I have always thought of myself as an innovative person. Twenty years in kids ministry with many of those years having a very small budget to no budget at all, I had to learn to be innovative. The problem came for me when innovation became part of my identity. I identified as an innovative person. I liked finding new solutions to problems. I would find out new tricks and shortcuts that made my life easier and the lives of those around me easier. I was praised as an innovator. I thought innovation was always the answer. New ideas to new problems.
A Darwinian Dilemma
The problem was that I started to measure success in terms of progress. I saw all change as good. I thought in terms of trying to come up with solutions to new problems. This is what I call Darwins Dilemma. We don’t even fully realize how much Darwin’s theory of evolution and his idea of the survival of the fittest has infiltrated our thinking. The Greeks measured their thought in terms of geometry it was a mental puzzle to be solved (this isn’t perfect either). After the release of The Origin of Species that rational geometric thought was exchanged for a more biological framework. We no longer look at problems in terms of logic but in terms of progress. Darwin has sewn into the fabric of the west this pernicious idea that all change is good that all progress is right. Innovation at all costs. We may not even believe in evolution but we have collectively bought into the faulty framework of ideas that new is better that progress is good.
This was the way I thought for years. What changed my viewpoint was reading old books. Books written before Darwin’s theory became the new gospel of our culture and a functional reality in our churches. So many of the church planting ideas and strategies are Darwinian. Church growth is hard work coupled with deep trust with an attitude of gospel humility. The gospel of pragmatism, if it works do it and is based on Darwinian thinking.
Submission Over Innovation
Through many painful personal success and failures, I have come to realize that the greatest good of any leader is not being innovative it’s being submissive. When I say that do I mean bring back wooden pews, hymns, and cut the power to the building. No way. I mean let’s find the core of our identity not in how brilliant we are but how dependent we are. Not in solving new problems but in our attitude of submission. When I say submission you bristle. I get it. So do I. When I say submission I don’t mean mindless obedience to an insecure tyrannical leader who orders you around like like you are some Hollywood assistant in charge of a constant supply of lattes and cronuts. Submission of a leader looks like total submission to Christ. It looks like total submission to God’s word. When we lead with innovation as our highest good we read scriptures with innovative lens. We see what isn’t there rather than submit to what is. Submission is Christ becoming flesh and proclaiming not my will but yours. He though equal with God submitted himself to God for us. To redeem us and model to us our greatest goal. Not self-sufficiency, not new ideas but old ones. Ideas like surrender, and submission.
How Should We Think?
Paul tells us in regards to how we treat others and how we love God we should
“have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage. (Philippians 2:5,6)
We should live lives of humble submission. Submission to God and his word that manifests itself in humility toward others. There are new problems that we face in life and ministry. I would argue that the solutions are not new but old. We suffer as victims of our own age. We are stuck in the greenhouse of our own making. What breaks us free is to understand that God in Christ has set us free and reading old books and old creeds we realize that every heresy that the church is facing today she has already faced. Every problem we have is not new cyberporn is a new problem, a brothel on every corner of London is an old problem. Kids being distracted by digital things and having their brains rewired is a new problem, kids working at age five in awful conditions is an old problem.
The danger in innovation is that tweak everything and change nothing. We spend our lives on trivialities that absorb the best years of our lives that we have to sew into something that is substantial. Neil Postman in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death said this about Aldous Huxley’s vision of the future versus Orwell’s vision.
“Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with [with our feelings] some equivalent of the feelies”
The danger of innovation is the potential to waste our lives on trivialities, to mistake progress with faithfulness, and success with blessing. May we be more committed to living lives of submission than lives of innovation.