Still Looking for a Gospel That Speaks to Failure


Another friend lost his job last week. He spent the last nine years in the housing biz, and we all know where that has gone. These are tough times, aren’t they?

When I think of the difficult lessons I have learned in life, whether through my own experiences or those of people I know, many of them revolve around our work lives:

The business world never forgives mistakes—ever.

It’s always about the bottom line, and almost never about the employees. (The sign of a soulless company? Its leaders refer to employees as “human capital.”)

If a man makes a bad career decision at age 18, it will more than likely haunt him for the rest of his life.

In the same way, if a man feels a call to ministry in his young adulthood, he will be hard pressed later in life if he fails in that ministry and must find his way in the regular work world.

If a man is trying to transition out of one field into another, more than ever he will find it impossible because employers can’t seem to break out of the niche mindset. In other words, once a bricklayer, always a bricklayer, and never a computer technician.

Men who lose their jobs at the most vulnerable point in their peak earning years are more likely than ever before to find themselves unable to return to the same level of pay.

Reaching for the brass ring may instead find one falling off the carousel.

This is not to say that God can’t do miracles. But the simple fact is that you don’t go to bed a video store clerk and wake up the next day as the lead on the Large Hadron Collider. And the even simpler fact is sometimes all the hard work in the world will not get you there, either.

And that’s why, especially at this time, we need a Gospel that speaks to failure.

A couple years ago at this time, I wrote a post called “We Need a Gospel That Speaks to Failure.” Take a couple minutes to read it, if you can.

You would think that we would have such a Gospel, but somehow we’ve missed it. To me, one of the oddest thing about living in a world that has seen its Savior come is that the one thing the Savior came to deliver is in such radically short supply: grace.

Recently, I said that I thought the largest unreached people group in the United States right now are those who have lost their homes to foreclosure. Here in America, what greater failure can exist than to kiss the American Dream home goodbye? Yet where is the Church on this?

Worse, where are the former homeowners? Are they in our pews or not? My guess is on the “not” side. The new breed of failure?I’m thinking that nothing hurts worse than to go down in flames in your church while everyone around looks the other way or quotes you Romans 8:28 off the motivational plaque they bought from the local Christian bookstore. Why stick around listening to sermons on Christian leadership when you were desperate for a servant in your time of need and one never showed up.

It really galled me that one of the largest sources of the pile-on afflicting those first homeowners who lost their homes at the beginning of all this was Christians. In our self-righteous ire, we blamed people for being stupid. And perhaps they were. But when is grace only for the smart people of the world?

One of the things about this financial implosion are the bystanders. Now, even people who did everything right are being wiped out. That may even be some of us. Does that make us stupid? Is the same measure of gracelessness that we doled out coming back to haunt us?

God, we need a Gospel that speaks to failure preached in our churches more than ever. Please, someone, anyone, preach it!

21 thoughts on “Still Looking for a Gospel That Speaks to Failure

  1. Don Fields

    What should the church do? Should we pay people’s mortgages? What happens when we don’t have enough money for everyone? Whose do we pay?

    Would I be doing enough if I opened my home to a family who had lost theirs? If I let them live with me for minimal cost, or if they had nothing, for no cost?

    Would American’s accept that kind of “help?” Or must our help mean keeping every family in their own home?

    I’ve been thinking about these things as it impacts our own church. I think 1 Timothy 5 & 6 have a lot to say to this crisis, but I don’t think many of us, rich or poor, want to hear the solutions. They don’t fit into our concept of American Christianity.

  2. Hi, I can appreciate where you are coming from on this. We have a lot of folks in our congregation who are experiencing a loss of home. My wife and I are close every month now to not paying our mortgage and I don’t know a whole lot of folks jumping in to help.

    Regarding a theology of suffering or failure, I think you can probably appreciate my observations on this from church planting experience entitled, “Faith Enough to Fail

    I do have one question though. Where did you see this big Christian-led “pile-on” calling people stupid. I think I missed that. Can you point me to some articles or some other resources?


  3. Funny you should mention it, Dan. Just yesterday I was telling a pastor about a friend of mine (another minister) who each year designates February “Celebrate Failure Month” where he does a series of teachings encouraging Christians to take a closer (more gracious) look at the Gospel and failure in the life of a believer, and our need to come to terms with it’s inevitability. I’m already preparing a series of posts on the subject in preparation.


  4. Usher: Hey Deak, I know a family in this space. It goes like this…Layed off his job due to lack of funds in 2004 (company suffered directly because of 9/11), he took all of his knowledge from the past and started a business. He hired enough people to make it work, creating jobs in the community. He built the business in his barn to conserve costs. He paid all of his bills and all of his payroll. Due to a calculation he believed by a Fortune 100 firm he purchased equipment from, he built his business around the costs and output of this machinery. He was conservative in his estimates because he is a smart fellow. His calculations figured only 30% output would make his business successful. The machinery, a printing press was only capable of producing 10% of the number touted and confirmed in the documentation. The company actually changed its documentation and reduced the statistics on the machine after he purchased it. He confronted them and they took the machine back, but never gave him any of his money back. He had to simply stop payments and force them to come and take it away. This forced him into refinancing his home to buy the proper machinery to support his customer base of nearly 300 in only 18 months. He went from an overhead of 40K USD to 400K USD. Due to failures on contracts and some of his customers failing to pay him on time, he had to delay his payroll and some of his workers left him for greener pastures and higher salaries. One worker, a brother stuck by him as the ship listed. He was forced to borrow money from friends and family as all of the equity in his home purchased some 7 years earlier was gone. He worked 18 hour days. He never gave up. He lost his house and instead of homesteading, he chose to salvage the business, change his model and outsource. He closed the shop, let his home go, paid off all of his business leases, sold all his personal possessions in an estate sale for money to survive and attempted to salvage the business through a new model. Someone in the church stepped up and offered a second home an hour and a half away so he wouldn’t have to move his family in with relatives on the other side of the country. He sent his wife and children to live in this couple’s summer home during the winter and worked in a cheap office with his last employee, the brother who stuck with him even without pay, and only got to see his family on the weekends. He slept in another friend’s vacant mobile home during the week or at the office. 6 months went by and the wife of the owner of the home his wife and kids were in started making personal inquiries to his wife about their plans after having offered them the second home indefinitely. Later it was discovered that she had never been in agreement to surrender the summer home, even though it was vacant all winter. She had gone along with her husband, but conditionally and now the summer was approaching and she wanted it back. She never came out and said this, she simply became a pain by being nosy with phone calls to the wife. So as not to make a scene and not choosing to confront, they found a sublet and exited quietly. The pastor caught wind of this and actually attempted to get involved before another church brother stepped up and told the pastor the true story. The deacons who had a fund, donated a total of 1500 (less than 1/3 of their mortgage payment), over the course of 2 years to this family. He landed a huge contract in alignment with his business plan with General Motors. Everyone was supportive now. He found a new financial partner who was fairly well off and he moved to another town with his family, lived in an apartment owned by the partner who had just built a huge house in the same town. He was making a half wage now and just enough money to pay rent and food. The new partner took half his business in exchange for assuming only the debt of the business and half the potential revenue. 6 months into this new arrangement, the new partner lost half his income in another business. The new partner reneged on his agreement to pay the debt, sold his shares into a French company and left the guy without any pay and all the debt. This guy has now moved on, a failure in the eyes of everyone he knows. He refuses to claim bankruptcy because he owes money to friends and family. He lives in another state, has debt of nearly half a million dollars, no credit and last I heard, is surviving solely on unemployment and is working towards another business (without pay) in hopes he can make it again. His background is ruined due to trying to make it in a small business.

    Deacon: So is he a failure? Apparently so.

    Usher: Is his failure because he’s stupid? I don’t think so. Have others failed him? For sure. Several employees took salaries from him and didn’t deliver. Others worked hard, but as soon as times got rough and payroll didn’t happen on the exact day, they left. Some simply shake their head. The church has nothing to help with. All their money goes to pay for a building and salaries. The church is an association, not a bank. They cannot help one, or they would have to help all. In the midst of all this, they are buildling a bigger buildling. They are adding more pastors. They are pushing new programs. They are joining in with the new millenium.

    Deacon: Let’s just say we have another depression. What will people do? Everyone cannot be homeless! Will people live together in a home where they might have to share a room or God forbid a bed? Will God bless, honor and extend grace to those who cannot pay a mortgage, borrow money on great credit or secure a great job? Does God actually help those who cannot help themselves? Will those who have made their payments and done their jobs well continue to look down their nose and blame the people like this guy? Will they share in the cleanup even if they feel they didn’t cause it? Will it take tragedy to finally unite the people into seeing what really matters in life? And will churches lose their programs and their buildings and start to invest in people and their problems?

      • David

        This is written by Jerald Brauer in 1965:

        The depression had a devastating effect on the Churches as well as on the nation. In the optimistic flush of the †˜20’s many congregations had built new edifices far too large and expensive. When the depression hit, they found themselves unable to pay. Most carried their huge debts; a few rejected their obligation, thus bringing shame on the Christian Church. Colleges and publishing houses, missionary enterprises, and the social work of the Churches were all hard hit by the depression. Many an institution of the Church lost its endowment in the financial crash and had to close or had to drastically cut back its activities.

        But the physical effects of the depression were only part of its devastation. It left deep spiritual and mental wounds. It destroyed the utter self-confidence of the †˜20’s, and it gave birth to a despair and lack of confidence. What an opportunity for the Churches to interpret the meaning of this event! Yet, the Churches profited little in terms of growth. There was no surge of a repentant people to the Churches. There was no appreciable increase in the numbers of churches. There was no great revival which swept the nation.

        It all sounds depressingly familiar…

    • David,

      When I read things like the Brauer piece, the more it just drives home the reality that a large number of the social and church ills we experience today are due to late-19th-century postmillennialism. This is a reality gone long unexplored in Christian ranks, but I believe that the triumphalism preached from the pulpits of those times has come back to bite us in a thousand different ways. The post-Civil-War mindset that came about during Reconstruction combined with growing Industrialism and empire-building to distract the Church in the America from the very dangerous game it was playing with the world. That Church lay down with dogs and got their fleas. And we have been scratching ever since.

  5. Hi Dan, I would guess from your post that you are presenting a Gospel message that helps people deal with their financial crisis.

    Have you seen a strong response from the unsaved? Are you seeing a revival among the people you speak to?

    • Joe,

      I’m addressing this to anyone who has failed, for whatever reason.

      Sadly, most unsaved people do not read this blog. I suspect that is true of most Christian blogs. I may be rectifying that shortly.

  6. I pray the Spirit softens the hearts of those to whom you speak.

    I teach about suffering and failure often in our young church (search my blog for those words and you will find several articles). As a result, more than 50% of our church is either unsaved or de-churched people who are coming to explore Jesus.

    I think you are right to preach a gospel that addresses failure and suffering so keep it up brother!

  7. Eric

    O ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
    Whose forms are bending low,
    Who toil along the climbing way
    With painful steps and slow;
    Look now, for glad and golden hours
    Come swiftly on the wing;
    O rest beside the weary road
    And hear the angels sing.

  8. Pingback: on failure….and grace « In Weakness, Grace Abounds
  9. George

    Joe wrote & I comment:

    “When I think of the difficult lessons I have learned in life … many of them revolve around our work lives:

    The business world never forgives mistakes—ever.” Actually, it forgives them all the time. There is a huge lack of accountability. But there is also grace — we accept that no one’s perfect and accept less than perfection, at least among our friends and allies. Where the business world refuses to accommodate is among enemies and outsiders.

    “It’s always about the bottom line, and almost never about the employees. ” Actually, it’s frequently not about the bottom line at all. I went into the business world believing that were so. Then I learned about what’s called agency cost. Business executives and managers and board members act as agents for the shareholder/owners. The agents are hired to max profits for the owners, but in fact they arrange to pay themselves in cash and perks quite nicely. Only when the managers and owners are the same is there the incentive to max profits, but even then the tax system makes it cheaper to pay ot earnings to the agent side, before they’re taxed twice. And when the owners are close to the workers, they are more inclined to be sympathetic to the workers — at least those they appreciate.

    “If a man makes a bad career decision at age 18, it will more than likely haunt him for the rest of his life.” Possibly. If he robs a store or is arrested for DUI, probably. If he chooses a dead-end trade, it will later take a big investment in an education program to attempt to convince a prospective employer that you’re not the guy your work history suggests. But a key ingredient in convincing a prospective employer is making him comfortable with you, either thru mutual relationships or personal rapport.

    “In the same way, if a man feels a call to ministry in his young adulthood, he will be hard pressed later in life if he fails in that ministry and must find his way in the regular work world. If a man is trying to transition out of one field into another, more than ever he will find it impossible because employers can’t seem to break out of the niche mindset. In other words, once a bricklayer, always a bricklayer, and never a computer technician.” Exactly. You need to give them to good reasons to do so, or at least one and a half. First, they need to like you — that’s reason number one. Or at least to not dislike you. If one goes in with the attitude that the employer is wrong about him and here’s why he’s wrong — well, the key thing I heard is that you say I’m wrong. Not a good basis for building a relationship. If, on the other hand, someone tells me my instincts are right, I am a bricklayer, but I’m a bricklayer/programmer — I made money laying bricks, and who would hire a bricklayer to program?, so I got certified, did some programming for the mason, and did some more as an intern at …. Well, that could get you some more time to give the employer a basis for hiring you, a guy he now likes.

    “Men who lose their jobs at the most vulnerable point in their peak earning years are more likely than ever before to find themselves unable to return to the same level of pay.” Amen! Been there, done that. However, lots of people earn as much as they do because they’ve become insiders among the agents (see above) and without that insider status can’t justify why they should be hired in elsewhere for that much money. What it comes down to is this: most American employees are not worth as much as they get paid. Disagree? Then why do immigrants and off-shore outsourcing get work done cheaper? Because they can provide the same quality for a lower price. And where foreigners cannot — often because of foreign accents and lack of familiarity — do our differential contributions really justify our higher salaries?

    “Reaching for the brass ring may instead find one falling off the carousel.” Well, of course. Material progress is not guaranteed in this world. You may have to jump back on, or decide to sit there on the grass, or walk over to a different ride. Do you really expect them to stop the carousel, come over, lift you back onto the horsey? Did God give Moses a mulligan and bring him into the promised land? Did Judas get restored to apostleship? Should corporate America be more gracious than God?

    “This is not to say that God can’t do miracles.” God can, but I’ve seen no record that he does do miracles like that. He heals bodies to typical health and function, and He did enable tradesmen to become special messengers for Him. But He never, that I’ve read/recall, made clerks and tradesmen into titans of industry. The closest may be David becoming king, and Joseph prime minister, but both appear to have been for different ends than politics and business.

    “But the simple fact is that you don’t go to bed a video store clerk and wake up the next day as the lead on the Large Hadron Collider.” For the sake of science, let’s hope not!

    “And the even simpler fact is sometimes all the hard work in the world will not get you there, either.” Absolutely true. All the hard work in the world won’t get you anywhere, except tired. One needs to work smart — technically proficient and socially savvy — in addition to working hard.

    • George,

      We have to acknowledge that two sets of rules exist: one for the executives and one for everyone else. If you keep this in mind, it’s possible to explain nearly any discrepancy that exists between what I wrote and what you did. Business is merciless on the little guy; less so for those in power.

      As to the difference between slaraies here and overseas, the fact is that our cost of living is far higher, necessitating higher salaries. If a whole chicken costs me $5, but it costs $0.05 in Pakistan, then I need a higher salary than the Pakistani, don’t I?

      This is a big issue we are not addressing in this country.

  10. Usher: Hey Deak, George is quite the idealist, and obviously an insider.

    Deacon: Wonder whay he’d do if he had to resort to eating roadkill?

    Usher: Probably never missed a meal in his life – what an insolent guy!

    Deacon: That’s a little harsh Usher. He’s just an executive and doesn’t know what it’s like to have to work for a meal. He’s never dodged a Dodge for a nibble or seen the grill of a Mercedes from the headlight side. He’s part of the problem that Wall Street and Capitol Hill have created.

    Usher: He’ll have his day, or not. His dependency on money is evident. Not sure he really gets it, but isn’t that the problem?

  11. GeorgeGeorge

    Dan — You’re right about there being multiple sets of rules, altho it seems to me there are more than two. That’s worth a discussion some time, too — how we treat different groups of people differently, and for that matter how we treat the same people differently in different contexts.

    There’s a person employed at a bank who owes the bank thousands and just declared BK. She recently screwed up a contract that will cost a couple thousand to fix. Will she be treated mercilessly? No.

    This is one example. I could think of many others, and I bet you could, too. Sure, there are also cases where people are treated mercilessly — sometimes for having made a mistake, and sometimes for being someone that the company can no longer afford. I was once laid off after 18 months on the job (along with someone who’d been hired only 17 days earlier) because business was slow and we didn’t sell or make product — we were support, and thus expendable. Were we treated mercilessly? Yes, in that we were canned. No, in that we got a couple weeks of severance.

    Your point about different costs of living is true, but take a step back and look behind it. Why are there differences? Because the chicken farmer (and slaughterhouse and retailer etc) wants to sell the chicken for enough to afford what you and I have. So he pushes up the price. And he can get it, because we push up our price (of labor) as well. (Productivity and the money supply play big roles, too, but that also is another discussion.)

    I grew up in poverty, or at least below the poverty line, but never had to eat roadkill because my parents raised chickens and rabbits (which we killed ourselves, so I guess that was “yardkill”) and vegetables. We bought milk and pasta (which back then were just noodles). Between 2002 and 2007 I was unemployed and lived off income from side jobs, which I am convinced God made happen. have I missed meals? Not from poverty; occasionally from workload, as in Vietnam and all-nighters (I can stay alert better when I don’t eat).

    But whether I’ve missed a meal or not has absolutely no bearing on whether I’m right or wrong about agency cost or how business treats employees. Deak can slam me all he wants, but, Deak, you’ll have your day, too. Maybe you can’t forgive me for having observations that differ from yours, but it would still be a good idea, according to Jesus, to forgive those who have made you so bitter.

  12. Great Post!
    One of the things that shocked me most when I first starting blogging was this new kind of christianity that seemed to resemble very little of the gospels, of Christ, of Christ’s message.
    If Christian’s can’t show unconditional charity and bring Jesus’s love into the world, who will.
    If we don’t live the gospel as best we can, we simply become the salt that has lost it’s savour.
    Some parts of the gospels are radical and hard to live out but with the grace of the Holy Spirit it is possible for all Christians to show the light of their truth to the world. First and foremost this is done by being servants to the poor, lost and the needy.

    Blessings for the New Year!


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