United Church of Christ

The Tradition (!) of Innovation

Picture innovation. You probably picture gadgets, right? Technology, not poetry! Still, consider what one poet says about innovation (while making his poems into 21st century animations). As Billy Collins teaches poetically giving a TED Talk, “It took us a long time to put the wheel and the suitcase together.”

The same could be said for calculators and photography and satellites and emojis. With all of human history that led up to this moment, innovation might seem to be instant – but truly it is an ongoing art.

At a recent retreat, a group of eclectic UCC pastors brainstormed the following characteristics of cutting-edge innovation. Their advice reads like a “how-to” list for not just inventors, but social entrepreneurs of all kinds.

How To Innovate:

  • Learn from experiments and experience
  • Take pieces and re-assemble
  • Make use of current technology
  • Think with the help of multiple partners
  • Create mechanisms for relationships
  • Bring people together and do stuff (for the sake of ministry)
  • Have discipline when required
  • Capitalize on a moment
  • Retro-fit/upcycle old concepts
  • Name alternative realities and possibilities
  • Decide; choose; take some (not all) risks
  • Don’t be guided by detractors
  • Use and recognize personal and positional authority
  • Know where you can and cannot make change
  • Celebrate the treasure you find, when you see it
  • Resource discernment so that creativity and accountability go together
  • Enjoy it!
  • Hang in there; individuals do change systems
  • Build trust
  • Know each person, each piece coming together
  • Help people say, “I care so much about _______ that I left behind my ________”
  • Constantly examine products; perceive them as living not static
  • Know the change you’re in the middle of, which does not depend on you
  • Look at the people with you on the journey and say, “God is doing a new thing!”

This list of learnings came from several generations, not just one; from leaders who have attended to relational wisdom whether young or old. It is Gospel wisdom, traced to a humble teacher and gentle healer who radically sourced a new religion.

Any faith context often takes the long view. In the long view, all innovations eventually become institutionalized, and all institutions make a way for new innovations. Just like long smooth airport terminals were the precondition for the roller bag! Just like metal-work was the precondition for stained glass windows. What you are doing today may literally pave the way for someone else’s expression of what God is doing in the future.

Sparking Ministry Conversations

What are your favorite inventions?

Where did they come from – and what came after?

About the Author
Rev. Malcolm Himschoot serves the denomination as Minister for Ministerial Transitions with the MESA Team. He tracks trends in the landscape of ministry and supports infra-structure for ministry as a vocation.

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