All around us worlds are colliding, and it can be hard to keep up. As sacred and secular, global and local, IQ and EQ all swirl around in the alphabet soup of new terms, we struggle to make sense of a world that is remaking itself on the fly.
Many times the result is what Marilyn McEntyre, author of Word by Word and professor of medical humanities at UC Berkeley, describes as, “. . . complex knowledge applied with questionable wisdom.” Simply put, we can be too smart for our own good. Our terms sometimes give away our ignorance rather than show our intelligence.
Innovation Is a Kingdom Activity
So, it is with trepidation that I bring the term “kingdom innovation” onto the church’s radar. Some might argue, “Isn’t innovation done in God’s name automatically ‘kingdom innovation?’” Others might ask, “Why give us one more catchword to fling around?”
“I am seeking to describe a discipline that can sometimes seem lost on God’s people but is central to God’s heart. God both begins and ends his story with acts of energetic innovation.”
The intention is not to sound important or validate some secular practice as worthy of God’s attention. Instead, I am seeking to describe a discipline that can sometimes seem lost on God’s people but is central to God’s heart. God both begins and ends his story with acts of energetic innovation. Genesis 1:1 states, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1 NIV). And Revelation 21:5 declares, “I am making everything new!” (Rev 21:5 NIV). In between those cosmic creative moments, God daily creates new life. We witness that creative energy among his people, in nature’s seasons, and through his movement among the peoples of the world.
But just as humanity struggles to understand an infinitely creative God, we have also struggled to see how we might practice that creativity as creatures made in God’s image. Instead of relishing God’s refreshing new vision, we cling to the familiar and hold on to what we think we understand. Our minds crave control and our hearts desire certainty; neither of which God owes us.
Thus, I believe the term “kingdom innovation” can serve a real purpose to describe the creative force within God’s kingdom in such a way that we can appropriate it and begin to practice it as we join God on his mission.
Now let’s define terms. Author and pastor John Piper says, “The basic meaning of the word kingdom in the Bible is God’s reign.” But the hard part about “God’s reign” is what Daniel Im, director of church multiplication for NewChurches.com and author of No Silver Bullets, describes in his book as “already, but not yet.” Throughout the Gospels, Jesus announced God’s reign but confounded his followers with the unorthodox form that this new kingdom would take.
The word innovation has countless definitions, but Richard Lyons shares one that stands out for its simplicity and clarity: “fresh thinking that creates value.” As we refresh our thinking daily and use those new ideas to add value to those around us, we are innovating. This definition doesn’t muddy the waters with methods. Innovation isn’t necessarily about technology or specific strategies. It is about bringing new into the world for the purpose of adding value.
Innovation Is Key to Kingdom Advance
So now that we have talked about the two words separately, the question remains regarding why we’d put them together. I’d like to give you two important reasons why this mental exercise is worth your time.
1. Innovate to Expand God’s Reign
The first is the priority for change. We have all heard the phrase “change or die!” (If you haven’t, this Atlantic article gives you a history.) There are a lot of assumptions built into that phrase. It has come to mean that our significance in society is wrapped up in our ability to stay relevant.
We, however, know that our significance comes from God and not from relevance. Therefore, kingdom innovation means seeking out fresh new ideas in response to God’s agenda and our desire to please him. The motivation for the change is to expand God’s reign in the earth, not to expand our own influence. This litmus test is a critical one as we seek to innovate.
2. Innovate in a Manner Consistent with God’s Ways
The second is the approach we take in driving change. I have seen many innovations that bore the marks of the kingdom but were executed in a manner that did not. Manipulation, fear, anxiety, and ambition ruled the day, but little progress was made that exemplified the characteristics of the kingdom.
“If innovations are to be useful for kingdom growth, then the fruit of the Spirit needs to be evident in the way they are implemented.”
It matters how we execute on the innovations God gives us to steward. I believe new innovative ideas can be God-given while their execution can be godless and lifeless. If they are to be useful for kingdom growth, then the fruit of the Spirit needs to be evident in the way they are implemented.
As you add kingdom to your understanding of innovation, do any new ideas come to mind that you need to consider? Are you afraid of change and struggling to see God in it? On the other hand, are you seeking personal significance from being on the cutting edge? Are you designing a new program and seeking God’s direction on how to execute it in ways that honor him? Whatever your situation, I would encourage you to add kingdom to your definition of innovation and see what God does as a result.
Author’s note: To explore this concept and define this term, J. D. Payne and I are going to be hosting six online conversations in as many months. The format will be simple. The first twenty minutes will be a discussion between us on a certain aspect of kingdom innovation and then the next twenty minutes will be a time of interaction with those who join us on the webinar. We will ask questions, discuss the issues, and process this important spiritual discipline together. One of the outcomes will be a definition of kingdom innovation that represents what we have learned.
Will you join us on May 22 for the first conversation? Register at www.kingdominnovation.info.
Jon Hirst has served the global mission community as an innovator for over twenty years. He currently serves as director of program innovation for SIL International. He is the coeditor of Innovation in Mission (IVP) and has written or cowritten three other books and countless articles. Jon and his wife, Mindy, live in Colorado and have three children, a dog, and three birds. You can find Jon at www.generousmind.com or on Twitter.