This episode of insideout explores the essential role of deep listening in fostering true innovation, and what that means for a church often fixated on ‘best practices.’ According to Rev. Dr. William (Bill) Gibson, “it’s a mistake to think that a best practice is a silver bullet answer for a declining church that lacks innovation and creativity.”
Over the last fifteen plus years, the Church has tried to embody innovation through the phrase best practices.
In the business world, best practices were about maintaining quality and establishing benchmarks. In the Church, we’ve had a tendency to see best practices as a program option to ensure success. If they worked in that church, then surely they’ll work in our, right?
But here is a major problem. The church is not as adaptive as corporate America. Often, by the time we implement a best practice, we are behind the curve in a world that is changing before our very eyes.
In 2011, Stephen Shapiro wrote this valuable little book entitled Best Practices Are Stupid: 40 Ways to Out-Innovate the Competition. Now before you claim that I am hating on best practices let me offer some clarity. Neither Shapiro or myself through this video are saying that we should ignore best practices, not at all.
It’s important for us to know what is working in a particular context, and why it works. But it’s a mistake to think that a best practice is a silver bullet answer for a declining church that lacks innovation and creativity. Rather than a plug and play approach, we should be focusing on contextual problem solving. Instead of trying something that will attract people in our doors, we need to step outside of our walls and engage in deep listening with real people, not just guessing what they want.
Think about this. Jesus was innovative in how he talked. He engaged the cultural language while also, likely, having the ability to speak three languages: Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek. This allowed him to draw upon a number of cultural methods in order to convey his message. Jesus captured the attention of his populist audience through overstatement, hyperbole, pun, metaphor, proverb, paradox, poetry, irony, and the use of questions. Through these devices Jesus connected with people in very powerful and personal ways. He used every tool in his toolbox. He helped people to unlearn and relearn what they have been taught their entire lives. See the Sermon on the Mount.
In fact, in Matthew Chapter 5, de demonstrates this unlearning and relearning activity by saying things like you have heard the law that says this, now I say this. I love verses 43 and 44. Jesus says, “You have heard the law that says ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say, love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.” Now that’s a verse that some Christians just simply want to ignore.
We sometimes forget that innovation is about change. The late Steve Jobs was famously quoted saying, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” The next time that you’re tempted to plug-and-play a best practice, what if, instead, you learned from it? Then, stepped outside your doors, engaged the very people you want to reach, and listened carefully for what they don’t know they want. And then you show it to them.
That is innovation. What if you simply showed them faith, hope, and love. Faith, hope, and the greatest of these, love.
Rev. Dr. William D. Gibson serves as Director of Strategic Faith Community Development for the Greater Northwest Area of The United Methodist Church.
This episode of insideout was e-filmed and edited by Rev. David Valera. Valera serves the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church as Director of Connectional Ministries.