July 18, 2011
A few days ago the official “Vital Congregations” website was launched and will serve as the home base for resources, links, stories, and videos that, in theory, will help United Methodist congregations achieve the signs of vitality.
Not long after the site was launched I came across a TED video called “Trial, Error and The God Complex.” During this talk, economics writer, Tim Harford, explains that we too often resort to what he calls “the God complex,” when it comes to solving problems. Too often, he argues, we believe that we have all the answers to our greatest problems, that if we can just find the best and the brightest people we can solve any problem we come across. The issue, however, is that sometimes what we think will work doesn’t. Harford argues, then, that we need to spend more time using trial and error to solve difficult problems. If Harford is right, then not only can we find solutions that work, we will learn more and we are going to inspire more creativity throughout the process.
There are two companies that have shown trial and error can be an extremely valuable way to innovate and create. Disney actually encourages mistakes and failure, so long as its employees learn from their errors. Google also practices trial and error in a little different way. Google employees are encouraged to spend 20 percent of their time working on a project of their choice, so long as it is Google related, but does not have to be related to their area. This allows employees an outlet for creativity that is not bound by job descriptions or in the box solutions. More than occasionally, these projects actually turn into successful products from Google (ever heard of Gmail?).
All of this has lead me to thinking, what if we threw out the Call to Action report as the solution to all our problems? Don’t get me wrong the CTA is a valuable study that has helped us measure where we are and has given us some general markers of the things that make up vital congregations. The CTA, however, really does nothing to help us spark new and creative ministry in the UMC. So what if we got over our “God complex” and admitted that we have no idea how to save The United Methodist Church. What if we also admitted that God may be done with the UMC and is moving us towards something new? What if instead of looking for one size fits all solutions we encouraged everyone, clergy and lay, to think of new ideas, share those ideas, and try those ideas out, no matter how crazy or unproven they are? What if we allowed space for as many of these ideas to fail as needed, with the caveat that we will do what we can to learn from those failures and continue to build and improve on those ideas?