MARK BATTERSON Guest Post: “At The End of Our Lives, We’ll Regret Opportunities Missed More Than Mistakes Made”


A few years ago, I was part of a mission team that helped build a Teen Challenge Center in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. After a week of hard work, our family stuck around for a few days to enjoy the island. When we checked into our hotel I happened to pick up a tourist brochure about cliff jumping and the second I saw it I knew I needed to do it. But a few lazy days later, we were on an airplane headed back to Washington, DC and I remember having this thought at about thirty-thousand feet: I might never get back here. I felt like I had forfeited a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And I still regret it. In fact, one of my life goals is to go back and not just jump off a cliff. I want to do a cliff baptism. Talk about baptism by immersion!

So I missed an opportunity to jump off a cliff. So what? In the grand scheme of things, that regret is rather benign. But that experience taught me a valuable lesson: at the end of our lives, we’ll regret opportunities missed a lot more than mistakes made.

That conviction is backed up by the research of two Cornell sociologists, Tom Gilovich and Vicki Medvec. According to their study, time is a key factor in what we regret. Over the short-term, we tend to regret our actions. But over the long-haul, we tend to regret inactions. Their study found that over the course of an average week, action regrets outnumber inaction regrets 53% to 47%. But when people look at their lives as a whole, inaction regrets outnumber action regrets 84% to 16%.

In theological terms, action regrets are sins of commission. And they certainly cause a twinge of guilt. But it is the inaction regrets or sins of omission that haunt us the rest of our lives. We are left to wonder: what if?

One of our core values at National Community Church is everything is an experiment. And that experimental approach to ministry gives us the freedom to fail. We’re not afraid of making mistakes. In fact, we’re afraid of not making mistakes because that means we aren’t taking enough risks.

Every sermon series is a teaching experiment. Every outreach is an evangelism experiment. Every small group is a discipleship experiment. Even our vision of meeting in movie theaters at metro stops throughout the metro DC area is an experiment in doing church in the middle of the marketplace.

I just don’t want to get to the end of my life and my ministry and wonder: What if?

I’d rather have some action regrets from falling flat on my face than leave a trail of inaction regrets in my wake.

I’m afraid that too many churches are playing not to lose instead of playing to win. We’re playing a prevent defense instead of storming the gates of Hell. We’re boycotting the Aeropagus instead of competing for the truth like the Apostle Paul.

Does it bother anyone else that the church is known more for what we’re against than what we’re for? We can do better than that can’t we? Instead of pointing our finger at what’s wrong with culture, the church needs to offer better alternatives. We need to make better movies and better music. We need to write better books. We need to start better schools and better businesses.

In the words of Michelangelo, we need to criticize by creating.

I have a core conviction that drives my ministry: there are ways of doing church that no one has thought of yet. That is what gets me up early and keeps me up late. I can’t imagine a more exciting time to be doing church. Podcasting is e-vangelism at the speed of light. Blogging is digital discipleship without borders. Our generation has an unprecedented opportunity to fulfill the Great Commission if we simply redeem technology and use it to serve God’s purposes.

But we need to stop doing ministry out of memory and start doing ministry out of imagination. We need to stop repeating the past and start creating the future. We need to stop being so afraid of doing something wrong that we don’t do anything right.

I know sins of commission grieve the Spirit of God. But I honestly don’t think they grieve God half as much as the God-ordained opportunities we fail to seize.

So what will you always regret if you don’t at least try it?

My advice is this: go jump off a cliff.


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