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Innovative leaders: Seek change through unlimited possibilities

GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–“If our efforts to share the gospel in today’s world are limited only to the traditional model, then we have decided in advance on limited outreach and limited growth,” a veteran Southern Baptist missionary once wrote.
Lee Strobel, teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in
suburban Chicago, told participants in the recent National Innovative Church Leadership Conference that the words of Winston Crawley comprise “possibly the single most powerful sentence I’ve ever read in my life.”
The May 25-28 sessions at Glorieta (N.M.) Conference Center was sponsored by the pastor-staff leadership department of LifeWay Christian Resources, Leadership Development Ministries of the Georgia Baptist Convention and the Texas Baptist Leadership Center of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
In addition to Strobel, other pastors, communicators and authors challenged participants not to limit the possibilities of the future by the successes of the past.
Joel Barker, author and futurist best known for popularizing the phrase “paradigm shifts” noted, “Innovation is the engine behind making the world better for everyone. If you can imagine a world without computers, automobiles, indoor plumbing, electric lights or the Post-it note, then you can begin to see where we’d be without innovation.”
Speakers at the conference agreed the goal is not change for change sake; it is to change the right things. Innovative pastors, they said, may change forms, structures and strategies to adapt the methods of the church to reach people for Jesus Christ, but that does not mean they are willing to compromise the integrity of the faith.
As it applies to the established church, innovators must be careful what they change, speakers indicated.
Leith Anderson, senior pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minn., said he believes innovative pastors need to exercise wisdom to know what they should change. For instance, he said, a Pittsburgh church “has the times of their services carved into the granite over the main entrance. It is hard to switch a service to 10:30 if [the permanent sign] reads 11!”
When Anderson became the senior pastor of his church in 1977, he said he inherited a rich tradition from his predecessor. To begin the process of intentional innovation, he instituted “Zero-based Ministry Programming.” He and the board of elders listed every resource and program the church had and asked, “How does this help us reach people for Christ?” If they determined it didn’t help them fulfill the Great Commission, they stopped doing the ministry. The process was painful and strenuous, he said, but it helped them know what they could change and what they should leave alone.
Anderson added he believes pastors need to give greater weight to the needs of the prospects than the needs of the institution.
“The significant mistake of the traditionalists,” Anderson said, “is they require the people to start where the church is instead of the church starting where the people are. Innovators begin by asking, ‘What do we need to do to reach the people where they are?'”
Innovative church planters are reaching people with the gospel message, speakers said.
Ed Young , founding pastor of the Fellowship Church in the Dallas metro area, said his church began in 1990 as a mission of First Baptist Church, Irving, with 150 people. They never took a survey of their community, Young said. Instead they prayed for direction, talked to people wherever they went and planned for a great harvest. Today the church averages attendance of 7,500 persons in a new building.
Young said his advice for the pastor who wants to become innovative is to:
— Pray for creativity.
— Take action to enhance creativity. “Innovation and hard work,” he said, “are inherently linked.”
— Connect with innovative people.
Trevor Bron, founding pastor of The Next Level Church (TNLC) in Denver, has a passion to reach his generation with the gospel of Jesus Christ. A “Gen-Xer” himself, he said he knows what it is like to be a latchkey child reared by the television set. In the beginning, The Next Level Church met on Tuesday nights as a church within Applewood Baptist Church to reach college students in the greater Denver area.
During his six-year journey with TNLC, the 27-year-old pastor has watched his ministry to 50 students grow into a self-supporting church that averages 1,500 people in attendance.
Bron does not believe The Next Level Church is a model for others to emulate. “Innovation,” he said, “is not imitation. If you seek to be cutting-edge, you should not imitate what other people do.”
When pastors call him wanting to know the secret to his success, Bron tells them to “find out what God is doing and do that.”
Next year’s National Innovative Church Leadership Conference will be May 30-June 2, 2000, at Glorieta.

Wilson is pastor of First Baptist Church of Alameda, Albuquerque, N.M., and a freelance writer.

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  • Jim L. Wilson