Famous last words for any organization: “That’s not how we’ve always done it.” These are famous, and yet still so often repeated throughout the business world, and especially in the church world. Unfortunately, over the span of the 2000 years of the church’s existence, we have slowly allowed ‘tradition’ to supersede ‘innovation.’ And I’m not saying that tradition is wrong, bad, or should be thrown out all together. Tradition communicates longevity and history, which are good, but when the Church, the very expression of Christ’s love and power, allows itself to comfortably lean back into tradition because innovation would take too much effort, we’ve missed our mark. If we are called to reach a lost and hurting world, we owe to the lost of this world to do whatever we can to reach them. I love what Craig Groeschel says, “To reach those who aren’t being reached, you have to be willing to do what isn’t being done.” Innovation must take place if we’re going to reach those that have yet to be impacted by the gospel.
As the lead pastor of a church that celebrates its 42nd Birthday this year, I enjoy looking back at our own church’s history and all the traditions that have been present over the years. It’s exciting to see the practices that have stood the test of time, and the traditions that continue to impact lives for Christ.
But on the other side, it’s just as exciting to see the different expressions of ministry that were present throughout the different seasons of our church. Like many churches in America, we had our booming bus ministry during one season…we had a season where Sunday School was actually bigger than the Sunday morning service…we even had a time where we had a thriving Christian School. These were all effective ways of reaching and discipling people for Christ during that time period, but aren’t necessarily effective today. That doesn’t make them bad in any way, but they were for a certain period in our nation and region’s history.
The problem arrises when we allow ‘innovation’ to become ‘tradition’, and we no longer are listening to the creativity of the Holy Spirit to reach an ever-changing world. With that said, here are a few thoughts when it comes to innovation and ministry:
- Don’t allow innovation to overshadow ministry. It’s easy to get wrapped up in doing ministry in a more modern/updated way, and miss the point of it all. The point isn’t innovation for the sake of innovation – it’s communicating a timeless message to a changing culture.
- Identify your goals of ministry. Who is your target? What are their needs? Why are you doing ministry? Identifying these are crucial to making sure the ministry you’re doing is actually meeting a perceived need of those your ministering to. This also allows you to evaluate to make sure you’re reaching your goals of ministry, not just doing activity that you call ministry.
- Hold your ideas lightly. Your innovations of yesterday, may not be effective today. Be willing to hold those past victories lightly, and allow the next generation behind you to innovate. I love reading the Book of Acts and seeing how the disciples didn’t do ministry exactly like Jesus did. They continued to innovate, just as Jesus had. They didn’t just speak to thousands, but they wrote letters, which enabled them to speak to millions. They didn’t gather a group of disciples, but established churches full of disciples. Don’t get so stuck on what you did in the past that you stand in the way of what God is doing now, and how He’s continuing to reach those furthest from Him.
As a pastor, I feel strongly that innovation should always be present in the church. We serve a creative God, and I believe He’s gifted us to reflect His creativity. Whether you’re a pastor, a leader in the church, or simply attending a church, I challenge you to ask God, “What are new ways of doing ministry that people haven’t even dreamed of yet?” Then get ready to step out in faith, and watch God do amazing things through you, as you allow the timeless message of Christ, impact the time in which you live!
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