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Innovate or Die
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Innovate or Die
Tearing Off the Roof

By Rich DuBose
 
Today the Adventist Church needs members and pastors who are willing to “think different” about ministry; people who are not afraid to think outside of the box or color outside of the lines--not just for the sake of being different, but for the sake of finding new ways to connect people with Jesus.
 
Traditionally, many Adventists have viewed ministry as a static target, with a prescribed formula for action. And for years we have said, "if you follow these steps and share these specific doctrines in this particular order, then God will bless you with success." My observation and study has led me to believe that if we're happy with limited success, then we should keep doing what we've always done and keep trying to convince ourselves that we're happy with the outcomes. But I'm not! A revolutionary thought that dawned on me a number of years ago (I admit, I'm slow) is that ministry is not a static target, but rather a moving one--meaning that there is no one-right-way to do ministry. What works with one generation or culture may not work as well with the next. In addition, I've come to realize that ministry is not an end in itself but is rather a means to an end. The end is Jesus. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is not the end, but only a means to an end. The end is Jesus.
 
The goal is to connect people with Jesus. Any argument we make about methodology is misguided, unless we are doing something that is immoral. Whatever works and does not violate scripture is permissible.
 
I believe Ellen White saw ministry as a moving target in her time. This is why she said:
 
“Whatever may have been your former practice, it is not necessary to repeat it again and again in the same way. God would have new and untried methods followed. Break in upon the people – surprise them.” -- Manuscript 121, 1897 (Evangelism, p.125)

“Men [in business] will invest in patent rights and meet with heavy losses, and it is taken as a matter of course. But in the work and cause of God, men are afraid to venture.”  (Evangelism, p. 62-63)

What I hear Ellen White saying is that we need to be willing to take risks and stop trying to always play it safe! This doesn’t mean we should throw caution and money to the wind and do foolish things. But we should not be afraid to try new things--even if some of them fail.
 
The goal is to connect people with Jesus, and we should never let arguments about methodology get in the way.

What We're Up Against
 
David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, wrote a book a few years ago titled, “UnChristian” that was based upon some groundbreaking research they did among 16-29 year-olds about their mindset, their skepticism and their experiences, as well as their points of spiritual openness.
 
He found that most young people have had broad exposure to Christianity. In fact, 65% of all American young people report making a commitment to Jesus Christ at some point in their lives. Yet, based upon his surveys, Kinnaman concluded that only about 3% of these young adults have a biblical worldview.
 
To illustrate the significance of this he translates it into real numbers:
 
“This means that out of ninety-five million Americans who are ages 18-41, about sixty million say they have already made a commitment to Jesus that is still important; however only about three million of them have a biblical worldview” (p.74-75). Not having a biblical worldview has huge ramifications on how people think and live.
 
One of the reasons there is a disconnect between what they say and how they act is that many are disenchanted with Christianity as a whole. It is no longer relevant to their lives.
 
Once Upon a Time
 
One of the phenomena that we are dealing with today is that the way the world thinks has shifted, but many Christians, including Adventists, haven’t noticed and keep trying to engage it with methods and techniques that have limited success.
 
We’ve all heard of Postmodernism. Without getting into a big discussion about what it is, we know that it’s pervasive and that it affects us all to some degree.
 
“Postmodernism postulates that many, if not all, apparent realities are only social constructs and are therefore subject to change. It claims that there is no absolute truth and that the way people perceive the world is subjective and emphasizes the role of language, power relations, and motivations in the formation of ideas and beliefs.” -- Wikipedia
 
Whether we like it or not, we must deal with this kind of thinking and should look for ways to communicate with those who embrace it.
 
Ways to Connect with Postmoderns
 
Drew Dyck, editorial manager of the ministry team at Christianity Today has written a book titled, “Generation EX Christian,” about why young adults are leaving the church. And he talks about some conclusions that he came to after talking with a number of his own friends and others who have left the church.
 
Dyck refers to them as “leavers.”
 
“Talking to leavers with a postmodern worldview can be frustrating, particularly for those with a more traditional mindset. In a cruel twist of irony, thorough preparation can actually sabotage effectiveness.
 
You have your arguments ready, your facts straight, and you want to put them to good use. You stand ‘prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have’ (1 Peter 3:15 NIV). But then you talk to postmodern thinkers and find that everything you’ve studied seems useless. They’re not interested in philosophical proofs for God’s existence or in the case for the resurrection. Your best defenses of the faith seem to fall on deaf ears, or worse yet, makes them even more resistant to your message” (p.35).
 
Dyck shares five key tips (included below) that he feels provide us with significant opportunities to speak with postmodernist leavers and people today in general.
 
“In a postmodern world, meta-narratives are suspect, but personal perspectives are sacrosanct. Whatever you experience or feel deeply will be respected. You are authorized to tell your story.”
 
1. Story-telling is highly respected. “Hollywood understands this. Jesus understood it. (his primary presentation method was story-telling).”
 
2. Post-moderns are suspect of meta-narratives--which includes broad sweeping historical accounts that try to explain why the world is the way it is (i.e. the great controversy between good and evil). Story-telling is more effective, yet if we just tell our stories without connecting them to the story of Jesus we haven’t given them anything of substance. We need to “convey the gospel in creative and beautiful ways. Retell stories that show Jesus’ heart for the marginalized, such as His exchange with the woman at the well, His healing of lepers, or the story of Him rescuing the woman caught in adultery. They desperately need passionate storytellers willing to re-enchant the gospel story, and let the person of Jesus capture their imaginations afresh.”
 
3. Build Trust - “There is an invisible wall between distrust and trust--a threshold. It seems that people must move through this threshold into trust in order for them to continue on to Jesus. We cannot credibly talk with people about spirituality if they don’t trust us.”
 
4. Invite Them to Serve -  “Postmoderns prefer to discover truth through experience rather than through reason. Most have a strong social conscious and a willingness to serve the poor and oppressed.
 
5. Follow the Leader - “We’d do well to surrender our often clunky and predictable methods to follow Him, moving from soul to soul, whetting spiritual appetites, speaking the lost language of spiritual longing, challenging, probing, provoking, baffling. It’s not an easy act to follow. But it’s worth it.”
 
Obviously, creativity is not a silver bullet that automatically brings success. We need to be Spirit-filled, and we need to pray like we’ve never prayed before. But God gives us the capacity to enlarge our thinking and to be flexible with how we approach our mission. And I believe our work will not progress as it should if we aren’t willing to try new things.
 
One of my favorite stories in all scripture is the one found in Mark 2:1-5 about the four men who used divergent thinking and creative problem-solving to accomplish their mission.
 
Tearing Off the Roof
 
“When Jesus returned to Capernaum several days later, the news spread quickly that he was back home. Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door.”
 
“While he was preaching God’s word to them, four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat.” “They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head. Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus.”
 
The man's friends ran the risk of being criticized and ridiculed. They used what is known as “convergent thinking” to solve their problem.
 
The conventional approach wasn’t working; they couldn't carry their friend through the front door. The "traditional" route to Jesus was blocked by people. So, they quickly considered their options and came up with a quirky idea; "Let's tear off the roof." They literally tore part of the roof off to bring their friend to Jesus!
 
“Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, ‘My child, your sins are forgiven’” (Mark 2:5, NLT).
 
What this says to me is that ministry is a means to an end, and that we are to do whatever it takes to connect people with Jesus. 
 
The four men in the story didn't wait for others to solve their problem. Nor did they reason that the obstacles meant that it wasn’t meant to be. They started pulling off roof tiles.
 
Unless we approach ministry with this kind of passion we will never see the results that we say we want!
 
“Tearing off the roof” requires that we spend less time talking and thinking about ourselves and more time thinking about our end-goal, which is to connect our “friends” and neighbors with the One who came to save to the “uttermost.”
 
The owner of the house probably didn’t like having a hole in his roof! It must have been a mess. But he couldn’t deny that it was for a good cause, and he knew that somehow it would be fixed.
 
For God’s sake, let’s move our lives, and the lives of our churches over to the edge! Let’s be willing to risk and venture for the sake of those in our communities who are perishing without hope!
 
For God's sake and for the sake of those who are lost, let’s determine that we are going to do whatever it takes to connect them with Jesus before it’s too late!
 
Rich DuBose is Director of Church Support Services for the Pacific Union Conference www.churchsupportservices.org