Fear to Fail…or Succeed

This morning, while working on Sunday’s sermon about needs, selfish desires, and worry, I found myself thinking about the fear of failure…and the fear of success.

Due to my career in ministry, most of my thoughts center on the church. However, I’m pretty sure the fear of failure and fear of success appears in any field.

So, churches often have a desire to grow. Most churches don’t get together and say, “How can we kill this thing?” I say “most churches” because, by their actions & maybe some strategy (some things have to die before they can grow), some churches seem to want to figure out how to die. But, for the most part, churches have a desire to grow.

Churches often, in an effort to grow, desire to pursue excellence. We desire to have excellent hospitality, music, preaching, mission opportunities, generational ministries, facilities, and so on. Most churches don’t get together and say, “How can we be mediocre and maintain the status quo?” I say “most churches” because by their actions, some churches seem to be champions of the status quo! However, for the most part, churches have a desire to improve and seek excellence in all they do.

Churches often have a desire to reach out to the marginalized people in our communities. Most churches don’t get together and say, “How can we ignore entire groups of people in our community?” I say “most churches” because by their actions, some churches seem to have a desire to build tall walls around their properties in order to keep “those people” out. However for the most part, churches have a desire to reach out and share love with all people.

So, we desire growth. We desire excellence. We desire to reach out to all people.

However, we are afraid to fail.

So, out of fear, we fail to embrace the vision, to experiment, and we stay stagnated.

Out of fear, we accept things as they are, rather than as they could be. We accept “the known”, whether it’s working or not, because of our fear of “the unknown”.

Part of our corporate faith is transforming together into the church and people God desires us to be. This transformation requires that we overcome our fear of failure. This transformation requires that we accept and embrace change…not simply for the sake of change, but for the purpose of growth, excellence, and expanded outreach to the marginalized folks in our communities. This transformation requires a radical commitment to the vision.

The fear of failure is not the only factor that holds churches back. Sometimes what gets in the way of our pursuit of transformation is the fear of success. There are plenty of unknowns with success. If we are successful in growing, pursuing excellence, and reaching out to marginalized folks, the landscape of our churches might change drastically.

Sometimes it looks like this: We desire to change. We pursue God’s vision. We give permission for the church leaders to experiment and try new things. We gain insight as we reflect, adjust, and attempt to improve. We confirm the vision and direction. We experience synergy and being to grow, to provide excellence, we reach the marginalized in our community. Hot-diggity-dog! By golly, we’ve done it!

However, at this point, we run the risk of caving into our fears.

As soon as one little thing doesn’t go as planned, we cave into disillusionment. We are easily tricked by illusion in the midst of a failure. Yes, things are growing. But, they are also changing. And, this last project didn’t produce the results. So, rather than reflecting, adjusting, and trying again, we think, “if we could just go back to Egypt”…”if we could just return to the good old days”…”but, we’ve always done it this way”…”we’ve tried that before”. Rather than learning from our failures, we throw in the towel and go back to “they way we’ve always done things”.

Therefore, we begin to panic! We realize that things aren’t going the way we think they should. We forget that it’s okay to not be okay. We forget that with granting permission succeed, we have to be willing to give permission to fail.

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Change and transformation is difficult work. So, we begin to experience exhaustion. We’re working hard and getting worn out. At this point, it’s easy to throw in the towel.

When we are on the road to transformation, if we cave into our fears…if we allow disillusionment to distract us…if we allow panic to distract us…if we allow exhaustion to distract us…stagnation is the result.

Stagnation indicates that, in the midst of our transformation, we lost sight of the vision. Fear, whether of failure or success, is one of the major roadblocks of vision-guided transformation. When fear rears its ugly head, we can get side-tracked from the vision and begin to once again believe that it’s not about the vision, it’s all about me…my wants…my needs…

The great tragedy in all of this is that, when we get distracted…when we allow our fears to overcome us…when we aren’t attempting to pursue the vision, we’ll end up right where we started or even worse.

Therefore, if transformation is going to happen…if we are going to grow…if we are going to pursue excellence…if we are going to reach out to the marginalized among us…it requires a radical commitment to the vision. Whether things are sailing smoothly or we are in the midst of the “perfect storm”, we have to keep our eyes on the vision or we’ll begin to sink. We can’t fool ourselves. Sometimes, when it appears that we are sailing smoothly, we’re actually slowly taking on water and slowly sinking. Sometimes, when we are in the midst of the rocky waters of the storm, we are in the midst of a season of growth. Radical commitment to the vision is the key.
With that, we have to allow room for grace-filled exits. In any organization, there will be individuals/groups that don’t agree with the vision. In that case, they need to be given two options: align themselves with the vision or make a grace-filled exit. Now, some would say, “That seems harsh”. I would say, “No, it doesn’t!” If someone isn’t aligned with the vision, they will be working against the vision (often times in a passive-aggressive/manipulative manner). If they aren’t committed to the vision, they will hold us back. So, we give them the option to embrace the vision or find a place that better suits them. Experience has proven that, more often than not, those grace-filled exits actually make room for growth.
If we desire to grow…if we desire to pursue excellence…if we desire to reach the marginalized people in our communities…we cannot allow our fears to overcome our pursuit of the vision. When we give into our fears, when we accept “what is” instead of “what could be”, we shouldn’t be surprised when we don’t experience growth, achieve excellence, or reach the marginalized.
Radical commitment to the vision in order to experience transformation is not easy, but it’s worth it!
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