"Failure is always an option!"
~ The MythBusters Motto
I am, for fairly obvious reasons, thinking a lot these days about what can help a congregation to be fully alive. (I am, after all, exactly six weeks from starting my new position as the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church -- Unitarian Universalist's ordained clergy person. We're in Charlottesville, VA for anyone passing through!)
One of the first things -- and this will be the focus on my next post -- is to make sure that everyone knows what the church is and what it's not. The church is NOT the church building! While most people would say that at a conscious level they know this, at an unconscious level this misperception is reinforced every time one of us talks about "going to church." Church is not something we go to; it's something that we are. (But more about this on Monday.)
Today, though, I want to look at an attitude that, I think, gets in the way of congregations being as rich, as engaging, as fully alive as they can be. Perhaps, not surprisingly, this same attitude is awfully prevelant in the lives of individuals, often leading to the same sense of "there should be more to my life than this!" Let's call this attitude -- Conservatism.
Congregational leaders -- at virtually every level -- spend a tremendous amount of time trying to ensure that the good thing they have continues into the future. They want to protect their assets -- material and spiritual -- and that leads to pretty conservative thinking. How can we conserve what we have?
This creates a risk-averse culture. New ideas are talked about, considered, wrestled with, thought over, and processed so as to try to make sure that there will be no negative consequences, so that success (however that is being measured) is virtually assured. Not everyone raises the dreaded critique, "we've never done it this way," but most everyone wants to know, "should we be doing it this way now?" And they want the answer to that question before starting.
When I was in seminary I heard a sentence that has stayed with me ever since:
Ministers need to be better trained to lead memorial services for programs and ideas.
If you only do things that you are sure are going to succeed, then you're going to do very few new things. And if you keep doing things because you always have -- whether or not they are still relevant for today -- then you are going to find your energy tremendously bound up. And if your primary focus is on protecting what is, you will almost certainly miss what could be.
As a fan of the television show MythBusters I have grown to deeply appreciate their motto -- "Failure is always an option." It reminds me of the Taoist proverb, "even stumbling steps lead not backward." In both I see a willingess -- and indeed an eagerness -- to try something to find out if it will work! If it works, great. If it doesn't, learn from what happened and move on. In either case, risk, dare, try.
Isn't this, at the level of the individual, one of the keys to a rich and meaningful life? Isn't this one of the learnings which the most successful business people, artists, athletes, and just plain people cite most often as being key to their success?
Why not apply this to the lives of our congregations, as well. Dare. Risk. Try. Failure is always an option, but so is the discovery of profound and unimagined treasures.
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