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Students at commencement

Ministry in Context

Your biggest mistake

My friend Jack was an engineer for a major firm in the aeronautical field, and no slouch at that. He was one of the designers of the original lunar landing module. Later he was involved with the design of a massive maintenance facility for the Saudi Arabian Air Force. Jack and his colleagues put in massive amounts of time planning for the facility, and traveling back and forth to the Middle East. The process took years, with no final commitments and no final results.

Jack described working with the Saudis as the most frustrating experience of his life. In Saudi society, the worst thing you could do was make a mistake. Mistakes were not tolerated. Therefore, nobody wanted to do anything that might later turn out to be a mistake or make a decision that someone might consider mistaken. The result was paralysis. Nobody was willing to make a decision on the facility, for fear that their decision might turn out to be wrong. The facility never got built.

Things only happen...growth only only happens...when people are willing to risk making mistakes.

If you are an intern, I hope you have made some colossal mistakes this year and known some magnificent failures. If you have not, it isn't too late! You see, if you have not, you have probably been playing it too safe so far. You haven't been risking enough. It's time for you to stretch yourself, to take some chances and do some things you are not at all certain you can do. I believe that we should learn more from our failures than we do from our successes. You have the marvelous luxury this year of walking the ministry tightrope with a safety net. As Easter passes and the program year begins to wind down in many congregations, get out there on the wire and do a few jumps, testing yourself and stretching your ministry. Don't be afraid to make mistakes.

As far as that goes: don't kid yourself. A wise insurance agent talked to me years ago about people and their life insurance. "I always get a kick out of it," he said, "when people ask about what their insurance will do 'If I die.' I point out to them that it isn't a matter of 'if I die,' but 'when I die.'"

So you shouldn't worry about what might happen if you make a mistake. It's a matter of when you make a mistake. You're going to. You're going to make mistakes. You're going to have failures. This year you're doing it with that safety net. Go for it! Your biggest mistake this year would be to play things so carefully that you never make any mistakes!

And if you're a supervisor or the member of a lay committee, remember that one of your functions is to be part of that safety net!

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