The pastor was nearly spitting nails. She’d entrusted a congregational member to lead what should have been an exceptionally effective outreach event. But by 4 PM the afternoon of the event, it was clear that almost nothing had been done to prepare for the ministry and as you can imagine, that meant the whole event produced dismal results. In fact, it was pretty clear that the failure was going to leave a black-eye on the church in the eyes of some members of the city council who were counting on the church’s participation.

“Next time, I’ll just do it myself,” concluded the pastor.

The pastor didn’t like my next question.

“Did the leader fail you or did they fail because they were set up to fail?”

Too often, we set up our volunteers, our ministry leaders, and even our staff members to fail because we did a poor job of leading. That said, the following is a series of questions that will help you determine whether you were failed by a ministry leader or if you failed them.

A Failed Event’s Post Mortem Inquiry

When an event/ministry has failed, before you leap to conclusions about the dereliction of the ministry leader, ask yourself the following questions.

  • Did you recruit a leader who has the Capacity, Capability, and Ability (CCA) to do the job? (I’ve adapted the CCA from Dr. Kris.) Capacity: They have the intelligence, personality type, etc. for the position. Capability: They have the skillset. Ability: They have the time, energy, and personal resources to do the job.
  • Did you provide them with a position description?
  • Did you make your expectations crystal clear? – And I mean ALL your expectations. (If they were expected to show up for meetings, did you TELL THEM they were expected to show up for meetings, or did you presume they knew that?)
  • Did you set specific, measurable outcomes?
  • Did you jointly set SMART Goals for those outcomes?
  • Did you provide training?
  • Did you provide them with the resources they needed to succeed? (Budget, etc.)
  • Did you provide encouragement, coaching, and ongoing support?
  • Did you provide accountability for the goals/outcomes?

What If You Did Your Part … ?

If you get a pass on all of the above, then it’s probably not your fault. But you’re not done yet. You have a second question you need to ask about the failure. Did they fail because of (1) circumstances, (2) interference, (3) bad decisions, (4) apathy, or (5) passive aggressiveness? (That’s a continuum from “Out of My Hands to Sabotage” and points in between – see below.)

What you do from there will depend on the answers above. If the failure is at least partly on you, then make a commitment to “do better.” Use the Post Mortem questions as a checklist for next time. On the other hand, if the failure falls right-of-center, then you’ll have other decisions to make … like how you’ll ensure the “leader” doesn’t get a chance to tank another ministry.