How many mistakes are too many?

 "I have not failed, I have simply found 10,000 ways that won't work!" Those were the words spoken by Thomas Edison, one of the greatest inventors of all time. He uttered those words while painstakingly trying to invent the light bulb, a breakthrough that we would not have the luxury of enjoying without Edison's courage, tenacity and proper perspective on "mistakes."

mistakesWe all hate making mistakes. We don't like the way they make us feel about ourselves. We don't like the way mistakes make us look less than perfect to other people. I have yet to meet a person who truly enjoys "dropping the ball."

I can still remember a conversation from fifteen plus years ago with one of my baseball coaches after I dropped a ball in center field and caused my team to lose a game. I was playing for a rec summer league team and they were counting on me. I guess because I was on the varsity baseball team and a summer legion league team they were expecting me to not make any mistakes in this "easier" recreational league. Don't worry I'm over the emotional sting from the look on his face and the tone in his voice after that unwelcome error!

As a church leader I have to manage the tension between the excellence of a "product" and the equipping of "people."

Excellence is a great value but if taken too far it can tip over into a vice. 

About a year ago, a pastor I greatly respect named Larry Osbourne came and trained some of our staff, students and area leaders. He said,  "Many times we will have to choose which we want more: excellence or equipping. When you are trying to make room for young eagles, they don't always know how to soar right away!" Again, it's not a problem to solve but a tension to manage.

Excellence honors God and inspires people. Yet, if I have to have excellence at the expense of equipping, that is where I have to draw the line.  My job description as a pastor is all about equipping saints for works of service. (Ephesians 4:12)

As a staff and church family we have been working on developing a stronger apprenticing and equipping culture.  We are busy reminding each other that:

  • "Failure is not fatal."
  • "Ask for forgiveness more than permission." (This is a core value around Google. They want their employees to take aggressive ownership and initiative rather than sit back and wait for permission.)
  • "Make mistakes, make lots of mistakes, even make BIG mistakes, just try not to make the same mistakes." (An effective equipping and apprenticing culture is never void of confrontation, accountability, and continual debriefing together to capitalize on the mistakes we all make.)

Playing it safe is too risky. I also played for an excellent baseball coach who branded these empowering words on my heart that still ring loud in my ears today, "Play to win, don't play not to lose!"  It's hard to win in your career, calling, marriage or any area of life if you are playing not to lose.

Jesus knew that His disciples would make TONS of mistakes. Often He was incredibly frustrated with them! Yet, when the time came to give them the "ball" He did not hesitate. You can see this leadership principle played out so clearly in just two verses of Scripture Mark 6:6-7 (NLT):

And he was amazed at their unbelief. 7 Then Jesus went from village to village, teaching the people. And he called his twelve disciples together and began sending them out two by two, giving them authority to cast out evil spirits.

In one moment Jesus is literally stunned by their lack of faith. In the very next moment He is empowering the same disciples to go and aggressively extend His Kingdom. Jesus was not an insecure leader! He was big enough to help His disciples navigate major blunders in their lives and ministries.

I pray that I continue to become more like Jesus. Too often my own insecurities sabotage the fostering of a powerful environment of equipping and experimentation. I pray more pastors, principals, ceos and leaders of every sector of society would begin to ask themselves the question, "How many mistakes is too many?"

Add a comment:

  • How could this value of equipping over excellence benefit you in your parenting, marriage or work environment?
  • What kind of self talk goes on in your mind to help you from over reacting to someone else's mistakes?

Photo credit: