I was at a meeting with some of our leaders from part of my ministry a few weeks ago, and we were discussing the topic of failure and how it is perceived within our organization. We agreed that there is an unspoken rule that failure is NOT okay. We will go to great lengths to prevent failure or even to cover it up and make it look like success when it does happen.
Why do we do this? It’s not biblical. Jesus let His disciples fail on a regular basis. Here are a few examples. They failed when they:
- Tried to cast out an unclean spirit from a boy
- Were asked to feed the 5,000
- Argued about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom
- Walked on water
- Tried to stay awake and pray with Jesus before His arrest
- Defended Jesus against the soldiers
- Denied knowing Jesus
You may think I’m cynical, but I believe Jesus even set them up for failure on certain occasions. He knew that they wouldn’t succeed, but He let them try anyway. Why? Because failure gives birth to growth and learning, maturity, character, humility, a teachable spirit, dependence on God, empathy for others, and even innovation, transformation, and revival! We learn sooooo much more from our failures than we do from our successes. Are we missing out on God’s best for us when we work so hard not to fail?
Recognizing this problem in their culture, here’s what one region of our ministry did. They flipped failure on its head. Instead of hiding failures, they required their leaders to celebrate them. In every leader’s performance appraisal for the past few years, they have had to share an “excellent failure” for which they were personally responsible. An “excellent failure” is a failure that taught you something, that gave you a new perspective, that prepared you, that matured you, that shaped you to be more like Christ. It’s a failure that produces a harvest in your life or ministry.
And for it to count, you have to own it. You’ve got to identify what you did or did not do that made things go wrong. You’ve got to say, “I failed,” or else the failure has no power to change you. You can’t dilute it by saying “we” or “my team” or “because they.” There may be truth in those statements, but the failure won’t be transformational for you until you acknowledge your part.
So, what do you think? Do you have the courage to own your failure? Are you willing to put your name on it and see what God is willing to do with a transparent and humble leader?
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9
Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. ~ John 12:24
For though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again… ~ Proverbs 24:16
This object lesson shows how God uses both good and bad things in our life to make us into the person we are. It uses the analogy of baking a cake with all its ingredients.
- Flour (about half a cup)
- Baking soda (about half a cup)
- Salt (about half a cup)
- Vinegar (about half a cup)
- Baking powder (about half a cup)
- Unsweetened cocoa powder (about half a cup)
- Sugar (about half a cup)
- Eggs (2)
- Milk (about half a cup)
- Vegetable oil (about half a cup)
- Plastic spoons (10)
- Snack cakes (10 – chocolate flavor – something from Little Debbie’s or something similar)
- Table (1)
- Chef costume (optional – apron, chef’s hat wooden spoon, etc.)
- Slip of paper with Romans 8:28 written on it.
- Line your ingredients up in small containers on a table in the front of the room.
- Place a spoon in front of each ingredient.
- Write the Scripture on the slip of paper, and put the slip of paper in your chef’s hat or somewhere else you can easily get to it during the lesson.
- Hide the snack cakes somewhere that no one will be able to see them.
- Practice the script.
Use the following script (or modify to suit your needs):
- “How many of you like cake?” (Acknowledge responses.)
- “Me, too! I love it!”
- “Hey, if you like cake, maybe you can help me with something!”
- “Can I get ten volunteers to come up front?” (Select 10 volunteers. Have each one take up a position behind one of the ingredients. If you don’t have enough participants, have some of them taste more than one ingredient in the upcoming demonstration.)
- “So, I like cake a lot, and you like cake a lot, right?”
- “Then, let’s make some cake!”
- “I have this recipe.” (Hold up a sheet of paper to represent your recipe.)
- “It says we need flour, baking soda, salt, vinegar, baking powder, cocoa, sugar, eggs, milk, and vegetable oil.” (Point out the different ingredients as you mention them.)
- “That’s why I need you guys. Each one of you is responsible for one of these ingredients.”
- “So, let’s see…the recipe says, ‘Preheat oven to 350 degrees.’”
- “Oops, I forgot to do that part.”
- “’Grease and flour two, nine-inch cake pans.’”
- “Uh-oh…I didn’t do that, either.”
“’Mix all the ingredients for three minutes. Then pour into cake pans and bake in over for 35 minutes…’”
- “35 minutes! That’s WAY too long! We don’t have that kind of time.”
- “I’ve got a better idea!”
- “Let’s just eat the ingredients one at a time.”
- “They are all going to the same place anyway, right?”
- “When they get to our bellies, they will mix together to make a cake!”
- “So, here’s where I need your help!”
- “I need each of you to take one spoonful of your ingredient and tell us how it tastes.” (Most won’t want to try their ingredient, but urge them a few times. If they still don’t want to do it, say, “Oh, all right! I’ll try it.” Then, make a big show of how bad it tastes. Gag, sputter, buckle your knees, gasp, whatever… Even if they try their ingredient first, you should also try it. The only exception would be the eggs, because eating raw eggs might make you sick.)
- “That was absolutely terrible!”
- “Only the sugar and milk tasted good.”
- “I love cake, and it always tastes soooooo good! Why do the ingredients taste soooooo bad?” (Acknowledge responses.)
- “Oh! You mean they only taste good when you mix them all together?”
- “That reminds me of a Bible verse!” (Take off your hat, and pull out the slip of paper with the Scripture on it. Ask one of your volunteers to read it aloud.)
- “This Scripture means that God uses ALL THINGS for our good – good things and bad things – good ingredients like the sugar and milk and bad ingredients like the baking soda and vinegar.”
- “God mixes them all together in our lives to help make us into the people He wants us to become.”
- “This won’t happen right away…it will take time.”
- “Many times in life, we have to go through tings that are really bitter and unpleasant.”
- “At the time, they seem terrible, but God has a recipe, and He will take that bad thing and make something good out of it if we will just be patient and wait for Him to work.”
- “But if we will trust God with even the bitter stuff in our lives, He will bring the sweetness out – just like in these cakes that I forgot I bought this weekend!!!” (Give each volunteer one of the snack cakes.)
- “How do those taste?” (Acknowledge responses. Then thank and dismiss your volunteers. Use the Debriefing Questions and the Rhyme Time below to reinforce the learning.)
- Why do you think God allows us to go through the bitter and difficult things in our lives?
- Have you ever been through something terrible but then seen later how God used it to help you? (Allow one or two to share their examples.)
- Based on what you’ve learned, how will you handle those bitter and difficult times in the future?
Sometimes we’ve got to wait
For God to make it great!
This object lesson teaches that when we try to do ministry in our own power, we may be able to spread light for some time, but we will eventually burn out. Only by continually renewing our power source (i.e., by allowing ourselves to be filled with the Holy Spirit) can we continue to be strong in ministry over the long term.
You can choose from the following Scriptures depending on how you want to reinforce your lesson.
- 2 Samuel 22:29 (“You, Lord, are my lamp; the Lord turns my darkness into light.”)
- Job 29:3 (“…his lamp shone on my head, and by his light I walked through darkness!”)
- Psalm 18:28-29 (“You, Lord, keep my lamp burning…”)
- Proverbs 20:27 (“The human spirit is the lamp of the Lord…”)
- Matthew 5:14-16 (“You are the light of the world…”)
- Luke 12:35-48 (“…keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return…”)
- Ephesians 5:18-20 (“Do not get drunk on wine…instead be filled with the Spirit…”)
- Two identical lamps – the kind that burn oil and have a wick
- Matches or a lighter
- A bottle of oil for the lamps
- Table to put your lamps on
- Set up the two, identical lamps on the table at the front of the room.
- Fill one lamp with oil, but leave the other dry.
- Try lighting both wicks to make sure they will light quickly during your lesson, then blow them out. (You will probably need to dip the dry wicks (both of them) into the oil so that they will light quickly.)
- Place the bottle of oil somewhere nearby but out of sight.
- Practice the script.
Use the following script and instructions (or modify to suit your needs):
- “So often, people burn out in ministry.”
- “They get exhausted meeting the daily needs of the people they serve.”
- “So, they try harder and work longer.”
- “They skip meals and go without sleep.”
- “They sacrifice time with their families and friends.”
- “They stop spending time with God each day.”
- “In fact, this is often one of the first things to go on their daily schedule.”
- “The harder they work, the less effective they become, but the work is so important that they don’t know what to do except double their efforts.”
- “Everything becomes a crisis, and this further drains their resources until they have absolutely nothing left to give.”
- “Their bodies or minds or emotions break down (or a combination of these), and they have a collapse where the good work they have been doing comes to a grinding halt because they are no longer able to keep it going.”
- “Sometimes they will be able to return to their ministry after an extended healing time, but often, they have ruined themselves for the work and have to find something else to do.”
- “The have killed the goose that laid the golden eggs by trying to get too much out of to too quickly.”
- “They are like this lamp.” (Point to the lamp with no oil.)
- “What do you think is wrong with it?” (Acknowledge responses.)
- “Right! it has no oil.”
- “What happens to a burning wick when it has no oil?” (Acknowledge responses.)
- “Exactly! It burns out. The wick itself catches fire, and even though it can provide light for some period of time, it will eventually destroy itself by providing the light.”
- “What’s different about this other lamp?” (Acknowledge responses.)
- “Yes, it has oil, and when the lamp has oil, the wick doesn’t burn – the oil does!”
- “In fact, as long as you keep putting oil in the lamp, the wick will never burn up!”
- “Amazing, right?”
- “Here’s the point of the illustration. The oil represents the Holy Spirit (as it so often does in Scripture).”
- “You are the wick.”
- “Unless you regularly refill your oil, you will burn yourself out.”
- “But if you spend time with the Lord everyday and do the things that He tells you to do, your light in your ministry will come from Him and not from you.” (Open the dry lamp, and fill it with oil. Then, replace the wick, and relight it if necessary.)
- “And His flame will never be exhausted!”
- “Allow yourself to be filled with God’s Spirit very day, and you will never run out of light.”
- “And be careful…some ministries and certain times in your ministry will require more of God’s Spirit than others.”
- “If you are doing a really big work with the Lord, you will need to spend more time with Him each day to get enough of His Spirit.”
- “The brighter you want His light to shine, the more oil you need in your lamp.”
- “During those times, pray more, confess more, give thanks more, praise more and work less!”
This Challenge teaches that God will help us get through difficult times and temptations. He never leaves us alone when we suffer. The lesson is made by sticking wooden skewers through balloons without popping them.
- Large balloons – 2-3 per person
- Wooden skewers – 2-3 per person
- Vegetable oil – 1 small container per group
- Duct tape – 1 roll per group
- Practice doing the exercise.
- Practice the script.
Use the following script (or modify to suit your needs):
- “We’re going to do an object lesson today to learn how God helps us during difficult times.”
- “Bad stuff even happens to Christians, but God will never leave you alone when you suffer.”
- “I know that because 1 Corinthians 10:13 in the Bible says, ‘No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it.’” (The Message)
- “Let’s demonstrate this.”
- “Okay, let’s say that you are one of the balloons in our kit.”
- “Let’s blow it up, and tie it off.” (Help participants if they have trouble with this. Don’t blow the balloons up fully. You want there to be some thickness of the rubber at the nipple and at the place where you tied off the balloon.)
- “Now, let’s say that one of those skewers is a bad thing or a temptation that’s about to happen to you.”
- “What would happen if you put the skewer (the bad thing or temptation) through the balloon (the you)?” (Listen to responses.)
- “Right! It’s going to pop us!”
- “But I know a way that we can keep ourselves from being popped by these bad things and temptations.”
- “When you face something bad, you need the covering of the Holy Spirit.”
- “That’s God’s covering over your life, and it will protect you during bad times.”
- “In the Bible, oil often represents the anointing of God. Let’s anoint this skewer so that it can be used by God.” (Dip the skewers into the oil. Then instruct them to insert them slowly into a balloon through the tie-off area and out the very top (the nipple). These are the areas where the rubber of the balloon stretches the least, so they are more likely to receive the skewer without popping. If the balloon pops, laugh nervously and grab another balloon – kids love it when things don’t go the way an adult plans them.)
- “Look at that! God’s anointing was all it took!”
- “You see, if God allows bad stuff to happen to us, He anoints it so that it ends up doing His work in our lives. God knows where you can handle the bad stuff, just like I knew just where the balloon could handle the skewer.”
- “Now, sometimes, God allows bad stuff and temptations to happen to you, but he provides grace and strength for going through those things.”
- “Let’s pretend that this duct tape represents God’s covering of grace and strength for us.” (Have everyone blow up new balloons. Then, put pieces of duct tape across both the front and back sides of balloon. Then, have them slowly twist and poke a skewer though – dry ones, not the ones with the oil. You can repeat this several times for dramatic effect.)
- “Sometimes during tough situations, you might feel like you could just burst.”
- “But remember that God is with you during those times. Pray for His covering, and He will help you through them.”
- (When you are finished, have them answer the Debrief Questions below (also on their Challenge Cards). The Rhyme Time is to help them recognize that God can cover them during times of temptation and testing. They need to trust in Him for His protection.)
- Why didn’t the balloons pop when the skewers went through them?
- How is this like how God protects us during times of suffering?
- If you have to go through a time of suffering in the future, how will you handle it?
God is there when it’s more than we can bear!
This Challenge teaches what happens to us is not as important as how we respond to what happens to us. If we trust God with even our “unfortunate” events and circumstances, He can use everything for our good. Participants will tell a story and take turns making the events of the story either “fortunate” or “unfortunate.”
- Genesis 37-50
- Proverbs 3:11
- Romans 8:28
- Challenge Card (The file for printing is called, “JJ – Fortunately-Unfortunately – Challenge Card (CHALLENGE),” and it can be found on the Lesson and Material Downloads page at www.teachingthem.com. This can be printed in black and white on regular paper. There are two Challenge Cards per page.)
- Ziplock bags – any size – 1 per group
- Print out the Challenge Card document.
- Cut the Challenge Card document in half (each half is identical), and put one in each Ziplock bag (one per group).
- Practice the script.
Use the following script (or modify to suit your needs):
- “We’re going to do a group Challenge today.”
- “It’s called, “Fortunately-Unfortunately” and it’s part of the Joseph’s Journey Series.”
- “First, I’ll need to divide you into groups.” (Divide the participants into the number of groups for which you have prepared kits.)
- “Each group will have a Ziplock bag with a Challenge Card.”
- “When I tell you to go, open your Ziplock bags, and read the Challenge Card.” (Allow them to read the Challenge Card.)
- “This challenge is about how God can make good things come out of bad situations.”
- “We’re going to play a short game called, “Fortunately – Unfortunately.”
- “First, we have to select the person who will start the game. I want everyone to hold up one finger.” (Make sure everyone holds up a finger. Then have them do the following.)
- “Now point that finger straight up in the air as high as you can make it go.”
- “I’m going to count to three. When I say, ‘three,’ I want everyone in the group to point at the person you think should start the game.”
- “Ready? Okay, One….Two….Three!” (If any groups end up with a tie for the number of fingers pointed at different people, have them do it again until the tie is broken.)
- “Alright, this person is going to start you off by telling the first part of a story.”
- “They will tell you about 15-20 words about any topic they want, but the story has to start with, ‘Once upon a time…’”
- “For example, ‘Once upon a time, there was a man who liked to eat pickled porcupines…’”
- “Then, that person will stop right there, and the person on their right will pick up the story where they left off.”
- “But before they tell anymore of the story, they have to say, ‘Unfortunately…’ and then share something unfortunate about the situation or person.”
- “They will tell about 15 words of why things are so unfortunate, and then they will stop.”
- “The next person will pick up the story where they left off, but he/she will start by saying, ‘Fortunately…’ Then they will tell us what is so fortunate about the situation.”
- “This keeps going with each person alternating their stories to be ‘fortunate’ or ‘unfortunate.’”
- “You will keep going around your group until I say to stop, so you will probably have several tries at making up ‘fortunate’ and ‘unfortunate’ parts of the story.”
- “The only other rule is that you can’t kill anyone in the stories.”
- “Does anyone have any questions before we get started?”
- “Alright, those of you who were picked to start, begin your stories!” (Allow three to five minutes for storytelling, then ask them to finish the part they are on and turn their attention back to you.)
- “The point of this game is that there are always two ways of looking at the things that happen in our lives. You can view almost anything as either fortunate or unfortunate.”
- “If you search for it, even something very bad can have a fortunate side, particularly if you are willing to trust God with it.”
- “Romans 8:28 says, ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”
- “The Scripture says that God will works in ‘some’ things for our good, right?” (The kids should answer, ‘NO!’)
- “Oh, it says, God works in just the fortunate things, right?” (The kids should answer, ‘NO!’)
- “In just the things where we make good decisions?” (‘NO!’)
- “What does it say? …God works in ALL things for the good of those who love Him.”
- “Sometimes when ‘unfortunate’ stuff happens to us, it’s God’s discipline in our lives, because the Bible says in Proverbs 3:11: ‘My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent His rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, as a father the son he delights in.’”
- “But that means that even when God is disciplining you for your sin, He is doing it for your good!”
- “And it’s even better if you admit that you sinned and ask for forgiveness. Then God can really use it for your good!”
- “He uses EVERYTHING that happens in your life to be a blessing to you!”
- “So, even when something happens that looks bad, it’s a great idea to praise God for it. That shows that you trust Him to use it for your good.”
- “It’s less important what happens to you than how you respond to what happens to you.”
- (When you are finished, have them answer the Debrief Questions below (also on their Challenge Cards). The Rhyme Time is to help them recognize that God can use everything to bless them and prepare them for His good work.)
- Do you think the things that happened in Joseph’s life were fortunate or unfortunate? Why?
- Are there things in your life that looked unfortunate at first but turned out to be fortunate?
- How could you look at bad things in your life in a positive way?
God has a purpose, a plan and a dream; My present struggles are not what they seem!