Twelve years ago, I conducted an experiment to find out if I was called to a life of ordained ministry in the church. The context of the experiment was the first Montreal Ministry Internship (or Challenge as it was called then), an intensive summer discernment program for young adults that was run by the Montreal Diocesan Theological College. The program offered mentorship, hands-on experiences, theological reflection, peer support, prayer and lessons from people engaged in a wide variety of ministries. The experience of trying it out opened my imagination and created space for me to hear the Spirit calling me into my future.
This year, I am on the planning team for the 2015 Montreal Mission Internship. Like the Ministry Internship, it is an intensive summer discernment program for young adults, but this year’s interns will be experimenting with more than the idea of ordained ministry. This year’s interns will be experimenting with the idea of mission, developing projects that will offer them the opportunity to explore what it means to work deliberately and intentionally in partnership with God for the good of God’s world. We don’t know what the interns will do. We don’t know what the interns will learn. We don’t know if their projects will “work.” But we know the experiments will stretch their imaginations and ours.
The church needs experiments, now more than ever. The world around the church has changed. The world inside the church has changed, too. Old models of membership, of worship, of education, of service are all challenged by the ways we now organize our time, our communication, our families and our identities. There is no longer (if there ever was) a one-size-fits-all version of church. We all need to be experimenting, trying things out and seeing what happens, and then imagining what might come next.
This is hard for many of us. Trying something new is always risky. We want assurances that it will “work,” whatever that may mean. We want to run trial versions and needs assessments and make contingency plans. And sometimes that is appropriate-I am not advocating reckless church leadership. But all too often we let fear get the upper hand. We don’t want to fail. We don’t want to invest energy in something that might not last. We don’t want to admit we don’t know what will work. But those are not reasons to not try.
We can’t simply think our way into the future of the church; we have to try it out and see what happens. Experiments, whether they succeed or whether they flop, offer us the opportunity to expand our understanding of ministry, of church and of mission. They stretch our imaginations, creating space for us to hear the voice of the Spirit and see new possibilities for ourselves, our churches and our world.
As Richard Buckminster Fuller said: “There is no such thing as a failed experiment. There are only experiments with unexpected outcomes.” Let us offer our experiments, unexpected outcomes and all, to God, and see what God has in store for our future.
The Rev. Rhonda Waters is associate priest of Christ Church Cathedral, diocese of Montreal.