Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Great Success of Life's Failures: pre-warned ramblings of a mad man.

I’ve described myself, and been described, as a failure.


It seems so often that I’ve been blessed with the curse of the Midas touch, just in reverse.

It seems so often that everything I touch…falls apart.

“If at first you don’t succeed…try again.”

I did, and failed again.

So I tried again and guess what happened?

Overwhelming failure met me once again!

I’m really not that unattractive, it’s just the look of falling miserably on my face in a repeated fashion.

I cautioned you in a Facebook status and Twitter tweet! Don’t blame me! I warned you! I told you the rambling words of a mad man were coming!

Here they are!

Why the repeated preface?

Because the conclusion of over 22 years repeated failure (preceded by 18 years of mediocre incompetence)…

That conclusion?

The results of my resume’ of failure?

It is Ab-so-freakin-lut-ly AMAZING!

All my failures have yielded an amazing and unimaginable life!

When I was eighteen years old, I felt this birthing result of the marriage between two things inside my heart. Two overwhelming feelings which had always risen to the surface, but were now an intensified burning I can only attribute to a dormant relationship with my Daddy that had begun to flourish. (The relationship had always been present I believe, but was now beginning to be reciprocated upon.)

These two feelings were my comfort and passion for being in front of people, communicating (and entertaining); and my deep desire to nurture people, especially when pain was part of their process.

The “church-world” has a word (which I resist as a title) for people who embrace these two desires and/or gifts: pastor.

A little over twenty-two years ago I made a long distance calling to my dad. I told him something was happening in my heart, my emotions. I described these desires and my feeling that I just couldn’t control it any longer. With an embarrassingly limited vocabulary, I said, “Dad, I think I’m supposed to…preach?” (Yes, I said it with more of a question mark for punctuation than I did with a period.)

He said, “I’ll come pick you up Saturday. I want you to speak at church Sunday.”
The next few days I studied, read, contemplated, meditated and visualized. In those visualizations I saw myself in realistic terms. Visualized Ollie was standing in that drafty, old antique building on top of a sandy hill…shaking like a leaf and dripping sweat in a way that was fitting for Southeast Georgia summers.

There’s so much more to the story, but it’s not part of this story. (Remind me later to tell you some of the other amazing things that happened in the journey.)

Needless to say, I spoke that weekend on a word synonymously related to my Daddy (commonly referred to as God)…the word, Love.

(Shocker, right?)

Soon after, I was invited to speak at other locations and introduced to experienced speakers and pastors.

Still a teenager, and obviously in need of instruction, I was giving “Instructions for Successful Ministry” by well meaning men and women wearing polyester suits and chicken greased fingers.

“Son, start as a youth minister in a small church, which will lead you to a pastorate at a small church. From there, get a job as a youth pastor at a big church, and then you can become a pastor of a big church.

“This is the secret to being a great pastor.”

Yes, I was literally told this on more than one occasion by more than one pastor. Really.
I gave it a shot. I was told all the keys to success as a youth pastor, children’s pastor, pastoral care pastor, missionary and preacher.

I tried it.

Remember what this rambling note is about? Failure.

I failed at all of it.

Youth pastors and children’s pastor need finely honed organizational skills.

I just had creativity.

Pastoral care pastors need precisely timed appointments and an ability to maintain professional distance.

I only had concern.

Missionaries need lots of support.

I only had a dream.

Preachers need three points and an applicable story.

I had passion.

I tried them all.

I tried being a youth pastor, multiple times. Time and again, I fell on my face…I didn’t have what it took to organize the all-important trips to Six Flags or fundraiser car washes.

I tried to be a strong presence in the midst of hurting people by providing pastoral care. But I made the mistake of crying while visiting a dying friend. (The Senior Pastor described this as breaking the “cardinal rule of pastoral ministry.”)

I tried being a missionary, “starting a church” in a foreign country. But I didn’t have a compelling enough stories to raise the necessary support.

And leadership. I tried. I read the books, went to the conferences and listened to the podcasts.

But I walked away with the icky feeling of manipulation.

I failed at all of this.

I saw it, and I named it failure.

Others saw it, and named it failure as well.

In ministry I’ve never been a significant part of anything wildly successful or experiencing exponential growth.

But the success of my failure wasn’t only limited to the confines of ministry.

No, I seemed to spread my talent for mediocrity into the business world as well.

My outgoing personality and inability to meet strangers seemed to be welcome in the corporate world of sales. And I needed money. So I tried.

I wore suits and ties, called people on the phone, took them to lunch and visited their offices.
I introduced products and solutions.

But lack-luster results were about my highest achievement.

I’ve cast vision and made commitments.

I’ve strategized and asked for volunteers.

I’ve devised plans and instituted procedure.

I’ve presented power points and made convincing return-on-investment appeals.


I’ve taken risks, both impetuous and calculated.

I’ve lost a home and a car.

I’ve been fired, laid-off and asked to resign.

I’ve given up, walked away and quit.

Deep in the red, I’ve seen virtually no return on the risks of the investments I’ve made in the last twenty two (plus) years.

I’ve been successful at being a failure.

Or, have I? I’ve thought recently about all those risks and the lack of results.

I’ve done it the way I was told to do it.

I’ve adhered to the prescribed steps of the formulas for success, but rarely, if ever, have I known the guaranteed outcome.

I’ve pursued the visions I’ve written and found them to be elusive.

I’ve chased the goose into wild and unstable places and got not even a feather of anything of material substance.

No trophies, no wall mountings.

But, through all these failures, I’ve been overwhelmingly successful!

In every secular job and ministry position I have, in actuality, seen return on the investment.

See, the thing about success sometimes, is that you have to LOOK for it!

Sometimes the success has absolutely nothing to do with the cost of the investment.

I’ve realized that my deficit has brought about an amazing surplus.

In every single one of my failures, both in business and ministry, I’ve walked away with relationships, friendships.

Every bit of love and intimacy I know, horizontally, is the result of some great risk.

Come to think of it, even the love I know vertically is a direct result of the greatest risk ever taken.

See my pay off, my success in life isn’t an empire that flies my gallant flag.

Every single person I know has impacted my life and shown love in various ways, encouraging me and reminding me that I have worth.

The pay off, the return, on my investment…is you.

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