Thomas Edison is quoted as saying, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” This is an important attitude in ministry because if we are afraid to experiment and fail, we will never be innovative and take our ministries to the places they need to go.
Experimentation is part of how we learn what’s most effective in our context. For example, how do you know what are the best times to have Sunday services at your church? You have to experiment with different times and see what’s best. We have changed our service dozens of times over the years, and we aren’t done changing them. As we add services, we’re constantly trying to discern what the most effective times are and how much time between services is ideal. I recognize that’s an easy example. How about starting a ministry or campus or planting a new church? Is there a higher level of risk involved? Absolutely. We must do our due diligence in getting all the data we can to see if this venture is viable and has a strong chance of succeeding. Yet, at some point, there are no more facts to look at, no more strategy meetings to attend, and no more conversations to have with other leaders. There comes a moment when the appropriate response is action.
So what is keeping you from trying something new? I have found three major blocks that keep leaders from experimenting and discovering some new process, system, or venture:
#1 – What will other leaders think. The Bible says, “Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the Lord means safety” (Prov. 29:25). There’s nothing wrong with fear; it’s a normal emotion. Yet, it’s whom I fear that causes me trouble. When I fear God and realize that I cannot please God without faith, it propels me to trust God more and step out in faith. When I fear people, God becomes very small in my life, and people become enormous. Truth be told, other leaders are dying to find out if something new will work. Many of them won’t try anything new because they have not been able to overcome this block.
Can you imagine what the Church would look like if people took a chance and risked the status quo for more effectiveness for the kingdom of God? I know what it would look like. It would look like the book of Acts. In the early church, people traded control for greater effectiveness. People exchanged fear for faithful service. Believers exchanged passivity for boldness. Disciples gave up comfort for converts. Did they receive criticism? Yes, but what’s interesting is the criticism they received was from those who wanted to experience the same thing but were unwilling to risk anything.
#2 – Loss of control. There is a feeling of being out of control when you step out into something new and experiment. The downside is that you don’t know what the outcome will be. I ask myself this question all the time: Am I willing to live with what I have now by not acting? If I don’t change something, nothing will change. If I try something new, at least I have the possibility that things could turn around. I’ve found there’s an interesting dynamic in regards to people who refuse to try something new and change their lives. There’s a staff member who is grossly unhappy in his ministry position. He complains, has a rotten attitude, and hasn’t smiled in years. The best thing for this person is to leave his current position and move on to another ministry. Yet, he refuses to leave. Why does this happen? It happens because many times we would rather be unhappy in the misery we know, rather than venture out and face the possibility of experiencing a different type of misery. Even though there is so much upside to leaving and far less risk, many will stay because the loss of the familiar is too much to bear.
#3 – “If I fail, people will think I’m a bad leader.” Honesty alert: This phrase stalks me. It’s true that if you continually make bad choices, people will stop following you. Yet, if you show a pattern of consistency in your life, people will not label you a poor leader for making a wrong turn now and then. People who fail when they step out into the unknown aren’t bad leaders; they are simply leaders. People who won’t step out and lead have nothing to risk and, conversely, nothing to gain. I cannot be a leader without venturing out and taking risks. If I fail, then it was simply a learning experience.
The benefits of trying new and better ways of doing things have too much potential to allow fear to keep us on the sidelines. The guys on the field are the only ones who take the hits, but they are also the only ones who score touchdowns.