Thursday, May 17, 2007

Let's Meet At Peter's Cafe

Frans Johansson identifies two kinds of "ideas" in his little book "The Medici Effect" (Harvard Business School Press, 2006): Directional & Intersectional. "The major difference," he says, between a directional idea and an intersectional one is that we know where we are going with the former. The idea has a direction. Directional innovation improves a product in fairly predictable steps, along a well-defined dimension...The goal is to evolve an established idea by using refinements and adjustments. The rewards for doing so are reasonably predictable and attained relatively quickly" (pp. 18-19). The recently published ELW (Evangelical Lutheran Worship), heralded as a hymnal for a new generation, which will help congregations provide engaging worship focused on God's mission, is an example of a directional innovation. So is every effort to restructure and rehab our denominational offices. So is every plan to inspire young people in our high schools and on our college campuses to consider a "call to ministry" (i.e. putting in four years at seminary to become parish pastors). So are programs to "license" lay pastors in regions where there aren't enough ordained ministers to go around. "Intersectional innovations, on the other hand, change the world in leaps along new directions," Johansson says. "Intersectional innovations do not require as much expertise as directional innovation and can therefore be executed by the people you least suspect." He says interesectional innovations share these characteristics: They are surprising and fascinating; open up entirely new fields; provide a course of directional innovation for decades to come; and can affect the world in unprecedented ways. Many of us "in the church" - even those who have been at the forefront of pushing directional innovations - believe the time has come for intersectional innovation. In fact, I think many have advocated various directional ideas because they know something has to be done and haven't known what else to do. We feel in our bones that something in the culture has shifted and that "the church" as we have always known it is becoming and needs to become a new thing, or maybe a new-ancient thing. Or maybe it's the gospel itself we sense stretching, groaning against the confines of institution and tradition, calling us into newness of life and renewed mission. Whatever it is, we feel it. We know that just "refining" what we're already doing is insufficient...and maybe even irresponsible. Johansson may have something to offer here. He uses the term "intersectional" innovations because, he argues, these creative explosions only happen when you step into an intersection of fields, disciplines, and cultures so that existing concepts can be combined with new ideas. He describes how to overcome the natural barriers that exist between fields, how to combine concepts and find combinations, how to ignite and capture ideas, how to work together through failure and across differences. He concludes:
"Today there are more reasons than ever to seek out the Intersection. Disciplines and cultures are connecting faster, more often, and in more places than ever before...We can all create the Medici Effect because we can all get to the Intersection. The advantage goes to those with an open mind and the willingness to reach beyond their field of expertise. It goes to people who can break down barriers and stay motivated through failures. But we can all do that. Most of us have a desire to connect ideas and concepts from our disparate backgrounds. So why not actively seek out these connections? While writing this book I met a vast number of people who were working in one area they find interesting, but at the same time expressed marked interest in another. Someone working in the nonprofit world might want to use their ideas for for-profit practices; another might wish to link two different cultures. "If I could just find a way to connect these fields, bring the pieces together," they say, "then I could come up with something exciting, something new." Well, they are right. In our world it actually makes sense to combine sea urchins with lollipops, guitar riffs with harp solos, and music records with airlines. In our world it makes sense for spiders and goat milk to have something in common or for a person to launch a solar cell company one day and a cookie company the next. Like the creators of fifteenth-century Florence, this is how we break new ground; this is how we innovate. The world is, in some ways, like a giant Peter's Cafe, the place where sailors from every port on the planet stop for a beer, a conversation, and a chance to mix and combine ideas. The world is connected and there is a place where those connections are made - a place called the Intersection. All we have to do is find it...and dare to step in" (pp. 189-190).
The ironic thing, of course, is that those of us "in the church" LIVE in the intersection. Our congregations, our synod councils, our churchwide assemblies ARE like a giant Peter's Cafe. "The church" - even in its current form - has gathered "sailors" (and teachers, nurses, mechanics, lawyers, moms & dads, plumbers, doctors, Little League coaches, senators, high school & college students, retirees, taxi drivers, homeless people, musicians, CEO's, insurance brokers, social workers, computer technicians, scientists, kids, and people of all races & classes & ethnic groups) from every port on the planet. The question I'm asking myself is: With such a diverse group gathered together, why so few creative explosions? Why so much hand wringing about how we can't pay our bills, can't find enough pastors to fill our pulpits, don't have more people filling our pews, can't even dream of starting or trying anything new? We have everything we need right here to spark the kind of innovation in "doing church" and "being church" that can affect the world in unprecedented ways! So, why so few surprises, so few leaps in new directions? What are we doing (or not doing) when we get together that prevents the barriers between disciplines from falling? What are we doing (or not doing) that prevents people from combining their ideas and igniting new ones? Why aren't people, in so many places across the church, talking to each other and mixing it up and learning from each other and trying new things? Or to flip this question around, where IS true intersectional innovation taking place "in the church?" Where will you find the insights and ideas of a CEO, a retired school teacher, a stay at home mom, a seminary professor, a carpenter, and a bishop all given equal weight (for REAL); encouraged to try new things; given permission to fail early and often; respected and valued because they see things differently than everybody else? Or let's just start here: Where are the ideas of a Frans Johansson considered just as interesting and just as valuable as those of a Karl Barth? Wherever "in the church" THAT is happening, I believe we'll see something new emerge, something world-changing. And, dare I say it, something HOLY.

No comments:

The Bottom Line

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love becomes slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." - Galatians 5:13-14