Thursday, March 29, 2012

Failing to learn...

My clergy network met tonight and among other things we talked about this article.  It starts out: (check it out @,0&utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=headline&utm_campaign=FL_feature

Failing to learn
Many U.S. coffee drinkers prefer lighter roasts, so Starbucks set out to meet the demand. It took, according to Fast Company, "a multitude of beans" and 80 experiments with roasting time and temperature before executives were satisfied.              

Starbucks failed 79 times.

The stories of companies and individuals failing before wildly succeeding are legion. Consider Coca-Cola's "New Coke" experiment, and the Wright brothers' attempts at flying. IDEO, the design consultancy, coined a now-famous phrase that guides its work: "Fail often to succeed sooner."

Encouraging Christian institutions to "fail often" sounds like Albert Einstein's famous definition of insanity. One bishop, being urged to innovate, fail and adapt, said the clergy in his area are far too comfortable with failure -- failed sermons, failed stewardship campaigns, failed programs and, ultimately, failing congregations.

The challenge for Christian leaders is to rethink our notions about failure. 
All failure is not bad; what is bad, and what is hampering our institutions, is failing to learn from it. And that is what the bishop was talking about -- contentment with mediocrity rather than a passionate commitment to experiment, evaluate, adapt and experiment again, for the sake of the gospel.

All of which got me to thinking about the mistakes I'VE had to learn from:  I remember a therapist once said, "Ok, man, we've identified all the wrong reasons for going into ministry. Let's see if we can find the RIGHT ones for you."  So here are 8 different things I've learned from over 30 years of making mistakes:

+ First, change in a church - any church - always takes twice as long as I think it should.  What's more, it takes longer in a smaller church because you need a super majority to support the change.  Some clergy are hired to be a "change agents," but the culture of a congregation doesn't change over night.  What's more, while some changes could and should happen quickly, the deeper changes require lots of time and listening.  We just don't know what the Spirit is saying to the church at first so take your time.  Remember:  no matter how smart and creative you are, it always takes twice as long as I think it should. 

+ Second, the only capital we bring to a church is trust and love - and both take a long time to document.  Trust doesn't come with a title - or a degree - it comes from standing and delivering for people in need over time.  And people know whether or not you love them - they have great bullshit detectors - so NEVER act like you are the hired gun or the expert.  You are the pastor.  As the Alban Institute once wrote:  NEVER call your congregation idiots. They may have faults, they may be broken and troubled, but they are also children of God.  Even the so-called "clergy killers." I know some clergy who disdain and disrespect their congregations from the start - so they deserve to fail.  If you don't consistently show up at the hospital - if you aren't able to sing from your heart with dying friends - if you won't listen carefully and truly care for each individual, you won't make it. And you don't deserve to make it.  We earn the right to make changes only by trust and that takes time. Anything less is arrogance.

+ Third, always pay your own way because there are NO free lunches.  I have found that having friends in a congregation is possible - dual relationships can work - but never take too many freebies.  We have to pay our own way - we have to pick up the tab from time to time - so that people don't think they own you.  Because when you least expect it, if your congregation thinks they own you, they will call in the favor and it may violate your faith or integrity.  NEVER take a bribe - that is, NEVER let the big money people hold you hostage to a building campaign or pledge drive - ALWAYS choose integrity and freedom even if that means making due with a crap sound system and all the rest.

+ Fourth, honor a Sabbath and keep it holy.  If you are exhausted, you are no good to anyone.  Even God rested... so make sure to do likewise:  every week.  Get out of town every 6-8 weeks for a weekend away, too.  You need your rest - and so does your congregation!

+ Fifth, hire to your weakness rather than to your passion.  Your staff - who ever they are - needs to help you succeed in ministry.  Hire secretaries you trust and who can help you get to your appointments on time. Hire musicians who will make worship rock - and your sermons soar.  Don't hire too quickly - do reference checks - and stake the time to see each person in action. Your staff can make or break you - they have to want you to shine - and they have to want to work for the glory of God as a team ministry. No prima donnas need apply, ok?

+ Sixth, make friends with your shadow in the church.  Every congregation has people who piss you off and push your bottoms.  Ask them to help you.  Ask them to help you think through key changes - they can often see what you cannot - and invite them to assist you in  moving new ideas forward, too. It is humbling to own your shadow.  It is challenging to confess that you can't see the whole picture. But when you bring your shadow into your ministry by embracing your opponents, everyone wins.  Everyone.  (BTW, not everyone, however, wants to help so know when to shake the dust off your sandals and move on, too.)

+ Seventh, lead by example:  never ask your staff or your leadership team to do something you wouldn't do.  Wash dishes, clean up the floor after a potluck, give to the stewardship campaign sacrificially and show up at meetings well prepared.  I used to think that being present was enough - it helps, but it isn't enough - you need to model what discipleship looks like.  You need to show others what love and commtment in the midst of fear means. And if you honor your staff, leading by doing rather than ordering, you invite every one's insights to be considered. Oh yeah: listen, listen, listen at least as much as you speak, too.

+ Eighth, take the risks that advance the cause of ministry.  Sometimes clergy take risks to show how bold they are. Sometimes clergy take risks without the proper preparation.  And sometimes clergy take risks because they are bored.  Rarely do these advance the ministry of Jesus.  So do your homework.  Own your failures and learn from them.  And then offer new creative ways to help everyone go deeper in worship,strengthen the congregation's heart for compassion or discern the movement of the Holy Spirit.

And one last thing:  understand that sometimes we can neither fix nor solve a problem in a congregation or a life.  All we can do is faithfully love the person and entrust them to the Lord. In this, clergy people would be wise to live and embrace the Serenity Prayer. 

Tonight, I am grateful for sharing and praying with humble and honest colleagues who advance the cause of hope by learning from their failures.  Thanks beloved, thanks!


Black Pete said...

About change and "Twice as long"--make that 10x as long...


RJ said...

Sometimes that is true, my man.

RJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.

thanks be to god...

The past four weeks have been full to overflowing: time in Ottawa with our dear L'Arche community, walking in the snow on the Winter Sol...