Bad news: You are one of two people. Either you are dealing with a failure…or you’re about to. It’s a bummer, but that’s the reality of life.
Good News: You can be a diamond rising out of the dust.
As my mentor told me many times, “Everyone falls down in life. Winners get back up.” How people respond to failure can make or break their future. Unfortunately, very few people know what to do when a teammate falls. Judgment comes easy, but offering helpful advice is much more difficult. And there are few resources out there for helping the person who has fallen.
In our work helping churches find great staff members here at Vanderbloemen Search Group, we have interviewed thousands of candidates. Most of them haven’t been through a major failure, but some have. And nearly every person alive can point to one time in life where they have gotten “knocked off their horse.”
We’ve also had the honor of regularly helping churches in the wake of a sudden departure of a staff member due to a failure. We have a bird’s eye view of what works (and what doesn’t) in trying to reach out to the fallen. We have seen some pretty incredible stories of people who have fallen and been able to get back up through God’s grace. In fact, when the right steps are taken and enough time has passed, the person who falls can get back up even better than before.
So what’s the right path for helping someone get back up and find restoration after a fall? Every situation is different, but we’ve seen some congruencies. In addition to the necessary spiritual disciplines of prayer, worship, and service in a local church, we’ve identified five key steps we have seen as common denominators among successful restorations.
- Get some rest. In nearly every failure situation I’ve seen, the person who fails is worn out. Tired pastors make bad decisions. And once a failure has happened, I’ve noticed that the natural response is to try and “do something,” or “fix it.” But the healthiest response I have seen is to step back, take some time out, and get some much-needed rest. If that means taking a job in a different arena or with a pay cut, smart people will take the short-term setback in order to get the long-term win. We’ve also seen that the healthiest rest periods are supervised rest. Because people heal at different rates, there is no golden rule for how long a person must “sit out” in the wake of a failure. Rather, the people who make it back to health tend to look to others to help them know if and when to re-enter ministry. Make sure a clear plan is in place for a supervisory counselor, board, or family member is in place.
- Give up the victim card. In our article on emotionally elite people, we talk about how important it is to take responsibility for your own actions. Our human nature is to point fingers when we’ve messed up (Hello, Adam and Eve). It’s easy to justify why a failure happened by focusing on how much of it was the fault of others or a result of unfavorable circumstances. Pardon the bluntness, but after a failure, smart people take a long look in the mirror. They figure out what part of the train wreck is their fault and take responsibility for it. Smart people who fail find ways to appropriately apologize. Joel Osteen says over and over, “You are a victor, not a victim.” Call it simple theology, but I have found it to be some of the healthiest advice for succeeding following a failure. Emotionally elite candidates own their junk. They don’t blame others, they don’t act victimized, and they don’t let their failure define them.
- Find out why “it” happened. In nearly every failure situation I’ve seen, the offense that was committed, while important, is only a symptom of a deeper set of issues. People who find true restoration take time to get to the root issue. Like step 1, this step is almost always taken with supervision. We recommend seeking help from a solid Christian counselor. Many times, churches will pay for counseling for the person who has fallen. And honestly, some of our best clients require this step as part of any hope of restoration to ministry.