You know that feeling when an idea suddenly bursts into your brain? The tickling of possibility explodes into a never-ending cascade of how it could come together. The imagination runs free, thinking of how this idea could become a powerful reality.
I was hit with one of those ideas in 2012, when I was Youth Pastoring.
We had a big group of young people, who were trying to integrate their faith with their public life – bridging the gap between church and school. This required a whole lot of imagination and risk-taking – and we were seeking to support them in this.
But then the genius idea arrived.
Each school day, at 4pm, a different member of our Youth Community Leadership Team would be at a spot around Cambridge. This spot would be on the way home from High School, and members of our Youth Community could stop there for a few minutes to pray, read Scripture and reflect on what God was calling them to do.
It was brilliant. It was simple. It would help bridge the gap between school and faith. I was excited, shared the vision with my team, planned it, promoted it to our youth – and then launched.
So, it was with some excitement that I parked my car by a park bench down town on Day One of Genius Idea. I got out, grabbed my Bible, and sat down – awaiting streams of young people.
Some walked past and said, “Hi!”
Others avoided eye contact.
Not one paused to chat, pray or read.
After 20 minutes, I packed up and went home.
The next day, one of my Youth Interns went to take their spot. They text me at the end – “No-one came.”
After two weeks of trying this out – we had exactly zero young people take up my amazing idea. We shelved it.
The idea failed. I’d thought it was great – but it wasn’t. And that’s OK.
I know this seems like an obvious story, but the church has a fear of failure. I think it’s due to a faulty perspective of the will of God. We think that if we are always in the will of God, hearing what He’s saying – nothing we do will fail.
Therefore, if we try something – and it fails – we’ve misheard. We’ve done something we shouldn’t have – heck, is God angry at us?
Time and time again, I’ve seen churches and leaders afraid of trialling something new – for fear of it failing.
And yet – we are the community that claims to have the monopoly of grace! We should be the ones who are happy to take risks and trial – because we follow the God of grace and forgiveness, one who calls people into the unknown, in peculiar ways.
So often, leadership can fall into Permission Denying within churches. It ends up creating a culture of fear and stagnation, with members unwilling to suggest or try anything new.
I overheard a story of a church member with a fantastic idea of gathering people together, to launch a small community focused on helping those in our world who have the least amount of social capital.
As this person was talking to their pastor about it, the pastor said, “What are you waiting for? Go for it!”
And the person responded with, “Am I allowed?”
It’s saddening to think that the Western church had created a culture where members would think they aren’t allowed to gather, plan and launch new initiatives for the Kingdom of God.
See, the Christian faith is one that tries new things. Supported by the Spirit and the grace of God, grounded on the faith of what we know – it builds off of this to explore and create new possibilities, and try new ways.
Failure and learning are not a mark of sin – but they are the way we trial and improve.
Think of Paul’s practice in the book of Acts. He comes to faith in a remarkable way. He has no model to follow of church-planting. So he gets out there – and tries things.
At first, he goes with a sole-focus of preaching to the Jews. We learn that this had mixed results, and sounded like an aggressive approach – as they ended up seeking to assassinate him!
From there, Paul decides to meet with people in safer spaces, interacting with less influential members – including women and slaves, washing clothes by the river. In Athens, he trials meeting with the philosophers and wise people of the day, engaging in public debate and sophisticated speech. In Corinth, he works as a tent-maker, rubbing shoulders with the working class – while also trialling house-churches.
Building off Paul, the church as a whole has then trialled myriad approaches to church-planting – from building massive cathedrals, to gathering in forests, to purchasing abandoned pubs in Alexandra.
Trying new approaches is good – and is faithful to the way of our history. Let’s not become fearful of trial and afraid of failure – but boldly imagine – and attempt – new ways of seeing and being the Kingdom of God in our world around us.