pursuit of mission FXUS

Failure and the Pursuit of Mission

The squirrel is tenacious.

After weeks of ignoring the empty bird feeder, I finally restocked my supplies and filled the feeder with seeds. Within the hour, I began to notice the squirrel. He was on a mission…to get to that feeder.

I watched him try to get there from one tree branch. It wasn’t going to happen.

He went back to the tree trunk, regrouped, and surveyed his options.

A Relentless Pursuit of Mission

I’m not a fan of squirrels at my bird feeder, but I can’t help but be intrigued by their relentless pursuit of a mission. This squirrel made countless unsuccessful attempts to reach the birdfeeder, yet he kept trying. To the squirrel, the mission mattered that much.

Watching the tenacious squirrel made me wonder:

– Do we have the same kind of focus on mission?
– Are we willing to go out on a limb to experiment with connecting with people beyond our existing church walls?
– If an initial experiment doesn’t connect, are we willing to learn from it and try something else?

Dr. Brene Brown puts it this way, “There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period.”

If you are seeking to do innovative ministry in the mission edges of our culture, the question is not whether you will experience failure along the way, but what you will do when you experience failure.

Facing Failure

I offer up the following suggestions in the face of inevitable roadblocks or failure.

Remember that failure does not define you.

So, nobody came to the event you planned. You missed an opportunity to walk with someone into deeper discipleship. You haven’t been able to coalesce a core team. Our tendency is to translate these things as “I’m a failure.” But take a step back and recognize that just because a strategy isn’t working doesn’t mean you are a failure. Most often, it only means that it is time to regroup and refocus.

It is a great time to evaluate.

– What do I need to see?
– Why did this not connect?
– Does something need to change?
– Was there anything in my control I could do differently to get a different outcome?
– Is there anyone I need to talk with or hear from?
– Where could we go from here?
– How can I listen for God’s direction?

Experiencing setbacks is a normal part of creating a fresh expression of church. When they come, take those opportunities to evaluate things and make some appropriate course corrections. Then, try again.

Brainstorm other possibilities.

When something isn’t working it can feel like defeat. However, brainstorming possibilities has the power to re-energize you for mission. One of my colleagues loves to say, “I wonder what would happen if we… .” Brainstorming possibilities gets the creative juices flowing, which raises energy, which builds courage to try again.

Pray with others.

Ask a group of trusted friends/mentors to gather with you to pray for the mission and to pray for you. This places you a position to listen for God with others and to find encouragement in the fellowship of believers. We need each other. Ask for prayer support to navigate times of difficulty or failure.

Thanking a Squirrel

My backyard squirrel may be eating all my birdseed, but he’s also reminding me about the importance of resilience in the face of failure and the power of a compelling mission.


Shannon Kiser

Shannon serves as Director of Training, leading our team of mission strategists and trainers in the development and implementation of the Mission Shaped Ministry course through Pioneer Learning Communities. She is also a pastor on staff with Riverside Church in Sterling, VA, a Church that worships in two languages and engages in several Fresh Expressions of Church. In the last several years, Shannon has been involved with the Presbyterian Church’s New Worshiping Communities initiative, and has directed the coaching network that supports pioneer leaders. Shannon lives in Springfield, VA with her husband Patrick and teenage daughters Catherine and Suzanne.


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