Owning Up to Your Mistakes

I Blew It. (sky-punch.)

Owning your mistakes is a hard, hard business. Depending upon your ministry context, your large and small failures probably have a variation of immediate impact, eventual consequences, or, most mysteriously, the occasional ability to dissolve and vanish completely. “We never did find that 9th grader at Six Flags, but oddly enough no one ever brought it up again…”

I’ve spent the summer medium-annoyed at NetFlix. They abruptly announced in June that prices were going up. I’d had the “Cadillac” subscription; 3 discs continually through the mail, plus unlimited streaming. $18 a month. Hard to beat. In June the company announced that you could keep that same plan for just $2 more a month. Oh, except that you can’t have 3 discs continually anymore, only 2. So for just a little more you can have just a little less. Nice.

What most people that have been griping about the changes leave out of their tweets & Facebook posts (myself included) is that last fall NetFlix added the streaming to their subscribers’ accounts. For free. Just something new and awesome to try out for free. Anyone who didn’t immediately realize that they were eventually going to have to pay for that feature was kidding themselves.

The main beef everyone seemed to have with the change was the way NetFlix handled it. No slow notice. No real options or consideration of their existing customers was exhibited in the way the information was communicated. And today, in a departure from traditional business practice, NetFlix apologized. The email from the CEO began, “I messed up.” I’m still pretty annoyed that I can’t have the same subscription that I had, and I really think that the split in services/websites/etc. they’ve announced along with the apology will bite them in the butt eventually. Nonetheless, it was nice to see a corporate entity stand up and admit when they fumble-fisted something.

I had to do that myself in a parent meeting this past Sunday. A couple of years ago we initiated a bridging program between our children and youth ministries that pulled out 5th & 6th grade as a separate entity, hoping to stop the flow of older children to the exit. The idea was that by treating them as a separate entity we’d encourage the attendance of 5th grade children reluctant to hang out with the little kids and at the same time ease the transition for 6th grade kids not quite ready to face the older group in the youth room. Sounds great, right? I think I even wrote an article about it for the YouthWorker Movement. What a terrific idea.

What a complete and total bomb.

Total carnage. Two of the three meeting times we’d established during the week washed out within 6 months. The third lingered a while, but eventually somehow became an exclusive, gender-specific entity that essentially competed with our youth ministry for 7th grade girls. Nailed it! Mission accomplished. So after months of individual apologies and reparations, I opened the subject at my first parent meeting of this school year with a NetFlixian confession: “I blew it. That was an awful idea.”

Maybe it wasn’t an awful idea; maybe it worked somewhere for somebody. The fault wasn’t entirely mine either; among other factors, our program for children (which in theory shared responsibility for programming the initiative) is enjoying its 5th director within 4 years. But the mom whose 5th grade child has struggled through a program for children with a revolving door in leadership didn’t need to hear that; she needed to hear somebody own part of the problem. Much to my surprise, there was still support in the room for having tried it in the first place.

Not every potential crisis can be headed off by preventative apologies. But waiting until people are upset and you’re under attack is the hard road every time.

How do you face program adversity (or other conflict in general) in your ministry?

What was the last misstep for which you had to claim ownership?





KEVIN ALTON :: the tall one @ the youthworker circuit
youthworker :: musician :: friend :: twitter: @elvisfreakshow
www.kevinalton.com :: www.youthworkercircuit.com


One comment

  1. Great Article. If you are new to a ministry and are not from the area, you’re going to fail quite a bit. A theology of failure is important and how you deal with it is a big deal. This is especially true if there is currently no active youth ministry. Any pioneering process has to account for mistakes, course corrections, and the ability to continue despite curve balls. I would posit that the experimental phase in YM really never discontinues. The ministry needs constant tweaking. New groups of kids means new means to do ministry. Different families also make it hard to have a mold to keep trying. The key to it all is persistence and the maturity to keep getting up despite difficulty.

    Btw – I believe Netflix abandoned their plan to split the streaming from dvd subs. Cheers.

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