As I suggested last time, ambition gets us in over our head, which is precisely where we need to be. But beyond the spiritual reasons why you need to be in over your head, there are very pragmatic reasons as well.
Fast failure, you say?
Wait. Isn’t failure–whether slow or fast–the thing you’re supposed to be avoiding?
Nope. Failure is the reason the unambitious are unambitious. They are avoiding it like the plague.
Consider the contrasts:
THE 10-YEAR PLAN TO AVOID FAILURE
A church leader feels that the church should consider something like a church plant. The elders form study committees and sub-committees. These committees put a 10-year plan together.
Another subcommittee is formed to create an internal PR campaign in which they sell their “ambitious” ideas to their “customers”—the reluctant and risk-averse people that they’ve got sitting in the pews. These leaders have trained these pew-sitters to be risk-averse by the culture they themselves have cultivated. And thus, these leaders know the fears of those constituents. They’re able to formulate a plan to mitigate the risk of congregational rejection by demonstrating how their research and processes have already mitigated the risks.
They de-radicalize the kingdom initiative, showing how natural and obvious this endeavor actually is. How elegant and sustainable the approach is. How cautious they are all being as good stewards of God’s resources.
10 years pass, and all sorts of “due diligence” has been done. The church plants a successful daughter church in the safest, most predictable way possible.
Good. Now we have 2 congregations instead of one. The experience has been so seamless that the leaders look forward to doing this again in perhaps another 10 or 20 years.
THE 10-MINUTE PLAN TO PURSUE FAILURE
On the other hand, an ambitious, in-over-his-head church planter recognizes that much of the “due diligence” designed to prevent failure is actually caution and reluctance designed to keep things comfortable.
The planter is so disturbed that a section of his community lacks the gospel that he is determined to break into that community with it. He doesn’t know how to reach into that community with a sustainable gospel presence, precisely because no one has modeled it before. So he goes.
He goes with ideas. Those ideas are shot down and replaced with other provisional ideas. Some of those ideas are shot down as he begins to form actual friendships with those he is trying to reach. Other ideas are tweaked and evolve over time. The actual process of trial and error—in other words, fast failure—becomes the “study committee”.
But with an important advantage: ministry is actually being done, and not just talked about.
Along the way, the ambitious planter is humbled and cured of his arrogance. But he is not cured of his passion to reach these people. In fact, he has gathered other fast failers around him and developed among them a culture of failure-seeking. They laugh at their “brilliant ideas” together as they’re disproved one after the other. All of their plans become provisional and are rigorously set up to fail, and fail fast.
And then they are revised.
But all along there is a sense that God is doing something despite their best laid plans.
The ambitious, in-over-his-head church planter depends on failure. Rather than mitigating the risk of failure, we need to seek it out with a razor sharp focus. Fail early and fail often, as some have said.
The faster you can get to failure, the smaller the failure is, and the quicker you can learn from it and set yourself up for the next failure.
In the mean time, a church might actually get planted. And it might be glorious. This, at least, has been my experience.
Ambition leads to fast failure. Embrace both.
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