Why the Language of “Success” and “Failure” Falls Flat {Book Club}

Today we finish Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Gregory Boyle and get to discuss a key chapter in forming and molding me when it comes to ministry.

Here is a hilarious turn of events. What book has lead to the fewest amount of comments? What book might lead me feel like I picked a dud? What book has left me feeling like I am alone?

Wait, please. It is okay. I do not say this to shame anyone or to guilt anyone into commenting. This book club is like everything else we do, isn’t it? There is an element of mystery and unpredictability. In his loving mercy, God will circle back to lessons and help us go deeper in them.

So, how do I measure success and failure when everything is online? What’s the story I tell myself about the work I/we do?

“People want me to tell them success stories. I understand this. They are the stories you want to tell, after all. So why does my scalp tighten whenever I am asked this? Surely, part of it comes from my being utterly convinced I’m a fraud.

“Twenty years of this work has taught me that God has greater comfort with inverting categories than I do. What is success and what is failure? What is good and what is bad?  Setback or progress? Great stock these days, especially in nonprofits (and who can blame them), is placed in evidence-based outcomes.

“Are you, in the end, successful? Naturally, I find myself heartened by Mother Teresa’s take: ‘We are not called to be successful, but faithful.’ This distinction is helpful for me as I barricade myself against the daily dread of setback. You need protection from the ebb and flow of three steps forward, five steps backward. You trip over disappointment and recalcitrance every day, and it all becomes a muddle. God intends it to be, I think.” (page 168)

And I love at the end of the chapter when he says, “On most days, if I’m true to myself, I just want to share my life with the poor, regardless of the result.”

The final chapter on kinship and belonging to each other was a perfect way to end. Though the book is over, because of kinship, I still belong to Father Gregory and he still belongs to me. I belong to you and you belong to me. God has woven and is weaving us together.

As I come to the end of this book, these are my takeaways:

1.  The vastness of God. I forget and then my view of him shrinks. Vast.

2. The slow work of ministry. I get so impatient. This book has reminded me that speed doesn’t matter that much to God.

3. The concepts of success and failure need to be revisited and redefined in each season. How I need God to keep aligning my definitions to his.

What are your takeaways?

See you in the comments and even if I don’t, I needed this book and I’m glad we read it. Truly. Grace and peace friends, Amy

P.S. Next week we start Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero and will be discussing the introduction and chapter 1.

Disclosure : Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 


  1. Ruth September 21, 2015

    I’m terrible at actually commenting here, but I did read and love Tattoos on the Heart.  I think I actually read the whole book before the first week, because once I started, I didn’t want to stop!

    I also appreciated his words about success and failure, and that good work takes time and you don’t always know what the results will be.  This is an encouragement in the non-profit world where we have to have outcomes and plans.  But being faithful is most important!

    1. Amy Young September 22, 2015

      I understand what you mean about not wanting to stop. This book has the dual pull of READ ME FAST and STOP AND SAVOR — sign of a good book, eh?! Thanks, Ruth, for sharing your takeaways :)!!

  2. Melinda September 21, 2015

    I love this book. Just joined the community so just saw this post, but as a M amongst the poor in Mozambique, I’m not surprised that this subject might not draw in lots of people, but for those who took a chance, I’m sure none regretted it. I learned a long time ago that ‘popular’ on this planet has little resemblance with ‘popular’ in Kingdom perspective. Glad you selected this book even if there weren’t a lot of takers, the hungry were fed.

    1. Amy Young September 22, 2015

      Melinda, welcome! Hope you can join in the next book 🙂

  3. Wesley September 22, 2015

    I was so excited when you chose this book! I read it last year and your insights have reminded me what a gem it it.

    His view of compassion is something I keep turning over in my mind. I love that his book is written so as to be read slow, if one is inclined, mulling over thoughts and vignettes and then seeing them weave together around a common theme.

    1. Amy Young September 22, 2015

      I was really impressed with the ways he fleshed out his themes in story — could really see them come to life. Very incarnational, eh?!

  4. Kim A. September 22, 2015

    This made me laugh!!  I bought this book (like the real paper one and had someone bring it across the sea just for me!!) and have just arrived home from a month away…getting ready to start the book and I am excited!!

  5. Lindsy Wallace September 22, 2015

    L O V E D every word of it! Particularly this chapter on Success. I thought not only of how this speaks to our role as Ms asked to “report” back on the success of our ministry, but also as a parent! It’s hard for me to not take in information without filtering it through my “mom” lens and this book was no different. As a mom of kids from hard places, the chapters on Shame and Success really spoke to me. The shame my kids who were adopted feel is so deep and my desire to “fix” them is constantly banging against God’s grace and power in their lives and mine. “You stand with the least likely to succeed until success if succeeded by something more valuable: kinship.” I might just tattoo that on my arm;-)

    1. Amy Young September 22, 2015

      Lindsy, what a great insight! This summer I was working with interns who were working with kids from low-income families that don’t have a lot of stability in their lives and we talked about how much shame infuses their stories. I love the way you expressed it — the shame is so deep, the desire to “fix” so strong, but God calls us to kinship again and again.

  6. Tanya Marlow September 23, 2015

    I know I’m so over-late to the party, but gosh, that book sounds good. My experience of short-term cross-cultural trip definitely rang true with what he said – that our categories of success and failure are so messed up.



  7. Tia September 26, 2015

    I read this book out of order and started it on the plane ride to our new country 3 months ago. It was like a little slice of home as we were stepping out of inner-city living into international living. He was so true to the lessons we learned in our years of work and life in our community. At times it was almost too hard to read because it had me longing for our former life while in the storm of transition. Thanks for the good pick!

    1. Amy Young September 28, 2015

      I love how this book was a slice of home during transition :)!

  8. Michele Womble September 26, 2015

    My guess is that a lot of folks missed this book not because of the subject, but because of the timing.  End of August, beginning of September – the school year is starting.  For anyone who teaches and/or is a student and/or has at least one student at home – it’s a bit of a transition time.  I’ve an idea that would describe quite a lot of us.

    So…I wanted to read this book with ya’ll, but I just couldn’t.  I hope I can join in for the next one, …but I might not be able to, yet.

    Has nothing to do with the choice of book, just my life situation.

    I love this book club, and as soon as I’m readjusted, I’ll be hopping back in.

    1. Amy Young September 28, 2015

      You know the wonderfully unpredictable part of ministry :)? Last September we had the most active book club participation up to that history of book club. I think 20 or 30 comments per week.Ha! I think this months book has been a beautiful demonstration that whatever our ministry is, it is not a gum ball machine :). God has been reminding me over and over we are called to give ourselves to the work, not the results (ala 1 Corinthians 15:58). This has been a needed word for me 🙂 … and probably some others. HA! Michele, I know your family has a lot going on. When I wrote this, it really was important to me not to heap guilt but to try and show what the journey of ministry can be like AND the irony of talking about success and failure. Blessings sister, and whether you can read or not, it’s a delight to hear from you whenever you’re able :). xoxox A

      1. Michele Womble October 1, 2015

        Oh, well, there goes that theory.  It was a good theory, though.  🙂  Even though the data disqualifies it.

        Don’t worry, I didn’t feel guilty, I just wanted you to know I think the book club (and Velvet Ashes) is awesome (!!!)

        (I was hoping I’d be able to keep up with the next book (since I’ve read it before) …but so far…it’s not happening.     🙁  )

  9. laura r September 28, 2015

    Didn’t read this book but will add it to my must-read list.

    Looking forward to reading along with the next pick.  I started it a while ago and am still working my way through it.  Looking forward to reading it in community!

  10. Phyllis October 7, 2015

    I was with you, just at a slower pace. For me it was the beginning of the school year that was keeping me from reading much. But I did read the book! And I have just now finished.


    All through my reading I was thinking of a certain person who I have tried to befriend and minister to and have compassion for over the years. She’s not a gang member, but she might as well be. Many of the descriptions in the book fit her. The idea of “slow work” gave me hope for her, and so I continue to pray….

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