Failure is a topic people tend to avoid, unless it’s pointing out the failures of other people. Let’s be honest: more of us than care to admit it participate in that sport. Why do you think blooper videos are so popular?
Failure, however, is a necessity for success. James Dyson, inventor of the bagless vacuum cleaner, created over 5,000 prototypes before finding the ingredients for the vacuum that changed the market. Thomas Edison was asked by a reporter why he kept trying to create the light bulb after failing over 1,000 times. Edison replied, “I haven’t failed; I’ve found 1,002 things that don’t work.” My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Smith, blew my mind one day when I was so upset about getting something wrong. “Failure is the way we learn,” she said in her soft and kind voice.
Mrs. Smith also sang soprano in the church choir. My parents sang in the choir, and by the sixth grade, I got to sit next to the irrepressibly patient Mrs. Smith. What made her so wise, so free-flowing with grace? She is the only teacher I can recall who pointed out failure as something positive. Fortunately, most of my teachers were encouraging, for which I am grateful. I wish I’d had more reinforcement for the lesson Mrs. Smith taught me that day, though.
There are good reasons to be risk-averse: potential loss of limb or life, being publicly shamed, and the biological and psychological stress are just a few reasons. But too much risk aversion can make people and organizations stuck. Churches tend to be very risk-averse, and I think fear of failure is one of the reasons.
If we are to continue to grow at all, some risk is involved. It means trying new things, new ideas, new activities. It means being willing to learn from what isn’t working. Most of all, it means exercising grace, for ourselves and for each other. And isn’t grace really at the heart of the hospitality of Jesus?