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The Definition of Insanity

We all know the definition of insanity — doing something over and over hoping for a different outcome. As a leader you’ve probably talked and read about this before. I have been the subject of someone else’s conversation about it. I know I have.

As a leader, we want to see improvements. We want things to be better when we leave them than when we started. We want to plan. We want consistency, but we live in a world that is ever changing – changes in our culture, changes in social norms, behavioral trends, technology, and communication. These are changing around us literally all the time. It used to be that there was a radical breakthrough in technology every several years. Now those types of breakthroughs happen sometimes days apart. We see all these changes and improvements everywhere and the desire is strong for us to see those our own organization. 

There is a lot of things that happen on the outside we don’t see. It could be easy to assume that another ministry’s rapid growth happened because of a singular activity or event or initiative. But the reality is that may have taken multiple rounds of trial and error in order to get a result that they actually wanted and was visible to everyone else. Nothing great or transformative ever came about without some form of risk or change. We know this because we observe it. Yet when we have to deal with the reality of making a big change for ourselves or for the organization, the paralysis sets in. We begin questioning everything. Why do we need to change that? We’ve never done it that way before. What if this? … what if that?

Different Tactics, Different Results

If covid has taught us anything about ministry success, it’s that organizations must learn to adapt to the things around them in order to remain relevant in conversations. I was in a meeting recently to discuss the findings we had come to in a study about the organization. All of the information that was being presented was based on qualitative and quantitative data, and our recommendations were based upon the objective perspective we were able to glean through this project. There was an individual in the meeting that kept trying to prove that the work he was doing was still viable and relevant while the data clearly said that people were disengaging. This individual kept trying to reinforce that we had never needed to do in a different way before so why would we need to do it now.

Sometimes in ministry I wonder if that we make the assumption that growth and change should be fun and should not require sacrifice, innovation, etc.

This brings me back to my initial statement — the definition of insanity. If we really want a different result but are unwilling to make the changes necessary to get there, how does that new result ever come to be? While I appreciate the sentiment of holding onto traditions and even the legacy of what’s been built that once made an organization strong, external pressures and requirements based upon what’s happening in our culture mean success happens when we let go of something in the past.

Here are some things to consider if you feel like you’re hitting the ceiling or are potentially being held back by the past:


Memories and nostalgia are good things that remind you to be grateful for the past, but the future is not about those things. It’s about hope. When we hope for something, it’s okay to desire an outcome of something that’s happens before. But our hope for the future is not defined or should not be defined by memory. It’s like when the temple was built a second time, but all the older people kept moping about how much better the first temple was. Our memories are rarely what we think they were. Memories are rarely based on facts. They’re based on feelings, and planning out the future of something upon the feelings from the past can be dangerous. Because it’s almost impossible to recapture the same feeling.


Doing something new is a way to reignite the passion for the organization when people are discouraged from the past. You have to be careful at this because it’s possible to use innovation as a Band-Aid for other problems.


Innovation and strategy need to be done both in and out of unpacking. Watching someone or an organization go through a big change can often look like everything start to finish was a singular person. The reality is, there were different stages that required different people in order for something like that be successful. Sometimes, ideas come in the quiet moments. Other times they come when you’re with other people. Sometimes, they happen when you least expect them. For me, ideas come when I’m playing an instrument or fishing on a stream and not in a whiteboard session with the team all around. There are other times where that’s exactly what happens — a moment of clarity in the midst of bigger conversations with people. Strategies are the same way We generally have a rule that strategy shouldn’t happen in a vacuum. Find ways to have these conversations both with your team and with yourself.

Innovation requires failure. There is no way around it. We can’t create something entirely new and successful without some trial and error.

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