After 12 years of leading the EDGE Network, Rob Dalgleish shares reflections on innovation, failing boldly, and living in faith.
Tomorrow, I retire from active ministry. Thirty-three years working as an ordained minister (a second career), and these last 12 years as the founding director of EDGE Network for Ministry Development. Innovation, perhaps especially in the church, is not easy work. I joke that I have often prayed to get out alive. It is looking good at this point!
For me, the exploration is the fun part, but finding new ground brings with it the need to share the discoveries and their implications with others. That’s where things can get tricky. Much is changing and passing away, creating fear and anxiety which can be expressed in ways that are difficult for the innovators — as well as everyone else! You may begin to feel unseen, unwanted, unrealistic, irresponsible, untrustworthy, or simply crazy. My favourite saying to innovators experimenting with new things in the church is, “You’re not crazy.” I have seen those three words bring tears to the eyes of many a hardened change-maker.
From the end of the path, the journey looks different. The struggles shrink and the sense of joy and gratitude rises. The incredible hopefulness of the discoveries becomes clear, and the anxiety and challenge of internal structural change becomes a sense of inevitable transition, resting in the faithful arms of God. The doubt gives way to the confidence of faith.
That is not to say every innovation shows “the” new way. More often it shows how not to do it! It is the process of innovation itself that is the path towards vital, sustainable, world-changing ministry. In fact, repeated failure has become one of the hallmarks for me of successful innovation. We cannot become good at something new without the willingness to be awful at it, to fail repeatedly, and yet continue to practice! A friend of mine tells me he went to high school with Neil Young. Says he was terrible. His vision for the music was far beyond his capacity to convey it. “Sin boldly!” says Luther, another reformer. Trust God and act in faith. And keep doing it!
As I experienced wonderful words of appreciation from so many at my retirement party I was overwhelmed with a sense of hope, and real pride. Not for myself. The appreciation was really for the EDGE team and all of you innovators. Because of you, this is an incredible time of opportunity and growth for this United Church that I love. Everyone who gathered was, for me, a representative of hundreds, even thousands of leaders that EDGE has worked with, signs of what God is up to in the church and world right now.
That’s why I am writing this article, to say to you, keep going! Don’t give up before the miracle happens. Things like church as faith-based social enterprise, or church as faith-based community-hub (the new Abbey), worship as something done at a social innovation challenge, or faith-informed health care, are showing a path to actually address the existential crises that we face together. All of us together. Yes, “The Lord our God is one.”
So, parting words to those responding to God’s invitation to the new church being called forth. I know you know this, but just as a reminder:
- Be greedy about the joy of exploration. Grab it and hold it close to your heart. It won’t run out and you’ll probably need it.
- When you fail, feel a pat on your back. Especially when it makes you think of what the next experiment will be.
- When people don’t understand what you’re doing (or what it has to do with church), find an early adopter to translate. Innovators need translators to be understood by most people.
- When you feel the anger, anxiety, mistrust, or judgement of others who don’t understand what you are trying to do, know that your innovation is powerful. So, find compassion, pray for those impacted, acknowledge the struggle, but don’t give up on what you are seeing.
- When you don’t have the resources to do what is needed, find the partner that does. Learn to excel at collaboration! We are not alone.
- Get together with other innovators as often as you can and build them up. Share your struggles prayers and especially your discoveries, they are sacred. EDGE will help.
- Look for unexpected co-conspirators. The more different or unexpected the better. We have imagined divisions — business vs. church, progressive vs. evangelical, Sacred vs. secular (is anything mundane to God?), these are all blasphemes. God is one.
- Act your way into new thinking. It can’t be done the other way around.
- Take these courses in the next year: EDGE’s Innovation and Leading Adaptively cohorts. Then get as many others to take them in your community as you can.
- If you want to start a change reaction, host a community leaders round table or social innovation challenge. Need help? Talk to EDGE.
- Pray and pray and pray and meditate and worship and pray with others who share your path.
- Trust and keep going. The world needs you. The church needs you. The people your ministries touch need you. YOU need you! Trust, get what you need and keep going. It is so worth it in the end.
Blessings and thank you,
Rob Dalgleish was executive director of EDGE Network for Ministry Development for 12 years and a minister with The United Church of Canada for 33 years. He retired in August, 2022. Thank you, Rob, for your ministry and your service! Enjoy the next steps in your journey.
This article was originally published in the Embracing the Spirit newsletter.
[Image credit: Courtesy of EDGE/Rob Dalgleish]
The views contained within these blogs are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of The United Church of Canada.