January 19, 2017
I have written previously that I am a goal setter. I have a “to do” list for every week and day. My “to do” list is a strategy to accomplish goals I have set for the year. For the past couple of years I have adopted a philosophy about goals that a few big goals (3 or 4) are much more realistic for someone because your job requires you to do certain things every day, or week, or year, and those aren’t really goals but simply part of your job requirements. “Writing a sermon every week” is not a goal for me. It is a job requirement. “Designing a sermon series that will empower us to have a greater impact on our community” is a goal.
As I evaluate my goals for 2016, there was a couple that were not accomplished. One was a corporate goal. As a leader, I feel my responsibility is to enable us to accomplish that goal. We failed to achieve the goal. It won’t have any noticeable impact or dire consequence on our ministry, but I don’t handle failure well.
I have always been driven and competitive. When something I lead isn’t accomplished it is a short trip from “we failed” to “I’m a failure.” The failure to achieve our goal was due to many factors, most of which we could not control. But we still “failed,” and “I’m a failure.”
In 40 years of ministry I have counseled numerous people to separate events and circumstances from their identity. College students who failed organic chemistry were not failures, they were just discovering that God might be directing them away from med school to another career path. Athletes who lost a game were not failures, they had simply failed to accomplish a goal that day.
I could offer others that perspective. I just have a hard time living it out in my own life.
When studying family systems I realized that my default reaction to anxious situations is to over function; to insert myself into a problem to the point of interfering with others’ responsibilities. If there an issue with the sound in a worship service, I used to try and solve the problem rather than to entrust and empower others to do so. When I was an assistant coach there were times when I crossed the boundaries of my position. In family events, I overexert my propensity to organize, which is sometimes seen as needing to control.
Over-functioning is closely related to assuming blame for goals that are not achieved. If a staff member makes a mistake, or isn’t fulfilling their role, it is my fault. I didn’t do a very good job of leading. If a project isn’t done well, I’m trying to figure out what I did wrong.
Knowing that your thinking is flawed and has negative consequences on you and your life is one thing …changing your thinking process is a much more difficult task. I have cast out the over-functioning, over-responsible demon for the most part, but it continues to return if I am not paying attention.
I may have failed at some parenting tasks, but I am not a failure as a parent.
I may have failed at some aspects of being a good husband, but I am not a failure as a husband.
I have failed at some responsibilities of being a pastor, but I am not a failure as a pastor.
The perfect antidote for my default thinking is God’s grace and mercy. Jesus’ disciples failed on numerous occasions, not only at their responsibilities, but as supporters and friends. Jesus never considered them failures.
We receive our identity from Christ and our relationship with him, not in what we do and accomplish.