I think the opening lyric from Buffalo Springfield’s popular protest song – “there’s something happening here, [but] what it is ain’t exactly clear” – sums up how many of us feel about the paradigm shift we find ourselves in. What is clear to anyone paying attention, is that epic change is sweeping across our planet: from the social and political revolutions in the middle East and northern Africa; to the significant role the internet and social networking now play in every aspect of life on every continent; to the shocking vulnerability of one of the worlds most economically and technologically advanced nations to catastrophic natural and nuclear disasters; to China preparing to surpass the USA as the world’s largest economy in a few years; to many scientists predicting an impending environmental apocalypse if we don’t change our ways; to the rapidly declining Christian church in virtually every Western country built upon Christendom.
Everything is in shift. Including Christianity.
So how are churches responding to this faith transition? One of four ways.
1. Denial (What paradigm shift? Postmodernity is a fad!)
2. Defiance (The remnant shall fight this rebellion against God to the death!)
3. Despair (Will all our children & grandchildren abandon our church, denomination, and faith for good?)
4. Deconstruction and Innovation (Lets look at this with fresh eyes and try something different.)
The fourth response holds the key to the future. It is the faith of present day Iconoclasts and Innovators that will move forward into the new paradigm and inspire future generations to heed the timeless call of Christ to be people of peace and love, attuned to God’s Spirit.
However, innovation is certainly not what church culture is best known for these days. Many would go so far as to label church culture a bastion of tradition and protector of the status quo.
Everett Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovation Theory states that:
2.5% of people are innovators (creators of big new ideas).
13.5% are early adopters (support innovation and risk trying ‘crazy’ ideas).
34% represent the early majority (open to new ideas that have demonstrated promise).
34% represent the late majority (open to new ideas that have a proven track record) and
16% are laggards (reluctantly go along with the majority or dig in their heels and resist).
This would mean the vast majority of church members, roughly 84%, are wary of innovation and new ideas. This has several implications.
First, we tend to be laggards instead of pioneers, change-makers and cultural influencers (i.e. adopting egalitarian policies years after the women’s rights movement; accepting other forms of music as valid expressions of worship many years after those forms of music became normative for the culture that is our missional context and accepted in other denominations).
Second, we tend to discourage, silence or shut down the most creative people in our midst, the very innovators who could help us move forward with vitality into the new paradigm.
Third, our current decline is directly related to our fear of change and aversion to unbridled creativity. The sustainability crisis the Church is facing will not be solved by status quo mentalities – it will only be exacerbated. As Albert Einstein allegedly said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” He’s also credited with another saying that seems appropriate for some of our ecclesiological tendencies, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.” I hear many traditionalists talking about our need to “get back to the basics, resurrect old programs, conduct more Bible studies and hold more prayer meetings” as if this will make the church a thriving movement that is impacting and transforming society once again. While some of these are certainly things we can’t abandon as followers of the way of Jesus, they are not the solution either. Attempting to breathe life into our dying congregational bodies by doing the same things we have been doing for decades (or even centuries)…well that’s doing the same things over and over again expecting a different outcome this time!
For such a time and place as we find ourselves – the way of Jesus needs certain kinds of leaders and certain kinds of communities. These leaders and communities will need to be:
- In Tune with God’s Spirit
- Iconoclasts (open to new ways of seeing God and open to surprising plot shifts in God’s unfolding story)
- Innovators (creative, risk taking, imaginative, ground-breaking, experimental pioneers)
The good news here is that God continues to gift the world and churches with innovators – but it is up to faith communities to empower them and experiment with their ‘far out’ ideas.
This means, first, we’ll have to risk ‘failure’ because many (most) of their ideas will not work. (Remember Edison created 1000 commercial light bulbs that didn’t work before coming up with the one that did.) It is important for us to remember there are no such things as failures, only outcomes, only results to interpret and learn from.
Second, to create faith community environments where innovation is celebrated and encouraged we must elevate the status of creativity in our theology and practice. Patterning our lives after our Creator includes pursuing creativity. To be godly is to be creative.
The majority of conventional Christians may caution us to “be careful about being creative for the sake of being creative” but I think that makes about as much sense as being careful not to be moral for the sake of being moral. I am not sure why creativity has become secondary to other divine character traits we strive to emulate. We should value creativity equally alongside holiness, mercy, and honesty and make it just as much a mark of authentic Christian spirituality. When I look around at this incredibly diverse and strange universe full of platypuses, aye-ayes, Venus flytraps and the like – it certainly seems like God gets carried away with being creative! I certainly can’t think of a moral or practical reason for the creation of blobfish or the proboscis monkey.
It’s time to unleash our innovators and get carried away with the Creative Spirit.
Questions For Followers of the Way:
Are we intentionally working at encouraging and creating space for innovators in our communities?
Are we inadvertently encouraging our most entrepreneurial and imaginative young adults to pursue leadership in other fields rather than ministry because there is not enough room for innovators to experiment and flourish in church settings?
Are you snuffing out your own creativity and innovative tendencies to conform to the status quo expectations of your own faith community or your conventional belief system?