Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure, By J.R. Briggs


Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure

by J.R. Briggs
Foreword by Eugene H. Peterson

  • Length: 208 pages
  • Dimensions: 5.5 × 8.25 in
  • Published: May 21, 2014
  • Imprint: IVP
  • Item Code: 4111
  • ISBN: 9780830841110

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"I thought God had called me to plant this church. Why did we have to shut our doors after only three years?"

"I was at my breaking point. Then I got the news that our nine-year-old daughter had leukemia. I would have quit ministry forever, but I had no other employable skills."

"False accusations were made against me and my family, wrecking our reputation permanently and forcing us to leave not only the church, but move out of the area."

"I've served my church for the past 27 years and I've grown that church from 150 to 24 people."

What do we do when we've failed? Some ministries are shipwrecked by moral failures like affairs or embezzlement. But for most of us, the sense of failure is more ordinary: disillusionment, inadequacy, declining budgets, poor decisions, opposition, depression, burnout. Many pastors are deeply broken and wounded, and we come to doubt that God has any use for us.

J.R. Briggs, founder of the Epic Fail Pastors Conference, knows what failure feels like. He has listened to pastors who were busted in a prostitution sting or found themselves homeless when ejected from ministry. With candid vulnerability, Briggs explores the landscape of failure, how it devastates us and how it transforms us. Without offering pat answers or quick fixes, he challenges our cultural expectations of success and gives us permission to grieve our losses. Somehow, in the midst of our pain, we are better positioned to receive the grace of healing and restoration.

"Here is a theology of failure to go with Jesus' sacrament of failure ('shake the dust off your feet and move on'). Find out why the best fail the most, and how the 'great cloud of witnesses' in Hebrews 11 is a cumulonimbus cloud haloing a rogues' gallery. Briggs's solution to a failure of nerve—the nerve of failure—deserves wide reading."

Leonard Sweet, bestselling author; professor, Drew University, George Fox University; chief contributor to

"Fear of failure is a power that holds many church leaders in a death grip. In this important book, J.R. Briggs boldly speaks from his own experience and that of others, reminding us that failure is inevitable, but the crucial question is how we find grace and eventually recovery in the aftermath of failure. The gospel that we encounter in Fail is undoubtedly good news, true liberation for our fearful, weary and broken selves. May we heed its call!"

C. Christopher Smith, coauthor, Slow Church, and founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books

"In Fail J.R. Briggs succeeds in shining a light on an often taboo subject in modern-day ministry. Through the lens of the gospel, Briggs provides a vision to see failure as an invitation to grow in the grace and knowledge of God. If you are a minister, a former pastor, a fallen pastor or a struggling believer, Fail will encourage, strengthen and instruct you in the freedom offered at the cross. For 'by his wounds, we are healed.'"

Ed Stetzer, author, Subversive Kingdom

"J.R. Briggs has something to say to pastors about our American obsession with 'success.' He holds to the Jesus-endorsed notion that those in ministry are called to faithfulness, not success, and that sometimes faithfulness takes the peculiar form of failure. Fail dares to tell the truth and will bring much-needed clarity and comfort to a multitude of ministers who, though faithful, have drunk from the bitter cup of failure."

Brian Zahnd, pastor, Word of Life Church, St. Joseph, Missouri; author, A Farewell To Mars

"Someone needed to write a book that would cast vision for the transformational possibilities contained within experiences of failure. J.R. Briggs has done just that! In a voice that is honest, winsome and hopeful, he offers hard-won wisdom for leaning into God's gracious purposes even in the most painful experiences leaders face. Thanks be to God!"

Ruth Haley Barton, founder of the Transforming Center and author of Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership

"J.R. Briggs offers a sobering look at the pain, loneliness and shame we pastors regularly face. Like the apostle Paul, he understands that the best ministry happens when we allow it to flow through our own weakness and failure. Reading this book was like 'a kiss from God on my bruises.'"

Aaron Graham, lead pastor, The District Church, Washington D.C.

"J.R. Briggs goes beyond giving us a robust theology of failure; he opens his veins and shares his life. He calls us to be faithful not efficient, to live vulnerably without shame. He gives us grace-filled opportunities to be our true selves. If you are a pastor, you need this book!"

JR Woodward, national director of church planting for V3, author of Creating a Missional Culture

"Fail is like a barn for a tired, overburdened mule. That mule is us: preachers, pastors, leaders in the church. The wonderful gift we are given here is a re-yoking, where we come into that barn and have our yokes removed—which are of impossible weight to carry and manage—and slip into the yoke of Jesus, who carries all the burden of ministry and lets us join him, side by side, on the journey."

Lance Ford, author of UnLeader and coauthor of The Missional Quest

"If you are struggling in ministry, this book will be like sitting down with a good friend who knows and understands what you are enduring. No quick fixes. No pat answers. No formulas. No judgment. Just gentle wisdom laced with grace to help you continue in God's calling."

Ruth Graham, author of In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart

"J.R. Briggs captures the struggle of pastors in his new book Fail. The fear of failure is enough to freeze us in our path to ministry. J.R. not only shows the facts as to how this is affecting ministers across every denomination but also points toward solutions for pastors to find their way out in the midst of failure. Pastors often find themselves incapable, inadequate and even incompetent in the task that God has placed before them. J.R. reminds them that the only hope they have to complete the mission God has placed on their calling is to rely on the Holy Spirit."

Maurice Graham, executive director, Shepherd's Staff Ministry, Inc.

"With Fail, J.R. Briggs has captured a truth we all crave but fear to articulate. There is not merely grace for the burning- or burnt-out, there is the very life of Christ: full of honesty, meaning and sharp joy. Beyond platitudes or Twitter-quote pep talks, J.R. offers peace, real encouragement, and a better definition of success for Christian ministry. This is the next best thing to sharing the body and blood with people who understand. Failures large and small, visible and invisible, will stand up and shout for J.R.'s wisdom, wit and honesty. I know that I do."

Paul Pastor, associate editor of Christianity Today's Leadership Journal and PARSE

"God is allowing thousands of men and women to fail. Isn't that wonderful? It is if you can see it from God's perspective. I believe that God, although hurting with you through your pain and loss, is also delighted in your failure. Why? Because he wants so much more for you! J.R. Briggs will give you language for what you're going through, help you find healing where you are and provide you with some handles for the journey ahead. As a man who has experienced his share of failure, I am so glad someone finally had the courage and hopefulness to write a book like this one. You'll be glad, too!"

Kevin Colón, neighborhood lead pastor at LifeBridge Christian Church, missional-incarnational coach consultant at Missio

"This book is CPR. Fail has given me breath for years to come. Within, Briggs offers an engaging, appealing and learned description of the failed life, invoking his readers to see afresh the breathtaking journey of all the landmarks along the way. Briggs reminds us that half of resurrection is death. And that, to truly live, we must fail. Jesus breathed his Spirit over a group of failed disciples from his cross. That same kind of thing seems to be going on in this book."

A. J. Swoboda, PhD, professor, pastor and author of Messy

"I think Briggs is on to something. The life of the Christian is a constant oscillation between cross and resurrection. For pastors, that back-and-forth is more fraught than for others. People cast their stuff on us, whether they hate us or worship us as heroes. We see the stories in the Bible and expect miracles, and when they don't come we settle. We end up drawing on whatever charisma we may have instead of on what we know to be true about Jesus. . . . Briggs is right to notice that the moniker loser is the most crushing epithet our clever culture has yet devised. But it's not what God wants. God wants faithfulness. There is an irony in a book on failure becoming the next 'it' book on the Christian publishing scene, just as there is to a conference called Epic Fail being marketed with QR codes. But it smells a lot more like Jesus than most of what's on offer out there."

Jason Byassee, The Christian Century, October 15, 2014


Foreward by Eugene Peterson
Introduction: The F-Word

Part 1: Unlearning Success
1. Failure: The Trigger of Our Biggest Fears
2. Success: The Golden Calf of the American Church
3. Faithfulness: Redefining the Metric of Ministry

Part 2: Learning Failure
4. Shame: The Swampland of the Soul
5. Loneliness: The Temptation to Wear Our Masks
6. Wounds: Shattered Dreams, Grief and Mourning

Part 3: Embracing Failure
7. Wilderness: Stumbling with Jesus in the Wasteland
8. Recovery: The Excruciating Process of Letting Go
with Steve Burrell
9. Reentry: Learning to Reenter the Atmosphere
with Steve Burrell

Part 4: The Way Forward
10. Acceptance: A Kiss from God on Our Bruises
11. Rhythms: Restorative Practices for the Way Forward
Epilogue: A Different F-Word: The Beautiful Mess of Freedom

Reflection Questions
Appendix 1: Recommended Resources
Appendix 2: Guiding Questions for Pastors and Leaders


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J.R. Briggs

J.R. Briggs has served in ministry for over a decade in mega-churches, house churches, and church plants. J.R. is the founder of Kairos Partnerships, walking alongside and encouraging pastors and leaders in order to better equip them for God-honoring ministry.