A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

The risk of failure June 25, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — bweier001 @ 7:58 pm

This is a topic that has intrigued me as a type A, first born, competitive type of personality.  What does it look like to fail and is this actually a necessary thing (shudder) from time to time. In my husband’s industry, IT, the motto is “if you are going to fail, fail fast and move on.” This makes a lot of sense to me as you don’t want to be pounding your head into a brick wall and I think we have all had that experience. Clay Shirky addresses this theory of failure in Here Comes Everybody. Shirky affirms that failure can lead to greater success. He uses the technological world and the concept of open source software as an example of this.

We have held to the theory in the 20th and 21st centuries that institutions exist to lower transaction costs which is good for the market. But the draw back, as Shirky points out, is that  there is not room for failure. In the open source software development example, the transaction costs are still low, as many people contribute for free, but the risk of failure is now acceptable as failure doesn’t cost a corporation or an individual anything. The idea is that many people contribute to the development of the software so it gets honed with each addition or subtraction from contributors. When failure happens, someone will more than likely come along quickly to fix it.

When I think about the risk of “failure” in ministry settings, I come back to the word “risk.” Are we even willing to risk a new Sunday School concept or stewardship plan because if we fail then what? How often do lay people not come forward to serve with their expertise and passion because of the threat of failure? How can we as a church create an environment that embraces risk failure or success? Is it possible to take the open source software model and apply it to ministry? I would like to think yes, as we are all called to contribute with our specialized gifts to add to the whole of the gospel message.

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3 Responses to “The risk of failure”

  1. Sarah Raymond Says:

    I agree with you (being a first-born too!). As we are working on our visioning team at my church in a culture which values success and achievement, how do we create an environment where trial and error becomes the norm? I believe that is how we can discern God’s will for our churches — through trial and error. We cannot be free to dream and create if we are not comfortable with (or at least willing to face) failure. And how do we know it’s failure? How do you know when to pull the plug or keep trying? I’ll be watching your responses to see if anyone has any brilliant ideas!

  2. Matt Says:

    I really liked this theme Shirkey presented too. I like you husbands IT motto on failing too. I was reminded of Philippians 3:13-14,

    13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
    14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

    We have a goal as church and for our ministry, to join God in mission of peace, love, unity, (insert word here) for the sake of the world. The Lutheran in me says, you will trip on just about every hurdle along the way, especially when looking backwards at whatever is back there, even failure. Yet we continue to press on. I’ve never felt so good about failure!

  3. Mary Hess Says:

    There’s a great old article that came out of Harvard years ago that was entitled something like “What smart people can’t learn” — and had to do with how people who do well in school never learn how to deal with failure. And learning from failure is one of the key skills we all need! You’d think, or at least, I tend to think, that in a church which confesses a theology of the cross, that failure would be a gift, a place to encounter God, but somehow we get drawn into other places…


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