In the first post we looked at innovation and how it takes place over time to create interconnected movements. In the second post we looked at two ingredients necessary for innovation: restriction and freedom. Today we will close by drawing some parallels between technological and missional innovation.
Innovation comes from passion
Innovation comes from a strong desire to learn and then solve problems. Those who seek new, faithful ways to reach people with the gospel are driven by a similar desire. A desire to engage the problem of a world in need of Jesus and to use all possible, godly means to bring the good news. They are willing to connect with people far from God in various cultural and societal settings because of their love for God and people. It is their passion and love that compels them as they are convinced that Christ died for sinners and communicating this truth is essential. Apologetics and missional thinking help us to overcome the hurdles that prevent thoughtful engagement with people in culture. Missional innovation must be driven by passion: love for God and love for people.
Missional innovation must be driven by passion: love for God and love for people.
Innovation flows from proper freedom
One of the observations I made in reading about technological innovation is that smart people were given the time, space and funding necessary to do their work. Freedom in research must be funded with exploration and even failure as an aspect of the way forward. In missionary work, space needs to be created in, by and through local churches for similar efforts. Church planting provides the freedom for both faithfulness to gospel truth while engaging in some exploration and experimentation in methodology. Even those who hold to some form of the regulative principle may still maintain space for variation in style within a given culture for gospel life and ministry. Even if you have the conviction that we can only preach, sing psalms, pray and observe the sacraments in a church gathering, how a church goes about such things, language, style, aesthetics, etc. can still be a subject of exploration. Furthermore, there is a wide open field of ministry through church members, smaller communities, missional groups and parachurch work that can flow with innovation even for highly regulative churches.
Innovation comes from people who dared to try and have some talent
The status quo can trap us. As people, we don’t always like change even when change is what we desperately need. There are churches that will demand their own death and extinction rather than change out carpet or switch up musical styles in worship. Church planters are willing to accept the dare of the Holy Spirit to follow Jesus outside of the camp to the lost, beginning new works that might connect the gospel to those far from God and his church. Innovation comes when there are people who take “risks” for the sake of the gospel putting their hearts, souls, mind, strength all in with their God given gifts and talents.
Finally, innovation comes from systems demanding attention and constant improvement
New ideas for the mission must emerge from the necessity of the mission itself.
One of the striking driving forces for technological innovation in the 20th century was the growing complexity of telephone networks. The problems that emerged in expanding and maintaining such a complex network drove innovation because there were so many problems to solve. Necessity, quite literally, was the mother of many inventions. The place where many inventions were made was within the actual telephone system itself. The same might be said of the technology that was invented within the 20th century context of the cold war. There were secret groups of smart, dedicated, well-funded and focused people (see Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed by Ben Rich) meeting serious military problems with life and death implications. Will some Soviet or US military advantage lead to our mutual destruction? Let’s get to work on solving this or that technological hurdle so that no one gets nuked into oblivion. This has striking parallels to our work in church planting. New ideas for the mission must emerge from the necessity of the mission itself. In the middle of the messiness of ministry we must solve problems which arrive from the streams of providence and the shifting of cultures. A world broken with sin and death while facing coming judgment should bring an urgency of action and missional innovation from God’s people.
So let’s innovate!
Gospel innovation is finding new ways and contexts to connect people who don’t know Christ to the gospel word.
Let me conclude with one final thought about “innovation” in and through the church. It is not innovative to simply copy and ape a worldly culture and society. I once heard Nancy Lee DeMoss say that the world is not aching for a “religious version of itself.” What did she mean? I think we must see that the lost world around us does not necessarily need a sermon series called “Soulflix” with a perfectly mimicked Netflix logo all the while preaching messages from this or that movie. As fun as this might be, it stops short of the innovation and creativity we are talking about. What we do need are churches that can passionately communicate the great gospel truths of the book of Ephesians to people that watch four hours of Netflix a night, and to people who don’t. In other words gospel innovation is finding new ways and contexts to connect all kinds of people who do not know Christ to the word of the gospel. That invigorating task will require both creativity and innovation in thought. It will require the bounds of the truth and the freedom to innovate in our styles, modes and communication. It will require us to be faithful and daring. It will require prayer and the dynamic leadership of the Holy Spirit in our day. After all, our goal is not simply to innovate in missionary methods for the sake of doing new stuff to make a church seem “cool”. Our goal is to bring people to Jesus through the preaching of the gospel and that means we must care about the methods we use to connect and communicate in THIS or THAT time and place.