J.R. Briggs

Attempting to behold the miracle long enough without falling asleep

  • EPIC FAIL Pastors’ Conference

    August 27, 2010

    I’ve been to my fair share of church conferences in the past decade. Some have been helpful. Most have not.

    The process is similar at just about every conference: thousands of dollars are put into marketing budgets, glossy fliers and paying large honorariums to the top Christian leaders in the country (recognized by their large congregation’s weekend attendance) to come and share how their church got to be so big, so innovative, so special, so efficient. The programming at these conferences is flawless, the presentations are perfect – but for those attendees, the drive home is crappy.

    I’m a big fan of learning from wise women and men who have led their congregations well. But 94.3% of pastors who’ve attended these conferences (or somewhere around that number) walk away feeling guilty, insecure or feeling like utter failures. It leaves attendees feeling as though they can’t possibly relate to the speakers on the platform. It can breed insecurity and comparison. Or, maybe worse, we walk away thinking we’ve found the silver bullet, the key concept, the perfect model that we can rush home and implement immediately. We’ve been convinced that the key method/approach/model/style will unlock the reason why our church isn’t doubling in attendance every three and a half months like the guy we heard share on stage. Sometimes pastors’/church leaders’ conferences slowly and persuasively convince that I – we – are the head of our church. Last I checked, Jesus is the head of it.

    But seriously, what if there was an EPIC FAIL Pastors’ Conference (with the tag line “Where leaders put their worst foot forward“)?

    The concept:

    1. Hold a conference for 2-3 days.

    2. Invite healthy, faithful, honest and deep pastors/leaders from around the country (most who pastor congregations under 250 people) to speak.

    3. Invite the speakers to share about two things: (a) their failures (not their successes) in ministry and (b) how God’s grace was present despite the messes. Think of it: the stories of the messes, mistakes, gaffes, insecurities and sin of church leaders are shared openly, not as experts, but as fellow journeyers. Broken and contrite spirits with a posture saturated with the experience of grace shared with fellow ragamuffins by genuine fools for Christ. Some of it may evoke laughter or tears – or both. The purpose is not to puff themselves up, not to speak with a veiled sense of false humility, not a gripe session, not to have a woe-is-me attitude seeking pity from other leaders and definitely not a “let me one-up your worst ministry experience” time. It’s a space to be courageous and broken and authentic in the struggles of pastors who are attempting to live out the gospel faithfully and imperfectly even when we don’t want to – and even when we screw it up big time.

    4. Pray together. A lot.

    5. End the conference by participating in communion together: realizing the work of Jesus covers over any mess or mistake or sin we’ve committed, remembering the posture of brokenness and desperation and nothingness is the soil in which the gospel flourishes best.

    No, seriously.

    I know this idea might sound ludicrous. But what if we led out of our weakness, not our strengths? Scripture is full of failures, screw-ups, ragamuffins and laughingstocks who God used in incredibly powerful ways (Moses, Abraham, David, Jacob, Jeremiah, Rahab, Peter – shall we go on?) If the saying is true that if you preach from your weaknesses, you’ll never run out of material, then imagine the great stuff that could come out of a few days together sharing our failures and how God showed up in the midst of them. It’s not a time to celebrate our weaknesses in a masochistic way, but as a way of saying despite all of this, God’s grace has been sufficient for me on the journey in ministry. God has worked mightily, despite my efforts. He’s working at times – even in spite of me.

    If this were ever pulled off, I’m convinced people would NOT walk away from attending a conference and think…

    “Wow, that speaker was amazing. I couldn’t possibly be that charismatic of a speaker…”

    “That worship leader was incredible. Why can’t we have someone like him on our staff?”

    “Man, that pastor preaches to 13,000 each weekend. I preach to 67 – and that includes the noisy children. I’m not very effective or influential…if I could just imitate his style we’d draw thousands.”

    …but instead I’m convinced people would walk away and think, God’s grace is sufficient – yes, even for me. Isn’t that the point of this thing called ministry in the first place?

    I’m convinced the Church needs something like this.


    UPDATE: Great news! I’m excited to announce that the EPIC FAIL Pastor’s Conference will be held Friday April 15 – Saturday April 16, 2011 in the Greater Philadelphia Area (Lansdale, PA) at the Third and Walnut Bar and Grille. Stay tuned to the blog for more information or contact EPIC FAIL Pastors’ Conference Director Jason Sheffield at EpicFailPastorsConference@gmail.com or at  719.640.7201

    Posted in: Uncategorized

Recent Comments

  • geoff holsclaw said...


    I love it. sign me up.

    08/27/10 10:15 AM | Comment Link

  • Ben Sternke said...


    Let’s do it! We have to use that photo on the flyer, too.

    08/27/10 10:50 AM | Comment Link

  • Eric Salter said...


    This is an outstanding Idea, what a way to show the average person sitting in the congregation that the one leading them is just as human and has just as many fault (Maybe even more)as they do. I will be praying for Gods will in this. What a way to think outside the box.

    08/27/10 8:45 PM | Comment Link

  • Will Pershing said...


    Let me know when you get ready to do it…I would love to be apart of a conference like that.

    08/27/10 9:52 PM | Comment Link

  • Dan Marotta said...


    I’m in. Let me know how I can help!

    08/27/10 10:19 PM | Comment Link

  • steve high said...


    DO IT!!

    08/27/10 10:23 PM | Comment Link

  • Dave Gerhart said...


    I think you’re on to something!!

    08/27/10 11:14 PM | Comment Link

  • Tom Smith said...


    I like !

    08/28/10 4:10 AM | Comment Link

  • Ed Cyzewski said...


    If you did this, I think the publicity would take care of itself…

    08/28/10 7:33 AM | Comment Link

  • J.R. Briggs said...


    Ed –

    Tell me more what you mean about the publicity taking care of itself. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts…

    08/28/10 7:44 AM | Comment Link

  • Brandon Cox said...


    Hey guys, I’m a Pastor at Saddleback Church and in particular I work with Pastors via Pastors.com (which is being revamped entirely – excuse the mess).

    We’ve spent the last six weeks developing strategies for helping Pastors all over the place and one of the conclusions we’ve come to is that we absolutely need conferences/meetings/parties/whatever where Pastors can be sharpened by others who are perhaps just slightly ahead of them.

    In other words, we need conferences where Pastors of churches of 500 – 750 are helping Pastors of churches of 250 – 750, etc.

    I think you can learn from Pastors of large churches about influence, about your walk with God, about leadership, etc. But I think you learn nuts and bolts from those somewhere around the same plane, so to speak.

    I’m glad I stumbled across this post. I’m reading more and more like it and I don’t know if we have the answers or not, but we’re listening and I’d love to hear your input. Email me at brandonc@saddleback.com if you want to express what you need, as a Pastor, from something like Pastors.com in the way of connections, resources, articles, conferences, etc.

    And J. R., thanks for raising the issue – great post!!

    08/28/10 8:57 AM | Comment Link

  • Liam said...


    Thanks for the post. I’m a planter from Australia and I love this idea. If you were interested in doing something like this over here, I could get it going. I have friends who organized the Acts 29 bootcamp (which is the church planters equivalent of the conference you dream of), have hosted large conferences (by Aussie standards) and already have 3 or 4 venues in mind depending on the interest level.

    I’ll be in the states in Jan-Apr 2011 so if you organize this over there, let me know.

    08/28/10 2:15 PM | Comment Link

  • Liam said...


    PS feel free to contact me Liam(at)damascusrdchurch(dot)com

    08/28/10 2:17 PM | Comment Link

  • Will Pershing said...


    JR…I think this conference would do well in that it addresses an issue no one wants to touch and yet no one wants to show grace to those who have crashed and burned also.

    08/28/10 3:30 PM | Comment Link

  • dave barry said...


    I know too well how missteps in ministry have led to real hurt – funny how this consistently happens in the church that promotes God’s grace.

    08/28/10 3:52 PM | Comment Link

  • Good Stuff to Check Out « Creation/Community/Commission said...


    […] Briggs on a new concept for a conference based on the weaknesses of people, not their strengths, popularity, or church […]

    08/28/10 8:24 PM | Comment Link

  • Kathleen said...


    Hi J.R. I am offering prayers that this kind of conference actually happens, that administrative type people donate their time, and that other things come together to make it affordable for everyone.

    Could a segment of live blues music fit? Blues and jazz always help me deal with grief, failure relates to grief, in my mind….

    II Corinthians 7:9-10: “yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. 10Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”

    08/29/10 7:27 PM | Comment Link

  • Ed Cyzewski said...



    Regarding publicity taking care of itself, I’d say that once you put the word out, the concept itself would generate a lot of discussion. So that would help spread the word quickly beyond just your original target audience. In addition, you could run a whole series of “Fail” postings leading up to the conference to generate conversations and interest.

    08/29/10 8:36 PM | Comment Link

  • Alan Cross said...


    I have dreamed of a conference like this for several years now. I pastor a church of 300 in the midst of the Bible Belt where big-church-cool-church-trendy-church-happening-church is really taking off. When I see the pastors who claim to have lots of answers just because of their size or think they are ahead of others because they are a little bit bigger like the guy from Saddleback said, I just kind of pull back and let them do their thing. EVERYTHING in Evangelical Christianity today seems to be about how big your church is. I think that God says that there are some other things that matter too. A conference like this would highlight what pastors are really going through and would be a great idea. I’d love to be in on it.

    08/29/10 10:34 PM | Comment Link

  • Brandon Cox said...


    J. R.,

    I appreciate your response, and I hear you. In fact, I’ve felt just like you. You need to know my background. I’m not a “big church” guy. I’ve pastored a church of 45, a church of 100, and then a church of 300, and I’ve only been at Saddleback for six weeks.

    I know what it’s like to read dozens of church growth books and listen to dozens of sermons by larger church leaders and to go home feeling left out and discouraged. One of the truths we need to convey is that “small church” in no way implies “small pastor.”

    And here’s the honest truth. Big churches have had the tendency to do a lot of talking and not much listening. The short story is we’d like to start listening. Instead of us saying, “listen to all the great stuff we have to teach,” we simply want to use our resources to set a big table and find a way to have a conversation among pastors of churches of every size. After all, what the heck does “size” say about a guy’s character and calling anyway?

    As I said, we don’t have all the answers. We just want to know how we can help, and as you’ve put it… how we can be helped.

    Thanks again, J. R. I hope to talk more with you soon.

    08/30/10 12:35 AM | Comment Link

  • David Fitch said...


    I’m there, just don’t hold it on April 1st eh? I’m serious we should do this!

    08/30/10 11:22 PM | Comment Link

  • Jason Barr said...


    Oh man, I love it. Where do I sign up?

    08/30/10 11:48 PM | Comment Link

  • Erick Bauman said...


    This is an idea I’ve been lamenting for about 3yrs. Unfortunately, as a C&B (crash & burn) church planter/disciple no one would listen or place validity on my opinions. I definitely didn’t need the “feeling of being heard” but it was a simple observation that in this day and age our value we place on others is the same with how we view laity and leadership. It’s trickle down discipleship. Ironically, it’s similar to the environment on my trading floor here on Wall St. The BSD gets heard, trusted and promoted.

    I truely think if something like this concept were fleshed out, its only viable way of survival would be a BSD in the church planting world realizing there’s no margin for another church planting conference and seeing this as the next avenue for a new speaking engagement. However, we should be brutally honest and admit that we’d just rinse and repeat this whole motion after someone blogged about it by suggesting we do conferences for those whom are successful and need the prodding/stroking to produce more.

    In summation… I digress.

    08/31/10 12:06 AM | Comment Link

  • Jonathan Brink said...


    Rob Bell actually held a conference somewhat with this idea in mind in 2007. It was called Isn’t She Beautiful. There were about 2,500 people and it only cost I think $99.

    Rob spent much of the time speaking to the issue of suffering and at one point asked how many of those in attendance (mostly church pastors, elders and leaders) had thought about leaving the role altogether. Roughly 3/4 of the crowd raised their hand.

    It was actually a very liberating experience. Everyone felt empowered to be honest in a way that likely didn’t happen in their home church.

    08/31/10 10:07 AM | Comment Link

  • Jim Henderson said...


    I have been talking about this idea for years

    one group of doctors I read about called this kind of gathering
    an “Ignorance Event”

    Having spent the majority of my ministry life failing ( meaning I couldn’t grow a large church) I am intimately familiar with the experience, I would love to lead an interactive talk called Why Most Things Fail and we should to

    Let me know whoever attempts to fail at promoting this adequately

    I might show up for this one

    08/31/10 10:39 AM | Comment Link

  • Leigh Ann said...


    Yeah. I like it. a lot.

    09/1/10 8:11 PM | Comment Link

  • J.R. Briggs » Failure // Rejection // Shame: a decision of yielding » Attempting to behold the miracle long enough without falling asleep said...


    […] amazed by the response I’ve gotten from the EPIC FAIL Pastors’ Conference idea I threw out a little while back. Comments, tweets, facebook responses and emails from around the […]

    09/2/10 9:29 AM | Comment Link

  • Jamie Arpin-Ricci said...


    Great post & excellent idea! One more component: hold it in a city that is less likely to be a “cool venue” (like, umm, for example… oh, I don’t know… Winnipeg). At any rate, I’d be in.

    Again, great post. It reminds me of something Bono once said (wink).

    09/4/10 9:42 AM | Comment Link

  • J.R. Briggs said...


    Jamie –

    Yes! We’ve already thought through that, too… if its at a cool place (NYC, Seattle, etc) we sort of lose the vision of what we’re doing right away…
    Winnipeg though… I don’t know 😉

    09/4/10 9:55 AM | Comment Link

  • Dave said...


    To David Finch,
    I think you are on to something with the April 1st date! Paul alluded to being a fool for Christ. “Whom the world thought to be unworthy!”

    @J.R. I have so been there brother! And I would love to be a part of something of this kind!! Wonderful thought! Now let us flesh it out!!

    09/4/10 4:21 PM | Comment Link

  • Ben Sternke said...


    Fort Wayne is not a “cool” place.

    09/4/10 7:46 PM | Comment Link

  • Joseph Marquez said...


    I am in. Where do I sign up? As a previous worship leader, I can tell you “Worship Leader” conferences were something I got excited about until I realized why I attended them. Most of the invitations I receive now have big names for maximum draw. I won’t bother you with a list because we all sing their songs every time we gather. There are workshops on technique, creativity, equipment use, vocal application, studio work, networking, landing a recording contract etc…..After awhile the offerings are pretty much the same because there were always those new to the “worship” ministry that 101 type workshops were always needed (how worship got separated from the rest of the gathering is still something I struggle with). At my 3rd conference I was touched by some average Joe worship leader guy with a small team at a small church who was brave enough to share how sexual sin had entered their worship team and afterwards how he was able to see the signs of it but did not act on them. I sensed he felt like a failure for not being able to catch and avoid it. This is the kind of sharing I needed and desired to hear. We should have stopped right there and discussed that very issue but it was not so. Afterwards I attempted (without success) to gather a smaller number of worship leaders to talk about the very thing you are talking about here. I didn’t need technique I needed application. Not application of which chords to play or songs to select or the best vocal harmony to apply but the issues every ministry experiences and how the Lord moved in the hearts of those affected. Yes, those failures and challenges every gathering of believers will have. The pain, the disappointment, the sin, the egos, the pride..I can go on. Read Corinthian’s for the examples of what issues can and can still occur in the body.
    This blog struck a chord in me and bet there are many, many more who have read this blog feeling the same but have not yet responded. IMO, the conference described here should start with those responding to this blog and similar articles. Hey, let’s not market it. If this is the leading of the Holy Spirit (I feel it is) then let’s be obedient to His calling and do it. You said you were serious brother. So am I. Here is my number. 602-689-1241. Call me and let’s talk brother to see how the Lord will do a work. I am in Phx, AZ.

    P.S. I am no longer a worship leader, just someone who plays guitar, has some experience and knows some songs when we gather. I cannot lead anyone into the throne room of God in worship though at a time I thought I was supposed to. His Truth should be enough to praise and worship Him.

    09/5/10 9:05 AM | Comment Link

  • Jamie Arpin-Ricci said...


    Come on! We’re at eh geographic centre of North America! Alas, I knew it would be a hard sell.

    09/7/10 10:44 AM | Comment Link

  • brad/futuristguy said...


    GREAT post, J.R. – thanx! I’m reminded of the quote from Price Pritchett that says, “The organization can never be something the people are not,” which I’d twist and turn inside out to say, “The organization will always be only as much as its leaders are.” Which is why your reversal approach is perhaps a lot more hopeful than the current Christian Event Industry and what it tends to promote.

    And I did have to chuckle a bit, as I realized that what you suggest – meet, share our vulnerabilities as met by God’s grace, pray, and fellowship – is basically what our men’s group did together in the late 1980s and early ’90s. None of us were pastors … well, maybe one had been, but not at that time. Just a bunch of guys trying to figure out being Christian men. It was still a few years before Promise Keepers, and resources were practically nil. Our focal points were, “How is Jesus a role model of godly masculinity?” and “How do we live like godly men?”

    Could it be that the fact we were there as epic failures searching for the rock-bottom truth meant we were ironic successes? Hmmm … and would the same work for any kind of group of disciples gathering to become better learner-leaders? I think so …

    09/8/10 6:02 PM | Comment Link

  • almost an M said...


    I agree with so many above that this is a great idea. Let me know when it is. However, I encourage you to not go head to head with that annual powerhouse of a conference held on April 1st–the Jaded Conference. (smile)

    09/8/10 8:47 PM | Comment Link

  • Andy said...


    I think Cleveland or Detroit would be ideal host cities!

    09/8/10 10:52 PM | Comment Link

  • J.R. Briggs » Learning from Failure » Attempting to behold the miracle long enough without falling asleep said...


    […] not. (I’ve blogged about my thoughts on failure before and I’m trying to organize a conference in 2011 called EPIC FAIL for pastors and church leaders for this very […]

    01/2/11 10:08 PM | Comment Link

  • Philip Watkins said...


    This would definitely work. I am in. With your cool powers and influence with Ecclesia you should get them to help pull this off. Very “Ecclesian”.

    01/6/11 1:02 PM | Comment Link

  • Eric couch said...


    I would definitely would want to be a part of this type of conference. You could hold it in Albany, NY or better yet Syracuse, not the coolest places on earth but maybe the coldest.

    01/6/11 1:17 PM | Comment Link

  • Ron Christman said...


    This is very intriguing. I would definitely come. However, isn’t this just another attempt to address a symptom and not get at the root cause of the disease? The disease being that 99.9% of everyone showing up is involved in an eccliastical structure that is foreign to the bible. In God’s kingdom there aren’t failures or successes. We assign those terms to our business-modeled churches. Just some thoughts. blessings

    01/6/11 1:33 PM | Comment Link

  • jim pace said...


    Love it, love it, love it. Didn’t read all the posts, what is the number you want to keep this under? I am in!

    01/6/11 1:50 PM | Comment Link

  • J.R. Briggs said...


    Ron: the goal is stressing faithfulness, not ‘success’ for faithfulness is success in ministry and with the gospel.

    Phillip and Jim: more details to come.
    Jim, not sure – we’re just hoping a few people show up… we’re worried about too little, not too many at this point.
    We’ll let you know when we hear more.
    But very stoked!

    01/6/11 1:56 PM | Comment Link

  • Chris Tyers said...



    I agree with Ed about that the publicity probably would take care of itself. I’m not a media production guy or anything, just a computer geek, but a couple EPIC FAIL highlights and a well thought out explanation at the end of your heart for this and the details should be all it would take.

    It’s unique enough to catch people attention yet something I know many pastors would certainly relate to and want to be a part of. If you make it funny and short enough (which couldn’t be very hard), it wouldn’t take too much for it to “go viral”.

    01/6/11 6:29 PM | Comment Link

  • Ron Christman said...


    Thanks J.R. for the clarification. I am definitely interested!

    01/6/11 9:22 PM | Comment Link

  • J.R. Briggs » EPIC FAIL Pastors’ Conference: an event for Christian failures » Attempting to behold the miracle long enough without falling asleep said...


    […] in August I wrote a post on the blog called EPIC FAIL Pastors’ Conference. It was an idea (mostly theoretical) that had been stirring in me for a while that I finally found […]

    02/2/11 1:12 PM | Comment Link

  • Jeremy Myers said...


    Of course, if you do a conference like this every year, you cannot ever have the same speakers back, because after they speak at one, they are now successful “conference speakers.”

    02/3/11 5:16 PM | Comment Link

  • Church Conferences » Epic Fail Pastors Conference, 14Apr said...


    […] idea for this conference came from two sources: A blog post from J.R. Briggs, a pastor at Renew Community in Lansdale, Pa and the wildly popular […]

    02/4/11 3:35 PM | Comment Link

  • Fred said...


    My experience tells me it won’t work. Our worst foot is always pride and pastors are as susceptible as anyone. Sadly, egoism is as rampant in the church as it is in the business world.

    02/6/11 3:56 PM | Comment Link

  • Jim Pace » Epic Fail… A conference long overdue… » author of the book Should We Fire God said...


    […] an excerpt from the conference site… The idea for this conference came from two sources: A blog post from J.R. Briggs, a pastor at Renew Community in Lansdale, Pa and the wildly popular […]

    02/7/11 4:39 PM | Comment Link

  • Lon said...


    wow JR, just catching wind of this, way to making this a reality.

    02/10/11 12:10 AM | Comment Link

  • Epic Fail Pastors Conference | Serving Strong said...


    […] idea for this conference came from two sources: A blog post from J.R. Briggs, a pastor at Renew Community in Lansdale, Pa and the wildly popular site […]

    02/17/11 1:43 PM | Comment Link

  • mike mcmullin said...


    i love this.

    i wish i could come. i just saw this a couple of days ago and have already made travel plans for something in March.

    will you be podcasting any of the sessions for those who can’t be there?

    i know a lot of people who really need something like this.


    02/20/11 9:23 PM | Comment Link

  • J.R. Briggs said...


    Mike –

    I am unsure if you’ll be podcasting this event (we’re still working out the tech details). Wish you could make it. We’d love to have you if something changes. Help spread the word!


    02/20/11 9:38 PM | Comment Link

  • Joseph Marquez said...


    I wish it was held closer to my location in Arizona. PA is quiet a travel stretch for me. Videotape it if at all possible. thanks….

    02/20/11 10:03 PM | Comment Link

  • Trip Kimball said...


    I won’t be able to make it since I just found out about it & will be somewhere else. But… perhaps this may be something that develops into a quasi-network connection for pastors & leaders throughout the country & beyond.

    It’s definitely an issue worth attention on a continuing basis. I’ve had some good “success” in ministry = ongoing fruitful ministry, but I’ve also had my share of failures. Funny how many speakers work off of failures within the Bible as a basis for learning how not to fail, yet miss the obvious point… failures are inevitable & are more the norm than the exception & an important part of the learning curve for walking by faith.

    Although having what many would consider “success” over the past 35+ years, as a pastor & missionary, I currently “enjoy” obscurity & anonymity for the most part… still learning to walk by faith as I approach Social Security age.

    Trusting the conference will go well.

    04/4/11 11:20 AM | Comment Link

  • J.R. Briggs » Epic Fail Pastors Conference: reflections on a sacred time » Attempting to behold the miracle long enough without falling asleep said...


    […] first wrote about this idea last August on my blog. Never have I received more hits or comments on something I’d written. Since writing about […]

    04/18/11 2:15 PM | Comment Link

  • The heart of ‘Epic Fail’; An interview with J.R. Briggs said...


    […] years ago. The thought grabbed me by the throat and wouldn’t let go – so I wrote about it in a counter-cultural post on my blog. It was a play off of the now-famous and humorous (though sometimes inappropriate) website EPIC […]

    11/13/12 11:35 AM | Comment Link



    I would humbly ask of you to conduct this event in my country south africa. Kindly consider hosting it in south africa, i will make all arrangements. Keep me posted by emailing me on evangelismsa@aim.com, i understand your burden if its not nurtured and understood many will launch attacks, for village church planters this resonates a lot. City churches or pastors are often ignorant of the dynamics of small and rural churches and spiritual battles and failures of village, small town pastors and poor rural area ministries. Blessings to you for helping pastors in your country.

    01/17/13 3:16 AM | Comment Link

  • Are we setting pastors up to fail? Epic Fail – an initiative from J.R. Briggs | Church in a Circle said...


    […] few years ago, J.R. Briggs wrote a brief blog post, imagining an unusual kind of pastor’s conference, where pastors could gather as equals to […]

    06/17/14 11:03 PM | Comment Link

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