Tuesday, 19 July 2016

A time to fail?

I am part way through an excellent book I recently came across called: "The Mystic Way of Evangelism" by Elaine A. Heath which I will refer to in the next few days. But as an introduction, here is an excerpt from her blog (you will find it here). The particular post that caught my attention is actually two years old but still very relevant. Here is the excerpt. The post is titled: "Time to Fail Our Way into the Future":

"Today I was on a panel for a Center for Teaching Excellence presentation at Southern Methodist University. Our panel consisted of 3 of us professors, one from the business school, one a physicist, and yours truly, the theologian. Our task was to share in 10 minutes apiece how we engage in “high impact teaching.” I talked about creating community gardens that then take on a life of their own and go in directions you never imagined. The business professor described a class she teaches that actually produces television commercials that are used by a major sports channel. But the presentation that keeps repeating itself in my mind came from Dr. Sekula, the physics professor who teaches his students how to fail boldly.

Failure, he said, is the key to being a scientist. Without a willingness to fail boldly, over and over again, there would be no scientific breakthroughs. Failure is how we learn, he said, as he showed slides depicting some of his students earning impressive awards for their achievements. For every achievement there are many necessary failures.

So I have been thinking about that, how failure has played out in my personal life and how I see it playing out in the church.

Last week I spent time at a national gathering for United Methodists who start new faith communities and endeavour to revive failing churches. As I talked with many people, listened to stories, and heard the questions that were raised, over and over I heard fear of failure. I wanted to gather up all the frightened and anxious people, the bean counters, the creatives, the apostolic types and the dreamers. I wanted to tell them over a cold beer to relax. Breathe. Fail."

This is a great encouragement to the Church at this moment in time as it is going through its own 'dark night of the soul' (more about that in later posts) and experiencing general and rather alarming decline, here and in America. But as noted above, we can learn from the scientists who, through trial and error - failure followed by failure - slowly learn through a "willingness to fail boldly, over and over again" to make slow progress in the right direction. Does our unwillingness to fail lead in such a positive direction or do we give up too easily? Are we not God's people and God's church? Didn't Jesus promise to build His Church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18)? If so we should not give up but through faithfulness and perseverance - a favourite Biblical term - keep at it.

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