“Why don’t you write a Langstaff Letter about ‘Lessons Learned from the Mistakes I Made?'” was a question that I received from a minister friend, after my letter on ’12 Things I Wish I Knew.’ ‘So you want me to air my dirty washing in public,’ was my first thought, but as I contemplated the idea, I felt it was something that I should do. Here, out of the abundance of mistakes that I have made, are 12 lessons I learned (not necessarily in order of importance). And believe you me, there are more! I need to note that I am not writing about particular sins that I committed. This article is more in the realm of mistakes I made, often unintentionally, due mainly to lack of wisdom.
1. HEARING THE VOICE OF THE LORD
After Dorothy and I were baptized in the Spirit and we began to hear the voice of the Lord, it was exciting to discover God could speak to you in personal and practical ways. I would love to say we always got it right, but we didn’t. Sometimes our flesh got mixed up with the Spirit and as a result it was a learning experience. Sometimes we had the right word, but the wrong interpretation. Like when we had a word about ‘building the house of the Lord,’ we thought it referred to the natural, by turning our holiday home at a place north of Sydney, Australia called McMaster’s Beach, into a retreat center. It never worked out because God was speaking about a ministry that would build up the house of the Lord, the body of Christ. It was an expensive mistake to make, as I had commissioned an architect to draw up plans to redo our holiday home and had to pay for them.
The line between presumption and faith is not always easily discerned, especially by a new Christian or someone who has just come into the things of the Spirit. A number of times, what I thought was God, was really the flesh or a mixture. In 1972, when I heard the vision of the YWAM Outreach to the Olympic Games in Munich, I planned to take a plane load of young people, but we ended up with less than ten. It was a learning experience none the less.
3. NEGLECT OF WIFE AND FAMILY
In the late 1970’s, when the ministry in Australia was at it’s peak, I was so busy with work and ministry that I began to neglect my wife and family. Fortunately, the Lord brought it to my attention through a particular incident and this began the slow process of rebuilding what I had allowed to deteriorate in my relationships, especially with my wife. I learned that it takes time to restore trust and it is something that you have to earn.
4. PASTORAL INSENSITIVITY
Someone once said that when you get baptized in the Spirit you need to be locked up for six months. As a pastor in a Methodist church, after I discovered the life of the Spirit, I had much zeal but lacked wisdom and sensitivity towards the congregation in my church. Years later, when I was invited back to preach, I had the opportunity to ask their forgiveness. After the service, one of the ladies said to me, ‘Alan, you made us feel that if we didn’t accept this new Charismatic Renewal, we weren’t really Christians.’ Not to say that I always got it right after this experience, but I learned some pastoral sensitivity.
5. WRONG ASSUMPTIONS
One major problem, that I encountered several times across the years, occurred when I felt I had a clear word or revelation from the Lord and I assumed that when I shared it with my staff or other leaders, they would immediately see it. On one occasion, I was absolutely dumbfounded that the other leaders could not see what God had, for me personally, so clearly revealed. I had to learn that it takes times for others to catch up and that I needed to add a little patience.
6. HESITANT REGARDING FINANCIAL ACTIONS
In the late 1980’s, when I was pastor of Antioch Christian Fellowship, we went through a critical financial free fall and I probably should have reduced the staff. I was reluctant to do so and it was the grace of God and the help of a gifted administrator that we made it through the storm. I learned that I was hesitant to sometimes take the financial steps that were necessary, especially when it effected my staff. Maybe that wasn’t so bad after all.
7. NEED FOR A SABBATH REST
One time, when I was ministering in New Zealand, I woke up on the Saturday morning worn out, with my head spinning. I did everything I knew, seeking God for relief, and eventually when I quietened down, the Lord took me back over the previous thirty days and showed me that each and every one of those days had been packed with work, ministry and activity. The still, small voice of the Lord asked me the question, ‘Why do you feel like you do?’ The answer – because I had been neglecting the concept of sabbath rest. To this day, I have tried to build times of rest and refreshment into my schedule.
8. NEED TO CONSULT WITH OTHERS
When we moved to America in 1980, we had the permission of our ministry board for this dramatic relocation. However, I had a wider advisory board that I neglected to consult. A short time later, when I was back in Australia, we had a leadership meeting and I was rightly chastised for not having related to these advisors more closely. Consulting with them would not have changed the decision to move to America, but it would have removed a lot of the confusion and questions. I had to learn the importance of communicating with those that you lean upon.
9. DELAY IN LETTING PEOPLE GO
Some problems with people solve themselves. Others are dealt with through interaction with the particular person involved, but there will be inevitably be some people on your staff that will not be a good fit and for them to stay would cause a festering sore in the organization. It is not that they are bad people. Rather, it is just that they are not fitting in. I was reluctant to deal with such situations decisively and in one or two cases, this caused a lot of heartache. I learned that there are times when you have to meet hard situations head on.
10. NOT WATIING FOR GOD’S TIMING
On our first rip to America, while at Melodyland Christian Center, I felt God showed me that I was going to preach there. I even told the Pastor, Ralph Wilkerson, about it. He didn’t feel I was supposed to, at least not then. Three years later, Ralph Wilkerson spoke at our second national Charismatic conference and while there invited me to come to America, where I ended up speaking at Melodyland. From that time, with rare exceptions, I learned not to pursue an invitation to speak, but instead allow God to be my booking agent.
11. MISSED OPPORTUNITIES
A few times along the way, I missed some good opportunities that I wish I had pursued. For example, in the 1980’s, a major national publishing company invited me to submit a proposal for a book on ‘Leadership,’ a subject I have long pursued. However, because of the pressure of ministry, I did not give it the priority I should have and missed out on what could have been a great opportunity.
Looking back, one realizes that one’s priorities have not always been the best they could be. If I had my time once again, I would spend more time in prayer. Not that I didn’t pray, but I would have made it more of a focus in ministry. Likewise, whilst I have, with Dorothy, spent a lot of time on leadership development – started bible colleges, conferences and seminars on leadership, training programs, as well as mentoring, but once again, I would have made it more of a focus in regard to priorities.
Well, there you are – 12 of the many mistakes that I made across the years. One thing I learned through it all was the promise of Romans 8:28, that ‘all things work together for good to those that are called according to His purpose.’ How about you? Have you ever made any mistakes? I would love to hear about them and what you learned.