My Favorite Mistakes of 2016

misty forest shore

As each year ends, I like to look back at both my successes and misses. Both of them help me to adjust my trajectory moving forward.

I find that leaders must make some significant mistakes if they hope to make spiritual progress. I’m skeptical of the leader who doesn’t have a limp, or who are fearful of the whiplash that’d come from living transparently.

I like to share my mistakes with others, even to weave them into a weekend service message, in the hope that others in my life will realize that sometimes theirs aren’t all that unusual. In fact, sometimes theirs are better and funnier than mine.

Here a few from this year to mull over:

  • Not enough margin for failure

I tend to see “Margin” as the part of life that allows me to live in “Balance.” I no longer believe in the concept of balance. That word comes from physical matters such as walking. If you tape the walk of someone, then play it back in slow motion, you might surprise at just how “unbalanced” balance is. Just as one leg comes to the end of its forward stride, it looks like we are about to fall forward. Then at the last second, the other leg comes forward. Step after step this is repeated, as we move forward.

In short, my thinking has been akin to “Either goes for a win, or don’t try at all.” To fail in ministry can sometimes bring finances stresses.

If you are the pastor of a church of any size, and tick people off, for necessary reasons or not, chances are some will withdraw their financial support. We have to do what we have to do. Just make sure you must do it and make the call to change comes out of necessity, not your personal anger.

Most of the heroes of the faith in Scripture went through large trials. I’ve noticed that the majority of the biblical characters went through great trials. The trials weren’t so much a surprise as for where they came from – sometimes from God alone, but sometimes brought most of it on themselves.

Without their failures and some of the suffering of it, I’m not sure we’d have the famous “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews chapter 11.

  • Didn’t move into the future wilder and far riskier

If you are a leader, you may have been told in one way or another, that you’ve been too wild and dangerous. Some who look up to us want an absolute guarantee that they will not be a challenge with possible failure. If you model by testing others, you will make some feel uncomfortable. Without saying a thing leaders send a message that how they live is how their followers ought to live as well. Some critics in your world of influence may interpret “Failure” as real failure instead of seeing some of the spiritual parts that come with following God.

“Not wild enough?” you ask. “I thought great models of leadership were “Mature” and had few missteps.”

I don’t want to be a killjoy about your 2017, but if you insist on playing life safely, you won’t make much progress this year.

  • Didn’t ask for help

When I don’t ask for help or decide not to wait for it, bad things tend to happen.

Twice in the past couple of years, I needed help with simple moving – once a desk and later a sign on the sidewalk. Both times I could have gotten help. In fact, others volunteered to help me if I could just wait a few minutes till they arrived.

In my impatience a commercial from years ago captured It featured a Bandolero akin to revolutionary Pancho Villa. Ammunition belts crisscrossed his chest, and he gripped a six-shooter in each hand. His line was epic – “I don’t need no stinking help!” That could have been my slogan more often than not. After all, why wait when I can do it quickly by yourself.

I didn’t hold on, and I paid a huge penalty. Both of these weren’t your normal crashes. I dove headfirst into a wall once and onto the with the other.

When I severely broke my upper arm, I was in such pain that when the EMTs showed up, I passed out twice from the severe pain. With the other, it was my foot that broke two places. Both breaks were unusually severe according to the ortho doctors. The nurses got to know me so well on the many visits they knew me on a first-name basis.

Each break took me out of at least some commission for six months.

Even when I was finally “Healed” in the words of the ortho doctor put it, the bones were obviously not lined up. The ortho doctor declared “Basically cured” and that was as close it comes in their world.

God usually transforms the goofball blunders I make to sew his wisdom into the soil of my heart.

  • Sometimes I didn’t stop when God stopped

Scripture and people’s testimonies convey this same truth. All things eventually come to an end. One day each of us will breathe our last. As an insurance sales friend puts it, “The latest stats still indicate that the worldwide mortality rate hovers right around 100%.”

All things come to an end. Even what starts out to be exciting, is useful and fun will one day come to an end. As a Swedish missionary says, “Fire tends to go out eventually. Plan and train others according to that truth.”

Are you thinking about starting or building a mega something? Don’t look at the initial costs. It’s even more important to be in touch with the reality of money, and people power you’ll need further down the path.

Believers will inherit the challenge to sustain the mega-facilities or programs you started. Will they rejoice in what you are doing, or will they put your picture on their dartboard as a practice target?

It ‘s hard to get an accurate bead on “Real reality” when our default line is, “God told us to do thus and such.”

It has been easy for me to confuse enthusiasm with wise, thought through spiritual direction.

Like never in life, I’m committing to two vital convictions.

  1. I will find at least one experienced coach/mentor in life. Most of being a great coach come from finding a person who is willing to open their calendar to you and who has made enough significant mistakes that they can share their discoveries.
  2. For the rest of my life, I intend to be all about training several people who can replace me they have my same vision and heart. I want them to continue all the parts of the vision God sponsored.

I want them to be far more successful than me. Most leaders make training far too complicated matter, to the point of their being nearly impossible to pull it off by most leaders. “But I want to produce high-quality disciples. Let’s just do it the way Jesus did. Let’s just bring them along as we live life and do outreach and ministry this year.

During college, Inter Varsity Fellowship trained me to lead in light of the short duration of students’ availability in college. As a leader, I had two years of relationship till they began to have super jammed schedule with internships or possible training for a job.

Let’s adopt those two key words in the New Year.

  • Didn’t adequately express my love and appreciation to friends who had made a difference in my life

This year four friends passed. Three of them were completely unexpected. They weren’t obviously sick before they passed.

The year before I lost 5.

As you scan the list above maybe, you can relate to one or two. I hope the encouragement there will help you. If not, then just pray for me as a mistake-riddled person in 2017. I vow to make new and even better mistakes in the coming 12 months!

Steve Sjogren

Steve has spoken, mentored and modeled to churches and leaders around the world with the simple message that anyone – regardless of their gifting or experience – can be involved in bringing God’s loving kindness to others. His first book, Conspiracy of Kindness has been translated into several languages with more in the works. His first book has sold over 300,000 copies. Altogether his books have sold over 500,000 copies.


  1. I love the transparency and honesty. I can see myself in a lot of those areas that I need to work on also, especially asking for HELP. I’m fortunate I didn’t break anything though. As you talk about leaving margin for failure strikes another area that probably is why its first on your list and mine. We are always our toughest critic when it comes to failing. That is something through the years of your ministry/teaching on God’s grace has changed me and challenged to move past them more quickly and rely on what Christ has done for me. Thanks for sharing! Looking forward to great year in 2017.

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