Excellent Failures and Missional Church

This week I am attending the Faithful Innovation Conference in Minneapolis. This conference is focusing on ‘what is innovation’ in the church and how it relates to the Missional Church. Today’s conversations focused on missional “experiments”, excellent failures and how can we create a culture that allows for experimenting and excellent failures. Tomorrow and Friday will be more conversation about doing Innovation in the church today. Over the next few weeks I will be writing more about what I am learning. Until then here is an article from a few years ago about experiments and failures.

The Strawberry Pie Experiment.

I had not picked my own strawberries in a very long time. It had been decades since I had been out in a field picking strawberries.  Last Saturday my son Joe and I went to Donaldson’s Farms to pick strawberries in the mud. We had fun picking the berries and trying to keep our feet dry at the same time. We return with a lovely bunch of strawberries and muddy shoes.

I was determined to bake yummy strawberry desserts over the weekend. Yes, this was the weekend for great strawberry baking. I made strawberry shortcake and yogurt strawberry cake.  I also decided that I would make a strawberry pie like the pie my Mom made when I was kid.

I went online found a recipe for strawberry pie. Last summer I did a video of my Dad instructing my kids on how to make a real Maine Strawberry pie. His pie was perfection. I figure I may have inherited that pie baking gene and I could do this too.

Just in case the pie baking gene wasn’t strong, I cheated, a little, by purchasing the crust. I not only purchased prepared crust but I got two packages enough for two pies with covers, as we used to say as kids. With purchased crust, an internet recipe and lovely strawberries I was ready to bake two strawberry pies.

Of course I followed the direction on the package and the internet recipe. I made sure I crimped the two crust together and put holes in the top crust to allow for the juice and steam to escape. The two pies were placed in the preheated oven with some cookie sheets on the shelf below to catch the drips. I set the timer for the recommended time.

When the timer went off I could tell that the crust was not “brown” enough. So I set it for an additional 10 minutes. After ten minutes, the crust still didn’t look quite right but it was bubbly. Five minutes later the smoke detector went off as I opened the oven door because the juice had dripped to the bottom of the oven and was burning. Actually there was a lot of juice dripping and the crust looked “brown”. But was it brown enough? It had already been close to 30 minutes past the recommended time so I took the pies out of the ovens and set them on the counter. It was very late so I left them to cool over night.

The next morning the pies had cooled but the filling was strawberry juice. The crust were squishy and soggy.  I stood for several minutes staring at my creations and realized I had failed. Yes I had failed in a big way in the baking strawberry pie area. You couldn’t even cut the pie. EPIC FAILURE.

Later in the day as I was staring at the pies again. (No I had not tossed them yet. In the back of my mind I was hoping that they would miraculously be as delicious as my Dad’s strawberry pie). I said to my husband, “Those pies are an EPIC failure.”  My beloved looked over my shoulder at the pathetic pies and said “just make sure they are an excellent failure”.

Ah Yes. The Excellent Failure.  Often when something in the church “fails” or doesn’t meet our expectations and we pronounce it a failure, we step back, wring our hands over the failure and vote on some sort of policy so we will never do that thing again and fail.

Yet in the Missional Church we strive for and encourage failure. We cannot fail if we don’t try, if we don’t experiment. If we don’t try or experiment then we stay the same and more likely decline. God doesn’t call us to stay the same. God calls us out of our comfort zones of the church walls and into the world where we can try new things, meet new people and possibly fail.

An excellent failure is the taking a risk, trying something new, stepping out in faith and failing. But not stopping with the failing part but taking it further, deeper and learning from the failure. An excellent failure is taking the chance and asking the question “What did we learn?”  When we don’t try or experiment, when we don’t learn from our failures, then what we do is just a failure. Perhaps even an epic failure.

In order for my strawberry pie experiment to be an excellent failure I need to ask the question “what did I learn?”

What I have learned is I need to call my Dad and have him give me analysis of what went wrong with my pie baking.  Then I must write down, step by step, how the master of pies bakes the perfect Maine Strawberry pie, not only to learn but also to preserve what could be a great family story and recipe.  I have learned to be less ambitious and try one pie at a time. Practice making pies before creating THE pie that is to be presented to the world. Most of all I need to not give up and try to make another Strawberry pie. Perhaps with a few more attempts I may make one that is edible.

We don’t want failures. We want EXCELLENT failures. We want to learn and grow in in those places where God is calling us journey.