"The land of excellence is safely guarded from unworthy intruders. At the gates stand two fearsome sentries: risk and learning. The keys to
entrance are faith and courage." -- Robert E. Quinn
Our Passion for Innovation
The average North American church is not an inspiring place. Thank God for exceptions, but everyone knows that, overall, the church needs an intervention. God’s miracles, an atmosphere of acceptance and joy, and community impact are yesterday’s memory in all too many communities of faith. It is urgent that we turn this around. We are committed to identifying non-conformists who believe they are called to create the kind of church that Jesus had in mind.
When you hear the phrase “the kind of church that Jesus had in mind”, what do you think of? What do you imagine Jesus had in mind when He turned the mission over to humans not that different from us? When dreaming turns to pictures and words, how do you describe it?
I have my answer, but I can’t answer it for you. The vision in your mind, your specific call from God, is unique to you. It is fresh. Ideal. Compelling. Worthy of risk, faith, and courage. Maybe you’ve seen bursts of it here and there in churches you have attended, or maybe it’s still a dream. But as you think of leading innovation, start by asking yourself: What does the church Jesus had in mind feel like? Look like? Sound like?
Once you’ve written out a draft, answer a different question with raw honesty: How strong is the call to help create that church? The word passion means to suffer. (The passion week is the week of Jesus’ suffering.) If you’re not willing to suffer for the vision, you might have a preference but not a passion. When your board, your conference, or the saints tell you no, what happens to the call? Does it wilt under a veil of “I wish I could” or does it burn more brightly than ever? Is your call an “all things for the sake of the gospel” call? If so, you stand at the precipice of unprecedented adventure.
Now before you get too excited about working with us, here are two prerequisites:
First, freedom. You will only create the church that Jesus had in mind when you are free. We call it Goldilocks Freedom. The porridge is not too hot, not too cold, just right. The bed is not too hard, not too soft, just right. Too much freedom allows chaos; not enough freedom stifles the Spirit of God and assures more of what already exists. If you are as free as the apostle Paul who was constrained only by the love of Christ, you can thank God and begin the journey.
A bit of advice to those who serve in a parental denomination that has the last word on your governance, your staffing, and your finances. Your options are limited, but here is one to consider: You might be able to negotiate a five-year pilot project with your superiors. Insist that they grant you authority along with responsibility. I need to repeat that: Insist that they explicitly grant you authority along with responsibility. Without the balance and convergence of those two concepts, innovation withers every time. And get the details in writing!
Second, theology. We are proudly biased toward working with churches that are sold out to grace. If your view of salvation is partial-grace, partial-works, we wish you well but we’re not your type. If your view of Scripture is partial-Bible, partial-some more recent prophet, we believe that God will try to use you anyway, but we would be unequally yoked. We’re not a fit.
The Big Three
We are serious about innovation. It has to happen so that more people experience what Jesus had in mind. As stated above, we don’t insist that you adopt our definition of that. It’s not realistic, and a diversity of models is healthy for the kingdom. But for the sake of organizing the platform, we have done so around the core purposes of the church. Jesus and the apostles didn't tell us to vote about what the church was to do; they were specific. Rick Warren identifies five purposes (worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, evangelism). We have simplified them to what we call the Big Three. How you apply them is up to you.
1. Public worship services on the weekend - Often called “church”. When people say I’m going to church, this is what they refer to. People assemble, worship, and learn. Almost every church has this component in place. Unfortunately, this is the only component that too many churches have in place in any organized way. (See Hebrews 10:25.)
2. Engaging not-yet believers (NYBs) - Some churches are attractional. They are not satisfied with simply gathering the already-convinced on the weekend. They have a systematic strategy for entering the lives of people who are not in a committed relationship with Jesus. They first create a DNA of passionate caring about the people who would rather take a long walk off a short pier than to walk into church. Individuals have a prayer list and try to prioritize their lives to intersect with people, then the church community at large has a clear, deliberate strategy - with accompanying resources - to engage the people that Jesus called lost. This has to be in addition to having a church sign and maybe a website along with the semi-seldom occurrence of a member inviting a friend or someone from their family. (See Matthew 28:19-20 and Luke 19:10.)
3. Making disciples - The gospel commission challenges us to help Christians go deep with others and with God, to become the hands and feet of Jesus. Believers need a relationship and a responsibility. It is possible for individual Christians to grow spiritually on their own, but growth is much more likely and has amplified impact when the journey toward full discipleship happens with others. The church community at large needs a clear, deliberate process to help believers serve and live unselfishly in obedience to Matthew 25 and Matthew 16:24. This is what some churches call discipleship or being missional.
Steve Leddy recently posted this on Facebook, “If your church counts money, baptisms, and attendance, but doesn't count disciples it needs a new scoreboard. Do you know the exact number of disciples in your church? (If you say everyone you're not even close). Does your church tell members in detail what a disciple is and does? (More than the simple 'Christ follower'). Does your church regularly review with members their path towards discipleship and next steps they should consider? If not, welcome to the sisterhood of dying, impotent Western Churches.”
We know that some churches are hitting a home run in the area of public worship. Others are effective at engaging with not-yet believers. And some are excellent at making disciples. A few churches do all three exceptionally well. It should be obvious that there is not just one way to do any of the Big Three. The exact methods vary from church to church based on innovations that they have implemented and refined. Even if a church is not fully balanced with all three, if they are doing something well, that something fits into one of the three silos and we can learn from it.
Back to Basics
As often as it takes, the best leaders go back to basics. After a rare loss on the field, Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi gathered his players together, held up a football, and said, “Men, we’re going back to basics. This is a football.” Lombardi knew that until your team has mastered the basics, you can’t win games.
When the basics are in place, when the team is executing like a well-oiled machine, they reach down into the bag of tricks and try to pull off something unexpected. Something risky and flashy that - if executed flawlessly and at a time when the defense isn’t ready - will result in major yards gained or even a touchdown. But trick plays are useless until the basics are in place.
In the local church, the basics are the Big Three. If any of those are weak, innovation means holding up a football and saying, “OK Team, we’re going back to basics. Let’s unleash all the creativity we can find so that we master these. We don’t care if the methods are new or old; we just want them to work. Once the basics are happening with a growing level of success, we will feel free to dream and scheme for a trick play, for something that might result in a touchdown.”
The Innovation Platform
Here is what we want to accomplish with an innovation platform:
The starting point will be each leader’s unique description of what Jesus had in mind.
We will focus our innovation on creating churches that live out the core purposes of the church.
We will challenge church leaders to strive for balance in the three areas.
We will scour the continent for examples of churches that are doing public services well, engaging with NYBs well, and making disciples well.
We will experiment ourselves.
We will collect and organize everything that is successful and will continually update and share the information with others.
We will someday sponsor conferences that focus on what God is doing through innovators to build a balanced, innovative, Big Three church.
Our emphasis will be on “Help us build this model together” vs. “We have all the answers”.
We plan to pilot this with 15 innovators. If you want to be one of the 15, here is what we ask:
Commit to reading six books a year on change and innovation. Our first book is “Deep Change”.
Connect nine times a year via video conferencing for an hour and discuss what we are reading. Occasionally, we will start with a 15-20 minute presentation from a ministry leader followed by discussion of the topic and the book we are reading.
Attend a conference once a year that the action cohort agrees to where we can huddle up and learn together and from each other.
Contribute to a growing wiki-database of what is working all across the fruited plain.
Note to Some: If you are in a parental denomination and intend to stay there, we suggest that you sign up for special coaching from Jim Brauer or Rick Rawson.