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Innovation and Intuition Are King
By: Bill Easum

For the next 50 years, the ability to constantly innovate on the fly and lead by intuition will be the two most important leadership issues facing the leader of any organization. Not since the Reformation has the need to discover new ways to achieve old things been as important as it is today.  Those who are not secure enough to innovate on the fly won’t be able to effectively lead a church through the next 20 years.  And those who lead from facts rather than intuition will fall on thief faces. 

I make these claims for the following reason: The next 25 years or so will be remembered as a time of continuous ebb and flow of disequilibrium. The phrase “radical change” does not adequately describe today’s context. We live in a time of constant flux between extinction and birth. We live in a time of total discontinuity.

Some examples might help. Most of the jobs that are driving the present economy did not exist 15 years ago, and most of the jobs that will drive the economy 15 years from now do not exist today. Most of the students in college are being prepared for jobs that won’t exist when they graduate. Between 1980 and 1995, 44 million jobs disappeared, while 77 new jobs were created.  During the same period, every mainline denomination declined in strength while new associations of congregations emerged (According to The Willow Creek Association, The Vineyards, Hope Chapels, Calvary Chapels, Leadership Network, the growing alliance among postmodern pastors to mention only a few and the many city directed parachurch groups that are emerging). Many of the staff positions needed 10 years from now do not exist today, and most of the staff positions needed today did not exist20 years ago.

Evolution has been replaced with deconstruction. The epistemological and ontological foundations of the world as we know them today are breaking down and giving way to new ways of perceiving reality and processing knowledge. Everything that the industrialized, modern world was based on is being destroyed. We now live in a world between rules. By the midpoint of the 21st century, a new foundation for civilization and community will be constructed and new rules will be recognized. In such a world, the most fatal remark one can make is, “We’ve always done it that way.” About the time we get something down pat, the world no longer needs it.  The laptop on which I’m writing this article is a testimony to this ebb and flow.  It is less than six months old, and I am already looking for its replacement.

If we are going where we’ve never been, then it doesn't do any good to ask, “Will it work?” because no one knows if it will. That’s where intuition comes in. Trusting your gut to do the right thing is the way forward.

To innovate on the fly and to trust your intuition means living at the edge of chaos without becoming part of the chaos. Leaders who seek harmony and equilibrium will lead churches that stagnate and die. Like organisms adapting to the constant changes in the ecosystem, leaders of effective churches constantly test the edges of church life. They don’t just tolerate change, but they build it into the fabric of their ministry.

Effective leadership today resides somewhere between absolute order and absolute chaos. The trick is to ride the wave of chaos to its crest without becoming engulfed by it. Instead of seeking order, leaders court the chaos. The worst thing a leader can do today is to avoid the chaos of the moment for the order of the past.

So, I want to share some clues I have learned along the way for those who want to be part of what God is doing at this time in history. Here are six clues for innovating on the fly:

1. The key to constant innovation on the fly is for the innovator to have an anchor in the past
I have seen only one anchor that sustains Christian innovators in times of real turmoil: a deep, personal, life-changing, ever-renewing commitment to Jesus Christ. No prestige, or office, or salary, or fame can provide the kind of sustenance and stamina that will be required over the next 50 years of Christian history. If we lose this core, we have nothing to share worth listening to. Make sure your anchor is firmly in place.

Innovation on the fly is not a skill one possesses. It is a passion one has due to one’s commitment to a mission. Christian innovators so desperately want to communicate God’s message that they aren’t afraid to try new things and make mistakes as long as they learn new ways to accomplish old things. When the mission is no longer being achieved, these leaders desperately look for ways to achieve it. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and learn from them. Trust your gut instead. We learn what works by taking action.

Anchors will be in short supply over the next 50 years. The fragmentation, disequilibrium, and uncertainty of our time will make for a rough ride.  The goal of innovation for the leader of a church is not to create something new. It is to find new ways to achieve something old…Christian community. The key to such leadership is to have a solid core.
2. Go for the big, audacious innovations.
Sin boldly. Small innovations are little more than tinkering. About all that accomplishes is to keep everyone in an uproar.

3. Never stifle an innovating moment even if you’re not sure if it is the thing to do. 
I remember returning from vacation to find a note on my office door from one of the preaching pastors: “Bill, wear blue jeans Sunday morning to worship. We are going to wear them all summer.” At the time, I thought it was a dumb idea that would cause lots of trouble.  Today, it is normal dress for many postmodern churches.

4. As soon as you perfect what you are doing, move onto something else.
Don’t hang on too long to something working very well.  Keep looking for ways to improve what you’re doing or move to the next level. The old adage “don’t let go of what you’ve got until you have something new to grab hold of” simply does not mean much in a turbulent environment. 

Such an act requires major discipline and constant seeking to place oneself where God is working in the world. The trick at the top is to keep perspective and to see over the horizon. Being at ease in Zion is the worst enemy of innovation.

5. Gravitate toward the edges of your religious group (denomination, association, or network) because innovation has less resistance there. 
You will never find the status quo at the edge, nor will you hear “we’ve never done it that way before.” Maximize your edges by reading in areas outside of your discipline, attending events not put on by your denomination, networking with pastors in other traditions, talking with your kids, or visiting new web sites.

6. Listen to your instinct, not your critics.
The first 20 years of my ministry, I received a lot of criticism from all fronts. I was told I was doing everything all wrong, even though my church was growing. All because I innovated on the fly. Now, I find it hard to stay home enough because so many denominational officials, including many Bishops of my denomination, consider what I am advocating to be the way to the future.

All along, I felt my intuition told me I was doing the right thing, but surely my peers couldn’t all be wrong. There was a short period of time when I listened to them too much, and it caused me to waste some of my earliest years. However, it soon became clear that what I was doing was causing my church to grow and what they were advocating was causing their churches to decline.  So, I began to follow my gut and simply tuned them out. You need to do the same.

As a result, the church I served for 24 years was one of the first congregations in the U.S. to do a number of things: require 12 months of training before allowing teachers to enter the classroom; offered two or three preachers every week from which to choose; put computers in the Sunday School in 1982; offered multiple services of worship; consider small groups to be the hub of the church; did away (deconstruction) with the official denominational committee structure; had a social justice ministry that attacked the root causes of social justice in our city and state; and had one of the first and strongest permission-giving, lay ministries in the 20th century.

Ready to innovate and trust your gut? If so, I would love to coach you. Just email me at easum@aol.com

Bill Easum is president of 21st Century Strategies, Inc. a full-service church consulting group since 1987 whose mission is to equip Christian for global impact, www.churchconsultations.com.

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