Welcome to Module 4!
Welcome back to the Innovation project.
This week, we will be looking at the process for innovation. You are used to going to conferences that have a particular rhythm. There are speakers; perhaps there are breakout sessions. But, at most conferences, your job is to listen and learn.
That will not be the case when we gather for the innovation conference. The entire point of the summit is to provide a way for you to come with a plan that you can take back to your congregation. That’s why we began with having you listen to your people in your context. And that’s why we give you tools and ideas like re-invented practices. And that’s why we will gather. All so that you can create something specific for your people.
Today, we will say a little about what you can expect the process to be like when we gather. We have constructed a process that draws on the Christian practice of discernment, it learns from Practical Theology, and it builds off of insights about how Silicon Valley innovates using what they call Human-Centered Design.
Watch the following video.
- Listening to God
- Listening to Scripture
- Listening to the Christian Community
- Listening to the People Entrusted to your Care
- Listening to the World
Discuss the following questions on discernment
- Review the listening exercise you did to listen to the people entrusted to your care.
- Pick one story that you think tells you a lot about your people
- What longings (aspirations; hopes) are represented?
- What losses (fears; disappointments; anger) are represented?
- Take time to listen to God. Spend five minutes in quiet reflection as a group. During the minutes keep the stories of your people in your head and ask God what you need to hear from God about those stories.
- After you listen to God, discuss with each other (the Christian Community) what you heard.
- Take time to read Scripture: Read Mark 8: 27-38.
- This is a story where Jesus explodes the disciples’ assumptions (their mental models) about who Jesus is
- What assumptions about God are revealed in your peoples’ stories?
- What assumptions about God do you bring to this innovation process?
- Lastly, reflect on your world. Think about your town or the area of the city where your people live.
- How does the context shape your people?
- Think about the people beyond your congregation. What do they need to hear from God?
Discuss the following questions on Practical Theology (PT) and Human-Centered Design (HCD):
- PT & HCD each involve a divergent move where you gather as many ideas as you can find and a convergent move where you narrow those ideas into a goal or next step.
- In PT, the reflection focuses on insights from Scripture and theology. In HCD, the ideas focus on how we might address the problem.
- Discuss: How do you feel bringing together discernment, PT, and HCD?
More Re-Invented Practices: Gratitude and Generosity
In the last module, we introduced you to three practices that you might use to make sense of your people’s longings and losses. This week, we are offering a few more.
Let’s start with Gratitude and Generosity. Read the section in italics. Then discuss the questions at the end.
Gratitude is about choosing to remember the gift of God’s grace. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. It is the free gift of God, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8,9). Gratitude is choosing to remember that God gave me a gift. I did not get what I deserve. If I got what I deserved, I would receive death because of my sin (Romans 6:23; 3:23). But instead of death, God “lavished” an “inheritance” on me at the cost of his own Son (Eph. 1). Gratitude is not looking at the bright side. It is acknowledging that God’s gift is much brighter than anything I ever deserved.
There is an easy way to tell when we Christians have become too focused on getting what we deserve and have lost sight of the fact that grace is a gift from God. We tell ourselves, “That’s not fair.” Think of it this way. We all want what’s fair, especially children. If he gets some, then she gets some too. That’s fair. “If you get to go, then I get to go.” That’s fair. First come, first served. That’s what’s fair. But it’s not just children. Fairness is built into American laws. If he gets to vote, she gets to vote. That’s only fair. If I can buy a house here, you can too. That why we have Fair Housing laws. We want things to be fair. What’s wrong with that?
Jesus did not always think things should be “fair.” He thought the last should be first. In Matthew 20, he told a story to describe what he meant. A farmer owned a vineyard. He hired some workers for his vineyard and agreed to pay them a denarius, a day’s wage. After all, that’s fair. But then, around 9a.m., the farmer saw some idle workers in the village, so he hired them saying, “I will pay you what is right.” Same scene at noon, at three, and even just before quitting time.
And then at the end of the day, when it came time to settle accounts, he gave everyone a full day’s wage. The early morning workers complained, “You made them equal to us.” That’s not fair. The farmer responded, “I am doing you no wrong.” You got what you deserved. The others got more than they deserved. “Are you envious because I am generous?” He was generous and they did not think it was fair.
What does “fair” mean? It means you get what you deserve. And that’s when the next question comes. Do you really want God to give you what you deserve? Do you want to set that precedent? What do you and I deserve? If you and I get what we deserve, we get death. You don’t want things to be fair. You want grace.
What is grace? Youth ministers often define it as God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense (GRACE). It is much more than that, but let’s start there. We get more than we deserve – and we get it because Christ paid a price we could not pay. It is an undeserved gift. Grace is not fair. But that’s the whole point. Jesus’ message in the parable is that the last shall be first. That’s not fair. You and I – we’re not the first, we’re the last – the ones who deserve the wages of sin. You don’t want things to be fair. You want grace.
Some tend to spiritualize this parable, saying that anyone who accepts Christ on their deathbed will still get into heaven. And that’s true. But that’s not the only point Jesus set out to make. Grace is not just something we receive from God. We are supposed to practice grace. “Judge not, lest you be judged,” he warned. “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Don’t just be fair, show grace.
Grace is hard to practice because it scares some people – especially those of us who value law and order. We Christians live between two temptations – temptations that come from our most basic fears. Some people fear the lack of control, while others fear being hemmed in by rules. Those who fear being out of control – like the Pharisees – tend toward legalism (too many rules). Those who fear being hemmed in tend toward anti-nomianism (too few rules). Or to put in more societal terms, those with power are often tempted to legalism, while those without power are often tempted toward anti-nomianism. And grace scares those who fear a lack of control. They would rather have the fairness of legalism than the anti-nomianism of grace.
A person does not need to talk like a theologian to say that grace seems unfair, even dangerous. It can feel like grace promotes lawlessness. For example, I was recently talking with a woman named Cathy who wanted to know about the biblical mandate to care for “the widow, the orphan, and the alien in your midst.” Cathy could accept that we should care for widows and orphans because they haven’t done anything wrong. But caring for aliens, especially illegal aliens? “Doesn’t that just reward them for breaking the law?” she asked, “And won’t that just encourage others to do wrong?” Shouldn’t they get what’s coming to them? Wouldn’t that be fair? It’s a good question, one that the Apostle Paul anticipated when he talked about God’s grace in Romans 6. “We have grace, can’t we just keep on sinning?” he asked. Or, to put it Cathy’s way, should we eliminate grace if it gives some people an excuse to keep on sinning? And then Paul answers himself emphatically, “May it never be.” Grace may be unfair. But you don’t want things to be fair; you want grace.
And that’s when the wry smile comes across my face – the smile that comes when I get caught but don’t want to admit it – the smile that used to cause my little sister to shout, “You’re busted!” Because I have to admit, there are indeed times when I want things to be fair, moments when I want God’s balance to swing toward righteousness rather than mercy. I know exactly when that happens: the more power I have and the greater my advantage, the more I think I want things to be fair. And when I’ve been wronged or when I am dealing with someone else’s sin (especially a sin that does not tempt me), I want judgment. When I’m feeling “righteous indignation,” I don’t want to hear about grace. I want them to get what they deserve. I want fairness for others, but grace for me.
Of course, that is the time that I myself need grace, and when I need to practice grace. So I have created a red flag warning that goes off in my head whenever I feel “righteous indignation” welling up – because it’s not really all that righteous, is it? Whenever I get really worked up about someone else’s sin (especially someone whose sin does not directly affect me), I have to recognize that I’m probably wrong. I’ve become the legalist – the one who thinks he can cast the first stone. And so I force myself to back off even if I am right (okay, I try to make myself back off). I quiet myself because I know that I’m probably asking God to be fair and give them what they deserve. And then I remind myself, I don’t want things to be fair, I want grace.
Grace is the connection that unites gratitude and generosity. Gratitude is not complete until it becomes generosity. Generosity is not (just) about money. It is about a generous spirit – a willingness to give others the benefit of the doubt. Jesus told many parables about the dangers that come when gratitude does not lead to generosity. For example, in Luke 7, a woman is so grateful that she anoints Jesus with expensive ointment. The Pharisees condemn her because they see it as extravagant. So Jesus tells them the story of a man who is forgiven a large debt by the king. The man then chooses not forgive a much smaller debt from a friend. He wanted grace for himself, but he wanted to be “fair” with the man who owed something to him. He wanted to receive generosity, but he did not want to practice it. That is what Jesus condemns.
Gratitude must become generosity. The New Testament regularly talks about a “generous spirit” and about “denying self” in favor of others. We Christians often mistake “denying self” for a drudging and defeated attitude. But I think it means instead to have a generous spirit. And this shows how gratitude creates generosity. When I am so overwhelmed by the gifts I have received, it is easy to let others have a little of my good fortune. True gratitude flows into generosity.
Let me give an example. Let’s say I have a plate of cookies, and there is only one left. And there are two of you who want that last cookie. Generosity is hard in the midst of scarcity – because it will cost you something. But let’s say, instead, that I present you with a plate of forty cookies. Do you mind letting someone else take a cookie? Of course not, you are sharing out of your abundance. Now let’s say, when I give you a gift of forty cookies, someone next to you asks, “May I try one?” It would be insulting to me (the giver) if you did not allow that person to try one. If you and I truly believe that we have enough, then we will be grateful. And, if we are truly grateful for that abundance, then we will share it.
The theologian Miroslav Volf points out how our attitudes about gratitude and generosity are bound up in our understanding of God. If gratitude does not lead to generosity, then we have misunderstood who God is. We give because God gave and because God continues to give. We cannot turn God’s gift into a transaction – as if God were a deal-maker and we could get the better of Him. And we cannot pretend that we owe God nothing – as if God were a cosmic Santa Claus who left us gifts and then disappeared. We owe God gratitude, the kind of gratitude that makes us want to be generous as God is generous.
We have already discussed how every person’s longings and losses at some point deal with questions of identity, belonging, and purpose. So, how does the practice of gratitude relate to identity, belonging, and purpose? On identity: My identity is rooted in God’s abundance and not my experience of scarcity. If gratitude is choosing which story to remember, then we must recognize that choosing gratitude is choosing what my identity will be. Am I defined by abundance or scarcity?
On belonging: True community (and not just a sense of belonging) requires mutual accountability. You make claims on me and I make claims on you. If I lack gratitude, I will find it very hard to allow you to make claims on me. Gratitude keeps me from grasping. It makes community possible.
About purpose: Generosity (which is the child of gratitude) is the opposite of selfishness. And any purpose that matters exists on behalf of others. If I lack gratitude, then I lack generosity. And if I lack generosity, then my purpose will be only about me and my interests. For purpose to fulfill the basic human longing to matter, it has to be about others. And for purpose to be about others, it must be built on gratitude and generosity.
- What do you make of the phrase “You don’t want things to be fair; you want grace”?
- What would it look like to practice grace-filled gratitude and generosity in your congregation?
Samples of Other Re-Invented Christian Practices
My brother and his family love Costco. They even know why. They love the little samples. They wander through the store looking for people handing out bite-sized cured meats or little cups with some new drink. The samples are their favorite part of shopping.
In that spirit, the next few paragraphs show bite-sized samples of other ways that we might re-invent practices to help us recalibrate the church. Each one starts with a one-sentence summary of what the practice could mean in the contemporary world, followed by a paragraph-length description.
Read through the practices, and then select one to discuss. (If you are unsure which way to go, I can tell you that previous groups have found the discussion of Sabbath particularly helpful – especially when the connect it to last week’s discussion of vocation.)
Sabbath is a healthy rhythm of labor and rest. We tend to think of Sabbath as being about a day of rest. And when you are a Hebrew people just escaped from seven-day-a-week slavery, then you don’t need to learn to work. You only need to learn to rest. But, in our world, learning to labor well might be as important as learning to rest well. I think of it this way. We all know that is important to eat right. And we all know that eating junk food is eating, but it’s not healthy. In the same way, I believe that there is such a thing as junk-food labor and junk-food rest. The purpose of rest in the Sabbath is to renew and replenish. Junk-food rest is the kind of leisure activity that will neither renew nor replenish. For some folks, watching television is renewing, but for most it is junk food. I’ve discovered in my own life that watching basketball on television is as renewing as playing it. I watch like a coach – looking at strategy, evaluating players. It engages a part of my brain in the way that a good novel or healthy conversation might. But watching other television, that is junk food for me. So it does not count as restorative rest. Likewise, there is productive work and there is junk-food work. We all know what it is like to sit at a desk without being engaged; that’s junk-food labor. It involves a lot of procrastinating, avoidance, and distraction. But productive labor captures my whole person. Time slips by without my noticing. I am engaged and alive. I strive in my life to avoid junk-food labor and junk-food rest. Sabbath is a healthy rhythm of labor and rest.
Prayer is choosing to trust God even when I would rather not; it is offering up to God (in fear and trembling) the things that matter most to me. I learned to pray differently when my wife Genie had cancer (cancer that was a lot more serious than either of us wanted to acknowledge out loud). I realized that at the time I had a fairly simplistic understanding of prayer. Sometimes I acted like I could obligate God – as if just the right prayer would force God to do what I wanted. And sometimes I acted like it was just self-talk – as if all it did was make me feel better. I knew neither was true, but I regularly acted as if they were. The revelation came when I acknowledged that I was deeply invested in something I could not influence or control. I wanted to make her get well. And the fact that I could not ensure that happening was disturbing to me. And, at first, that led to fatalism. I’d just say to myself that God would do what God would do. It was a way of emotionally protecting myself. But, eventually, I came to find a way to express faith rather than fatalism. I created a little ritual where each day I would start the morning by handing Genie over to God. I did it each day as I began my commute. I would say (often aloud), “God if I could take control of this myself, I would. But I can’t. So, with fear and trembling, I hand her over to You.” That was a decade ago (she is fine now, by the way). But it changed the way I pray. I now see prayer as handing over my loved ones and my fears to God in an honest statement of belief and unbelief. I say (often aloud), “God, if I could make it happen myself, I would. But, since I cannot, I hand this person (or situation) over to you. I believe; help my unbelief.”
Community (Koinonia) is mutual obligation. One driving characteristic of the church of the New Testament was koinonia (usually translated as fellowship or community, but sometimes as partnership). We in the contemporary church have reduced “fellowship” to a potluck dinner or a quick conversation over coffee after church. But the koinonia of the New Testament involves mutual accountability and mutual obligation. Think of it this way. If I was driving home one day and I saw a Chevy in a ditch and the owner on her cell phone, she would likely not expect me to stop (even though I’ve read about the Good Samaritan). But what if the owner of the Chevy was my sister. How would she react if I drove right by? I am obligated to stop. The bonds of blood that connect us say that I have a responsibility. But, in the contemporary church, we do not feel mutual responsibility. We believe the Big Lie that says, “Live and let live.” But the message of the New Testament is that we are one in Christ, bound together as sisters and brothers in the gospel. Koinonia is mutual obligation and mutual accountability.
Testimony is narrating your own life according to the contours of the gospel. It involves using the vocabulary and mental models of the faith to describe your own life. There is a misconception that says that testimonies are only about good things – that a story has to have a happy ending in order to qualify as a testimony. But there are lots of ways to talk about God’s presence in my life without necessarily having to sugarcoat it. I might tell about how I experienced pain and how I cried out to God in anger (see, next chapter’s discussion of lament). I might tell of how I trusted God even though I could see no redeeming quality to my suffering. I might describe how I felt betrayed by a fellow Christian or was abandoned in a moment of need – and I might acknowledge that, in this fallen world, we Christians may hurt each other. Or, I might tell stories that have happy endings – such as when I felt the Spirit of God with me when I was feeling lonely. So long as I am using Christian categories to narrate my life, I am practicing testimony.