3 questions to encourage innovation in your congregation

Scott Cormode Image Scott Cormode | Sep 18, 2020

Photo by Ying Ge

Last week, I was talking to a pastor who spoke about how tired she was—tired because each day brought a new question that she had never considered, an important decision to make, and a new wave washing over her. The image I had as she spoke was of a hiker trying to wade through a river. Halfway across, the water turned out to be deeper than she thought, and the current more unpredictable. She needed something to hang on to.

What she wanted and needed was a set of questions that would orient her each time she faced a new congregational challenge. And although they might not answer the specific situation, the questions would give her a foundation on which to start.

3 questions innovative churches are asking

In The Innovative Church, I present five questions every leader should ask in order to guide innovation in their ministry. My previous post introduced the first two questions, which help a leader develop the agility the need to lead an innovative congregation. Today I want to unpack the three questions that leaders can ask to help their congregations lay the groundwork for innovation.

Question 3: What big lies do your people believe that prevent them from hearing the gospel?

Every one of us is deceived by Big Lies—the distorted beliefs that we cling to instead of hearing the gospel. Civil Rights leaders in the 1960s constantly had to remind people that Jim Crow laws were based on the Big Lie that “Some lives are worth more than others.” In our work, we found churches commonly believe lies like, "You have to earn love" and "Believing the right things makes you better than other people." Of course, no one says these lies aloud, but they become part of what we implicitly teach.

Likewise, as we have worked with innovating youth ministries, we heard a number of Big Lies from and about young people: “If you knew me, you wouldn’t love me.” “Not doing bad things makes up for not doing good things.” “I am who my friends (or my parents or my church or my grades) say that I am.” “Getting attention is the same as having friends.” “Christians should not feel sad.” Each lie is a distortion of the gospel of grace that Jesus calls us to preach. And until we identify and replace the distortions, our people will be swallowed by the misshapen stories they tell themselves.

Question 4: How will you make spiritual sense of longings and losses?

Jesus came to live, and die, and rise again in order to transform all the ways that it is hard to be human. We make spiritual sense by weaving the gospel story into the story of our people’s lives. If the Big Lie is the misshapen story our people tell themselves, then our job is to offer them a new story—one of grace and hope in Jesus Christ.

Think of the young person who says, “If you knew me, you wouldn’t love me.” They think that they can hide from God and they think that God would reject them if God only knew. But God already knows and loves them. We can offer a story of the God who will not give up on them. Or, think of a person who experiences tremendous loss—it could be the death of a loved one or the death of a long-awaited senior year of high school. We can offer the Christian practice of lament as a way to say that God invites honesty and even anger.

Question 5: How will you share a story of future hope?

Vision is a shared story of future hope.

Look at the ways that faithful leaders led God’s people in both the Old and New Testaments. They repeatedly invited people to inhabit a story. The prophet Nathan invited King David into a story of a man who had nothing but a ewe lamb so that the king could see his own sin. Jesus told parables to invite people into a world where “the last shall be first.” And what did the Apostle Paul do when he encountered a people who believed the Big Lie that the only (and impossible) way to God was to obey the Law? He told them a story of God’s grace in Jesus.

How, then, can we cultivate ourselves as agile leaders and innovative congregations? We must be transformed by listening with empathy to the longings and losses of the people God entrusts to our care. Next we must make spiritual sense of those longings and losses by replacing the Big Lie with shared stories of gospel hope. Only then will we be able to bring the never-changing gospel to our ever-changing world.

Tweet: Discover three important questions that leaders can ask to help their congregations lay the groundwork for innovation.

Want more helpful tips from The Innovative Church? Read about the two key questions that can help a leader develop the agility in Scott’s previous post.

A guide to innovation in your ministry

The church as we know it is calibrated for a world that no longer exists.

It needs to recalibrate in order to address the questions that animate today's congregants. Leading congregational researcher Scott Cormode explores the role of Christian practices in recalibrating the church for the twenty-first century, offering church leaders innovative ways to express the never-changing gospel to their ever-changing congregations.

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Scott Cormode Image
Scott Cormode

Scott Cormode (PhD, Yale University), an ordained Presbyterian minister, is the Hugh De Pree Professor of Leadership Development at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California. He is a senior fellow at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership and the Fuller Youth Institute. Cormode founded the Academy of Religious Leadership and the Journal of Religious Leadership.

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