art of the start

Here’s an excellent statement:
“Innovation often originates outside the existing organizations, in part because successful organizations acquire a commitment to the status quo and a resistance to ideas that might change it” (Nathan Rosenburg, quoted in Guy Kawasaki, The Art of the Start, p. 19).

This is one of the issues of any institution, including the church. I read lots of material on the desperate need for innovative thinking to change the church. It is desperate for all the obvious reasons that I won’t get into right now. The problem is that most of this material is written from within the institution, by people like me—paid professionals.

Which is why the desert is such a strong and important symbol in scripture and throughout the history of the church. If we want to critique the church and change it innovatively, we MUST go to the desert for a new vision.

Wendell Berry, the American social critic, has something to say about this in his book, The Unsettling of America. Berry believes the pursuit of truth is better than the protection of truth. Once the mind has “consented to be orthodox”, then it becomes “narrow, rigid, mercenary, morally corrupt, and vengeful against dissenters.” He says this is the nature of orthodoxy: “one who presumes to know the truth does not look for it” (p. 174). He draws a direct analogy from religion:

“The pattern of orthodoxy in religion, because it is well known, gives us a useful paradigm. The encrusted religious structure is not changed by its institutional dependents– they are part of the crust. It is changed by one who goes alone to the wilderness, where he fasts and prays, and returns with cleansed vision. In going alone, he goes independent of institutions, forswearing orthodoxy (‘right opinion’). In going to the wilderness he goes to the margin, where he is surrounded by the possibilities– by no means all good– that orthodoxy has excluded. By fasting he disengages his thoughts from the immediate issues of livelihood; his willing hunger takes his mind off the payroll, so to speak. And by praying he acknowledges ignorance; the orthodox presume to know, whereas the marginal person is trying to find out. He returns to the community not necessarily with new truth, but with a new vision of the truth he see it more whole than before” (p. 174).

Let’s go to the desert! Or maybe recognize that we are already there and take advantage of it.

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  • Jeff Roach

    I love your blog today! What an innovative application of theory to the church!

  • kari

    My friends Don and Karen spent time in the desert this past winter – actually Mozambique. They recently gave a Sunday morning talk at a local church on their experiences (or as Don says, “I realized in Mozambique that real change in our world first requires real change in us – in me and in you”.
    Sounds like an innovative concept to me! Not a concept that has all answers for truth and religion, but one that is open to discovery of truth and spirituality.

    Three excerpts from their talk (all quotes from Don) are as follows. Not that Karen did not have any quotable quotes, but most people in the meeting simply wanted to get on a plane to Africa after she spoke…to spend some time in the desert so-to-speak.

    “Great needs and challenges are right here (at home). Serving those needs saves you from turning church into a religious rotary club; serving those needs saves you from a mediocre and uncertain faith deadened by the seductive attraction of NICE. Being nice is just not enough.

    Our good is the enemy of our best. God put in us enormous potential and gave us the keys – love God, serve others. Pretty simple.
    The people who are in Africa or going there are imperfect but it is inspirational to see what energy and strength they have from following…God to help others – meaningful, not in a token way.

    Talking about spiritual growth, and the comforts of daily life, Don suggests, “It requires that we change our lives to change the lives of others. Christ overturned the tables of the money changers, Christ challenged the authorities and values around him; Christ decidedly did not fit into the society of the day. Neither should we.”

    Just off the top of my head, but perhaps Bono should get modern day sainthood status, or at least a relevant prophet of-the-day award simply because his one statement “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”…bets are he’s still searching even while he’s cranking out more great tunes and attempting to alleviate a bit of the third world debt.

  • Richard

    There was a leadership seminar recently that was beamed into my church. Many church leaders spoke via our dish. Business persons attended who did not attend church. The main thought forwarded was that in this day and age we need to change because God is a God of change ( not static ). For most, change is difficult. Business and church leaders were encouraged to “swim upstream”. One example of change was to wear your watch on the opposite wrist for a month. Not so easy.

  • I was at a retreat once where they made us put our watches away for the entire weekend. This was an extremely challenging request. Some people actually freaked out! Now… put this in relationship to the habitual coercion of people. Imagine how difficult it would be to quit doing THAT! If we can’t wear a watch for a day, could we not coerce anyone for one day?