This week I engaged in a conversation “What makes a church a success?” This question generated a lot of thought and a variety of opinions. This week I also read about a Church conference I had never heard of before. It is the “Epic Fail Church Conference”. At this conference church leaders get together and share stories of failure. They empathize and encourage one another.
I must admit that I am drawn by the “Epic Fail” theme because I have a closet full of “Epic Fail” stories. I feel like the last thing I need is another conference by some mega-church leader that sells the ‘successful’ strategies of victorious Christian Leadership.
I believe that a failure can be a success if we fail (fall) forward.
A dozen years ago 12 leaders gathered to start a new ‘church’. The vision was to reach out to the folks in the neighbourhood that were not attracted to liturgical and literate Sunday worship. I approached a very gifted intercessor to pray for us. She recommended that we emphasize “the love of the Father” to our friends. She gave me a copy of “The Father’s Love Letter” and suggested I use it in worship. Initially I thought that we would use this cd for a few weeks. I did not know that folks would so enjoy bathing in the love of the Father each week that we would continue with this for years to come!
We were so influenced by the love of the Father that when we did the work of describing ourselves, at our best, we wrote “Up Town is an honest accepting community of broken people who are: experiencing the love of the Father….”
We certainly were broken people! And we were honest and accepting too. Some of the prayers remain fixed in my memory: “Dear Jesus, I love you”, “Thank you that …. Was there when I cut myself last night. Help me to never do that again. I want to live for you.” “I’m so sorry. Last night I spent my whole cheque on prostitutes. I am so lonely!” Such prayers were not unusual at Up Town. At our best we were honest and at our best we were accepting. People gathered around the hurting knowing that they too hurt. They comforted with the same comfort they had received on other numerous occasions. I remember thinking “Where else could these things happen?”
Up Town had a good run! At our best we were brilliantly flawed! But we did not remain at our best. After approximately 10 years troubles started to loom large on the horizon. Broken people were not always so accepting of one another. Bitterness and unforgiveness and eventually violence erupted. The gentle innocent folk were being hurt. What had been a place of safety and acceptance became a place of lurking danger.
No amount of teaching or private chats with the angry seemed to make any difference and so Up Town closed. Epic Fail!
After some time passed we have tried to restart something for the folks who miss those ‘golden’ days. Street Hope’s emphasis on discipleship is in part a reaction to this “Epic Fail”. We have not and may never recapture the days when Up Town was at its best. What is left to us is to remember and to grieve. We also move on to what ‘new thing’ lies ahead.
I used to brag about what God was doing in Up Town and now I seldom speak of it. I don’t even think of it without a wince of pain. I do hope though that in some way we have “Failed Forward”.
What stories of Epic Failure do you have to share? I know you have some.