Bob Chell, Sioux Falls, SD

 Warm-up Question

Talk about a time you saw someone in a group you were part of exercise leadership in a surprising and positive way.

Failing Up


In a post on the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) website, Colleen Wearn ponders whether we are raising a generation of students who are tremendously accomplished but terrified of failure.  In contrast to orchestrating student’s success from day one (and thus making it difficult for them to deal with failure down the line), she suggests that we would do better to encourage students to adopt a mindset around the paradigm of “try, fail, repeat.”  She says, “We need to let go of the urge to ensure their success, and instead create more opportunities for them to take on real challenges, with real possibility of failure.”

NOLS trains leaders along this model. It’s interesting that this non- religious group is utilizing the leadership method Jesus advocates when he says, “the last shall be first” or “pick up your cross and follow me.”

Discussion Questions

  • If you were a part of this hike how would you feel about the NOLS leader when you arrived at the Swedish border? How about when you arrived at camp at midnight?
  • How do you know when to let people fail when you are a leader?
  • When has failing taught you a great life lesson?

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

What does it mean to follow Jesus, to take seriously what he says about taking up a cross, loving one’s neighbor, being the servant of all? This is the question Christians have been asking since the beginning.

The early Christians were a squabbling group of folks! As they struggled to determine and discern just what it meant to follow Jesus: Did men need to be circumcised?  Could Christians eat pork or were they to keep Kosher and follow the Jewish dietary laws? Could Gentiles, non-Jews become Christ followers?

The book of Acts, which tells the story of the early church, is pretty much one big dysfunctional church fight. In its earliest days Christians sometimes worried more  about who’s in the kingdom and who’s out of the kingdom than what it means to follow Jesus day by day.

That’s not much different than today, when Christians argue among themselves about whether we should be baptized as children,  what faith says about sexuality and gender issues, when life begins, who can be a pastor, or which political candidate aligns with Christian values.

Focusing on these questions or the behavior of other’s allows us to avoid the things Jesus asked us to do; exhibit leadership by service to others.  It is easy to focus on sin,  particularly somebody else’s, when the sad truth is that none of us have done it all right. Jesus told the disciples they must lose their lives to find them and pick up their cross to follow him.

Now, having just heard that, the disciples are squabbling about who’s best. It isn’t until the end of the gospel story, when Jesus is crucified and then raised from the dead, that the disciples begin to understand what Jesus was telling them all along.

What they thought was the end was really the beginning. They finally began to understand who Jesus was, who they were, and what they were to do with the rest of their lives.

This is a place we know—when the bottom has dropped out, when our lives are a mess, when our faith is wavering and our hope is diminishing. From the first birthday party we weren’t invited to, through Mom and Dad’s arguing voices as we tried to go to sleep, to our own fears and failures in relationships, the classroom, and other competitions.  We’ve all experienced the deep pain of failure, whether it was our parent’s divorce, humiliation in athletic competition or failing grades.

Sometimes what we perceive as terrible endings are really new beginnings. Not wonderful beginnings, or exciting beginnings. In the news story for today the new beginning was born out of deep exhaustion. For the disciples it meant persecution and even death.

Jesus didn’t ask his disciples to quit sinning but to follow him.  He asks the same of us.

It isn’t a failing grade, defeat or divorce which prevent us moving forward. It’s the grief and guilt, the anger and resentment, the what ifs and the woulda, coulda, shoulda questions that lead us into despair.

Jesus is much more interested in what lies in your future than your past. And he promises to walk with you every step of the way, to meet you at the border when you’re five miles deep into the wrong direction.  And when our life’s journey is over we’ll learn again that what we perceive as an ending is actually the great beginning of what God has in store for us.

Discussion Questions

  • Can you think of someone in the Bible who failed before they succeeded?
  • Tell about a time you witnessed someone leading by serving.
  • Can you think of anyone in the Bible who did not fail before they succeeded?
  • What does it mean to you, and to your life, that it’s so much easier to find examples of failed leaders in the Bible?

Activity Suggestions

Think about a time in your life from the past when you were depressed or despondent. Did God meet you there? How did you get through that time? Was God part of the healing? If so, how? Share a part of your story with others in the group if you want to.

Talk, as a group, about why it is so difficult to discern God’s presence in our lives in those places we are currently struggling. Is this normal?

What does faith look like when our world is falling apart?

Closing Prayer

God, you know our deepest fears, our great regrets and how lost we sometimes feel. Help us to feel your presence in our hearts and not just in our heads. Fill us with your Holy Spirit. Give us confidence and courage when we are lost and guide us through the pain back to your promises. We pray in Jesus name.  Amen.