Church Innovation and the Father’s Doings


I’ve been reading more nonfiction books on Christian living and church practice. Without exception, they’ve been a little (or a lot) disappointing.

What bothers me most is how quickly man-made ways of doing things come to the fore in those books. You can almost always trace the author’s primary influences back to their sources, and far too many times those influences are NOT primarily from Scripture.

This is not to say that there is no biblical justification for what is written, but the tendency is to take a man-made idea, wrap it in Scripture, and then sell it as wisdom.

That cannot work.  Anything of worth must start with Scripture and proceed from it, not the other way around.

Over at Outreach magazine, Larry Osborne wrote on innovation in the Church (“Real World Innovation: It’s a Lot Like Sausage”). Coincidentally, I have Pastor Osborne’s Sticky Church on order from my local library as the next Christian living and church practice book on my to-read list. So, I was eager to hear his insights on this topic.

For as long as that article was, it didn’t have much to say about how Jesus, who was clearly the exemplar of innovation, approached the subject. Instead, I kept feeling like I was reading something out of Forbes rather than from a Christian source.

Let’s cut to the chase. This is Jesus’ approach to innovation:

Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
—John 6:28-29 ESV

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.
—John 5:19 ESV

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
—John 16:13-15 ESV

You want to be an innovator in the Church? You want to be a genuine leader? A visionary? Then do two things:

Believe wholeheartedly in Jesus, and do only what the Holy Spirit shows you the Father is doing.

Trinity - SpiritDo we not see the beauty in the Trinity at operation here? Is this not truth?

Then why are we so loathe to live this way? Why must we find some other kind of wisdom from some other source and try to position ourselves as some kind of Steve Jobs of Faith?

For all that Osborne wrote in his article, you know what I really would have liked to have read? How we Christians can better attune ourselves to understand what the Holy Spirit is showing us about what the Father is doing.

The sad part is that we seldom get that kind of answer, and I think it’s because too many of our contemporary Christian “leaders” simply do not know how to get it. They can recite content from an MBA course, Seth Godin, or Steven Covey, but they don’t know what the Spirit is telling them right now and right for them and their church.

It all comes down to this:

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
—1 Corinthians 2:12-16 ESV

Spiritually discerned. Anything lasting, anything innovative, is spiritually discerned.

Church, it is long past time that we return to living by the Spirit. My prayer will be that God will raise up more leaders from among us who are better led by the Spirit and less by the wisdom of the world.

6 thoughts on “Church Innovation and the Father’s Doings

  1. I’ve often felt this way when it comes to leadership in the church. In the not so distant past John Maxwell was all the rage. “Do leadership like John and you will succeed.” Aaah yeah right. I found his principles no different than the normal CEO might do on any given day. I fell hook, line and sinker until the church I was pastoring at the time wanted me to “be like John. Lead like John.” My personality was not his. It was a disaster for me. I am so tired of man-made principles gleaned from business then made-to-order for the church. Well said today Dan.

    • Bill,

      I remember a few years back when Maxwell was all the rage. And today? Crickets.

      That’s how it is with this stuff, sadly. I’ve got nothing against John Maxwell. What I DO have something against is church leaders who try everything in the book but THE BOOK, you know, the Bible alone.

      The problem, if anyone would be truthful about it, is that the Bible leaves a few issues untouched or underdeveloped. That’s because God wants us attuned to His Spirit for the answers to those questions.

      I wrote about a Word + Power church recently, but the reality is that it’s a Word + Spirit church, and we are so rationalistic in the West that we’ve just about expunged the role of the Spirit from our churches. I see almost no church today operating in the Spirit like Jesus or Paul told us to. I don’t care if it’s a pew-jumping Pentecostal church or not, we’re not doing it by THE BOOK. And since we’re not, we’re substituting in all sorts of junk in an effort to fill the whole and to appear wise. But it’s not working.

    • I never heard of John Maxwell until now. So for a time he was all the rage?

      The “talk” section in his Wikipedia bio is pretty chatty.

      Biographies about living persons in Wikipedia should always be taken with not just a grain but several pounds of salt.

  2. akaGaGa

    Good post, Dan. I have two thoughts to add.

    1) People cannot share what they do not have. When I find myself becoming judgemental about someone’s activities, or lack thereof, the Spirit has taught me to remember what I was like before I was saved. How could anyone do what’s right when they don’t know the One Who is right?

    2) A related question that I hounded God about a few years ago is how Christians cannot discern right from wrong. If someone is truly born again, isn’t their heart convicted like mine is? Or put another way, how can a Christian not follow the Spirit? It just seemed like an impossibility. He ultimately led me to this passage:

    “So Jesus answered them and said, ‘My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.” (Joh 7:16-18)

    My take is that it all comes down to obedience. If my heart is inclined to do what the Spirit says, no matter the cost, or how ridiculous something may seem to my natural self, then the Spirit will make sure I understand so I can follow. If my heart tends to rebel, and I’m not willing to pay the price, then I simply won’t be able to discern God’s voice from someone else’s.

    And that’s my two cents for a Saturday night.

    P.S. I hope these math problems don’t get any more difficult, or I might have to stop commenting. 🙂

  3. Stu

    In the church, we have substituted the counsel and power of the Holy Spirit for the acumen of the businessman/CEO. Of course it also makes for higher book sales.

    • …which Christian men do not read.

      Stu, I think the numbers say that close to 90% of all Christian books are bought by women. I think they also show that Christian men are the demographic least likely to read a book after they graduate school. How sad.

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