golden opportunity that will change everything. But that’s not a reason to despair; it’s a reason to have hope.

If life were all about positioning—with the right person or right place—we would have a reason to despair. Because right now many of us would be ruled out—moved to the B Team or cut entirely. Success is not about talent. Success is about what you do with what you are given. Jesus made this abundantly clear in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14–40).

2. Hard Work Is Only Half the Battle

You may be thinking that I’m going to say that luck is the second half of the battle—or that thing we call “timing,” which is another word for luck. But your spiritual life is the other half of the battle. And for that matter, it’s pretty much the entire battle.

If you fail spiritually, everything else will fail. No level of hard work can make up for a broken person. God expects much of us, but he has already given everything for us—by dying on a cross for our sins (Romans 5:7–9).

If we work hard, will it gain us salvation or acceptance by God? By no means (Ephesians 2:8–9)! We must know, see, and hear God in the midst of all we do. I learn this lesson over and over again.

 Hard work will not save you. Instead, hard work is a response to the God we love. We should not work to gain God’s respect, for he already loves us beyond comprehension (John 3:16–17).

3. The Plan Is Not Your Savior

The plan often looks better than what real life feels like. The difficulties of following God’s calling on your life are often too many to count. But our plans to follow God’s calling should not deter us from loving God.

When the plan falls apart, or fails you entirely—as nearly every one does—you have to decide what you’re going to do. You have a decision to make about the kind of person you’re going to be.

Failed plans are a chance to start afresh. Closed doors are an opportunity for clarity. And failure is meant to put us right on our knees before God (Philippians 4:6). And if we get closer to God—if we learn, grow, and mature—then failure can actually be called success.

4. Focus on Jesus Will Change Everything, Seriously

I have had my fair share of failed initiatives. It’s part of entrepreneurship and part of ministry. If I weren’t willing to endure difficulties, I would never attempt to face down the problem of poverty. If I weren’t willing to see pain and anguish, then ministry would be the wrong place for me. But what I do—or don’t do—really doesn’t matter if I am not looking to Jesus.

When we focus on Jesus, we see a better version of ourselves—how he can transform us (compare Hebrews 12:1–2). When we look to Jesus, we see what we sinners can become. We see how our broken communities can be renewed. We see how life can be full of grace, truth, and hope. We see that failure—in career, ministry, or family—is an opportunity to seek grace, repentance, and be changed for the better. We see that looking to Jesus, as simple as it is, really does change everything.

John Barry
John Barry


CEO, President, and Founder of Jesus' Economy. John is the author/coauthor of 12 books and General Editor of Faithlife Study Bible and Lexham Bible Dictionary.