Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Risk (4th of 6 parts)

This is the fourth installment of a 6-part series on the points I made in my Superintendent's Address in June. These are six things I am deeply passionate about and encourage our pastors, lay people and churches to be serious about them as well. In this year's charge conferences, these will comprise our main talking points during our time together.

Our reality
In many, if not all, of our churches and ministry settings, we’re finding that a lot of the ways we do things are no longer relevant. The world is constantly changing. Technology is developing at a very rapid pace. The demographics in our communities and neighborhoods have shifted dramatically over the years. Many of the buildings and spaces we have are no longer used in the ways they were meant to be used, and sadly, they sit unused or underutilized. Many of our methods of ministry and mission are just not pertinent anymore. Even our churches' standing and role in the community are no longer what they used tobe.

We need to come to terms with this stark reality that if we do nothing to change our ways, we risk obsolescence within a generation or two.

A call to innovation and creativity
Hence, I call us to risk being innovative and creative in our ways. Ultramarathon runner and environmentalist Ed Ayres in his book, The Longest Race said, "Maybe the most effective way to fend off institutional fatigue or collapse, and to bring rejuvenating life and energy, is not to further tighten the grip of an institution on the hardened rules and ideologies that define it now, but to regenerate some of the creative spirit that formed it in the beginning."

What if we try something new? What if we risk being creative and innovative? I use the term "risk" because, as we all know, people who do new things to disturb the stale status quo get into trouble.

It's like the Disney cartoon Phineas and Ferb
The two main characters, Phineas and his brother Ferb, are two young boys wanting to transform their boring, "business as usual", uneventful summer day into "the best day ever!" And so they innovate and get creative. They come up with crazy, out of this world ideas inventions to transform their "normal" toys. So every day (episode), when an idea comes to mind, Phineas start out by excitedly saying, "Ferb, I know what we're going to do today!"

But then there's Candace, the older sister, who has made it her personal mission to keep the status quo; to keep her brothers from innovating; to keep them from having the best day ever! Every episode, she's out to bust her brothers and tell their mom about their inventions.

In order to move forward, I believe we need to have more Phineases and Ferbs in our churches and less of the Candaces. Sadly, the converse seems to hold true.

Ed Ayres continues, "Maybe the greatest function of idealism is not to guide the way to a utopian outcome but to help us reinvigorate or re-create our institutions when they have grown weary. Utopias never happen, but revolutions and rebirths sometimes do." We are after all Easter people. Our's is a story of resurrection and new life after death. We have to start seeing innovation and creativity as necessary for rebirth.

What's God up to?
Now, we do not just innovate for innovation's sake or be creative for creativity's sake. There has to be a compelling reason why we innovate and become creative. Of course, one might argue that the staleness or irrelevance of our ways is reason compelling enough. But I call us to an even greater reason, and that is paying attention to what God is up to.

What's God up to in your church and in your community? Where is the Spirit of God moving in your midst? The next question is vital: "How can you take part in what God is up to in your church and neighborhood?"

As Paul Knitter, as quoted by Fr. Richard Rohr, said, "If we can truly be mind-ful of what is going on in us or around us--that's how we can find or feel 'the Spirit' in it. Then our response to the situation will be originating from the Spirit rather than from our knee-jerk feelings of fear or anger or envy. And whether the response is to endure bravely or to act creatively, it will be done with understanding and compassion--which means it will be life-giving or life-creating."

To be mindful of what is happening in us and around us and act creatively. To be mindful of what God is doing in our churches, neighborhoods and communities and act accordingly. To be mindful of where the Spirit is moving and finding ways to be part of it. Friends, this is our call to innovation and creativity.

What is God birthing in your church and community and how can you be a part of itWe believe in God as creator. We also believe that we were created in the image of this creator God. Hence, the creative juices that are in God who created the universe flow in our very veins. I come alive whenever I am able to do something creative!

The Garage
Microsoft has what's called "The Garage" which is an incubator for fresh, new ideas. It is an innovation zone. It is where crazy, outrageous, out-of-this-world ideas are given a chance to be heard, tested, tried and even funded.

What if all our churches become innovation zones? What if our churches become safe spaces where fresh, new ideas are welcomed and given a try; where the Phineases and the Ferbs are listened to and given chances and where the Candaces are open to change.

What if we give up the fear of failure  and really try-out new stuff, instead of sticking to the old ways that do not work anymore? Are we stuck in old ways of doing things? What if we allow space for creativity and innovation to thrive in our different ministry settings instead of suppressing these ideas for fear of failure or replacing our beloved yet obsolete practices.

The Challenge

What is something new your church is doing? This is a question I will ask all of you at charge conference. It is something I hold myself accountable to, as well.

May we risk leaving our comfort zones and move into innovation zones. May we truly foster a culture of experimentation and creativity. May we truly be sensitive to what God is up to in our churches and communities and may we strive to do whatever it takes to be part of it.

Your fellow disciple,

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