I worry sometimes that I am not failing enough. To discover new ways of being church we need to try new things, which means taking a risk that it might not work. Experimentation and failure are vital – with one major problem, it’s no fun to fail. Do I have the patience or courage to fail? Do we see ‘risk’ as a positive or negative word?
Alan Roxburgh’s recent book “Joining God, Remaking Church, Changing the World: The New Shape of the Church in Our Time,” is excellent and easy to read. I would give it to my parish Council members, and anyone else in the congregation that is showing signs of wanting to try new ways of being church. You don’t need a theology degree to follow what he is suggesting, and tells a wonderful story in chapter four:
“Just that afternoon, Ron was on his way to the back deck with a beer to enjoy the warmth. Then he stopped, turned around, and headed toward the front door. He’d been getting to know people in his neighborhood and it was time to go deeper. Packing a hamper with beer and carrying some chairs, he headed for the front lawn. Within a half hour or so, a bunch of neighbors were enjoying cold beer and conversation. The gathering gave him a glimpse of what church could be. This didn’t just happen out of nowhere, but it also wasn’t some carefully planned strategy for evangelism and mission. It was an experiment with a new practice—moving from the privacy of the back deck to the welcoming space of the front lawn. And it wasn’t the work of a stereotypical young risk taker; Ron is recently retired. Yet, I was struck by the excitement and energy in his voice as he shared this experience. (location 944).
Even I could do that – have a beer in the front yard rather than the back. We need to simply try things and see what happens. Learn from it and keep trying.
We tried centre-ing prayer to see what happened. One person said to me he was trying it during the week and was enjoying the increased sense of peace in his day. That was good news. Others haven’t done it during the week and that was OK. We experimented at our youth group with dwelling in scripture, or Ignatian prayer. I wondered how teenagers would go with a contemplative practice. As it turns out, they went quite well. Some engaged with it and asked penetrating questions, none of which I had an answer for – it was a rewarding experience as we wondered out loud together. Some didn’t engage much at all, and that was OK.
We tried having a meal with some people who had faith but weren’t in church. There was a spark and 18 months later we are still meeting for a meal and conversation, sometimes experimenting with contemplation, and always exploring life’s questions. It is a new congregation but will it survive? I don’t know. Is it a mature expression of church? Maybe not, but it contains all of the DNA of church. When my sons were born I didn’t freak out because they didn’t have teeth, or lacked the ability to walk. I knew one day both would come as they matured. We enjoyed the moment of their age. It’s the same with this little congregation – we are enjoying the age and stage it is at – what will it look like when it ‘grows up’? I don’t know, but it will have a family resemblance of church.
Roxburgh devotes chapter eight to the practice of “Testing and Experimenting” which is a good resource for groups thinking of new ways of being church. He quotes Aristotle, “For the things we think we have to learn, before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”
If you have an idea, try it and see what happens. We need to have a willingness to try and fail – it’s how we learn in the rest of life – walking, speaking, playing music and so on, so let’s include ways of being church.
Darryl Tempero is Minister of Kiwi Church in Christchurch and Resource Minister in Alpine Presbytery