Innovation – Or Can We Do Better?

by | Dec 30, 2010 | Church Leadership, Communication / Preaching

As we launch into the new year new ideas are naturally on the horizon.

It is also time to consider putting to bed some old ideas – er uh, make that, terms that are less than helpful to us.

I move that we take a break from using the term ‘Innovation’ for a while.

When we use words that cause others to stop, listen and ask,

“Uh, what do you mean by that?”

…often we are making progress in our communications.

‘Seminal’ is a great word that is similar to the “I” word, but it gives room for God to get the glory – as well it removes the focus upon the human element.

“That which is done or expressed that has never been put to words before…”

As we enter into the new year I move this:

Let’s make this the year of asking God for, and anticipating, “Seminal” thoughts!

To achieve effectiveness in our various leadership capacities we need God’s Spirit to deposit his original applications of everlasting truth in the mainline culture we are reaching – that culture that is evolving continually.  Never in Church history has a generation of leaders more needed to be aware of the seminal heart of God than now!

There is a great increase in the chatter with people who are expressing the same sentiment these days about the word ‘innovation.’  Outreach Marketing, Inc……., the highly lucrative advertising business based in the San Diego area, has unilaterally stirred this term with their frequent uses of it their publications in recent years.

Ubercreative C.E.O. Scott Evans and his writing staff have promoted the “I” word over and over, even listing the “Most Innovative Churches in the U.S.”

(Could someone explain to me what distinguishes the 27th Most Innovative Church from, say the 24th Most Creative Church in the U.S.?  I get confused easily these days…)

I am certain Outreach Marketing, Inc. has had all great intentions in their heart of hearts with their most recent promotion drive.  Yet, backlashes are popping up on the radar screen with increasing frequency.  This reactions are not occurring simply among  extremist watchdogs on the blogging scene.  In just the past week, a number of ‘Reader’s Digest’-ish types have asked me about this matter.

A couple of thoughts to ponder:

1.  Perhaps the word ‘Innovation’ is not what most of us aspire to in fact.
“Innovative” means “To take what is and improve upon it.”  But in fact, is that all we aspire to do in our lives as we walk in this life, in the Spirit, in sync with God’s word?  Not me.

Innovation is a great word for people who are operating on their own strength with the assumption that God is not going to show up.

In the landmark business book The Japan That Can Say No, author Shintaro Ishihara  points out that the key to the Japanese business success is this word – ‘innovation.’  The classic Japanese success model, according to this Ishihara, is to take an original idea created elsewhere (Ford Motor Company), and simply improve upon it (Toyota Motor Company).

Innovation is wonderful when it comes to improving upon a car, but we are ultimately dealing with that which is everlasting – people.  I’ve read somewhere in the scriptures that God is madly in love with people.  He is highly interested in providing the wherewithal needed at every level for us to be effective in seeing his kingdom move strongly forward.

2.  As we walk in the Spirit, we can do far better than mere innovation.
When Moses was overwhelmed with his oversight job of the judicial issues at hand, his father-in-law, Jethro, invited him into a simple but seminal concept of delegating this oversight to men who were capable of doing the easy tasks.  This thus allowing Moses to do what only Moses could do.  Jethro’s idea perhaps added years to Moses life – and certainly added sanity to his personal life!

The key idea here – he was given a seminal idea.  This was in no way an improvement upon an existing practice or idea.

A similar New Testament Church seminal concept was apparently revealed to the leaders of the Jerusalem church.  Set up ‘deacons’ to oversee the work they were made to do – the work they were passionate about.  This freed the various Apostles to do what each of them were called by God to accomplish.  Again, a seminal idea, not an innovation.

3.  Talk of innovation can easily become a derision to God.
When we over-talk about the power of innovation we are, wordsmithing aside, we begin to tread upon thin ice with God.  We come very close to insulting God when we overly trust in our creativity.  God is interested in receiving glory and credit for what is accomplished in his church as momentum occurs.  His nature is to draw attention to himself.  That is worship.

Over-dependence upon pseudo-creativity versus the God-inspired seminal factor looks like this:
When the focus begins to shift onto the style versus the content with our message, we have likely crossed the line of appropriateness.

If we are doing a series built loosely around the TV series “Heroes” (as thousands of churches have done in the past eighteen months) we need to ask:
“What is the ‘eye roll factor’ present here?”  That is, how many are going to groan when they see the elements of the TV show we are inserting each week in this series?

At the end of the day ask, “How many had to choke down the corniness of what we tried to convey, even though we convinced ourselves that this was a ‘culture current’ metaphor… when the most culture-current people present were so embarrassed they stopped bringing their friends during this series?  (This is a real example I am aware of that happened in several churches across the U.S. with series based upon that show…)

4.  We cannot violate who we really are.
People can see who we are.  We cannot hide our stripes.  Oddly, the longest term ones present are the only people who have convinced themselves that something ‘innovative’ is going on.  As old-timers, we can try so hard to reinvent ourselves, we nearly hypnotize ourselves into believing we no longer need deodorant… that we are now unique… we don’t stink like everyone else!  Yet, the truth is the truth.  Look in the mirror right now and say, “You need Right Guard!  That’s the truth.”

If we do violate who we are, we simply look utterly foolish and like robots marching forward.

If you haven’t seen Steve Martin’s The Jerk lately, rent it, better yet, buy it and force yourself to watch it somewhat regularly.  This classic comedy is a metaphor of innovation that is false.  “I was born a poor black child…”

When you are the only “black child” who cannot clap in syncopation, something is up!  The truth is you are actually Norwegian!  The straight blonde hair was the first sign of the truth.  The clapping impairment was another sign.

The God of heaven and Earth, the God who created all we see, dwells in each of us as the simple followers of Jesus.

As I ponder this profound truth, my anticipation for seeing seminal ideas appear in my life rises greatly.
“God, we must hear from you or we are sunk!” Now let’s walk in expectancy.

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