Saturday, June 16, 2012

200. Mastery and Originality in the missional task of the church Part 2

In Part 1 of this series on Mastery and Originality, we talked about the need to for the church to have a balance between mastery and originality in order to remain effective in it's missional task.
Ideally, when someone launches out and experiments with innovative forms of mission, they develop a sense of mastery in that particular strategy or model and become an effective practitioner. This is how models or methods of any kind are born. Depending on certain variables, that model may get replicated in other contexts. It would look something like this.

This journey from experimenting towards effectiveness is what the success stories are made of. We all love to hear these kinds of stories. They inspire us to innovate and experiment ourselves. If they can do, we can do it too. This journey, as the squiggly line depicts, is not easy, and often times filled with discouragement, ambiguity, disappointment, and frustration. But to cross that line into sustainability and effectiveness is sweet indeed. It's something every pioneer longs for. It deserves to be celebrated and taken note of.

So what happens when you experiment and things don't work out? What happens when you pour your heart and soul into a venture and you don't achieve what you wanted to achieve? We don't hear many stories about this kind of journey. For one, those who go through it are rarely excited about sharing it. There is a certain shame involved with being "that guy" who sets out on that journey and doesn't land the ship on the other side. Questions like "What's wrong with me?" and "Why me?" and "Where is God in all of this?" are some of things that go through church planters minds when their experiments turn out to be just that, an experiment. These are tough questions that don't settle down with easy answers.

I want to suggest several things to keep in mind if you are "that guy" (no gender bias here :-) or you know someone who is "that guy."

1. If you felt called by God to launch out into the frontier and experiment with a missional venture,  just because it didn't work out does not mean God did not call you to walk with him on that journey. None of the apostle Paul's churches are still around today, and yet his influence is undisputed. God goes with us into every calling, even if it doesn't turn out like we wanted.

2. Failing at an experiment does not mean you are a failure. No one likes to experience failure, but when we do, it tends to reveal the source of where we draw our identity from. If the core of your identity is drawn from what you do FOR Christ (doing), then experiencing a failure will rock your world. Our identity is fundamentally who we are IN Christ (being). God can use our failures to anchor our identity in Christ.

3. There are big "F" and little "f" failures. Little "f" failures are when you don't achieve what you set out to achieve. Big "F" failures are when you choose to stay at the settlement because of fear or down right laziness. This is perhaps one of the most important things for  people doing apostolic ministry to embrace. We are to be faithful to the One who calls us into the frontier. Faithfulness, in and of itself, is Success with a capital "S". The ultimate Failure is disobedience to the One who calls. Framed this way, I will take a little "f" over a big "F" any day.

4. Learn from the experiment. It requires a good dose of humility to look back on your efforts and say "If I had to do it again, I would do ________ differently." Doing this will position you to learn valuable lessons from your experience. This is where the Father will redeem your experiment and be able to cultivate a level of mastery in you for the next venture.

5. Talk about what you have learned from the experiment. This is another way the Father will redeem your experience of failure. You develop a level of authority out of your experience of failure that can not be found any other way.

6. Just because you did not achieve what you wanted to achieve, does not mean nothing was achieved. As a leader, you are the custodian of the vision, which is often larger than life....and it should be. However, when that vision doesn't come to pass, it is easy to write off the venture as being completely worthless. Regardless of whether or not you achieved your goal, God will still use the soil you tilled, the weeds you pulled, the seeds you planted, watered and tended for His kingdom purposes. Influence is not measured by the leader, but by those who have been influenced. This explains why people who walked with you will always see more good coming from your efforts than you will.

7. It's not over. Just because you experienced failure does not mean your future is sealed. You can take what you have learned from your experience, increase your level of mastery, and move forward into the future with greater levels of wisdom and maturity. The Lord can use anyone who is willing to learn. The trajectory would look something like this.

It is during that phase of expiring that the Father can raise our level of mastery. Most of the things you will learn on the frontier will have a lot to do with your own spiritual formation as a leader as well as issues related to structure, strategy, and sequence for implementing your vision. However, learning from failure is different than learning from success by way of focus. When you learn from failure there are typically specific practices, postures or processes you can clearly point to that contributed to the failure. This makes learning from failure really focused....and painful.

Success, on the other hand, is often not so revealing as to what the contributing factors were. I remember hearing a guy get up and explain the success of his church plant with really vague and cliche phrases like "we prayed really hard" "made sure people were committed" and "small groups were a big priority." I thought to myself, "Every church planter I know does this!" The factors that contribute to a successful venture are not necessarily apparent on the first round because many of the factors are often concealed from the planter by virtue of their default assumptions of what makes a church plant successful. This makes learning from success a tricky affair. It often takes others experimenting with those same "factors" in similar contexts to expose those factors as being peripheral to what makes a venture successful.

8. Don't be afraid to let "it" die. If you did not achieve what you wanted to achieve, you should name it, and let it die. You should let the venture expire. You then, should enter into a season of abiding (John 15) where Jesus can re-build and re-store your vitality for the next assignment. Experiencing failure can tear you down, especially the last phases of the venture where you have to watch it die and fade away. But Jesus is the source of life, and if we are willing to abide in Him, and let his words abide in us, we will find the love and joy we need to move into the future with hope and confidence. It is during a time of pruning that we can draw from the Vine in deeper ways, positioning us to bear fruit that lasts.

In the next post, I will talk about some of the practical things I have learned through my most recent failure in church planting. For the past 5 years I have experimented with planting churches using the house church model. I call it a failure because I did not achieve what I wanted to achieve. God still used our efforts, people were changed, healing took place, and we saw God build bridges where none existed. But as the leader, I had a vision of starting a network of multiplying house churches. I did not achieve that vision. So I have to own that, learn from it, and share with others what I have learned so those who are open to it, can learn from my experience. This is part of what it means to be a pioneer. You share your journey, pitfalls and all, and in so doing, you can help others chart a better course into the future. 

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