Author: DR. BRIAN THIESSEN
Innovation is defined as the introduction of new things or methods. Some call it “cutting edge”, “state of the art”, or “contemporary”.
Regardless of the terminology, innovation is widely embraced across many domains of society. The world of business is full of entrepreneurs looking for the next “big idea”. The medical field is open to many new ideas that advance the cure of deadly diseases or shorten the healing process. We are all familiar with the rapid advancement and innovative ideas that have arrived on our doorstep through technology. Even in sports innovation is seen as a positive thing. But mention the word to a group of independent Baptists, and some will assume that you are a compromiser of the truth.
Sadly, there are those who lean so hard away from innovation in church ministry that they become inflexible and unable to change in ways that are biblical, God-honoring, and involve no compromise.
For example, if a younger pastor attempts to further the cause of Christ with a community outreach event, such as a neighborhood barbecue hosted by his church, a more seasoned pastor may comment that “we’ve never done it that way before.” Even the subtlest change in the worship service can become a point for criticism by those who are holding the “old line.”
When we refuse to allow for innovation we begin to die. We should not be sending the message to the next generation of church planters and pastors who are biblical, faith-filled, thinking men, that we have already done the thinking for them. These young men are the present, the future, and the hope of our movement! Certainly, we must pass along the convictional truths, and biblical foundations that have made our movement strong. But we must not remove from the hands and hearts of the next generation the opportunity to implement God-given vision. That will make our movement weak.
Now we need to understand that there are checks and balances. In the remainder of this article you will find a brief, but not exhaustive, summary of ways in which innovation is a blessing in church planting ministry, as well as some of the dangers that are inherent when new methods are employed without biblical parameters.
I. Innovation is a Blessing to Church Planting Ministry
Let’s begin with the blessings. When is innovation a blessing?
1. When it is a means of better facilitating the God-given purposes of the church.
Paul expected Timothy to be doctrinally sound, uncompromising in conviction, and godly in character. But he also understood that Timothy would have to be who God made him to be. Therefore, Paul challenged him to “exercise thyself . . . unto godliness” I Tim.4:7; to “Let no man despise thy youth” I Tim. 4:12; and to “stir up the gift of God which is in thee.” II Tim. 1:6
Paul understood that Timothy would be his own man, and he did not steer him away from that individuality. Rather, he encouraged Timothy to focus his unique calling and gifts toward being the best leader he could be. Timothy’s individuality would naturally lead him to some innovation.
The right kind of innovation will always be driven by a desire to facilitate ministry that is more effective, biblical, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Innovation for innovation sake will never be right, but innovation with God’s purposes in mind will be divinely blessed and used of God.
2. When it revitalizes and refreshes a ministry program that is neglected or dying.
Have you ever considered that a particular way of doing ministry is not working in the context of your ministry? Now if you are hitting a home run every time you step up to bat, keep doing it! But that is not reality for most of us.
Over the course of twenty years of pastoral ministry in the greater Toronto area I came to the conclusion several times that the way we were going about ministry was not facilitating the type of growth and involvement among our church family that God desired. So, we needed to ask, “Do we continue with the way things have always been done, or do we make changes?”
In one instance we moved from the standard Saturday morning soulwinning outreach to a program called NETS that would enable us to facilitate every member, anytime evangelism. Instead of Saturday we staged our soulwinning meeting once a month on Sunday evenings, and asked for a minimum monthly commitment in the area of personal evangelism. Instantly, the participation level went from ten to one hundred! Much more was being accomplished in terms of advancing the gospel.
Why do we have trouble admitting that we are failing? Why is it we are too stubborn to change even when there are good biblical ways to do it differently?
The right kind of innovation can breathe life into a ministry that is otherwise on life support.
3. When it helps church members to better understand their responsibility and opportunity for service in the church.
Where things do not change, and there is a lack of innovative ministry, over time things become stale. The tendency is for church members to become disinterested and apathetic towards church ministry. They are not being challenged to attempt something greater for the cause of Christ.
A refreshed and innovative approach to the soulwinning, or discipleship programs serves notice that the church cares about the vitality of those ministries. It is like applying a fresh coat of paint to a room. It can bring things back to life, and reenergize God’s people to serve Him!
Before we conclude let’s consider the other side of this coin as we look at the dangers inherent in the wrong kind of innovation.
II. The Dangers of Innovation in Church Planting Ministry We must be intellectually honest and careful to acknowledge there are some dangers that can creep into innovative ministry. I have listed a few that we should carefully contemplate.
1. The danger of violating Biblical precepts and principles.
We should understand this implicitly, but it still needs restating in the most explicit of terms. There is a danger of getting so caught up in new trends and innovation that we overstep the boundaries of what is pure, and modest and appropriate in a biblical sense.
There must be standards for everything from our dress to our music. Those standards are a representation of our biblical convictions. They are a representation of what we believe about God. While there is room for variance on where we draw the line, there can be no variance on the fact that we must draw a line.
Younger men must be careful to listen and glean what they can from seasoned men in the ministry. They should seek to understand why certain positions were held, and stands were taken.
It is the wrong sort of innovation that leads us away from Biblical standards of separation.
2. The danger of becoming dependent on innovation more than we are dependent upon God.
We can subtly gravitate to the thinking that our success in ministry depends upon our new programs, methods and innovations. And to be perfectly balanced on this issue our success does not depend on the old, so called “tried and true” methods either. God is not in need of our programs old or new to breathe out His power and blessing upon the work.
It is a grave mistake to think that innovation is a replacement for the power of God upon our lives and ministry.
3. The danger of innovating for purely pragmatic reasons.
Pragmatism is the idea of implementing something simply because it works, or gets results.
Perhaps there is pressure to keep up with ministry trends, so we mimic the innovations of others. We take note of the outward or statistical success that other ministries enjoy, and wrongly believe if we copy their program we will enjoy similar results.
If you were Moses, would you expect Joshua to follow your ministry methods of bringing water from the rock, and fashioning brass serpents? Would you understand that God designed your ministries to be unique?
God called Moses to a ministry of deliverance, but appointed Joshua to a ministry of conquest. Both were godly, faith-filled, spirit-led men. Yet it would have been folly for Joshua to seek to duplicate the methods of Moses, and it would have been unwise for Moses to mandate it.
In similar ways today, God calls men and designs them for unique contexts within His work. He expects us to be biblical men filled with faith and conviction. He desires us to follow Him into an innovative and effective ministry rather than to blindly follow the methods of those who walked before us or mimic the ideas of those who walk beside us.
We should not discount the convictional contribution of the past generation, nor should we dismiss the spirit-filled innovation of the present generation.
We can be conventional without becoming clichéd. We can be contemporary without being compromisers.