Have you ever had a conversation with yourself where you have played the “Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda” game? Have you ever stepped back and looked over your journey in life and ministry and think about all the mistakes you made? Now that you’re older, smarter, and wiser, you often say to yourself, “If I knew then what I know now, I would have done this……I could have done that…..I should have done this……!”

I was recently having a team meeting with some of my leaders and we were preparing for our weekly student ministry programming. As we were working through the details of the worship set, one of my leaders who was a former student in my student ministry, commented in a joking manner, “You weren’t this detailed when I was in the student ministry!” We all laughed about it and others leaders who were former students chimed in and agreed. As my team begins to trade war stories of our student ministry failures, miscues, mistakes and just plain-old bad ideas over the years, I begin to realize that they were right! My leadership approach and perspective has changed because of the lessons I’ve learned over time.

I responded to the group with one of my favorite quotes by Napolean Hill, which says, “No man ever achieved worth-while success who did not, at one time or other, finds himself with at least one foot hanging well over the brink of failure.” Basically, I wanted them to understand that failure is the key to success because each mistake teaches us something that we never knew before. If we are willing to change our perspective, and outlook, we will begin to allow our setbacks and war stories to make us better and not bitter.

We all have those crazy stories, awkward moments, leadership struggles, retreats from hell, and students who we wonder if they will ever get it. But over the years, I’ve learned the process of developing a healthy and successful student ministry is a marathon, not a sprint. It is filled with lots of ups and downs as well as unexpected twists and turns. I’ve also learned the importance of taking my time, always being prayerful, and not rushing quickly into anything. Pay attention and learn from the stories of your past. They’re designed to help you evolve as a leader and to mature your perspective. Bill Cosby said it best when he said, “In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.” Take the risk and embrace the process. If you win, you will celebrate and if you lose, you will be wise; but either way, you win!!

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Jeffrey Wallace

Jeff is nationally known as an urban ministry innovator and leader. He serves as Pastor of Youth Development at Peace Baptist Church in Decatur, Georgia, where he oversees all of the children, teen, and young adult ministries. Jeff has produced several resources designed to empower and equip youth leaders, parents, and students in urban environments. He is the author of “Urban Ministry from Start to Finish” and co-author of “Everybody’s Urban” as well as “99 Thoughts Every Guy Should Know”. Jeff enjoys doing life with his wife Quovadis and three boys, Jeffrey, Christopher, and Cameron.

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