When Things Don't Work Out As You Had Hoped

Tuesday, 30 August, 2016

“Dread of error is death of progress”, words scrawled in crayon on his study wall. He enjoyed being a bit eccentric. But, I still remember the impact they made when I first read them: words that gave permission to take risks when journeying in an honourable direction, words that called for openness to others allowing them to point out my mistakes. Words that demanded honesty so that I, in turn, would admit to getting it wrong or that my dream was nothing but that. Words, which, now I see, resonate with the adventure and experimentation of fresh expressions of church.

However, it is relatively easy before we begin an initiative to be open to the possibility that it might not work out; it is often much more difficult and much more courageous to admit this a few years down the line. How do we feel when this happens: about God, others and ourselves? How do we handle our emotions of disappointment, hurt, anger, relief, guilt, disillusionment? How do we face others who had previously been encouraged by our story and who had expected much from us? These things can go very deep; when they do “dread of error is death of progress” seems glib, one-dimensional and not near my darkness and pain.

So what might help? I risk being superficial and adding to pain in making any suggestion, but think about this:

  • Remember that we are part of a big story and from almost the beginning the sorrow of the garden tainted the joy of creation. The act of spitting in the face of Love brought death to the one who loved. Jesus travelled, spoke, healed, and wept. In another garden he pleaded with the Father for another way. Paul, led by the Spirit, eyeballed dark despair. The weave of grace and reaction does not follow a simple pattern.
  • When we are hurt, disillusioned and feel betrayed we are tempted to back off: we distance ourselves from the one(s) to whom we were once close. At best we want to work it through on our own and then come back to them; at worst we want them out of our sight. But we must do the opposite; when Jerusalem was surrounded by the Assyrian army what did Hezekiah do? He took the letter of threat from Sennacherib, he brought it to the temple, he opened it before God, he told it as it was and he worked it through with God not away from him.
  • We need those who stay alongside when the worst happens: those who will walk a long path and not just turn off at the next fork in the road and leave us alone with our grief.
  • Remember what we have said to others about love, grace and worth. Are we loved because of our success, does it define us or are these things dependent on something much deeper? Are we victims of what is done to us or are we shaped by our response? 
About the author: 

David McCarthy is the Church of Scotland Fresh Expressions Development Worker.

David joined the Fresh Expressions team in February 2014 as Church of Scotland Fresh Expressions Development Worker. David's role is to encourage and support the rollout of fresh expressions of church across the Church of Scotland.


This is truly encouraging. Taking our concerns to the Lord and working out from there is certainly the way to go. We could also continue to encourage others to keep trusting in Christ for relief and deliverance from the apathy that seems to be catching up with a great many in church today. We can find words of encouragement through such platforms as www.wagabi12.wordpress.com

Thanks for your piece David. My feelings one year after the ending of emerge are captured in this video interview https://youtu.be/VHqFLn-yCsU

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