Stewardship Report: Innovation as Culture

April 9, 2018

Over the past several years, it seems like nearly every industry has fallen in love with the word “innovation.”  This is true for businesses, nonprofits, schools, churches, and basically any organization trying to figure out how to thrive in a world that changes more each day.  Often spoken are phrases like “innovate or die” or “if you don’t change with the times, the times will pass you by” or, my favorite, “we need to re-imagine [insert any word or industry here].”

If you detect a little sarcasm or frustration in my writing, you are “hearing” me correctly. I fear that innovation has become everything, which means that it is nothing.  As a society, we label nearly any change as innovative, and we are constantly looking for ways to be more innovative than our competitors. (I’ll save my thoughts on how competition has no place in the Kingdom of God for another time!)  The unfortunate reality is that for all of the change, innovation, and “re-imagination” of theological education, it seems like not much real change is happening.

Perhaps the challenge before us isn’t creating innovative programs or services, but rather it is creating organizational cultures that learn quickly and move often, are adaptive and nimble, and embrace change as part of who they are and not as something to do.

Let’s talk about the phrase “learn quickly and move often.”  About one month before I was appointed as president of Sioux Falls Seminary, I wrote a blog post about how schools need to build a culture that embraces a virtuous circle of experimentation, adaptation, and iteration.  One in which we create, implement, evaluate and learn, and then integrate what has been learned in order to move again.

This is not about innovation as much as it is about being attentive to the movement of the Spirit and the needs of those God places in our care.  It is a posture of learning and curiosity that fosters creative thinking and new ways of being.  When we embrace this paradigm, the walls that once confined us to certain ways of thinking will begin to crumble, revealing a world of new possibilities.

I am blessed to work with people at Sioux Falls Seminary who have been willing to move in this direction. As a result, we have developed a reputation as one of the most innovative seminaries in North America.  Almost weekly, we have the privilege of being invited to speak into the work being done by schools around the world and by denominations seeking to develop servants to participate in the Kingdom mission.

As we continue to refine our ability to learn quickly and move often, my prayer is that we never lose focus of what God is doing in our midst. We must always be cognizant of where he is working and how we can join him in that work!

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