I have been struck, over and over, by the righteous indignation that various people over the past several years have expressed over the fate of the Pathways Large Church Start Up, using such language as “the Pathways fiasco.” Clearly, it did not grow into large size rapidly, as per the initial plan, which had been formulated by many many people. Whatever the flaws in this plan might have been, or in its implementation, I think it is critical that we do not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Many UUA staffers and leading ministers in our movement tried to do a new thing—they experimented with a new way of beginning churches. It is this spirit of innovation that we need to continue supporting and cultivating, even as we work hard to improve things on the implementation and accountability end.
Let’s learn the many lessons of the first Rapid Start Large Church—some positive, some not so positive—and move on. WellSprings (the second large church start-up–see http://www.wellspringsuu.org/app/) surely has; they have benefited tremendously from the lessons of Pathways—and this, of course, was one of the purposes of the Pathways project: through trial and error, to develop a sound, detailed blueprint that could be used by other rapid-start congregations. (Why is it, by the way, that people have demanded perfection out of a project which was, from the start, supposed to have been “trial-and error”?)
We need to thank our innovators and encourage them, rather than tear them down, subject them to ridicule. Unless we do this, we cut off our nose to spite our face. We paralyze ourselves. We become a movement that is too freighted with self-criticism and self-condemnation to be imaginative and playful. And, since imagination and playfulness are the doorway to essential creativity, this is serious business.