the weblog of Alan Knox

Discipleship and Failure

Posted by on Apr 7, 2010 in discipleship | 9 comments

Failure has always been a part of my growth… physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, educational, occupational. It seems that as I grow, I also find myself failing. In fact, failure often leads to growth.

Do we make room for failure today? Do we allow people opportunities to fail without making them feel like failures? Do people know that we love them in spite of their failures (and perhaps even that we expect them to fail)?

How can the church help or hinder in this failure/growth process?


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  1. 4-7-2010

    I would take issue with the phrase “expect them to fail”. Love believes the BEST in others. Be there if they fail and love them even more if they do fail, but don’t focus on failure as an inevitable. I think more believers need to be encouraged to succeed rather than be expected to fail.

    Just my two cents. 🙂

  2. 4-7-2010

    A big part, I believe is to share in the experience and accountability for success and failure. In many churches new converts are discipled at arms length and through programs, where the discipler doesn’t bear any emotional responsibility for those who never grow spiritual and who don’t produce fruit.

  3. 4-7-2010


    Yes, I believe the best in people, and I try to see the best in people. I also know that people will not be perfect. They will fail. That’s what I meant when I said “expect them to fail”.


    How does this “arm’s length” kind of discipleship relate to failure?


  4. 4-7-2010

    All human beings fail at one time or another.

    Leadership’s greatest failure is perpetually being dishonest about our own failures.

    What a different experience congregational life would be if leaders really believed the “one anothers” of Scripture and practiced “bear one anothers burdens (sometimes moral/ethical failures/sin), and encouraged the congregation to do the same.

  5. 4-7-2010

    Hi Alan,

    Not sure it really adds much to the conversation but I used to run a series of seminars in a previous job working for the Church of England and one of the presenters used to use the following example when talking about failure:

    Ty Cobb, the Georgia Peach, had the highest batting average in history – 0.366. He missed almost two out of every three. It is ok to miss.

  6. 4-7-2010

    The fear of failure is debilitating. Failure has been defined by our churches and our society in terms of the negative. Yet many of the benefits that people enjoy are the result of someone having failed numerous times before they actually succeeded. What would happen if we created a culture that encouraged believers to take some risks?

  7. 4-7-2010

    Making mistakes or getting it wrong without necessarily failing is also another deterrent to doing. While we can still mess up and not fail, its the little errors along the way the paralyze many as well. Type “A” personalities suffer from this more than others, but none are excluded. Part of the problem for those who get it right most of the time is that, they are put on somewhat of a pedestal and admired. Once admiration kicks in, then not only the fear of failure comes into play, but the fear of getting something wrong on the way also is taken into consideration. Error takes away, error brings a lack of confidence, error binds. But, we need our errors, mistakes, and failures in order to adjust our path, our methods, and our thinking. As Alan Hirsch points out in “The Forgotten Ways,” we act our way into a proper way of thinking and not think our way into a proper way of acting. Failures in thought are seldom recognized. Failure in action, however can not be hidden. It a messy world out there, and we Christians often fumble about in the messes that we create. At the same time we should look on others with love, hoping all things, trusting all things, believing all things… let others fail, let them make mistakes, let them err and continue forward motion with lessons learned carried in our hearts.

  8. 4-7-2010

    Much depends on the type of failure (moral, emotional, financial etc) and the attitude of the congregation. Unfortunately I find that some members of Christian faith communities are not too forgiving when it comes failures in discipleship especially with their leaders. Churches often do not offer the “sacred space” for transparency and safe mistaking making.

  9. 4-8-2010

    Cool blog. As a web developer and theologian I’d expect you to expect failure, and as such, when building a community, build in the same redundancy as you might when hosting data. That is to say, battery backup full of extra energy, a recharging system, a few different ways to cool it all off, and store the intelligence in a distributed architecture.