This past week I headed back to Princeton, New Jersey for the Princeton Forum on Youth Ministry. Mostly I went because the forums are always a good thing to be a part of, but this year I was also invited to come and share about my experiences with social entrepreneurship and the church. The forums definitely had a flavor of trying new things in ministry. This was great because there are so many conferences that specialize in techniques that they often fall short of helping folks innovate and adapt to the "new" realities that seem to have planted themselves like a dagger in the heart of American youth ministry as we have known it. We need more spaces where people can think about innovation and risky experiments!
One of the quotes that has inspired me as I have been working on my Mowtown/Columbia Teen Enterprises project is something that G.K. Chesterton wrote. He said, "Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly." What Chesterton meant was that many experiments and failures precede the final product in any endeavor. The point is not to shoot for the final product from the get go. The goal is to set a destination that is worthwhile or that serves the good and then fail repeztedly until you get there. Do some poor versions of what you are trying to do first. They aren't failures. They are first steps. If you don't believe me go back and read this post about my first day out mowing. Disaster. But the key to good failure is first finding the worthwhile destination you want to get to. This is where the forums needed to emphasize just a bit more that missional entrepreneurship needs to take its time.
I plan to write more on this later, but coming up with a missional innovation is a lot like doing quality mission work or community development. You can't just think of an idea that YOU think people really need and you certainly shouldn't be thinking of an idea that you think is going to make you lots of money. I have no problem with profit, but it has to be built on foundational thinking, prayer, and reflection on how to bless the world. A good missionary moves into a locale and the first thing they do is listen and watch. Only over time might a missionary or a community developer begin to even have an inkling about what their particular vocation might be in that community. The community developer, if they are worth their salt, doesn't just swoop into a neighborhood in an urban area and fire up their latest redemptive project. Generally they inhabit (or incarnate) a neighborhood for quite some time. So, while I want people to go out and start doing things poorly, my hope is that they don't just start doing random things. My hope is that we can spend a ton of time teaching people how to discern their call to an intentional purpose in a place that they have been rooted in for a while. I think one of the challenges of social entrepreneurship and youth ministry is that to be done well, it will need to confront the horrific attrition rates of youth ministers. If you can't stay in a church long enough to actually learn about a context, then the kind of innovations you might experiment with are likely to be pretty destructive.
So, I encourage you to risk and fail repeatedly. Set yourself up for some pretty poor experiments. And fail quickly. Don't wait until all your ducks are in a row or until you know it will work. The church and God's Kingdom need your failures desperately so that we might adapt to the changes happening all around us. However, make sure the course trajectory you set is guided properly first. Is what you are doing what the community needs? Have you listened well to the other or are they just an object of your mission? That part might take some time. But anything that is worthwhile does. Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly, but we have to take the time to discern whether it is worth doing, first. Once you suspect your course is true, the sting of failure doesn't hurt so bad anyway.