So I just got back from a conference in Portland about transformation, innovation and the future of the church. It was a really cool conference where we learned from some secular innovators about design thinking and leadership through the unique challenges of the creative process. It really was pretty great and often inspiring.
But, having said all that, there was something that was kind of nagging at me the whole time: I felt a certain sense of anxious, fear-driven urgency to the whole thing.
This was probably because we talked a couple times during the conference about the United Methodist ‘shelf-life,’ or about how long we have until it all our institution kind of implodes in on itself. This was not new information to me as I heard it all through the ordination process, as older generations in the church have been ‘Princess Leiaing’ me and other young clergy for years, i.e. ‘help me, Obi Wan, you’re the only hope.’
But, as we sat and listened to these wonderful and inspiring stories of innovation and creativity there was this underlying narrative at work within me (and maybe it was only me): ‘well you better do this quick and fast and big or the whole thing’s going to fall apart.’
The funny thing that occurred to me in hindsight was that the presenters never talked about rushing the process or about instant results. In fact, they often talked about just the opposite. They talked about patience, perseverance, stability, and longevity. The story of their companies and their ability to innovate weren’t about a quick fix, a one hit wonder, or a time where everything just kind of blew up in an instant. They presented a different pace of growth, a growth that happens over years of cultivating an idea, a process and a way of life.
As Christians, I believe we are called to resist the narrative of quick fixes and instant gratification. We are called to cultivate lives of patience, stability, and longevity over a lifetime. As Eugene Peterson once said, ‘discipleship is long obedience in the same direction.’ Perhaps we in the church need to be committing to the long haul of sustaining innovation instead of jumping from one thing to the next in hopes that eventually it will blow up and save the church because, in the end, the church doesn’t need another savior, it’s already got one.
So I feel resolved at the moment to keep trying to do what we are doing at simple church, to tweak, to pivot, to respond, to innovate, to respond faithfully to the creative call from God, but to remember that my timeline is far less significant in the grand scheme than God’s timeline, captured by these words of Teilhard de Chardin:
“Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.”