It’s often touted in many of our circles that the death of a Christian institution is inevitable when mission drift or theological infidelity occurs — especially churches. And while you and I might agree that this diagnosis and autopsy is more often right than wrong, we know that these institutions aren’t the only organizations that are dying.
Sadly, theologically faithful institutions with a valuable mission and vision close their doors every day. When organizations cease to exist, sometimes it is because they failed to innovate. And if Christian institutions continue to deny their God-ordained responsibility to embrace creativity and innovation, many good organizations will cease to exist or will remain operational but have little to no impact.
God Mandates Innovation and Creativity
Gary W. Oster, in his essay titled, “Christian Innovation” defines innovation as “the creative development of a specific product, service, or idea with the goal of pleasing customers and extracting value from its commercialization.” Applied broadly, innovation is developing new or improving current offerings, processes, and experiences that add value and increase and retain market share or awareness.
In the first chapter of Genesis, it’s evident that God calls us to continue the work he began. Humanity is called to “be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). As beings made in God’s image, we’re called to create and innovate just as our God did in the very beginning.
The late Francis A. Schaeffer noted, “The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.” Organizations, businesses, and academies built by believers should lead the charge in innovation. Our ability to dream big and think outside of the box should be unparalleled.
The Fearful and Unfaithful Servant
But unfortunately, our love of familiarity, as well as our fear of change, stifles our God-given responsibility to create and improve, which is why so many charitable institutions die slow deaths. Because our God is innovative, our attitude towards creativity should be cautious optimism rather than fear.
I’m reminded of the parable of the talents. In the parable, the master entrusts his property to three servants. Two servants went and traded, putting the money to good use. But the servant that received one talent went and buried his master’s money. Upon the master’s return, the servant admits that he was motivated by fear to protect what was given to him. The master didn’t commend him. He rebuked him for being wicked and slothful, ultimately casting him into outer darkness.
Some Christian institutions neglect innovation out of fear that it may lead to heterodoxy or mission drift. But this is the sin of the servant with one talent. We demonstrate unfaithfulness when we declare allegiance to an innovative God but bury the very same attribute out of fear. Whether the fear is related to theological concerns or exploring unknown territories, regardless of the root cause, burying what God has deemed good is unacceptable.
Innovation Under Authority
Christians should celebrate innovation purified by the wisdom of Scripture. As with any good thing, innovation has been misappropriated, which is why many well-meaning believers cringe when the concept is mentioned. So-called Christians have abandoned the authority of Scripture and shipwrecked their faith and the faith of others due to unchecked innovation. Creativity, innovation, and relevance must never supersede divine authority.
On the other hand, institutions enamored with tradition tend to discourage healthy innovation. Essentially, the amount of time a service or process has existed becomes more important than the effectiveness of the service or procedure. Time doesn’t give practices or habits authority or wisdom, and ultimately Scripture decides what’s timely and timeless.
Innovation Is a Matter of Life or Death
After defining innovation, Oster states that for many corporations, “innovation is a matter of life or death.” But I believe that the same is true for Christian institutions. When Christians stop asking, “Why?” creativity and innovation cease and our churches and institutions began to die. Cultivating cultures where asking, “Why?” is encouraged exposes theological ineptitude and tradition worship while also presenting opportunities to educate, train, and improve ineffective approaches and processes.
As we enter into a new decade, it is mission-critical that Christian leaders reject the idea that sees innovation and creativity as theological threats to the kingdom. Scripture does not affirm our pessimistic and fearful attitude towards the thing God has mandated us to do.
Instead, cultivate a culture where innovation and creativity are gifts entrusted to the body to advance God’s kingdom, regularly reminding those under your charge that God judges those who bury good things out of fear and blesses those embrace them in submission to his Word.