Genesis 1:1 records that, ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth’. He then went on to create people in his ‘image and likeness’, passing on to them something of his creative nature1. How then is it, that the God of all creation has ended up with a church which is, by and large, non-creative? Sadly, much of the church today could actually be described as being anti-creative rather than creative; it is resolutely resistant to new ideas and change.
To remain relevant we must remain creative. Without creativity our churches will look, sound, feel and be the same ten years from now. And standing still in our twenty-first century world will show up much quicker than at any previous time in history. We live in a fast moving, technological world that makes anything which is not moving appear obsolete overnight.
Creativity Is Not A Gift
Creativity is not a gift just given to certain ‘arty’ types of people. Neither is it a personality type, a particular kind of event or a notable work of art. Creativity is our God given nature; the creator of the universe has downloaded himself into people. Creativity is within our special DNA code; we are all creative by divine nature. We may not all be expressing it, but we already have it. Often, the unsaved are far more expressive of their innate sense of creativity than the church. But when we were born again, our fallen nature was redeemed, and with it our creativity, which was restored back to usefulness for God.
The Church must hear this and accept her responsibility to build creative, innovative, relevant churches that connect with their communities. Innovation is vital to the success of our churches, businesses and ministries. New ideas are our future. Our problem, however, seems to be that the burden of what we know is so huge, it limits what we can imagine. Our greatest challenge isn’t what we don’t know, but what we do know, and that stifles our ability to receive new ideas. We form unhealthy emotional attachments to methods, customs, traditions and styles and see ourselves as custodians of these sacred things. We get confused between form and essence and go to war with each other over hymn books, pews, choir robes, the King James Version and the removal of the church organ. And just in case we in ‘newer’ churches are thanking God that this is not true of us, we also go to war over our newer equivalents of these things. When we confuse form with essence we fight for things God doesn’t even care about. Thousands of churches have split over disagreements about form while completely missing the essence of reaching lost people.
The Two Roadblocks To Innovation
Innovation is the application of a new idea that results in a valuable improvement. This definition protects us from people thinking that innovation is just lots of useless ideas. If it can’t be used to improve what we do, it’s not truly innovative.
There are two massive roadblocks to innovative thinking. They are so huge that most people, and even fewer churches, ever get past them. They are group-think and expert-think.
• Group-think is the power of what most people around us think. It’s the crowd or herd mentality. It was group-think that had Jesus figured as being either Elijah, an Old Testament prophet, or John the Baptist.2
• Expert-think is what the experts around us think. It is group-think on steroids!
These two innovation killers pin us down under the huge weight of what’s already known, thereby disabling us from thinking beyond what everyone already knows but which is not working. Democratically run churches can be paralysed by the power of group-think, as can policy run businesses that have forgotten that they exist to serve people rather than their policies. Certain airlines come to mind, but I won’t go there!
Our group can be many things: our nationality, age group, home group, church denomination, interest group, economic group etc. The point is that the weight of evidence suggests that we are all hardwired to conform, fit in and be accepted by the group; to maintain the status quo. And even more so if our jobs, salaries, opportunities and friendships depend on us fitting in with the group. In these cases we are even more likely to keep quiet when progress demands that someone speaks up.
In the Star Trek movies they once encountered the nearest life-form to the church you could ever meet. They were called the Borg; a mindless, group-think, collective consciousness. There was no individuality, no personal identity and no independent thought; ‘all must assimilate to the Borg’ was their mantra. Again, certain airline staff co me to mind here, but I must move on!
Following the collapse of the American company Enron in 2001, it was stated in the enquiry report that everyone became mindless conformists once inside the Enron boardroom. What’s really shocking about this is that Enron’s board consisted of highly successful business leaders, professors and former senior politicians. If people of that calibre could surrender to the power of clearly faulty group-think, we are all vulnerable. Group-think doesn’t just affect weak-minded, easily intimidated people. I think I’m a pretty strong-minded independent thinker, but group-think affected my life for years.
Expert-think is seen in our overwhelming inclination to align ourselves with the boss or the expert or the best known way of doing things. It’s like group-think but on steroids, because experts don’t even need to be present to shut down new ideas. Someone we respect just quoting what the so-called experts say can immediately stifle creativity.
I’m not against expertise. I’d rather have an expert operating on me than a novice surgeon, and rather an expert lawyer than one fresh out of law school. The problem is that all experts approach life with certain fixed mindsets. The advantage of this is that they know how to react, almost without thinking, in complex situations. The disadvantage is that a fixed mindset is resistant to questioning, especially from non experts. I recently read a shocking statement that said the biggest killer currently in America is doctors. The point of the article being that doctors are experts and people don’t think to question either their diagnosis or the prescriptions they are given to take.
Zero Gravity Thinking
A zero gravity thinker is a person who has broken free from the weight and huge downward pull of group-think and expert-think. These innovative thinkers defy gravity by escaping from underneath the burden of what we already know. Zero gravity thinkers help us to reset the gravity levels in our team, church or business by helping us to attain a degree of weightlessness in our thinking. Whilst we welcome gravity in the physical world, we should not welcome it in our mental world. Gravity’s job is to keep everything and everyone down, but what if the idea you need is up?
‘Fix your mind on things above, not on earthly things’ exhorted the apostle Paul3. Because God wants to do ‘immeasurably more’ than we can imagine4. Isaiah tells us that ‘God’s thoughts are not our thoughts’ but far higher5. But the more stuff we accumulate mentally, the bigger the weight of gravity anchoring it down.
The Emperor’s New Clothes
Do you remember the story of the Emperor’s new clothes? Everyone was told that only the most loyal subjects would be able to see the king’s new clothes. As the king paraded through the streets everyone shouted how fine and grand he looked, until he passed a small boy. This little boy shouted out what everyone knew but dare not say: ‘The king is in the all together; he’s naked!’ The story goes that the king fled indoors because he also knew the truth, but had allowed the two ‘expert’ tailors, who were really swindlers, to deceive him.
This story carries a powerful insight about the nature of zero gravity thinkers. They are people with some psychological distance and mental separation from what everyone else is too close to. The boy in the story was outside of the social pressure to appear loyal to the king. He didn’t care what others thought and wasn’t part of any group he didn’t want to upset.
It’s very difficult to keep mental distance from things that we do everyday and it becomes more difficult the longer we do them. When Jesus said to the crowds in his sermon on the mount, ‘You have heard it said… but I say to you’ 6, he was resetting the gravity levels established generations ago on thinking about murder, adultery, divorce, keeping your word, treatment of your enemies, etc. Jesus spent most of his public life challenging old group-think and expert-think strongholds in order to make way for both his new wine and his new wineskin, the church.
The Jethro Factor
Jethro was Moses’ father-in-law and his visit to Moses, when camped at Sinai in the wilderness, is recorded in Exodus. We read, ‘The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for all the people and they stood around him from morning till evening. When his father-in-law Jethro saw all that Moses was doing for the people he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”’ 7
Apparently no one had ever asked the great Moses why he did it that way? Moses’ answer was a classic expert-think answer when he basically said, ‘I’m Moses; this is what I do. When people don’t know God’s will or have a dispute they come to me and I give them the answer’. Jethro basically said, ‘That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard, this is gonna kill you and the people!’ Then he proceeded to give Moses a zero gravity thinking solution to his problem. Jethro had psychological separation from Moses’ world. He wasn’t a Hebrew, he wasn’t a leader under Moses and best of all, he wasn’t staying. We desperately need people like this in our world, people who can look at what we do and see with ease how it could be done better or smarter. These zero gravity thinkers are the key to keeping our churches, businesses and ministries innovative and relevant.
I thank God for every Jethro who has visited my church and had the confidence and gravity-free perspective to ask me ‘why?’ about various things in our ministry. Sadly, many pastors are too threatened and insecure to welcome a Jethro and so, like Moses, continue to wear both themselves and the people out.
Do you want your church, business and ministry to still be useful to God ten years from now? If so, you must commit to growing a creative life, and to sustain a creative life you must become a zero gravity thinker.
1 Genesis 1:26
2 Matthew 16:13-14
3 Colossians 3:2
4 Ephesians 3:20
5 Isaiah 55:9
6 Matthew 5:21-22
7 Exodus 18:13-14