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The discipline of failure

The discipline of failure

Scott Benhase, Bishop of Georgia, suggests that congregations cannot succeed until they learn how to risk failure and learn from it.


Writing on the Duke Divinity Call and Response blog, Benhase recommends the work of economist Tim Harford who has spend a lot of time to think about failure.

The author is an economist, so he doesn’t write about the spiritual practices and disciplines we need to live with trial, error and adaption in the church. But if we translate some of his terms into our language of faith, then he describes a useful road map for people trying to live as faithful disciples in the world as it really is. In our congregations, as we seek to develop faithful efforts at evangelism and thus fulfill the Great Commission “to make disciples,” Harford’s approach is right on target. We have to be willing to try new approaches to reach people with the gospel that we have not reached before. And we will have to be open to failure in these efforts because some of them will fail.

But failure is not the problem. The problem is not learning from failure through a feedback loop.

What would our congregations be like if we opened ourselves to more trial, error and adaptation? My hunch is we would be less concerned with phrases like: “we never do things that way here” or “we tried something similar ten years ago and it didn’t work.” We rather would be constantly trying new approaches, learning from how those approaches worked or didn’t work, and then trying new variations on our successful efforts.

Let me be clear: I am not suggesting a new gospel. The one we have now is perfect in every way. So the content of our message is without flaw. It is our approach to sharing the message that needs constant scrutiny and a willingness to adapt as we learn from our mistakes.

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