“You foolish people!” ~ Luke 24:25a
The resurrected but yet unrecognized Christ was blunt with the two discouraged disciples who were walking away from Jerusalem after Jesus’ failure on the cross. Despite the success of Jesus’ transforming ministry prior to the cross, this failure was the end of it for Cleopas and his friend. “We tried it once; it didn’t work.”
Are church leaders, clergy and laity, so afraid of failure we fail to try? James Dyson made 5,127 prototypes before he got his Dyson vacuum right! How many mistakes have you embraced as part of your method of being the faithful church today? How many times have you said or heard, “We tried it once; it didn’t work.”
Dwight Zscheile writes in his book, The Agile Church, that we need to embrace failure as part of what leads us to innovate and be creative. In the business world, this new approach is known as agile project management. It promotes adaptive thinking, trial and error, improvisation and collaboration.
The conversation in the Session or committee goes something like this; “We need more Sunday School teachers.”
“Yes, but we are not getting the kids to attend like they used to.”
“Well, get some better teachers, and that will attract the kids!”
A shift to agile project management might go like this:
“Numbers are down and teacher recruitment is not working. Why? Let’s interview people who have declined to teach and ask families why kids are not attending. Then, we’ll make some changes based on our research.”
In this example, failure of the “old model” of Sunday School teaches us that the participants or circumstances have changed. A technical response, which does not adapt to this change, will fail again and again. The next solution will not likely “fix” all the issues, but with each new experiment something will be learned that can be applied to the next try. “We tried that; it didn’t work,” becomes “We tried that. Here’s what we learned.”
The Book of Order lays out the “shalls” for being church. Our Great Ends of The Church give us guidance. Nowhere are we taught, “Go forth and fail, learn from it and then get back up and try something else.” Where we do hear this message is in Christ’s persistent forgiveness and engagement with his disciples.
“You foolish people.” But I’ve not given up on you so let’s try something new!
And we know the “wild and crazy” Holy Spirit is what comes next.
May God be your lab partner as you experiment with failure and give thanks for your lessons.
Rev. Joe Blankinship
Pastor, Forest Hills Presbyterian, High Point
Dwight J. Zscheile, The Agile Church: Spirit-Led Innovation In An Uncertain Age, Morehouse Pub. 2014.
Ronald Heifetz & Marty Linsky, Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading, Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2002.
Tom Kelley, The Art of Innovation, New York, Currency Books, 2001.