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.