Adaptive Leadership

A Note from Luminex: This morning’s blog post is a reprise of a post originally published on May 15, 2017. Enjoy!

Creativity and innovation are critical skills for leaders in the 21st Century. Many organizations are investing in creativity and building teams to work on innovative processes and products. And for good reason: Creativity fuels growth, improves existing ministry and processes, and allows us to accomplish more with less money.

But creativity and innovation are not always welcome in some organizational cultures, including churches. The desire for stability, predictability, and control (yes, the C-word!) permeates many of our cultures and shapes leadership expectations. So while many leaders want to create and innovate, fear of “rocking the boat” or upsetting stakeholders overrides the desire and relegates them to being managers of the status-quo rather than leaders for the future.  Because of status-quo thinking, many churches are characterized by control cultures that stifle creativity for the sake of comfort and predictability.

Cultural enemies of creativity and innovation:
Status quo thinking is poison in the system of a missional church, and the enemy of creativity and innovation. Emphasizing and desiring predictability, comfort, “stability” (wrongly defined as no change), unchallenged assumptions and beliefs characterize such church cultures. Compared to the biblical call to transformation (e.g. Romans 12:2; 2 Cor. 3:18; Romans 8:29), the desire and expectation that individuals, even the church, would remain unchanged is contrary and counterproductive to God’s purposes. I often need to remind myself that “there is no neutral in the Christian life” or the church. But neutral seems like such an attractive option, doesn’t it?

Consider a bicycle rider on a steep hill who starts getting tired. She does not say, “I think I’ll just stop pedaling for a while so I can rest.” No. Why? Because when we stop pedaling we don’t just maintain our position. When we stop pedaling, we lose ground. The same is true of Christians and the Church. When we are tired we must not stop, we should downshift. We create. We innovate. We find new ways to do more with less. That’s why leaders are so essential to the mission and growth of the Church. Leaders not only foster creativity and innovation for the sake of accomplishing more with less effort, they encourage and motivate the Church to “keep pedaling” through difficult and uncertain times.

Above all else, spiritual leaders are responsible for leading God’s people to accomplish God’s purposes for them. God has clearly communicated to us that his purpose for his people is spiritual transformation, missional outreach, and growth. This won’t happen without creativity and innovation. What about your culture? Are creativity and innovation communicated and celebrated? Or, are creative “mavericks” silenced and shunned? Do people want to just stop pedaling? How can that be changed?

Fueling a culture of creativity and innovation:
Make no mistake, cultural transformation takes time and effort. Change to a more innovative culture that supports rather than extinguishes ideas is a progression. It begins with an adjustment, not only in leadership attitudes but a church-wide shift of philosophy open and receptive to new processes.  The culture must support ideas and creativity at all levels. The critical factor is the willingness of leaders and followers to accept risk-taking and uncertainty. However, change is worth considering, because ultimately the spiritual life and missional survival of the Church is at stake. To begin, think, pray and talk through three important questions.

Where are we?
Growing creativity and innovation in the Church begins by assessing the current culture. What do we value? Are creativity and innovation part of our organization? Do we communicate, celebrate, and cultivate creativity? Are we willing to hear and consider new and fresh ideas?

Where do we want to be?
What values do we want to characterize our church in 3-5 years? Do we want to make continual progress in transformation, becoming more Christlike? Do we desire to become more flexible and able to adapt to changing contexts, ministry challenges, and needs? What values must we adopt and internalize to achieve those desires? What change must occur within leaders to effectively lead a culture of creativity and innovation?

What won’t change?
While creativity and innovation are critical to healthy, growing churches, stability also has its place. It is important to recognize that leaders must be capable of managing competing values, maintaining the balance of creative innovation and organizational stability. Because innovation raises tension between flexibility and control values, leaders must be particularly skilled at living with tension of opposing values; change and stability, creativity and tradition, innovation and “common sense.” Innovation can alter relationships across team and group boundaries, so leaders must be able to recognize the big picture of what is happening across interpersonal relationships and groups.

Moving Forward:
Creativity and innovation are critical factors in the life and health of any organization, especially the church. Whether you are leading a relatively new congregation or one with 140 years of tradition, you can bring the culture change necessary to embrace innovation. The process is not easy, but few things of value are easy. We know that God desires to conform us to the image of His Son, so we can trust the Holy Spirit to empower us for that task. So, step one is to pray for God to begin the transformation process in minds and hearts while you work to create a sense of urgency to become a culture of creativity and innovation with other church leaders. The Church and the Kingdom of God will benefit from your effort. And you may be amazed at what God accomplishes through you!  Keep pedaling!

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