Below is a letter I sent to our staff, elders, boards, and ministry leaders at First Central Bible Church.
One of the best gifts I received was the freedom to fail. I spent 14 years as an associate pastor at Crossroads Bible Church in Bellevue, WA. On several occasions, Jerry Mitchell, the senior pastor, publicly stated that he expected his staff to fail at least three times a year. If we weren’t failing, it meant we weren’t taking risks and trying new ideas. He encouraged, challenged, and publicly supported us in stepping out in faith, trying new things, and taking risks in our ministry. And in the event we failed in the doing, he had our back.
On one occasion, I cost the church $5,000. I joined the staff of Crossroads as the Singles Pastor. The previous Singles Pastor hosted a winter retreat at a lodge near Mt. Baker the weekend before Christmas. I inherited what sounded like a good idea. We guaranteed a minimum of 100 people in attendance. The next year, my first at the helm, saw 35 people in attendance. While it was a good retreat, it failed spectacularly and expensively. Needless to say, we canceled the event the following year. Rather than be criticized for costing the church so much money, I was supported and encouraged. If an event or idea bombed, we jokingly said, “Well, that’s one …”
The gift of the freedom to fail was especially meaningful seeing as how I came from a church was I was fired, not for doing anything wrong, but for not doing enough right. Arriving at CBC, I had the tendency to look over my shoulder expecting that my next mistake would be my last one. I needed to be encouraged to take more risks rather than settle for the safe bet.
I want to extend that same gift to you in 2017. Keep in mind that the gift comes with some strings attached. The gift of the freedom to fail comes with the requirement that you take more risks in your ministry endeavors rather than settle for the familiar, safe approach. Try new ideas. Attempt an innovative approach. Look at an issue from a different perspective. Rather than repeat the “tried and true,” “same-ol-same-ol,” or “we’ve-always-done-it-this-way” approach, start something new and different.
I applaud the energy and creativity Robin Dolbow brings to our Children’s Ministry. “A Night in Bethlehem” was a huge risk because it was new and unpredictable. It was also a resounding success. I appreciate the creative approach to using video in announcements that Jack Gilbert has brought to our ministry team. I have encouraged him to try new attempts in preaching and teaching as well. I am grateful that our Missions’ Board was willing to set aside a traditional missions conference and try out the “What in the World lunch” approach. While it was a risk, it has proven effective in helping us to get to know our individual missionaries better. In June, we moved the annual picnic to Buttery Brook Park in South Hadley and held our worship service at the park that morning. Whether or not we do it that way again, it was worth the risk in trying something new. I appreciate Dave Krok and Wayne Erik Jarvis and our worship teams introducing new songs with which we can praise God.
As you look forward to 2017, think about new ways to communicate, serve, praise, meet needs, and share the gospel. Be creative and try new approaches. Scripture repeatedly challenges us to sing new songs in praising God (Psalm 33:3; 40:3: 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1; Isaiah 42:10). What we do on earth will become part of our practice in heaven (Revelation 5:9; 14:3).
We have shown glimpses of creativity in the past. I want to encourage us to strive for even more in the future. My hope is that First Central will become an even more creative think tank where we can experiment and try out new approaches to ministry in a safe, affirming, encouraging environment. Let’s encourage each other to worry less about what other people think and focus more on serving and pleasing God in new and creative ways (Galatians 1:10).
Try new things. Be creative. Take more risks. Fail more often. Who knows what God might do in and through you.
Let’s work together to build a community to change the world.