This week we wrap up a three week series (post 1, post 2) that addresses learning and innovation in liminal context; how the factors in last week’s post can be applied to leading and learning in the community of faith. We want you to sit with the articles and filter them through your 5Q understanding, specifically. How do the points reinforce or challenge the way you are thinking about and talking about 5Q in your church/organization? Are the illustrations helping you see 5Q in a new way as you begin to dream and lead toward an alignment with the original intelligence and capacity of the Church? And are the questions pushing you out of any comfort zones, challenging you to think differently about existing systems?

Good! We believe these final four guideposts, will round out the last few weeks and provide context for conversations as you continue to find ways to think 5Q into a whole new beautiful thing.

Foster Pioneering and Protest

Genuine learning and advancement in the church, as in all aspects of life, will generally be led by a few people who are willing to break from the herd instincts of the crowd. If we are going to be innovative in mission, we will need to foster a pioneering spirit because, as we have seen, more of the same is not going to get the job done. Pioneers have to be a particularly hardy bunch. New social and religious movements inevitably arise as a protest against the status quo, which in turn arouses sometimes stern opposition from the system from which they emerge (e.g., the Celts and the Roman Catholics, Francis and the popes, Wesley and Booth and the Anglicans, Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, etc.).

Machiavelli was not far wrong when he said, “Nothing is more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than achieving a new order of things.” Would-be innovator-reformers will have adversaries who directly benefit from the old order and halfhearted defenders (lukewarm largely because of fear of the adversaries) who would benefit from the new. It’s the reason why prophets and apostles are almost always persecuted and tend to stand alone. At all turning points in history, when the older forms are dying, new possibilities are created by a few people who are not afraid to stand out and risk security. Susan B. Anthony, the remarkable civil rights activist and pioneer of the women’s suffrage movement in the United States, knew this all too well. Speaking from experience, she said, Cautious, careful people always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform.

Those who are really in earnest must be willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathy with despised and persecuted ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences. She could have been talking here about St. Patrick, Martin Luther, Nelson Mandela, or Gandhi—or Jesus, for that matter. All genuine reformers tend to suffer for their cause. In order to develop a pioneering missional spirit, a capacity for genuine ecclesial innovation, let alone engender daring discipleship, we are going to need the capacity to take a courageous stand when and where necessary.

If we are going to be innovative in mission, we will need to foster a pioneering spirit because, as we have seen, more of the same is not going to get the job done. @alanhirsch Click To Tweet

Stir Up Holy Discontent

Karl Marx said that, in order to foster revolution, activists will need to “rub raw the sores of discontent.” He understood that people would not pay the price for change unless they felt a profound sense of disgruntlement with the prevailing conditions. Now we think this is a highly manipulative thing to do in the context of a political revolution, but this should not obscure the redeemable truth that lies behind this approach—discontent results in movement and movement in change. Or, in the interests of a holy revolution, we have got to cultivate a holy discontent in our own hearts and in our systems if we are going to move toward a better future.

Speaking of our spiritual yearnings, Jewish theologian/philosopher Abraham Heschel says, “All that is creative stems from the seed of endless discontent. . . . He who is satisfied has never truly craved.” In order to engender change in our lives, especially in organizations, we have to sell the problem before we sell the solution. But holy discontent need not always be the result of a prophetic critique of things; it could come about from a holy sense of curiosity and being attentive to the provocatively fertile nature of good, probing questions. As discussed in the introduction, we ought never to take ourselves out of the questing aspect of Christianity and discipleship.

Spiritual quests in particular are driven by the need for a deeper, more satisfying experience of life and faith. Questing is the result of holy discontent, and more often than not, as in all genuine renewal movements, it is the result of the Holy Spirit working directly in our lives. And behind every good quest lies at least one really good question—we do well to heed Einstein’s advice to a young admirer when he said, “The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence.”

Holy discontent need not always be the result of a prophetic critique of things; it could come about from a holy sense of curiosity and being attentive to the provocatively fertile nature of good, probing questions. Click To Tweet

Trade Your Traditionalism for Tradition

While it is true to say what got you here won’t get you there, genuine learning is not done in a historical vacuum, and innovation is not simply novelty. Some of our best expressions of adventurous church have been movements that exist in our past and form part of our historical tradition. In The Forgotten Ways Alan suggested that every church already has all it needs to get the job done—in other words, we have latent potentials, and through disuse or misuse, we have simply forgotten how to activate them. Part of our learning then is not simply coming up with faddish ideas, but recovering the deepest identity and potentials that we already have as God’s people. Becoming the church that Jesus built will require courage, because it means letting go of what we have become . . . of abandoning the security of institutional church to become a movement.

At the conclusion of the musical Fiddler on the Roof, the question is asked, “What holds him [the Fiddler] up?” The answer the audience hears is “Tradition.” But being guided by tradition and being traditionalist are two entirely different things. The traditionalist is the institutional persecutor of change and will subvert the missional cause. Intransigent and closed to the spirit, they lazily rely on the past successes of those who have paved the way before them. Tradition, on the other hand, involves being sensitive to the fact that we have a long history and we don’t operate in a vacuum.

Paradosis, the Greek word for tradition, means “to hand down.” The creativity of “fiddling around” is possible when it is done within the ongoing self-consciousness of being part of the ancient people of God. What we do now has a past as much as it has a future. It is this sense of identity handed down through time that gives us the imagery and the security to think the new. Undoubtedly the best way to preserve tradition is to have children, not wear your father’s old hat (attributed to Picasso).

Becoming the church that Jesus built will require courage, because it means letting go of what we have become . . . of abandoning the security of institutional church to become a movement. Click To Tweet

Be Willing to Fail Forward

Trial and error is one of the most basic ways of learning. So much so that Albert Einstein, arguably the greatest scientist ever, once said, Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new. Besides the practical knowledge that defeat offers, there are important personality benefits gained in the process. Defeat strips away false values and makes you realize what you really want. It means that when something fails, we have to let go of ideas we have become attached to or that have somehow attached themselves to us. One of the greatest qualities in adventurous learners is that they have learned to fail forward.

In his book Failing Forward, John Maxwell writes that there are seven key abilities that allow successful people to fail forward instead of taking each setback personally. According to him, “successful” people: Reject rejection: Successful people don’t blame themselves when they fail. They take responsibility for each setback, but they don’t take the failure personally. View failure as temporary: “People who personalize failure see a problem as a hole they’re permanently stuck in,” writes Maxwell. “But achievers see any predicament as temporary.” View each failure as an isolated incident: Successful people don’t define themselves by individual failures. They recognize that each setback is a small part of the whole. Have realistic expectations: Too many people start big projects with the unrealistic expectation that they’ll see immediate results. Success takes time. When you pursue anything worthwhile, there are going to be bumps along the way. And remember: the perfect is the enemy of the good. Focus on strengths: If you operate from your weaknesses you are going to fail time and again. To be sure, you must not allow weaknesses to undermine you, but work from the basis of your strengths. Vary approaches: Adventurers are willing to vary their approaches to problems. If one approach doesn’t work for you, if it brings repeated failure, then try something else. To fail forward, you must do what works for you, not necessarily what works for other people. Bounce back: Finally, successful people are resilient. They don’t let one error keep them down. They learn from their mistakes and move on. To paraphrase Edward de Bono, it is better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong, than to be always right by having no ideas at all.

Reject rejection: Successful people don’t blame themselves when they fail. They take responsibility for each setback, but they don’t take the failure personally. Click To Tweet

You can find the first article in the series, “Burn The Boats: Why 5Q Is Worth The Risk,” here.
You can find the second article in the series, “Starting The Adventure With Expeditionary Learning,” here.

*Excerpts have been quoted from, “The Faith Of Leap: Embracing a Theology of Risk, Adventure & Courage (Shapevine)” by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost.

Alan Hirsch
Alan Hirsch founder of Forge Mission Training Network, 100 Movements, and now 5Qcollective. He is author of numerous award-winning books on movements, organization, and leadership, and teaches extensively across North America, Europe, and Australia.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.