November 15, 2011 PhilBell

I Messed Up! What Now?

I messed up! Now what? There have been many times in my ministry I have thought this to myself…

Whether it was poor communication, whether a students feelings were hurt, whether a parent was upset, or whether it was ______ (you fill in the blank), we have all messed up haven’t we? Mistakes are inevitable in youth ministry and depending how much experience we have does not always change this reality. As a youth worker I am called to be diligent in all I do and act professionally even when others don’t think that youth ministry is a profession….

But, how do I recover from the times I mess up? 

1) Own Your Mistake: In many church settings, it is easy to live on the defense and never want to admit when we mess up. Somehow we think we might lose our job if we do so. However, as the years go by, I am finding that people respect leaders to humbly accept their mistakes and take full ownership of the mess.

2) Say Sorry Quickly: When we mess up, it’s imperative to catch the people we have impacted quickly so that a small fire does not become a wildfire. When we say sorry it’s important to have no conditions or “buts” about our mistake. Just recently I told some students, “as your youth pastor, I blew it on this one, and I am sorry”. It’s hard to say sorry to students, but there is massive value in teaching them to how to own mistakes in a world that plays the blame game and passes the buck…  They need Godly people to model how to own their mistakes and say sorry quickly.

3) Take the Hits of Others: If you are in charge of a program or under the authority of a lead pastor, it is crucial that you become the frontline for hits and frustration. Even when my incredible volunteers have a bad day or make a mistake it’s important that I own their mistake as their leader. It’s also important that I support my lead pastor and take the flack if someone is ever upset with him.

4) Look Back and Learn, Look Forward and Grow: It’s inevitable that we will make mistakes, but it’s crucial we don’t repeat them. When we mess up in ministry, it’s important that we review our mistakes without beating ourselves up. It’s path of the course and we will grow and learn some good lessons. Ask God to show you what you need to learn. Surround yourself with veteran youth workers who can help you review. Many veterans I meet and hang out with have some great (and sometimes funny) stories of mistakes and struggles. But they also have a great deal of wisdom from their mistakes too. Take some time to get to know some ministry veterans in your area and review your mistakes with them… It might be encouraging as well as insightful…

What would you add to this list? How do you cope with ministry messes?

Phil <><

About the Author

PhilBell Phil Bell is a Family Ministry pastor with over 15 years of experience ministering to families. He holds a Masters in Christian Ministry and is a national speaker, columnist, author, and blogger. He’s passionate about investing in families and equipping parents to reach the next generation for Christ. He’s originally from England and now lives in Raleigh, NC, with his wife Lisa and their three beautiful kids.

Comments (7)

  1. I had to tell a few students “sorry I messed up” last week, and it was extremely humbling. Yet, I think it did create a HUGE relational jump between us, and we have all grown from the situation. Thanks for your thoughts.

  2. Phil Bell

    Sometimes we think we are helping students by “keeping it all together” and presenting ourselves as someone who has figured out life without mistakes. However, I think it’s more important that we model a humble attitude of saying sorry and taking ownership of our mistakes. We might be the only people who are modeling this to them.

    Brian, It’s great to hear how those relationships get to be built under authenticity! I believe this is the fruit God intends for us to see when we lead in this way.

  3. so true and like you all have said, it is difficult. I have said “I messed up” with my students and parents before. It is hard to do it, but it creates a humble attitude for myself and helps build relationships. Great reminder!

  4. Great post Phil. I try to gain insight from others. I think while it’s important to move on we need to also make sure others hold us accountable so we don’t make the same mistakes twice.

  5. Phil Bell

    Chris, that is a great word! Yes, that is another great step to add. I would love to think that I will not repeat the same mistakes again and again, but having someone to hold me accountable is essential!

  6. Phil Bell

    Josh, it’s awesome that God can build relationships in the midst of our mistakes! What a great blessing we get even when we mess up.

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