Innovating with Optimism
I recently read Clayton Christensen’s book, The Innovative University. It is a “must read” for anyone interested in the challenges of higher education. I would also add it is a “must read” for any church leader to think about the institution of the church. On the last two pages of the book he writes about “pruning and focusing.” That might be a great theme for the annual meeting of the BGAV or the ministry plan of most churches today. There are two points he makes that I would like to highlight here.
The first involves pruning. He writes, “Most university communities will need to go further, asking fundamental questions about what they can do well and abandoning much of what they have undertaken in a spirit of imitation” (pp. 400-401, bold-italics are mine). Every church and denomination needs to deal with that question. In our “happy talk” mindset we believe we do everything well so we can’t imagine abandoning something. I would suggest there are many things we don’t do well and that we have taken on in a spirit of imitation. Let’s wade into those waters and have a good conversation. The extreme example is all the churches who have been to Willow Creek and tried to “bring that home.” Virginia Baptists do some things well – I would suggest we do missions and freedom well. The evidence of doing missions well is the reputation Virginia Baptists enjoy around the world. We have done freedom well by providing our churches the opportunity to define their own giving to us. Our freedom has served us well in creating new things out of our denominational wineskin (Spence Network, V3, Fresh Expressions). What are some other things we do well? If our list is over 10 I would suggest we are engaging in “happy talk.” There are some things we don’t do well. Let’s just admit it and move on.
The second involves focusing. Christensen writes, “The universities that survive near-term challenges will be those that recognize and honor their strengths while innovating with optimism.” (p. 401, bold-italics are mine) I admit I’ve seen some churches/denominations innovate with desperation but I haven’t seen too much innovation with optimism. At last year’s BGAV meeting we cut the budget $900,000 and no one spoke to it on the floor and there were few comments in the break-out session. Let’s take another shot at that this year. Whatever the proposed budget comes in at let’s innovate with optimism. Let’s have a vibrant conversation about a God-sized future for Virginia Baptists! Let’s get some practice in before we gather in Roanoke in November. Look around your church this summer and find some places where you can innovate with optimism.