Waking up to God's dream

July 18th, 2023

Time to stop hitting the snooze button. The hour has come to wake up from the slumber of the same or the coma of over-functioning, bone-aching exhaustion. 

For 15 years I’ve pastored the local church with the last three years being the most difficult. We’ve all felt the weariness of the unprecedented. The constant pivoting, denominational arguments and polarizing divisions have rendered us dazed to the reality of God’s new thing springing forth. Will we wake up?

In April 2023 I heard Drs. Kenda Creasy Dean and Andrew Root at a conference of church developers and planters from across United Methodism. Dr. Creasy Dean spoke of innovation as a necessary muscle for this era of being Church (more than our over-emphasis of doing church). To be honest, the word “innovation” usually makes me shut down. Too often it’s a buzz word for flashy ministry which only touches the surface of human pain or ignores the God-given gifts within every person. Spotlighting superstars and neglecting the misfits. Well to my surprise, Dr. Creasy Dean also bristles at the word because innovation is incomplete (and sometimes harmful) if not rooted in the most innovating reality there is—the Living God. So instead of dismissing innovation, she wrote a book about it. And boy am I glad she did. 

In Innovating for Love: Joining God’s Expedition Through Christian Social Innovation, Creasy Dean challenges the Church to reorient and relocate our priorities. “We are called to participate in God’s dream, rather than invoke God’s blessing for our own.”(15) Throughout the book Creasy Dean provokes the reader to re-order our priorities from planning and asking God to bless our plans to instead listening to our neighbors while moving towards what God is already doing.  

With an expansive paradigm of God’s enduring love and the exquisite particularity of innovation stories, her approach is less “how-to.” I don’t need more “how-to” books for ministry. Not that I know everything or could put into practice all I’ve read, but my soul is craving something more than methods and practices. Innovating for Love sets a four-course meal to be prepared and shared in community, satisfying the desires of a hungry soul. 

Her four guiding principles of innovation:

  • Who before Why
  • Awe before Excellence
  • Humility before Hero
  • Abundance not scarcity

These are not the ingredients for a kin-dom feast; these principles shape the menu. She trusts the innovation of the Living God to awaken God’s peculiar people to look inside their souls and around their neighborhood to observe what is ripe for the harvest. She invites you to stand in awe when we reap what we did not sow. To be humbled by the youth who have more to offer than our pastoral hero mentality made room for. And most of all to see the abundance of loaves and fishes and welcome home who is not yet at the table. 

The driving image for her book is drawn from one of Paul’s many shipwrecks. A timely story for the reality we are facing as a Church. We’ve been exploring methods and practices to revitalize or relaunch the form of church. But we’re on the high seas of a changing tide and the form is breaking apart.   

In Acts 27, 28 Paul and his mates are washed up on the island of Malta. Coughing up the salty water of the sea with faces stained by their tears, they were shipwrecked yet not abandoned. The Maltese welcomed, fed and sheltered them. Malta saved Paul and the entire crew. The Church would do well to remember this “unusual kindness” shared by the “nones” of Malta. Paul may have healed the sick and preached the good news of Jesus to the Maltese, but they were the agents of God’s salvation, saving Paul from the despair of yet another shipwreck.

Paul said these words to those aboard the boat in the raging sea and we do well to listen….“So keep up your courage, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we will have to run aground on some island.” Acts 27:25-26

It’s time to wake-up to a painful reality. The boat is coming apart. The form of doing church has changed. Yet, we are not lost at sea. There is a horizon of hope and a place of salvation to welcome us. The way of being church remains the same. “Answers change but the church’s question is always the same…’How might we become Christ’s body—the embodiment of God’s love for the world—for people in these particular conditions and this particular moment in time?”(87)

To give hope, Creasy Dean shares stories from congregations across the US (and the pond) who have set a feast, inspired by innovation. Churches who washed up on the shores of a foreign place where they had nothing to rely on but the hope of the gospel. Places where faithful followers are re-discovering their first Love through seeing people experience God’s radical grace who are not weighed down by what’s always been. 

If as a pastor, you feel disillusioned by the swirling seas of disaffiliations or denominational squabbles. If you’re being tossed in the high seas of vocational exhaustion. If you’re wounded by a boat that threw you overboard and changed course. This book will be a gift to you. A buoy of hope for what God has on the horizon. A full meal for your soul to remember this audacious plan of the local church to form a particular and peculiar people in a specific time and place is God’s original plan, and He’s committed now more than ever.

And if it’s been a while since reading Walter Brueggemann’s Prophetic Imagination or you haven’t heard of Mark Sampson and his work on social innovation, let Creasy Dean’s spacious conversation with them open new territory for your leadership.  

“Awake oh sleeper and rise from the dead and Christ will shine upon you.” Ephesians 5:14

The church isn’t in jeopardy but we are if we miss the wake-up call. Don’t hit snooze. God’s dream is the best reality!

comments powered by Disqus