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As a dynamic young preacher at a large church, J. R. Briggs felt God calling him to start a church plant. Gradually, the church grew, but its growth eventually stalled out. Disappointment led him to found the Epic Fail Pastors Conference—"a gathering for pastors and leaders seeking to understand how God works through failure"—and to write Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure (InterVarsity Press). Briggs spoke with Drew Dyck, managing editor of Leadership Journal, about redefining the notion of ministry success.
What attracted you to a topic that most people would rather avoid?
It started with attending pastors' conferences. They featured well-known pastors of large churches, but average pastors were never invited to share their experiences. These events were all about success and getting results. I was in the middle of a painful season of ministry. I needed something that wouldn't discourage me or add to my spiritual vertigo. I wanted to talk honestly. I needed an AA meeting for pastors, but there was no such thing.
Many pastors, ex-pastors, and Christian leaders were desperate for that type of forum. I wasn't trying to create a conference. I simply longed for a space where no one was scared by the shortcomings of other sinners, even if those sinners were also ministry leaders.
Do our issues with failure come from faulty notions of success?
I don't like using the word success when talking about ministry. I'd much rather use words like health, faithfulness, and obedience. Our culture is obsessed with success, and the church is not immune. Pastors are inundated with temptations to chase the wrong things. We need to take a hard look at how we define ministry success and failure—and then measure it against Scripture. Eugene Peterson wrote, "The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners. . . . In these communities of sinners, one ...