Fail Forward

This is the opening reflection of my inaugural “A Glorious Mess” newsletter, which will be coming out next week. Click here to subscribe. In addition to monthly reflections, you’ll get to read other newsletter-exclusive content, include a sidebar by Melissa and a section entitled “Ben’s Id.” Enjoy!

I remember the Vine’s third worship gathering.

We asked people to bring pictures of five different places in the city. We asked them to share where each picture was taken and what could be done at each place to love it like God did.

Genius, right?

We thought so.

Nearly twenty people packed themselves into our living room, bringing their images and ideas with them.

We sang a couple songs. We prayed. We read scripture.

And then, a meeting broke out in the middle of our worship gathering.

Somehow, each person’s picture morphed into a project presentation. As the presentations stretched out, often to ten or fifteen minutes each, people began to punctuate their responses with such spiritual questions as “Who’s taking notes?” and “So who’s taking responsibility for this one?”,

About an hour in, someone said they were hungry. Another added that they needed to pee.

We ended up taking a fifteen minute bathroom break in the middle of worship.

An hour and a half after that, we limped our way to the end of the most business-like worship gathering I’ve ever led. One of our friends, who was coming to worship for the first time, said, with unbelievable grace and tact, “You have a very unique community.”

The final person left and I closed the door, leaning on it slightly.

I turned to my wife. “Well, that didn’t work.”

If you’re reading this e-mail, then you’ve failed at something, probably fairly recently.

Perhaps it’s your New Year’s Resolutions, which are now expiring peaceably in a corner.

Perhaps it’s a mistake you made at work, where a decision didn’t work out as well as you intended.

Perhaps it’s a conflict with a friend, where you’re sure it’s not your fault but you’re also secretly sure there was a more graceful way to handle it.

Failure is an unavoidable part of being human and having a pulse.

So, if failure is inevitable, just make sure that you fail in the right direction.

Here’s what I mean:

After that worship gathering, I chose to fail forward.

I intentionally designed moments for community response in ways that wouldn’t take two hours to complete.

I stepped into my authority as a leader when other folks unwittingly tried to hijack our group process.

I learned that mess was a larger than normal part of a community that worshipped in our shoebox living room and sometimes I just needed to relax.

As a result, I became a better leader and a better person.

What would it look like for you to fail forward this coming month?

Not to deny,

Not to rationalize,

Not to curl up into a small ball of deliciously paralyzing guilt,

But to name your failure and then make sure that you fail in the right direction?

After all, failure is one of the most reliable ways to grow.

Here’s to a month of failing forward – for you and for me.

 

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