In 1885 Henry Ford fell in love with engines and began to dream about creating the horseless carriage. After eleven years of research and study he created the prototype ‘quadricycle’ and was quickly sponsored to get a factory up and running. After five years of tinkering, editing and hard work his company was dissolved and his reputation was left in tatters. He was ruined. He had failed.
However, he did not give up. Despite a lack of backing and public disgrace he reflected on his failings and designed the Type A automobile. This became the start of the Ford Motor Company and the beginning of the era of modern cars. History remembers him as a success but if you were to have seen him in the middle of his story you would not have known.
This is the thing that you need to know about success – it always looks like failure in the middle. It is only afterwards that you can define it and if you give up in the middle then you will miss what could have been. This is because to pioneer anything you need to step beyond yourself. You need to push into new territory and that will always lead you to fail. I recently heard the story of the lady who invented Spanx, Sara Blakely. She had this idea for the company and despite set back after set back she made it a success, turning it into a multi-billion dollar company. How did she get the tenacity to keep fighting for this idea? She describes mealtimes with her dad who would ask her, “How did you fail this week?” He would coach her that if she wasn’t failing at anything then she wasn’t stretching far enough. Failure was her mentor.
We have this narrative that tells us that success is when we don’t fail. It is when we find our golden zone and life just kind of flows. However, that line of thinking will keep you safe and average. It is only when we pass through failure that we find something new and innovative. Exceptional always pushes boundaries and pulls you out of your comfort zone. To live an exceptional life you need to fail more.
This difficulty seems to be amplified within church planting. We want to create churches that people love and that reach people far from God and the church becomes so important that it is untouchable and unriskable. Added to this are the pressures that so many pioneers feel with our homes and finances invested to get this thing off the ground. The danger that we face is that we make the church something that must never fail. We secretly believe that to fail is to be abandoned by God and so we avoid risk and innovation. But what if failure is not a necessary evil but something integral to reaching your dream? What if it is a gift from God? If we really want to build a church which is extraordinary, then it will require failure. Again and again. Your job is to keep learning, to keep growing and to keep pushing. I think that we forget that the most vibrant, most impacting people in the Bible were the ones who failed. Repeatedly. Think of it like this – who would you rather be, Peter who walked on water and failed or the ones who watched from the boat?
There are two types of failures. The first is failure to launch. This is when the fear of the unknown conquers you and you stop pushing beyond yourself because you are afraid of what may go wrong. There is nothing that you can learn from this kind of failure. You will spend your life watching other people chase their dreams. The second type of failure is when you are bold and adventurous but it goes wrong. The cost to this will be pride and reputation but it is always outweighed by the growth and experience that you gain through the experience.
It is a curse for everything to go right the first time. You will think that you have the golden touch and then will either be crippled by confusion and doubt when you fail, or will spend your life running away from failure and missing your potential.
Proverbs 24:16: For the righteous falls seven times and rises again.
What if God is not looking for someone who is perfect but who will get back up again and again? God is not after perfection but growth. Success isn’t about proving that we are smart but about learning. The trouble is when we start to think of failure as an identity and not an event. You are not a failure, your business was. You are not broken, your idea was. Failure doesn’t define you, it is a moment that you are able to grow through.
It is far better to fail at something that matters than succeed at something that doesn’t.
Failure is painful, but instead of letting it defeat you, change the way that you think. Robert Greene encourages us to ‘apprentice failure.’ Failure will apprentice you into growth. I have found that when I focus on avoiding failure I also avoid success. However, when I focus on growth, failure only grows me and I find success. Failure isn’t an enemy, it is a teacher. Change the goal from success to growth and you will see far more fruit.
So, how have you failed this week?