Refocusing the Christmas Lens
With most pastors and congregations thinking about upcoming worship services and other ministry opportunities that seize so much of our attention this time of year, I want to help us think broadly about what the priorities are, what they aren’t, and how this time of year can be instructive for the rest of the ministry calendar.
Refocusing the Christmas Lens Part 5:
A Meeting You Should Go Ahead and Schedule for Next Month
Well actually it’s a meeting you might want to start scheduling every month or at least every other month. But it’s certainly appropriate following the unnecessarily chaotic weeks leading up to Christmas. It’s a “best failure” meeting.
This is a meeting where you and your team (including paid staff, lay leaders, and other volunteers) get together to identify all the innovative attempts that didn’t go well over the past several weeks, vote on the best failure, award a humorous prize to the person(s) responsible for the failure (perhaps an item that gets passed from person to person with each meeting), give a round of applause, and as a team discuss what you’re learning. Heck, have a cake and some ice cream. Whatever works. Some call this a “best failure ritual.” Go about this in a creative way that suits the culture of your team.
Now, here’s the key: “Innovative” is the operative word. The celebration can’t be for catastrophic, careless, moral, or technical competency failures. In other words, it has to be about creative innovation, not execution of tasks that simply should be executed. So, yes, the implication is that this meeting only makes sense if your team has charted out and is implementing some innovative experiments that involve risk of failure. Might as well start now while you’re monitoring the pressure cooker.
Organizations prohibiting any sort of failure are organizations that fail to innovate, adapt, and last. In order to grow as an organization, healthy structures that allow for failure must be in place. This is especially true for congregations, where innovative failure should be a norm as we strive to be creative, courageous, and open to the often counterintuitive call of the Holy Spirit. There will always be a lesson to be learned that can contribute to further creativity and adaptability. As Gill Corkindale puts it, “Sometimes, the lesson is obvious: take a new direction, a different approach, or give up. But there are more subtle lessons, too. Failure broadens your thinking; it highlights problems in processes, and it is often necessary because unmitigated success can breed complacency.”
For some of us, it may be a little late in the game to implement new innovative experiments these last few weeks before Christmas (but is it, really?). Even so, something will not go as planned, not be successful, fall through the cracks, and disappoint people (that’s okay, it’s a ministry of disappointment anyway.). And even though not all of these failures will result from “innovative” experiments, the broader point is that we need to create a culture in which failure is not so intensely feared and avoided to the point of paralysis, but a culture where people experience God’s grace especially in failure and then grow from it. Because ultimately it’s not really about our foresight, plans, strategies, execution, or even our innovation, but about the call of God, which often seems to pull us in those risk-taking, directions we never imagined. What an adventure. Might as well celebrate along the way.
 Ron Ashkenas outlines the difference between “execution mode” and “innovation mode” in “When Not To Celebrate Failure” in Harvard Business Review (December 11, 2014)
 Gill Corkindale, “In Praise of Brilliant Favor” in Harvard Business Review (June 19, 2007)