rebelling against low expectations

What should we make of spectacular failures?


BENJAMIN WRITES: I was reading through my history textbook and I ran across a part talking about “The Children’s Crusade.” It is one of the few times in history when teens tried to do something big, and the outcome is very compelling.

Here’s the entry I read:

“In the summer of 1212 children by the thousands gathered in towns throughout France and many of the German states. Filled with religious zeal, they set out for the Holy Land convinced that God wanted to use them to free it from the Muslims.

They took as their text Psalms 8:2: “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightiest still the enemy and the avenger.”

As they went forth they sang songs of praise to God. Later generations have associated the following song, traditionally known as “the Crusaders’ Hymn,” with the Children’s Crusade:

Fairest Lord Jesus,
Ruler of all nature,
Thou of God and man the Son!
Thee will I honor,
Thou my soul’s glory, joy, and crown!

According to chronicles of the day, a young shepherd boy named Stephen from the town of Cloyes, France, had a vision. He claimed that Christ told him to lead a Crusade of children to the Holy Land. He journeyed to St. Denis just north of Paris, where he encouraged children to join him in a Crusade.

Word spread quickly; by August, thousands of children had gathered. He told them that God had promised that the Mediterranean Sea would open for them so they could walk through on dry land just as the children of Israel had walked through the Red Sea. Following Stephen, they marched toward the sea.

When news of Stephen’s vision reached Germany, another young boy, Nicholas, felt that he too was called to lead a Crusade. He attracted a large following in the city of Cologne. Of the thousands of children who left with Nicholas, only about a third reached the Mediterranean Coast. When the sea did not open, they were sadly disillusioned; too weary to travel home, they remained in Italy.

Meanwhile, Stephen’s group reached Marseilles, a Crusader port in southern France. They too discovered that the sea did not open for them. Many returned home, but about five thousand remained, still hoping for a miracle.

It was then that two merchants offered a free passage to the Holy Land. Thinking this was God’s miracle, they accepted. Of the seven ships that set sail, two were wrecked. The other five made their way to the Nothern Africa coast, where the merchants sold the children into slavery.

It was not until eighteen years later that the people of Europe found out about what had happened. A priest who accompanied the children, and who was himself enslaved, escaped and made his way back to Europe and told of the fate of the children.”

— World History A, BJUpress 1984

This story raises some other interesting questions.

What caused them to fail? Where they overly-ambitious? Should youth not attempt callings this grand? Was this God’s plan? What lesson(s) can we learn from this?

I would love to hear everyone’s thoughts on this. Thanks!

Share Your Thoughts in the Comment Section!

There are currently 7 Comment(s)

Have something else you’d like to discuss? Just submit your question or topic (and any elaboration you’d like to provide) using our Submit Content Page. We look forward to hearing from you.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About the author

Discussion Questions

are submitted by real rebelutionaries who are looking for godly answers to tough questions and lively conversation with other young adults. You can join the conversation by commenting below. If you'd like to submit your own discussion question, email us at [email protected].


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Hey…something important here we should understand. Many of the children’s parents did NOT want them to go on the crusade and they went anyway – I think that the parents saw that lots of young children marching off was a bad idea and history proved them correct. I think the issue here is less their mission and more their age (I think most weren’t even teens yet) and the fact that they disobeyed their parents. If we can chalk this up to a consequence of ignoring wisdom and being disobedient, I think that’s a pretty good conclusion to draw.

    Hope that helps!

  • When something’s not just pitiful…
    when it’s not just a fail….
    it’s a pitifail. 🙂

    Just kidding, I’m not calling that crusade a pitifail….

    @steelersfan08:disqus summed up what I was going to say on the first three questions so…

    “Was this God’s plan? What lessons can we learn from this?”

    Listen, God is sovereign. He knows exactly what is going to happen from the beginning to the end of time. There’s NOTHING you can do that can mess up that plan. God knows exactly when every success and sin and even blink in your life is going to happen. However, whether God WANTED them to go on this crusade is a different story – they should have “honored their father and mother” like @steelersfan08:disqus said.

    Hope this helps,


  • I’m my opinion, the crusades were wrong. I think that these people were disillusioned, and maybe God allowed them to fail so badly because he didn’t want them to go to Israel and kill a bunch of people in his name (perhaps without his consent).

    As for the question, What should we make of spectacular failures?

    We should call them spectacular lessons, not failures.

    In this day and age, the world tends to stereotype two people, winners and losers. But that’s not how it is. there are winners, losers, and learners (or “Not yet”). The only way you can lose is by quitting.

    There was an executive of some big company, and he messed up, and lost the company millions. His boss called him into his office and said, “why do you think I called you in here?”
    He replied, “to fire me I guess.”
    His boss said, “what?!? Fire you? I just spent millions educating you!”

    So, yeah.
    Crusades were bad.
    Messing up is ok, just learn from it.
    Don’t give up. (Unless God is telling you to)

  • In addition to the awesome things written about failures being a lesson, I think they are also a great opportunity to seek God and grow in trust.

    When “failures” occur, there are several questions worth asking:

    1) Was the project something God wanted? As Grant stated, perhaps the crusade was not God glorifying. While something may be surrounded in “God talk,” we need to make sure it truly lines up with His word.

    2) Did God call YOU to this project? When excited, it’s easy to run ahead of God. God gives us each our own particular callings. Just because something is good doesn’t mean God is calling you to it. He may have better plans.

    3) Did God allow this failure for your growth? (Of course!) Perhaps you’re not ready for what He has, and He’s sanctifying you. We often see the great leaders in the Bible go through a desert time. (David chased by Saul, Moses in the wilderness, Joseph in the prison, etc)

    4) Is God allowing this failure for His glory? Maybe the project is good, God is calling you to it, and you’re ready for it. However, God sometimes allows “spectacular failures” in the present so that He may turn them into spectacular victories in the future. Think of Jim Elliot. He died and may have seemed like a failure, yet look how God has worked through this “failure.”

    Sometimes God is calling us to greater sanctification. Sometimes to grow in trust. It seems we must prayerfully ask what God is saying. We should trust and submit ourselves to God, knowing that He has the perfect plan.

  • I remember learning about this in history last year. I believe all the crusades were absolutely wrong and a sad misrepresentation of Christianity. I do think that in general, young people rallying up for a cause is a very good thing. But, only as long as each person involved is 100% sure that God is calling THEM to
    this. @disqus_zL9altjumL:disqus made some good points.

    I can’t know for sure, so be aware that this is pure speculation: but *maybe* the youth involved in the Children’s Crusade were so caught up in the momentum of things that they didn’t think critically — “Is this really the best idea?” Or, maybe they had never been taught to think for themselves, and were used to just accepting the ideas of whoever could deliver a passionate speech. Anyway, as Steelers Fan said, they were disobeying their parents to go on the crusade, and God doesn’t bless sin.

    Maybe “Stephen” was lying about a vision, or maybe he was misled. I read recently in Ezekiel, with the false prophets who were predicting no destruction of Jerusalem. “Thus says the Lord GOD, Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing! …They say, ‘Declares the LORD,’ when the LORD has not sent them, and yet they expect him to fulfill their word.” (Ezekiel 13:3,6) I’d recommend reading the whole chapter; it’s very interesting.

    Anyway, the Children’s Crusade was definitely a tragic experience. Hopefully we in the present can learn from our ancestors’ mistakes. (and if you actually finished this whole comment, kudos to you lol)

    • I think God was using this situation more as a “testing of your faith produces perseverance” thing than a instruction to future generations. There are thousands of endings to this piece of history, and God knows them all. Maybe one of the kids was later freed and had an amazing testimony to share with those around him. Or another stayed a slave his whole life and yet got to share Jesus with his master. God probably used all of them in different ways to bring his kingdom closer, and just because we only have the beginnings of their stories doesn’t mean all the children were terrible sinners who disobeyed God.

  • This is so sad, and not only in the obvious way. It’s also sad how teens (and people, in general) were misled to believe that the Crusades were glorifying God, and how they had gone on an impulse, without checking for confirmation. I believe that teens should definitely get involved in big things this big, but they should also search for confirmation, especially when the task is of this size.

    Lesson: Our impulses and emotions can be deceiving. Don’t act on them without checking to see if it is from God (Such as by reading His word, prayer, and Godly advice). (My answer probably isn’t the most original, but it’s what I believe.)

  • ((Every time I try to post my comment it says “Waiting for The Rebelution’s approval”. I tried to post it last night and right now, and it’s still not working. Anyone have a clue why???))

  • In my opinion the crusade failed for all of the reasons already mentioned. But right now, should/can teens attempt things this big? I would say that God has called most teens to finish school, prepare for their long-term calling, and to honor their parents. I think you should really examine your heart, consult mentors, pray and of course talk with parents before abandoning these callings for another one. These kids left the callings God had already given them for another which we now know was misguided. That mistake that cost many lives could have been avoided if they had examined themselves more carefully. So yes, attempt big things for God, but use discernment. I just read this that John Wesley wrote to William Wilberforce, “Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you?”

  • Not to be the divider of the Rebelution, but I SERIOUSLY doubt that it was the Spirit of God who appeared to Stephen. IF he truly had a supernatural experience, it sounds more like that spirit was on the same team as the one that appeared to Joseph Smith (if Smith didn’t make it up).

    Afterthought: Do you think the children’s parents approved of them going? If not, did they not first have to disobey God by dishonoring their mother and father in their involvement with the fiasco? Would God thus contradict God?

    It is a truly heart-wrenching piece of history. But the accuser capitalizes on ignorance and loves to mislead those who are genuinely upright in their seeking after the true God by posing as an angel of light.

    • Like I said earlier, I think God was using this situation more as a “testing of your faith produces perseverance” thing than a instruction to future generations. There are thousands of endings to this piece of history, and God knows them all. Maybe one of the kids was later freed and had an amazing testimony to share with those around him. Or another stayed a slave his whole life and yet got to share Jesus with his master. God probably used all of them in different ways to bring his kingdom closer, and just because we only have the beginnings of their stories doesn’t mean all the children were terrible, false people who disobeyed God.

  • Here’s an interesting question: what happened to those children? Yes, they were enslaved, but when they were sold on, you’d assume that they were scattered, and probably quite widely because the med was a huge international trading hub. As a result, you’ve got all these kids all over the place. Now, though most of them probably didn’t make it to the Holy Land as they called it, they did (I guess) go a bunch of other places. Whether or not the crusade was God’s calling aside, the scattering of these kids might have been a good thing because if they were true Christians you’d hope that they’d witness to those around them where ever they went. So even though the sea didn’t part and then they got sold as slaves, God could still have used them to spread the gospel far and wide. Thoughts? Anyone know if this was the case?

  • The children’s crusade is a poor example of trying to do something great for God. The thing you have to remember about the children’s crusade is that it wasn’t just kids (some accounts say none were over 12 when it began) trying to serve God. They were under the assumption that they could earn Heaven by doing this. Their parents were NOT against it – rather, the Church was saying they could earn their *own* reward by sending their children, and parents were shooing their kids out in droves, confident in their leaders’ assurance. Since the average joe in the 1200s was either illiterate or had no access to the Word of God, neither these kids nor their parents had any scriptural discernment beyond what they were told, and did not understand the concept of the kingdom of God, or Jerusalem’s actual place in eschatology, or a host of other things that would have prevented them from doing this. (The fact that the Church got so on board with young Stephen, based solely on his visions, is one of many indications that even the clergy were not very scripturally literate at that time.)

    Spectacular failures are nothing more than spectacular disregard of God’s Word. We’re all capable of it, which is why we’re constantly reminded to “search the scriptures daily”, that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable”, to “study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” The form of Christianity prevalent in the 1200s had dropped the ball long before, making its people ignorant of the Bible. If you want to to a great work for God, the impetus will NOT come from visions or feelings, even if those things help you along. The call comes from the study of God’s Word, not a single verse or passage, but careful study.

    • I love how you mention SCRIPTURAL DISCERNMENT, we can
      easily be distracted without checking it against God’s Word.
      We had a Missionary share with us at a conference how the Holy Spirit will never contradict God’s written Word…Visions & dreams from God will never tell us to do something contra to His Word.
      ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.’ (Romans 12:2)
      Charles Spurgeon wrote ”Discernment is not a matter of simply telling
      the difference between what is right and wrong; rather, it is the difference
      between right and almost right”
      Yes teens should get involved in big things… but they should 1st test it against God’s Word “but test everything; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21)
      “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1)
      Thank you for your comment, it is really helpful 🙂

  • I think one of the main problems is the misinterpretation of God’s Word. I believe it’s important to put Bible verses in their context in the passage and not make them mean whatever we want them to mean.

    Also, I believe they lacked guidance from their parents/ older or wiser people. (Does anyone else find it weird that those children’s parents actually allowed them to do what they did? Or if the parents did try to stop them, why they didn’t succeed?)

  • I’m a taekwondo competitor in my spare time. I’ve had multiple coaches tell me time and time again that we learn so much more from failure than we do from success. I’ve found that to be true. When I go to a big tournament and win, I tend to think myself at the top of the world. When I go and lose, it gives me the drive and push to go home and train harder for next.

    So in answer to your question in the title, we learn from our spectacular failures. You learn what not to do! It gives you experience for next time.

    Certainly I think young people should attempt great things. And small things. All sorts of things actually! One failure, or even multiple failures doesn’t mean no one should try great things again! (Just don’t go out and do another Crusade).

    • I take Taekwando too! I’ve actually heard that too in my school. These I also find true.

      “The ultimate measure of a man is not
      where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he
      stands at times of challenge and controversy.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

      “The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won’t.
      It’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether
      you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.” —Barack Obama

      • Cool man! I’m not the only tkd guy on here, huh? Here’s one of my favorite quotes:

        “The credit belongs to the man who is
        actually in the arena; whose face is marred by sweat and blood; who
        strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again because
        there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who knows the great
        enthusiasms, the great devotion, spends himself in a worthy cause; who
        at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at
        worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his
        place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who have never
        tasted victory or defeat.”

  • In my understanding from what I’ve learned at school, nearly every Crusader’s goal was to take back the Holy Land by slaughtering the Muslims living there. If I am wrong, someone please correct me, but the way I look at this was that these children had a calling to do something extraordinary, but the influences of violence all around them twisted the situation, and twisted what these kids thought they were meant to do. Going along with what other rebelutionaries have said below, I believe that the children’s crusade could have gone two ways. First, God truly did want them to take back the Holy Land, but when the children resorted to violence to accomplish this task, He stopped the situation. Or, secondly, the children could have made up the visions to gain attention and support. I’m not an expert on the subject, but that is what I think about the crusade. I also don’t think about this as a failure, but as a lesson we can all learn from.

  • Wow… what a story!

    But I just have to ask… so… WHERE WERE THE PARENTS?

    As to the question of their ambition and failure… all I can say is I’m not entirely sure what these children’s motives were, but many ambitious believers have and will fail.

    This does not, in any way, taint GOD’s character. HE still remains faithful and in control even when we suffer in this fallen, sinful world. When Jim Elliot and those who were with him were finally able to come face to face with the natives of Ecuador (after all the hard work and preparation), they were met with death. Did they fail? It might have looked that way at first, but then others took up the torch and the gospel was eventually shared with those same natives! 🙂

    • I like what you said about the motives. I’ve had experiences where I do big things for the wrong reasons. Maybe the kids wanted glory, riches, or adventure – I don’t know. What I do know is that if you do big things for the glory of God, you can be sure that you have a solid rock to stand on. However, bad things can still happen (like Jim Elliot’s story). Having the right motives when you go do something big is important.

    • I definitely agree with you Elizabeth, where in the world did parental guidance go of to??? Also, lots of people think they are being led by God, but demons can give you ideas as well, 1 John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

  • What you have to understand is this….

    The crusades were launched after 500 years of muslim conquest of the middle east. If they didn’t do something, they would die.

    They did get out of hand and off focus though. But the reason the pope launched them was because there was no separation of church and state.

  • I think a good test for what we think our calling is. Is it possible, not likely, just possible. Without a clear and spectacular miracle could this task be accomplished by you. I don’t think God uses flashy miracles that often any more, he does occaisonally, but I think he uses improbable things more than impossible ones.

rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →