Here’s a quiz for you: What does this list of companies have in common? Xerox. Nucor. IBM.TexasInstruments. Pitney Bowes. Nordstrom. Disney. Boeing. HP. Merck.
Every one took at least one tremendous fall at some point in its history and recovered.
In every case, leaders emerged who broke the trajectory of decline and simply refused to give up on the idea of not only survival, but of ultimate triumph despite the most extreme odds.
Churches – and denominations – can go through the same cycle. During a conversation with a pastor today, he asked me what I thought about his church, and by extension, his denomination – in terms of success and failure. The lively discussion that followed reminded me of Jim Collins’ book “How the Mighty Fall, ” in which he examines the five stages of decline and comes to a surprising conclusion:
Circumstances alone do not determine outcomes. We are not imprisoned by our circumstances, our setbacks, our history, our mistakes, or even staggering defeats along the way. We are freed by our choices.
The signature of the truly great versus the merely successful is not the absence of difficulty, but the ability to come back from setbacks, even cataclysmic catastrophes, stronger than before. Great nations can decline and recover. Great companies can fall and recover. Great social institutions can fall and recover. And great individuals can fall and recover. As long as you never get entirely knocked out of the game, there remains always hope.
A major source of Collins’ inspirations has been Winston Churchill, a lesson in life of how the mighty fall – and come back stronger than ever. One of his most famous and inspiring speeches occurred in the darkest days of World War II. Collins adapted and expanded it for his closing remarks in “How the Mighty Fall.” With apologies to both Churchill and Collins, here is my modification of that same speech for the church.
Never give in. Be willing to change tactics, but never give up your vision. Be willing to end failed ministry ideas, even to stop doing things you’ve done for a long time, but never give up on the idea of building a great church to reach people for God. Be willing to change the way you do ministry, even to the point of being almost unrecognizable with what you do today, but never give up on the principles that define your church’s vision. Be willing to embrace the inevitability of creative destruction, but never give up on the discipline to create your own future. Be willing to embrace loss, to endure pain, to temporarily lose freedoms, but never give up faith in the ability to prevail for the cause of Christ. Be willing to work together with other churches, to accept necessary compromise in the areas of non-essentials, but never-ever-give up your core vision and values.
Failure is not so much a physical state as a state of mind; success is falling down, and getting up one more time, without end.