20 March 2012

Free to Fail

I recall a sage professor from seminary one day discussing the need for an honest conversation on failure.  Specifically, he wanted to know why churches and pastors do not discuss and share what didn't work rather than what did?  I believe he even forwarded the idea of a newsletters of failures.  I think it was a great idea, it seems we as human beings learn more from failure than success.  Indeed we learn from success but it seems the learning curve is steeper in times of failure (that is if we acknowledge our failure).  I would say that most clergy (myself included) are afraid of failure and to admit failure.

Did anyone read the interview with Ms. Tracey Matura in the Sunday New York Times?  Allow me to share a key section:

Q. What questions do you ask when you’re hiring?
A. “Tell me who your favorite boss was, and why, and who your least-favorite boss was and why.” And you quickly get a sense of what leadership styles work best for them. I would also ask them about a time they took a risk and failed. I have not hired people who have told me they’ve never failed. You don’t learn if you don’t fail.
Q. People really say that they’ve never failed?
A. People might say, “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever really had a complete failure.” Really? I don’t even ask the question in terms of just business. Everybody’s had some failure in their life.
Q. So they’re just trying to figure out the right answer?
A. Here’s what I want: My leadership style is to be transparent and authentic, so if you’re going to tell me you’ve never failed, it makes me wonder if you always hide your failures. I don’t like that — surprises are bad for everybody. I can’t fix or try to fix something I don’t know about. Some people have that fear factor if they admit to failure, as if they say to themselves, “If I say I failed, she’s going to think I’m a loser and not hire me.” Quite the opposite. We’re human. We all fail.
(emphasis added on the last answer) 

There has been much chatter recently on the forthcoming death of the mainline church, but I do not see that as a reality.  For the record I do not think American mainline Protestant Christianity will blossom the way it did a few generations ago, but I do think it will be a flourishing and life giving expression.  I offer a way forward to vitality is an open discussion of failure and a freedom from the anxiety that stems from the fear of failure.  

During this (and past) search process and my own experience serving three churches I cannot get over how the fear of failure, i.e. closing down, dwindling membership, finances, building issues, & etc. damn near constrict and take over the present mission and life.  Rather than take risks most play it safe.  But what if there was some way to transcend this fear to honor it but not let it reign?  What if there was some way to imagine life as a congregation without the overwhelming presence of anxiety?  It seems to be me that this fear makes congregations bedridden scared to death (literally) to takes some risks and chances.  But without taking some risks and chances we are preventing a grand jump towards new possibilities.  

What if we started with naming our fears but also owning our failures - what has not worked.  And then what about naming five crazy, zany, risky, creative ideas to break through the current stalemate.  

Several months ago Lori shared with me a link of a poster.  A week or two later I purchased this poster for our bedroom.  I wanted to wake up every morning and remind myself and the missus about the active role we were going to take in our lives.  Every morning (and evening) I see this poster, the woman who chose to marry me, and the usually the snoring of my progeny.  It stifles fear and loosens the grip of anxiety.  Go here to purchase one for yourself.  

What if churches and pastors rewrote this for their lives?  What if churches put a hiatus on producing mission statements and instead developed passion statements?  What if we defined our passions as our reason for existence?

Consider this one step forward.

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