It was Winston Churchill who said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.” Failing at something is part of life; it’s part of learning, growing. Rick Warren shares how God turns around ministry failure. I believe that the principles Rick shares are applicable to any situation at work or in our family. Perhaps the real failure in any perceived failure we may experience is not learning from it and quitting or giving up.
Originally published by Rick Warren
My dad’s favorite recreational activity was fishing. A day without fishing was a wasted day to him.
If you’ve ever been around a fisherman, you know they have great fish stories. The more they tell those stories, the bigger the fish get.
But there’s no fishing tale I could share quite like the one in Luke 5. This story has a lot to say to those of us in ministry. It’s all about how to handle discouragement at work—whether you’re a professional fisherman or a pastor.
Let’s dive right into the story—Peter, Andrew, James, and John owned a fishing business. They had been out fishing all night and caught nothing. You and I can relate to this. We know what it’s like to work day and night trying to fish for people with the Gospel, yet come up empty.
These four may have been fishermen at the time, but we know something they didn’t. Jesus’ intention from the beginning was for them to become fishers of men. And in this story, we see how Jesus turned struggling fishermen into some of the greatest fishers of men the world has ever seen.
If we want God to turn around our ministries, we’ll need to take the same four steps as Peter, Andrew, James, and John:
- Give up control of our ministry.
Luke 5:3 tells us that Jesus got into one of Peter’s boats. If you want God to bless your ministry, Jesus must get into your boat too.
At that point, these fishermen were in the same lake, on the same boat, and using the same nets that had caught nothing the night before. The only difference between their empty nets and their overflowing nets is Jesus.
Pastor, that’s a game-changer for you too. Jesus needs full access to your ministry. You may think that’s obvious because, of course, you need Jesus in your boat. But how many times have you given the steering wheel of your ministry to something else? Whether you’re letting the opinions of others or the world’s definition of success lead the way, it isn’t Jesus.
Too many of us have prayed, “God make me a success, and I’ll serve you.” But instead, God wants us to pray, “God, my ministry is failing, so I’m giving it all to you. I won’t hold anything back. Do with my ministry what you want.”
If you want God’s blessing on your ministry, Jesus must have complete control.
- Admit what we’re doing isn’t working.
Can you imagine how tough it was for Peter to tell Jesus in Luke 5:5, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything” (NIV)? Peter was a professional. He had fished his whole life. It’s tough for any professional to admit failure.
It’s tough for pastors too. It’s humbling to admit that despite your education and your hard work, your ministry is struggling. Sometimes your best isn’t good enough.
What keeps us from admitting when something isn’t working? Pride. Stubbornness. Fear. We often want to do ministry the way we’ve always done it. We’re afraid God will make us try something new.
But that kind of response only leads to one place—back to the same old failures.
- Do whatever Jesus tells us to do.
Jesus told Peter exactly what to do. “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish” (Luke 5:4 NLT). Jesus provided a when (now), a where (where it is deeper), and a what (let down your nets). When God gives us a calling, he does the same for us.
Like it was for Peter, our calling will take us deeper and require us to take risks. Deeper water is often where the fish are, making it more dangerous to catch them. The people who are far from God are in the deep water too. To reach them, you’ll need to take a risk.
One reason God allows you to struggle in your ministry is because he wants to take you deeper. Obeying Jesus in your ministry always involves risk. God loves you too much to let you stay where you are.
Before starting Saddleback 42 years ago, I was a young seminarian in Texas. God called me to start a church in a place I’d never been, with no money, no people, no salary, and no support. God called me to take a risk. God called me to go into the deep water—and I obeyed.
What is God telling you to do? What is keeping you from obeying?
- Expect Jesus to turn things around.
If God calls you to fish, comes along with you, and tells you where to let down your nets—and you obey—you won’t come up empty. Peter understood this. All the fatigue, fear, and frustration from the previous night were behind him. Peter is quivering with expectation. He isn’t afraid of failing anymore.
The Bible says when the fisherman let down their nets, Jesus blessed them abundantly: “Their nets were so full of fish they began to tear!” (Luke 5:6 NLT).
Then Jesus changed their perspective. The Bible says they were amazed at what God did. Peter then calls Jesus, “Lord.”
This miracle became the turning point in the lives of those four men. The night of empty nets was followed by a lifetime of serving Jesus and seeing him do the impossible through them.
Your toughest ministry days can also be the turning point for you. As you give Jesus control of your ministry, admit your way hasn’t worked, do whatever he tells you to do, and expect him to turn things around, God will do the impossible through your ministry too.