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Church ‘experiments’ may be success in learnings

The way we in the church talk about an “experiment” is different than the way I hear those of my friends who are scientists talk about an experiment. 

Conference MInister MIke Denton

I was recently talking to a friend whose work is around diabetes research and they had a theory they wanted to try out.

Honestly, I don’t understand all the details but, in its essence, it was that they had pulled together enough information that made them wonder if one medicine might help lessen some of the most physically debilitating parts of the disease.

So, they did whatever they do when they combine the chemicals and cells and computers or something and what they found was that whereas it helped with some of the problems, it looked as though it could create some unanticipated new problems that wouldn’t make it worth trying it out on people.

What got me thinking about this wasn’t as much the experiment itself but how they described it. This was a good day for them. They weren’t depressed or self-deprecating about the result but described it as “interesting” and with a sense of wonder.

The experiment was, essentially, a success because of what they learned from what they tried more than they fact that what they tried did not produce the results they expected.


In the church, we experiment more than we might admit but we don’t always treat it as such. Does this sound familiar?

Someone has a good idea. We debate whether it’s worth trying. In order for this idea to get support the person or group advocating for the idea usually ends up having to appear confident and show some certainty that their new idea will work.

Sometimes we support the idea solely based on the idea of who is presenting the idea and, even if we wonder if it’s a good one, we attempt to support the person by supporting the idea.

If the idea doesn’t produce the expected results, the question frequently isn’t as much around why or what was learned but whose to blame: the person or the system that gave them permission.

It’s not around celebrating that a risk was taken for good reasons as much as a feeling of hopelessness or defeatism. It’s not as much a sense of wonder and curiosity as an opportunity for re-entrenchment.

The person and the church become more risk adverse and try less. A system of permission giving is seen as a solution.

This is confessional as much as anything else. I get stuck in this same trap. This is as true in our conference as any other expression of church.

We’re trying new programs. Moving around staff responsibilities. Looking at partnering with other conferences. Seeking relationships with more non-church entities.

On the best days, it’s exciting and feels faithful but sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and have a moment or two (or five or six) of panic.

Not all of these are going to produce the results we’d hoped they might and even success points towards unintended choices about what might need to be set aside.

May we accept all the new learnings yet to come.

May we embrace them as part of a good day.

Let’s not be depressed or self-deprecating about an unexpected result but approach it with a sense of wonder.

May we see our experiments as a success because of what we learned from what we tried regardless of whether what we tried produced the results they expected.

We may not always find comfort but we may unexpectedly find hope.


Copyright © September 2018


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