Where good ideas go to die

“Daddy, what happens to good ideas when they die? Do they go to heaven?”

“No, honey. They go to church.”

We’ve all got them…really good ideas that never become good actions. I’m not talking about those ideas that are really just notions, the thoughts that are always buzzing around in our brains that never really take shape. I’m talking about real ideas: thoughts that have been processed into visions with imaginable results.

More often than not, we’re responsible for the deaths of our own ideas. Most of the time, the mere reality of circumstances prevents us from acting on them at all. Other times we may begin to actually turn ideas into plans, but we either lose enthusiasm or simply lack the real motivation to turn them into reality.

There are times, though, when genuinely good ideas get killed before their time. And it seems what usually chokes the life out of them is fear.

And the more time I spend working within and observing what happens in our churches, the more I see that many churches have become places where good ideas go to die.

Sometimes organizations develop a personality of their own that is not necessarily reflective of the personalities of the individuals that comprise it. And so genuinely beautiful, loving, caring people can sometimes create an organization that wants to do what is right but fears the consequences. That fear frequently grows out of the very loving hearts that people bring to the organization: the idea of hurting someone else’s feelings breaks such hearts. On one level, you have to admire that. But it’s not only fear of hurting peoples’ feelings. That’s something that authentic conversation can overcome. It’s also a fear of the repercussions of making decisions. A fear of criticism. A fear of being held responsible if things go wrong. A fear of the pain we must either endure, or inflict, or both.

And so what happens often is that the beautiful, caring, loving people trying their best to lead the organization can be very quick to embrace a good idea, because they genuinely want to see things improve. But the fear of facing the consequences makes them very slow to actually act on those good ideas. And ideas that aren’t acted on eventually just die.

I’ve seen it happen in my own church more times than I care to count. We have hired consultants, brought in speakers, formed committees, went to seminars, studied books, conducted visioning exercises–the whole nine yards. Dozens, if not hundreds, of good ideas have been conceptualized and shared. Many of those have even been embraced, for a time. But rarely are they allowed to become anything more than ideas. And so they die.

You see, ideas, in and of themselves, are fairly safe. As long as we’re just talking about them, they really have no power on their own.

Ideas only have power when someone acts on them.

And action is dangerous. Action always has consequences. As leaders, what we have to do is balance those consequences…basically, determine if the good ones outweigh the bad ones. But all too often we have created cultures where any “bad” consequence is one too many, regardless of the sometimes overwhelming potential for “good” consequences.

Giving ideas life through action requires courage.

Consider this quote from Theodore Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

Let us give our ideas the power of action. Let us give them life. Let us strive to do the deed. Let us spend ourselves in the worthy cause. Let us even fail, but fail while dairing greatly.

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