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The next time I hear a pastor argue that what the church really needs is more innovative pastors I might lose my hair. Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against innovation or against innovative pastors in principle. The church certainly needs transformation and we desperately need folks with new ideas. My problem is with our temptation to locate innovation with the clergy and the way it perpetuates a savior mythology, one that oppresses them as much as it does us we lay folk.
That’s a quote from Patrick Scriven, Director of COmmunications and Young People’s Ministries for the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Methodist Church.
When a skilled pastor brings a new idea to an existing community I imagine they would have little problem getting that group of early adopters to agree to how amazing their innovation is. Together, they might plot out a course for those new small groups, or for that trendy evening service, but how many of you can relate to the difficulty of getting the pragmatists on board? Might we consider that this is Moore’s chasm at work?
When the pastor is the chief innovator of the church they are less able to apply their authority and influence toward helping the community to bridge this chasm between the early adopters and and early majority because they’ve already expended it by advocating for the idea originally. It stretches a pastor’s credibility to keep saying how amazing their idea is in the face of some resistance. Gifted pastors, or new pastors, may be able to push such change through but eventually their social capital comes to an end unless they’ve found a way to bank some more.
If we are to move forward, what the church really needs are innovative lay people; willing to adopt, suggest, and try new things. When a lay person puts forth a new idea and builds their group of advocates (early adopters), their innovation, particularly if it challenges the church culture, will still hit Moore’s chasm. The difference however is that now the pastor is free to insert their authority and influence to help good ideas to bridge this gap. And when they do so, they also create goodwill and affirm the gifts of their laity to boot.
Our churches need, desperately, to become places of change. While the occasional new idea from the pastor can be good modeling, the pastor that innovates continuously sucks the air out of the church and leaves no room for innovation elsewhere. Our churches would be better served by clergy who excelled at creating and nurturing cultures of innovation.
I would expect that some might say that this sentiment is nice but they know, or serve, churches where creating a culture of innovation is impossible. Where we find this to be true we should be quick to lock the doors and shutter the windows. Before we do this however, we should consider that there is a difference between a church that continuously rejects its pastor’s new ideas and one that refuses to create their own when given a chance.
The Spirit of God is the church’s true innovator. Relocating the process of innovation where we know the Spirit resides – the community – is our most faithful path forward.
What do you think?
What is the lead pastor’s role in innovation in the church?
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