We live in an age where entrepreneurs are adored, the 'new' is idolised and innovation is a chief business value. We only need to look at the rise of Apple and we see this word flashing before us: 'INNOVATION'. In a recent interview, Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, claimed that innovation is still 'alive and well' within the Apple ranks. The implication being that once Apple ceases to innovate it will no longer be relevant and successful.
So what does this mean for the church? There are some who are calling church leaders to be cutting edge innovators. We see innovation happening in many different places: missional communities, new monastic movements, Fresh Expression churches, emerging churches, etc. As the world is in flux, the church needs to move with the times otherwise it will get left behind and quickly become irrelevant if it's not already.
As someone who is engaged with missional churches, I really think there is a need for the church to innovate and imagine what mission and discipleship should look like in the 21st Century. But I would say that only with the proviso that we remember we are not called to innovate the gospel; rather, our calling is to innovate as a response to the gospel.
The primary message of God creating, humanity falling and God seeking to save humanity and the cosmos through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is not a problem. That gospel story should be celebrated and told in all the settings we find ourselves in. This story speaks to the deepest need of all human beings.
Instead, our innovation is a response to the gospel. God created us to have wild imaginations and creatively think about new ways of doing things. And that's hard work. We tend to think of innovation as 'the next big idea', and if we just think about it rightly and package it in a clever way it will work.
Maybe that works for a select few geniuses, but I think innovation as a response to the gospel requires two important things for average Joes like myself. The first is to know the gospel. The more we understand what Christianity is, what it means, how it fits into this word, who God is, what it means for Jesus to have died and risen again, the better we are placed to wonder what it means to gather around Jesus together--to be shaped and transformed by him.
The second thing we need to engage deeply in is knowing our context. If we don't understand our world, the stories and myths that have shaped it, who the people in our immediate context are then how can relate to them and speak to their values and deeply held beliefs?
The gospel is the most relevant thing for anyone. It speaks to their deep need of a God and Saviour. And so when we think about church and the 21st Century, we need to discern whether we are innovating as a response to the gospel or whether we are trying to innovate the gospel.