Between Substance & Style: Innovation Happens in the Middle

catalyst 200cInnovation may not be what we’ve been told.

It isn’t about being the coolest kid in the room. That’s just style. And it doesn’t come from tearing down the things that matter. That’s our substance.

Innovation happens in the space between style and substance.

I’ve spent the last two days at Catalyst West Coast. It was a huge, elaborate, mind-numbingly excessive upload of the best, brightest and newest ideas, methods and thinking currently happening in the evangelical church in America.

As anyone who’s read The Grasshopper Myth knows, this wasn’t my first time at Catalyst. In fact, this was my fourth, so I went in knowing what to expect.

It didn’t disappoint.

In future posts, I’ll probably talk about many of the things I learned in the last two days, but for now there are three things that this year’s conference reaffirmed for me. They relate to the issues of style, substance and innovation. And they are very encouraging.

 

Substance: We Have a Lot In Common

It’s great to see that events like Catalyst emphasize what we agree on, not what separates us. Thousands of ministers from various denominations and all sizes of congregations talked about some very big issues (and had some great fun too), but there was never a question that we were there for the same reasons:

  • We love Jesus
  • We love our churches
  • We love what we do, and feel very grateful to be able to do it
  • We revere the Bible as God’s Word
  • We want to reach our communities for Jesus
  • We want other churches to succeed, not just our own
  • We want to use the best possible means to do what Jesus has called us to do

Don’t listen to the voices on the fringe that want to tear fellow ministers and churches down. If the leaders I spent the last two days with are an example of where the church is heading, we’re gonna be OK.

The center is holding.

 

Style: What We Differ On Is (Mostly) Trivial

Some of you may be surprised that a Small Church fan like me would go to, and get a lot out of a conference that comes from such a big- and megachurch standpoint.

But why not? Everyone has a part to play in the kingdom, and as I’ve stated very clearly in The Grasshopper Myth and on this blog, big churches have a lot to add to the kingdom of God. Big events like this are just one example of something megachurches can do that Small Churches can’t pull off. I’m grateful for it.

Plus, Catalyst’s prevailing message was about church and pastoral health, leadership and spiritual growth. It was probably the most universally applicable conference I’ve ever attended. Almost nothing was presented that I’d have to scale down for size.

Yes, they did things I couldn’t come close to duplicating. I won’t have the David Crowder Band lead in worship next week, or hold the world premiere of clips from next year’s “Noah” movie starring Russell Crowe. But moments like that were the frosting, not the cake. (The worship that Crowder and others led us in, was definitely some substantial cake, though.)

Did I agree with everything I saw and heard? Of course not. There are some things I don’t want to have within earshot or eyesight of my church. Some because it won’t work for us. Some because, well… I didn’t like it very much. But that’s OK. There are things you love in your church that I wouldn’t want in mine, and vice versa.

But when pastors can get together and agree on the points I’ve outlined above, anything we might disagree on seems really trivial.

I may tackle some of those disagreements later, but for now let’s be grateful that what we’re disagreeing on is mostly as trivial as music styles, comedy tastes and whether-or-not to use Twitter in church.

 

Innovation: It Happens In the Middle

Catalyst presents itself as a clearinghouse for church innovation – and justifiably so.

But if we’re all agreed on the core issues of substance, and if the issues we disagree on are mostly about style, where does innovation happen?

In the middle.

Innovators don’t touch the core, biblical beliefs. Heretics do that. And heresy isn’t innovative – it’s old and tired.

And innovators don’t just adapt the new, cool styles they saw presented at events like Catalyst. Imitators do that. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it’s a poor substitute for innovation.

Innovation happens in the middle territory between foundational theology on one end, and trivial, stylistic fads on the other. It happens in the arena of methods, systems and concepts. And, thankfully, that’s what the bulk of Catalyst was about.

If I have one big issue with how I see a lot of my fellow ministers respond during events like Catalyst, it’s this: too many pastors will go home this weekend and sit on a stool like Andy Stanley or put together a graphics-heavy Powerpoint presentation like Chip Heath. But in doing so they may miss the deeper issues each of them taught us.

I’m very grateful that this conference strengthened our agreements on core, biblical beliefs. But I’m concerned that a lot of ministers may miss the essence of the innovative ideas that were taught and simply try to duplicate the style of the show. Judd Wilhite may have put it best when he encouraged us to strive to “have a sincere heart, rather than a spectacular ministry.”

 

This idea of innovation happening in the middle ground is something I’ll revisit in future posts, but for now, here’s my main takeaway from Catalyst West Coast 2013.

Let’s strengthen the substance, agree to disagree on style, and communicate the gospel as innovatively as we can.

Thank you Catalyst, for reminding me of that, one more time.

 

So what do you think? Have you ever been to an event like Catalyst? What did you get from it?

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9 thoughts on “Between Substance & Style: Innovation Happens in the Middle”

  1. I have a question. I loved your comment: “Let’s strengthen the substance, agree to disagree on style, and communicate the gospel as innovatively as we can.”

    My question is, was that sentiment expressed and emphasized at the conference…or was that something you carried into the conference with you and you used to filter what was taught and expressed?

    I don’t have any “hidden motive” for asking – I’m just really curious. I guess because at mini-versions of such conferences it’s actually encouraged to “Do as I do, follow these steps and you’ll be great like me too.” So you have to assimilate and adapt what you’re being told to fit where you are (I know you said to didn’t have to scale down…and I really zeroed in on that!)

    Perhaps, one reason pastors try and duplicate what they see at these types of conferences is because they haven’t been (taught?) to go in with a filter – to be confident with who they are as pastors and with what kind of church they pastor. So when they see the “success” and “bigness” presented before them – they do the easiest thing and immitate (which turns out to be hugely frustrating and disappointing) It takes some doing (mentally) to filter and change what we hear to the truth that is applicable to all.

    1. That’s a great question, Cindy. I’ve been at conferences, including previous Catalysts, where that was either directly of implicitly stated, too. But at the end of the first day of this one, our staff agreed that there wasn’t one speaker that did that, either directly or by implication. And nothing that had to be changed to work in a Small Church.

      On the second day there were a couple moments that were less applicable, and that came close to do “do as I do” mentality, but overall it really didn’t do that at all. A couple speakers, especially Judd Wilhite, from Las Vegas, specifically rejected that mindset. It was very refreshing to hear. (I’ll do a post soon on the highlights of Wilhite’s talk. It’s worth revisiting.)

  2. I have a question. I loved your comment: “Let’s strengthen the substance, agree to disagree on style, and communicate the gospel as innovatively as we can.”

    My question is, was that sentiment expressed and emphasized at the conference…or was that something you carried into the conference with you and you used to filter what was taught and expressed?

    I don’t have any “hidden motive” for asking – I’m just really curious. I guess because at mini-versions of such conferences it’s actually encouraged to “Do as I do, follow these steps and you’ll be great like me too.” So you have to assimilate and adapt what you’re being told to fit where you are (I know you said to didn’t have to scale down…and I really zeroed in on that!)

    Perhaps, one reason pastors try and duplicate what they see at these types of conferences is because they haven’t been (taught?) to go in with a filter – to be confident with who they are as pastors and with what kind of church they pastor. So when they see the “success” and “bigness” presented before them – they do the easiest thing and immitate (which turns out to be hugely frustrating and disappointing) It takes some doing (mentally) to filter and change what we hear to the truth that is applicable to all.

    1. That’s a great question, Cindy. I’ve been at conferences, including previous Catalysts, where that was either directly of implicitly stated, too. But at the end of the first day of this one, our staff agreed that there wasn’t one speaker that did that, either directly or by implication. And nothing that had to be changed to work in a Small Church.

      On the second day there were a couple moments that were less applicable, and that came close to do “do as I do” mentality, but overall it really didn’t do that at all. A couple speakers, especially Judd Wilhite, from Las Vegas, specifically rejected that mindset. It was very refreshing to hear. (I’ll do a post soon on the highlights of Wilhite’s talk. It’s worth revisiting.)

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