So here’s how Trey Wince, my pastor, started our church staff meeting today. Anything seem odd, he asked, about these words from Paul, directed to the church at Rome?
Now, with no further place for me in these regions, I desire—as I have for so many years—to come to you when I go to Spain. For I do hope to see you on my journey, and to be sent on by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a little while” (Romans 15:23-24, NRSV)
Just as I was wondering how I missed the Ancient Church Tour on our trip to Barcelona, Trey gave the answer: Paul never went to Spain. In other words, even Paul made plans that didn’t materialize.
It’s safe to say that I pack for Spain about once a week. I plan for Scenario A and actually deliver Scenario X, Y or Z with embarrassing regularity. Like a lot of people in ministry, I’ve had my share of vocational whiplash (God to Kenda: “Become a political speechwriter? Coach high school speech and theatre? I don’t think so….”). A lot of times, we look back on these redirects and their initial losses with gratitude, like an unplanned pregnancy that results in a cherished child.
But there are others who lose more than their deposits when life cancels their travel plans. My friend John, an uber-successful financial advisor, is now serving time for getting mixed up in a Ponzi scheme—not the trip he had planned. My mother-in-law’s long-awaited trip to Spain in retirement had to be scrapped after a series of strokes. My friend Josh never even got packed because he was diagnosed HIV+ at age twenty.
Life is full of redirects. We can chalk up some missed trips to God having a different compass for our lives; we never make sense of others, apart from the suffering that goes with being human.
But that doesn’t mean that the effort it takes to pack for Spain is wasted. In their book Getting to Plan B, John Mullins and Randy Komisar offer plenty of evidence that Plan A—even for the world’s boldest and most successful entrepreneurs—almost never works. It’s Plan B, C, D, E, or F (in the case of Max Levchin’s Paypal, it was Plan G) that finally takes hold.
Church leaders often miss Plan B simply because we think of fizzling on Plan A as failure, instead of as a necessary step on the road to innovation.
Church leaders often miss Plan B simply because we think of fizzling on Plan A as failure, instead of as a necessary step on the road to innovation. Most of us—keenly aware of our limited resources of time, trust, and money–never try again. To put that into perspective, look at this study of first-time retail enterprises (the most common form of a start-up) in Texas between 1990-2011. One in four closed after a year; half closed after two years. 71% of these first-time entrepreneurs didn’t bother to try again. But the 29% who did try again were more likely to succeed the second, third, even the tenth time around: “Their success rate increased with their number of past failures” (see Bloomberg Business article here).
Here’s the catch: you can’t get to Plan B unless you go through Plan A. Plan A is how you prepare for the journey: you learn things you need to learn, you meet people you need to know, you stumble across models you need to implement and improve. These discoveries make Plan B possible. That’s why entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley brag about their failures. That’s why the mantra of innovation is “fail fast and often.” Your first idea is almost never your big idea—but it’s usually the biggest idea you can muster until after you’ve tested it. So try it out, learn from it, pivot and move on as soon as possible. Without Plan A, we would never even think of Plan B. Without packing for Spain, Paul might not have made it to Rome, either.
What about you? Have your travel plans changed?
For thought or discussion:
- Have you packed for Spain—and wound up somewhere else?
- Is your church a Plan A or a Plan B congregation? Is your congregation’s mission the one you originally set out to address—or did you become a different kind of congregation because Plan A didn’t go according to plan?
- Have you or your congregation failed at a Plan A? What did you learn? What’s stopping you from trying again?
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