Lecture 22: Pastoral Leadership and Innovation
I. Watch for Trends
I’m not going to say a lot here about innovation. I think the main point I want to get across, back to an adage we used not too long ago is, “What got you here won’t get you there.” It is really important that we are asking ourselves in a continual way, where our trends, where is culture going? How can we be more innovative, creative, whatever words you want to use here?
There are some things that don’t change. Maybe sometimes because we hold to our traditions and our history, we think somehow that gives us a pass from innovation. It sounds rather corporate and I’m not sure how applicable it is to the church. But the reality is, it is applicable. The church needs to be always thinking out to the edge a little bit. There are things that we do today in churches we didn’t do 50 years ago, 100 years ago, and it’s a good thing we don’t anymore. It is just not applicable to our age.
A few rules I’ve written down here. Stay current. That is, this gets back to, what are you reading? What are you paying attention to? Whether you are reading “Wired” or reading “ The New York Times” or “ The Wall Street Journal” or “ The Atlantic” or just watching where culture is going, reading the culture section of “Time” Magazine. These are all kinds of places we need to make sure our head is not in the sand. We need to be always watchful for important books that are coming out. We need to be looking at ministries that are taking really big steps and really impacting culture and ask the question, “What are they doing right?” amongst maybe some things they are doing wrong; but what can we learn?
It doesn’t mean that we should do everything we can to try to mimic or grab hold and steal great ideas. If we just do that, by the time they become implemented, those churches from whom we have taken the ideas are way much further down the road. We need to step back every now and then and just dream and imagine and be creative and think about, What can God do here? What could we look like with our worship? Are there better ways to connect and communicate to people?
A. Ideas from Stuart Murray
Part of what I try to do in staying current is again, to listen for voices. I will give an example here. There is a British leader by the name of Stuart Murray, who wrote sometime back, “Church after Christendom” also talking about how church is different. He talks in his book about the shift that has taken place in Western culture from Christendom to post Christendom. He is thinking about trends. He is looking at how cultures change and raising this question: “How much does the existing church recalibrate, re-invents itself.? What are Christendom toxins that need to be purged from the church? What is the suitable ecclesiology for a post denominational, post commitment, post Christendom era?” We have to ask these questions. Here were some of his answers.
1. People in your congregation in different places of believing and belonging
He said that first of all, the church will need to create a strategy that challenges people to be believing and belonging. What he did, I think in a very skillful way, is he said, “Let’s go back to the very early church in its infancy, its first couple of hundred years.” There wasn’t a question of believing or belonging. You had to belong if you were to survive. It wasn’t a question of whether you were going to be in a community. It wasn’t a question about believing. You took core beliefs and it was essential to the community, it was essential for your spiritual life. Then Christendom came along and suddenly the church was no longer persecuted, but it was a legal entity and believing and belonging shifted to a requirement. It was mandated by the civil authorities. In order to be part of the empire, you have to belong and this is what you have to believe.
Then things shifted. Now, let’s talk about the age we live in. We are post Christendom. What he pointed out in the book is that “believe and belong” are now optional. It breaks down into some categories that look like these, and you will find this in your church. There are some who do believe and belong. It is not so much about survival or mandate, it is about simply, “I want to be faithful to God and to the church.” There are those and you see them in the church. They believe, they embrace the Scripture, they listen to the sermons, they seek the Word of God. They belong, they have signed on, they are members of the church.
Then he said, “Let’s look at some of the other categories.” There are some who simply belong, but don’t necessarily believe. That is, there are some out there who come namely for social or traditional or cultural reasons. But if you press them in terms of “Do you believe the convictions here?” they might say, “I’m not sure if I do necessarily.”
On the other hand, here is another category: Some belong, but partially believe. That is, they pick and choose what they want to believe. They affirm some things and they feel no obligation to accept everything. They might say, “Well, I believe what the church says about the Lord’s Supper. I’m not sure if I believe what the church says about defining marriage.” Some belong, but they partially believe.
Then there is another category: Some believe, but they partially belong, which are a lot of people today. Actually, the prior category – some belong but partially believe – I think is a growing category in the church. I am fearing that more and more I hear people say, “Well, I accept this, but I don’t accept that.” They have replaced the authority of the Word of God with their own authority. But there also a lot of people who believe but partially belong. They come on occasion. They sit towards the back. They are okay with the Scripture and the beliefs of the church; they are just not too committal to the community. It might be asking too much to join.
Then there are some who belong, who are not yet believing. They are exploring, they see themselves on this long journey, they are downplaying conversion. They are curious. I’ve met a number of people like that in the church. They have not embraced the message. They haven’t bought into the Gospel, but they like the community. They might even like me. And they come week after week.
There are some who believe, but are not ready to belong. They like the feel of the community, the family, but they are not ready to commit. This may be in part because of a post-commitment culture. They may not see belonging as essential, but something that is optional.
There is the last category, you can probably guess. They neither believe nor belong. That is sadly the largest growing segment in our culture, who have no belief and have no desire to belong.
2. Create strategies that challenge people to believe and belong
Reading Murray’s book takes me back to trends in innovations and forced me to think about, we face all of these people. What we are going to have to do to somehow intelligently respond to each of these convictions and guide them along?
He talked about the church that needs to also work at closing the back door and here is some of the critical work at the back door that a church needs to do, especially with those who may be believers but not so much belongers; they just move from place to place to place. ?_____Sally Morganthauer (9:00.2), by the way, brought this out some years ago in her book, “Worship Evangelism” in which she made a comment something like this: “There are a lot of churches that have a huge front door and a lot of people are coming; but a lot of them won’t tell you about the huge back door.” A lot of churches that show great growth reports, don’t give the report of the back door. Every church has a back door and some are bigger than others. How do we begin to close this back door?
Again reading Murray, he addressed certain things and made me think more in innovative ways. What do we need to do? He gives some obvious answers here.
1. You need to pursue leavers lest they feel no-one cares. I was just talking to a couple this week that have left a church where they were members for years. They loved the church, people loved them; but then there was a leadership change and they really are struggling. Here is what they are really struggling with: They have moved on and no-one has pursued them.
2. I can tell you as a pastor, there are a lot of stories like that. Sometimes people go, “Well, I just want to respect that they have made that decision.” I think, more often than not, we are not paying attention to the back door because it is going to require that we listen humbly, even if it hurts, even if it isn’t fair. Having that exit interview, not a lot of churches do it, but it is important to do it.
3. We need to assess the reasons. Maybe some have lost their faith, or maybe they no longer feel accepted, or maybe there is a sin they are unwilling to let go. Some leave out of unresolved conflict; or they have gravitated to other interests or hobbies or become disillusioned because of the failure they have seen in church leaders; or they have become enamored with the newest game in town, the newest church in town. Some are just plain disappointed at the different direction.
A church that is careful, that is healthy, is going to pay attention to the back door and the front door. We have talked about the front door in one of our previous discussions and how we get people to see a really good, healthy front door.
This is just an example I’m bringing out here, that we pay attention to what people are observing, saying, what we can learn from the church’s shifting, changing. A post-Christendom church needs to move through this paradigm shift; and a post-Christendom church needs to move from maintenance to mission. It needs to move from institution to movement. It needs to move from the center to the margin. The church is going to have to be in the margins to recover the pre-Christendom dynamism that turns the world upside down.
B. Be selective in your reading
Innovation. How do we then do it? We read, we pay attention. Then we look at how we apply it to the church. We cannot have our heads in the sand. Things are changing too much. We know with all of the information at our disposal today, we have to also be careful with what we choose.
We can’t keep up with the reading, so we have to be really selective. I spend a lot of time when I look at books on Amazon, looking inside the book. I want to know something about the writer. I want to know about the reviews. I don’t want to waste my time, there is too little time to waste myself on bad reading. So, it is then sitting down and saying, “If I’m going to be innovative and creative, if I want to be fresh, what do I need to be reading? What journals do I need to be paying attention to? What periodicals? What newspapers?” The Lord knows, we have lots of options today. There is no way we are going to keep up. We have to be really, really smart.
II. Experiment with different strategies
We have to experiment and we have to at times bring different voices in, different resources to come into our staff meetings, people from churches that are really innovative, to maybe just, without feeling threatened, come in and talk to us. What have you learned? How did you get the church to shift and change like this?
I’m thinking, conferences. There is a place for conferences. But conferences can be a waste of time and they can be a horrible waste of money, unless one is intentional to say, “I’m not going to every conference, but I’m going to this one because I know it will change me.” But then going with intentionality to say, “I’m coming to bring something back. I’m coming to bring back something I want to see change in the church.”
Maybe I will say one last thing about innovation. Sometimes we can pride ourselves on just having lots of visionary moments and people throwing ideas and talking about lots of creative things in the church. But if none of them turn into reality, after a while people just get burned out. They begin to see that this is a waste of time. I have a high mortality rate, have you noticed? We have to do this with wisdom. We have to have a certain restraint, even with setting strategies and goals. I wonder if we would be much smarter to say, “How about instead of ten strategies, we have two. Instead of 15 goals, why don’t this year we just establish these three and let’s do everything we can to execute these.” Then that will force us, in terms of innovation, to pay attention to the very best and the brightest stuff.
A. As you choose new strategies, how do you engage the world without becoming like the world?
Question: So, one of the things we were just talking about is, you want to pick the few best ideas and really focus on just putting your effort in a few places instead of spreading it out too much. How do you in the process guard from the model that we talked about before of trying to be like the world rather than engage the world?
Dr. Johnson: I would like to hope it’s not because I want to be like the world, but because I do want to engage the world. So, that is important in engaging the world. Was it Robert Weber?_____(15:15.1) that wrote the book, “Ancient Future Faith”? I think what people want to do is, they want to walk into a church and feel like they have walked into something that is ancient, that there is liturgy and tradition. In this crazy world we live in, people are looking more and more for reference points, for anchors. I do not think they want to walk into a church that is totally chaotic and so into innovation and relevancy that it feels like everything is loose and nothing is tied down. I want to feel like I have stepped into tradition.
A number of people are leaving evangelical churches for like, Greek Orthodox Churches. There is something in the human soul that hungers for something historic, something of art, let’s say, and liturgy. That is the ancient. I think what Webber?_____ was saying, was that people are also looking for something future. I think the best churches are the churches that are sort of ancient/future; that people walk in and they see something that is ancient and there is tradition. Which means, we still preach sermons. We have not moved to let’s say, the more innovative, and we have conversations. We still want to nail down what are the essentials and the traditions. I think people also want to feel like they have walked into something fresh, something that you can say, “This is different.”
B. Tension between traditional and new
The question is, how you do both/and. Does that make sense? I think part of that, the relational aspect to that is how the people in the church are responding; how they are welcoming people; how they are doing the entry points, things like that.
Question: My father-in-law was raised in Europe, he is an atheist. He came to one of our services on Christmas Eve one time. The one thing that he took away from that wasn’t the sermon or the people or anything else, it was that we were in a gym with chairs set up. In his mind, that was treating God in a way that was more informal than he was used to, by just the structure that we were worshiping in. We look at it as functional because that was the way that we were able to have a good place to meet.
Dr. Johnson: The younger culture might say, “I have no problem with that at all.” In fact, they might gravitate more to that. Have you noticed? Andy Stanley made this point. If you walk down an average aisle in a supermarket, notice how many items say, “new taste” or “fresh”. Marketers know that to get people to buy their items, they need to feel like they are buying something new, something fresh. I notice, even when I look at food in my kitchen and I look at the labeling, how many say “new” or “fresh”. People don’t want to feel like they are just buying something that is the same or old. I wonder again if a healthy church gets the importance of the ancient and the tradition, but also recognizes the importance of newness and innovation and freshness, that is not afraid to step back and say, “How do we do things today?”
I will give you one example. They are doing a lot more research and writing on the brain today. A lot of books are talking about the brain. One of the things that has come out, not that I have read a lot on it, but one of the points being made is that how we use our brain develops the brain. In other words, if you tend to think like a hydrofoil, you’re just skimming the surface of the information. You’re just going from one article briefly to another. You don’t really read deeply, you don’t read books. But you are fairly informed because you read a lot. But you are like a hydrofoil, which is different than a submarine, where you go deep, you invest.
Back to when I first learned language in seminary – Hebrew, Greek – I remember, especially in Hebrew, I could linger for a half-hour trying to figure out, “Is this is a ?-----20:30.3 participle? What is this? I didn’t recognize it. People today say, “Wow, what a waste of time.” I say, No, actually it was very formative. Just the experience itself was teaching me the importance of depth. It forced me to go deep. Where I’m going with this and the point I am making is that there is a real fear that increasingly our people’s brains are being developed by how they use them. The question is, Will people one day be able to go deep? If I get up and say, Today I’m going to preach; and let’s say the preaching is going to go 40 minutes, will people be able to keep up? Even here, probably in a course like this, we ask ourselves, How long can a lecture go? We might say in times past 40, 45 minutes was no big deal. But we tend to take things in more bite-sized notions, largely maybe because of how our brains are being c
So I think a church that is innovative is going to have to stop, not to say, maybe we have to rethink sermon, but we may have to rethink how we do the sermon. We may have to think in innovative ways how we engage people more in a dialogue. Not to go all the way to I think people like Doug Padgett?_____21:55.5 that in dialogical preaching approach it as, “Let’s enter into a dialogue and see where God takes us.” That is, I think, wrongheaded. But I think we are going to have to think through ways in this passivity we talked about at the very beginning, to get people more engaged. I think, back to seminaries, we are going to have to rethink how we teach homiletics. It is retaining the ancient, but it is also thinking about new ways that we reach people.