Okay. You can all exhale now. After all, I know you’ve been holding your breath since I ended my last post with a cliffhanger. Well, the wait is over. Let’s talk about the one thing that absolutely, positively cannot be overlooked if you are to create a successful student-led environment. Here it is:

We must allow our students to fail.

Now this seems to completely contradict some of my previous points, but it doesn’t. There’s a difference between “setting them up to fail” and “letting them fail.” It’s a fine line. You can’t just throw them to the wolves. “You want to sing a solo? Okay. Bring a sound track Sunday night and let’s go for it!” But, at the same time, there are valuable lessons in failing.

There are times a student has approached me with something he/she wanted to do, or an approach he/she wanted to take. I’ve offered advice, told them what I thought would be the right approach, etc. But if they didn’t heed that instruction, at times I’ve let them do it anyway. Did I know it probably wouldn’t be successful? Sure. But the experience of trying it out and seeing that it didn’t work will teach them more than me setting forth a mandate that “You will do it my way, or else!”

The trick, then, is to help them “fail gracefully.” I’ll give you an example.

A few years ago, our pastor asked us to do a Youth Sunday service on Pentecost Sunday evening. A student approached me stating he wanted to do something in the service on the history of the modern Apostolic movement. I told him go for it, but make sure he showed me what he put together Sunday morning. As always, I explained what we were planning with our pastor, and he was excited about what this young man was planning.

Well, this young man showed up Sunday morning with nothing. He said he’d work on it this afternoon. I told him to let me know if he didn’t think he could get it done so I could inform the pastor, but he assured me he could figure it out. Around 4 PM he called me and said he couldn’t find what he was looking for, and asked if I could put it together for him. My response? “No.” I offered advice, I created a framework for him to succeed, and I even gave him an exit route if he chose to take it. He had an opportunity to be successful, but he chose to take a different route. He was about to learn a difficult, but valuable lesson.

That evening, the pastor patted the young man on the shoulder before church and said “I’m looking forward to your presentation.” The boy then had to explain that it wasn’t going to happen and why. Of course, neither the pastor nor I gave him a hard time. It was obvious he was embarrassed. But he’s never missed another assignment, or waited until the last minute to do anything he’s been tasked with. And since then, he’s been very clear to communicate to me when he felt he was no longer going to be able to accomplish something. He’s not perfect…but he’s come a long way, and he’s on our youth staff now.

At the end of the day, we can’t completely protect young people from making mistakes if we want them to grow. Sure, the impulse is to ride in on a white horse and save them, but is that fair to them? Does that give them room to grow? Does that help them learn their own strengths and weaknesses? Probably not.

Now, absolutely there are times we should bail them out and save them from major embarrassment. But we’ll get to that in my next point.

So what do you think? What are your thoughts on letting your students fail?

1 thought on “

  1. Letting students or even our own children fail gracefully is the only way to rear them in a proper manner. I wish it was not so, but we all must taste the bitterness of life before we understand the sweetness of it. Peter who was a disciple or student of Christ we could say, failed miserably in Matthew 26, and then saith Jesus unto them, all ye shall be offended because of me this night, Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended. Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, that this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. Peter said unto him, though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Like wise also said all the disciples. Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came unto him, saying, Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee, but he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest, and when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and said unto them that were there, this fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth, and again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man, and after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee. Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew, and Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice, and he went out, and wept bitterly. I would dare to say, Peter would have said that he failed gracefully, however the outcome was that Peter learned a valuable, hard lesson; one that went on the shelf for trophies of life changing trials. The beautiful ending is that Peter came through his experience stronger in the faith, knowing more of God, and God’s grace. He is concerned about us despite our failures. James 4:6, But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.

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