Above all, I learned failure―even when it just feels like a failure―really can be a good thing.
Learning from Failure
In an April 2017 article from The Guardian, writer Gavin Haynes introduces readers to a psychological phenomenon in Helsingborg, Sweden―The Museum of Failure. Its mission is simple and, ultimately, life giving: “Innovation requires failure. Learning is the only process that turns failure into success.” Highlighting such marketing flops as Colgate lasagna and Harley Davidson perfume, the museum goes a step further―encouraging attendees to learn from their mistakes.
Take, for example, Coke II. Introduced to the public in 1984, consumers did not embrace the new taste. Acknowledging the failed innovation, Coca-Cola immediately began selling its original formula again―because, why change a good thing? What some outsiders might view as a failure, the company sought to embrace and learn from. Today, Coca-Cola is the world’s third most valuable brand. I don’t doubt it’s much different for those of us who are in ministry.
Jerusalem Greer, a speaker, minister, and author of At Home in this Life, shared with me an experience of failure early in her ministry career. In an effort to not be what she described as a “program church,” the church staff―including her―wanted to be innovative, particularly when it came to mid-week services and small-group ministries. Their efforts to create something new and different, however, didn’t include any sort of programming or care for kids, thereby doing a disservice to the parents of young children. Children were welcome to come to Wednesday night praise and prayer services and weekly home groups, but as any parent knows, it’s difficult to keep a child "under control" in the middle of serious adult conversations or prayer sessions. All too often, an already worn out parent would go to another room to entertain the child with books, snacks, and songs. Parents and children both missed worship and community experiences, and in the end, parents simply forfeited their involvement altogether.
It wasn’t until Greer became a parent herself that she realized how her arrogance and inexperience not only crippled her leadership influence, but also failed a large population of potential congregants. Now, almost 20 years later, she looks back on the experience with gratitude, mostly because she learned how important it is to realize your limitations. “Just because you are an innovative thinker,” she reasons, “doesn’t mean you’ve thought of everything. You have to listen to the collective wisdom and life experiences other people bring to the table.”