“Failing Forward,” Measuring Success Through Friendship, and the Poor: How a Small Band of College Grads Became a $2 Million Global Ministry Without Losing Their Soul

heuertzSee the terrific interview by Jason Byasee in Faith & Leadership with tattooed, shorts-wearing CEO Chris Heuertz, international director of Word Made Flesh, whose 100+ “community members” serve in eight countries.


“Word Made Flesh missionaries — or ‘Fleshies,’ as they sometimes call themselves — do not necessarily seek to fix poverty or to convert people. Their first intention is to seek friendship with the poor. And through that they seek, with their friends, to be converted anew to God.”

Heuertz on measuring success:  “We’re not even sure how we would count our successes.  Do friendships count?”

On WMF’s efforts to “fail forward”:  “Missionaries can feel pressure to report successes: baptisms, conversions, buildings built and so on. But WMF’s quarterly journal, The Cry, is often a catalogue of failures: children’s obituaries, women returning to the red-light districts, exhausted Fleshies.”

On “filling organizational language with gospel meaning”:  “WMF members don’t have job descriptions; they make ‘community commitments.’ The organization has no ‘strategic plan,’ but rather a ‘community tactical cycle,’ drawing on the language of guerilla fighters as readily as it draws from CEOs.”  Says Heuertz, “I love organizational theory, but we don’t have to be about hierarchy — we can be about expectations.”

[Note:  Chris and his wife Phileena were Visiting Practitioner Fellows with the Duke Center for Reconciliation in 2007. And they think my kids are really cool.  And vice versa.  Chris will be publishing Friendship at the Margins in the Center’s Resources For Reconciliation Series in 2010 with Christine Pohl at Asbury Seminary, and Phileena is writing a book on a spirituality of pilgrimage.]

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