Last October, the Center for Leadership Excellence and New Faith Communities cohosted a Day of Learning about innovation and failure. During the day, we were inspired to think about the value these two aspects have on ministry and personal development. As Christian Coon, the author of Failing Boldly, shared the foibles and missteps of his church start (Urban Village in Chicago), we were reminded of the vulnerability we all share. We are not alone in failure.
At the end of the day, we hosted our own Fail Fest, complete with Fail Forward grants. Submitted beforehand, these stories were shared in person and in front of about 100 people attending the event. One recipient and bold pastor who shared a story of failure was Julia Alliger, then at Cokesbury UMC in Henderson.
Working with a consortium of countywide clergy and lay leaders, Alliger and team tackled what they perceived as a community need—autism support. This group of around 15-20 leaders, called the “Vance County Methodists in Action,” spent months planning an autism event to serve parents and families with autistic kids. Though experts were consulted, food and educational materials were available, and the worship band was playing loudly, not a single family or child came during the event. As Alliger recounts, the planning team ended up listening to the music and eating the food…and also receiving an education…
Fast forward to receiving the $500 Fail Fest grant last fall, and Alliger and crew met again to address a different need. This time the group wanted to address the opioid epidemic. After discussion, planning, and more discussion, the team realized they were following the same process they used in developing the autism event. Instead of feeling energized with a new mission, the group felt that their process was artificial and would eventually reap the same rewards as their earlier failure.
What Alliger and the Vance County Methodists in Action learned was that the process we use in church is often the problem. Alliger said she often thinks back to something she has heard the Rev. Elaine Heath say, “What is God already doing and how do we participate with that?” In response to the discussion and thinking deeply about the action they needed to take, these pastors and laity took that $500 Fail Fest grant and gave it as a donation to the local food pantry. The existing pantry is a thriving entity with a system that works, communication that is effective, and people who are fed with both the Word and food. Alliger is certain that the food pantry can use the funds more effectively than their Vance County group. She is okay if they use it to grow, innovate, maintain…or maybe even fail.
~ article by Leah Wiebe-Smith, Director, Center for Leadership Excellence