Recently, I took one of my daughters ice-skating. On the ice, balancing on skates like a new-born giraffe, I noticed the wide variance in skill at this public skate. There was everything from figure skaters, to first-timers, to once-in-a-decaders, like me.

There’s only two ways for a beginner to engage with an ice rink. You can either circumnavigate the rink clinging to the surety of something to bolster you, lest you fall, or, like the eight-year-old boys who I had to dodge as I made my way cautiously across the ice, you can go for it.

You can abandon the wall and fall. Get up again and fall.

Only one of these methods will teach you to skate.

Living in Failure Denial

Too much of church culture, especially around money, avoids falling.

We have to stay employed, our savings account should grow, our debt should shrink, our career should advance. These are the “signs of God’s blessing”. From the pulpit, to our media, to the way church boards make money decisions, we are determined to do things safe. As if failure is too severe of an event to be an option.

Refusing to acknowledge failure as an option is to prioritize the wrong thing in our faith and our money. We don’t want to admit that our marriage has challenges, that our health is not good, that we can’t keep up with our lifestyle, that our work pace is unsustainable, so we “hold on to the wall”. Success (staying upright) becomes the goal instead of obedience (skating).

We find crutches that help us avoid apparent defeat. We don’t broach that subject with the spouse, we don’t go to the doctor, we ignore the credit card bills and we drink another energy drink on our way to work.

“We’re fine, see, we’re standing on the ice.”

But standing on the ice, holding onto the wall, isn’t really skating at all. It won’t teach you how to balance, it won’t teach you how to glide or push off with your skates or stop. Holding onto the rail isn’t much like skating at all.

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Failure is Formational

Interviewing people on the Christian Money Podcast I talk with people who have taken financial steps of faith to go on the mission God has for their life.

I’ve noticed this theme; at some point, everyone had to let go of the wall and things didn’t go as they wanted. They didn’t have the career they had paid years of tuition for. They didn’t join the ministry they thought they were called into. They had to walk back decisions in ministry, in family and life.

Because, put frankly, they failed. They didn’t see it. Didn’t do it “right”. It didn’t go as planned. They fell.

In preparation for an upcoming podcast with Cameron Godfrey, I was struck by how formational the mission is. Sometimes I get it wrong. Sometimes I think “as long as I’m standing, I’m doing it right”. As long as the church grows, I give more money away, we baptize more people, I’m “on mission.” But Cameron reminded me of how much God has done in my life through failing.

That time unemployed where God revealed how firmly intertwined my work and identity were. That time my net worth sank and I learned to trust God for provision. That time the ministry ended even though I poured all I had into it and I realized obedience was its own prize.

Perhaps, the mission is more about what God wants to put in us than what he wants to do through us.

If this is true, it changes the money narrative.

What if giving money to my church isn’t about whether or not the church needs money, but whether my heart becomes bound to the church community?

What if it isn’t about whether or not I give the beggar a $5 bill, but whether or not I learn to have compassion for the poor?

What if it isn’t about whether my business or my career grow, but it’s about learning to glorify God in my work, whether I get accolades from the world or not, whether my work is humble or profound?   

Failure is an Option

I often say, the saddest financial outcome in life isn’t not having enough to retire. It’s not losing your money in the stock market, or even filing bankruptcy. The saddest financial outcome is dying a millionaire, having taken no risks, clinging to the wall of the ice rink watching everybody else skate.

Jesus said “I have come so that they may have life and life abundantly.” (John 10:10)

But our Christian financial culture applauds the one who dies with a nest egg (especially if s/he leaves some of it to the church).

Jesus said “He who loses his life will save it.” (Matthew 16:25)

But our Church money advice says “Save, save, save!”

In the parable of the talents, the master applauds two of his servants that take risks with his money. In those days they likely bought and sold goods from a caravan or a merchant ship. I always wonder what the master would have said if one of the servants said “Master, I invested your two talents in a merchant ship that sank at sea. I’m sorry, but I lost it all.”

Who do you think the Master would have had harsher words for? The servant that tried to skate and fell? Or the one that was still clinging to the ice rink wall?

We follow a God who is a redeemer of all things. Meaning, my screw ups, my missteps, my bad decisions are well within Jesus’ redemptive power by the finished work of the cross.

If failure isn’t an option, we likely have our priorities wrong.

So how about it?

Do you want to learn how to skate?  

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