Fear of Failure

I heard a denominational leader say, “As I travel and talk to our pastors I have come to the conclusion that their number-one motivation in ministry is the fear of failure.” That really surprised me at the time, and I seriously wondered if that is true. It prompted me to look into the matter, because it did not resonate with me personally.

I was teaching a doctor of ministry class and began by having them fill out a questionnaire. One of the questions was, “The one thing that I fear the most is . . .?” All seventeen pastors essentially said, “Fear of failure.” They all had a Masters of Divinity degree and at least five years of ministry experience, and not one said, “God!” When I brought that to their attention I heard a lot of defensive explanations. I mentioned earlier that fear is a powerful motivator. Will the person who is motivated not to fail bear the same fruit as the person who is motivated to succeed? This is one of the essential differences between being driven and being called. You don’t make any progress by putting the car in reverse and jamming on the brakes. The more insecure we are, the more likely we are to hang on to the trunk of the tree, but the fruit is all out on the edge of the limbs.

Being driven to succeed is often motivated by the fear of failure. Fear has an object, but how do you define failure or success? Every person has their own perspective of what constitutes failure and what constitutes success. One person’s success is another person’s failure. One athlete makes the team and considers that a success, while another team member feels like a failure even though he is on the team, because he didn’t make the starting line-up. One student gets a “B” grade and feels like a failure, while another student is thrilled with a “B.” Who is more successful, the pastor of a 200-member congregation or the pastor of a 2000-member congregation? Which parent is more successful, the father of a corporate president or the mother of a retarded child? You can’t answer questions like that, because no two people have the same opportunity or potential. God has not equally distributed gifts, talents, or intelligence to His children. Some have greater gifts and more talent than others.

I have since discovered that fear of failure plagues many people. Resolution requires a biblical definition of what constitutes success or failure, because you could be a failure in the eyes of the world, and successful in the eyes of God, and vice versa.

Dr. Neil

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