We moved into a new house last fall. We endured a cold and snowy winter, our first in many years, and as the snow thawed and the trees began to bud, I was amazed at the green growth that was possible right in our own backyard. Despite never having planted or attempted to grow anything in my life, the spring of new vegetation inspired me to grow a garden. I decided to start simple with a small herb garden. How hard could that be?
I procured all the needed materials from The Home Depot: seeds, fertilizer, a gardening shovel. I churned the soil, planted four different types of seeds in neat little rows, faithfully added water and began to wait.
7 days passed. No growth.
14 days passed. No growth.
21 days passed. No growth.
3 months passed! No growth.
What in the world happened? What had I done wrong? I had grand visions of gorgeous salads and spreads that I would prepare with vibrantly green and healthy herbs from my very own garden. Those dreams came crashing down, however, when not even one seed sprouted at all. I was crushed.
My experience with my herb garden reminded me that sometimes things don’t happen according to our carefully developed and cultivated plan. In church and ministry leadership, the same is often also true. We work hard with our teams to plan for events, outreaches, and church growth activities, only to be disappointed when nothing happens in the way we had thought it would. We cry out to God wondering where we went wrong. Perhaps we learn; perhaps we don’t. However, dealing with life and ministry when things turn out differently than we hoped is a much-needed skill for leaders in all walks of life.
What should we do when things don’t go to plan?
1) Review the Basics.
When our plan doesn’t work out as we hoped, a very good first step is to review all that we did and try to determine what might have gone wrong. Review your planning process. Review the gifts of the members of your team. Review the readiness of your church or ministry to implement such a plan. Did the planned event truly run consistent with your mission and vision? Are there others with different gifts who should be involved with you and your team? Ask for outside assistance from someone not emotionally invested in your work. They can come in and give an objective opinion on both what went right, as well as what went wrong. Try not to take their constructive criticism personally. Maintain an open mind and be willing to adjust your thinking and your planning knowing that your pure heart and good motives will lead you in the right direction.
2) Dialogue with Your Team.
Leadership cannot be done in a vacuum. You need the members of your ministry team to give their input, develop ideas together with you, and help during times of review and revision to make our ministries all they can be. Create intentional time to have open dialogue with your team members. Be open and honest about the failure of the plan. Share with them your learnings on what challenges you faced and what mistakes were made. Invite their opinions and their feedback on the planning process, as well as on the implementation of the plan. Realize that your team members have unique life experiences that have prepared them to serve alongside you at this time in life and. Never hide things from the team, but rather be open, honest, and as objective as possible as together you seek a more successful future.
3) Be Brave Enough to Make a Change.
Admitting that you failed or made critical mistakes is not easy. Some leaders are so afraid to concede defeat that they continue working their flawed plans, even though success is never going to come. Leaders must be brave enough to not only admit they may have been wrong, but also to bring about needed changes that will improve ministry activities or grow the church more effectively. Those we lead will look to us to model humility and graciousness in the process. Perhaps God allowed you to fail so that you would learn valuable lessons as a leader that could not have been learned another way. Be brave enough to make a change, knowing that God will lead and guide your every step. Those we lead will be encouraged and inspired to watch their leader struggle elegantly, and it will help them to know that they are also free to fail and try again.
4) Try and Try Again.
If you’ve done all the work required and still feel strongly as if God is leading you and your team in this direction, try working your plan again. Make sure all hands are on deck and everyone understands and endorses your vision. Correct any mistakes you may have made, and work out any challenges you faced. Then give it everything you have and strive for success the second time around. We learn many things in the course of implementing ministry plans, and we will be better leaders because we refused to quit. The people we lead will grow and mature as a result of our persistence in finishing the task the Lord has given us despite difficult times and the trials that come our way. Keep moving forward, seeking to achieve success and a thriving body of believers in our church at home and around the world.