By Martin Hodson, General Director of the Baptist Union of Scotland
If you haven’t heard me speak about innovation in the last year then you probably haven’t heard me speak. I know I’ve been going on about it. That’s because I’m convinced it is a deeply important word for churches seeking to follow Jesus faithfully in these changing times (along with transformations and generations, which you may also have heard me mention).
We worship a God who describes his rescuing mission as ‘doing a new thing’ (Isaiah 43.19). He invites us into a ‘new covenant’ (Luke 22.20) and a new kingdom, which Jesus likens to ‘new wine’ (Mark 2.22). We serve him in ‘the new way of the Spirit’ (Romans 7.6) as we anticipate the appearing of a ‘new heaven and a new earth’ (Rev 21.1). As we walk in newness of life with Jesus, we find him calling us to be like the homeowner he describes in Matthew 13.52, ‘who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.’
Newness can be in the form or adaptations or innovations. Both are important in our churches. When we modify or improve something we already have to make it more fruitful or fit for purpose, we call that an adaptation. When we develop something quite new, that addresses a challenge or opportunity in a radically new way, that is an innovation. Virtually all churches have made wise and godly adaptations in recent times, and these are all to be celebrated – most especially where they better equip us to reach the last, the least and the lost. Alongside this, and all the more as our society morphs into a post-Covid state, there are opportunities for new contextual churches that reach different people in new ways. If we could prescribe what this looks like it would not be innovation, but these are times for us to recognise and release faithful and courageous groups of people who are being inspired by God’s Spirit to initiate distinctly new communities committed to sharing the good news of Jesus.
To support leaders in innovation, and in the tricky business of serious adaptations too, my colleague Jim Purves set up nine Innovation Collectives last autumn. These all ran for a three-month season. In this edition of Connect you can read about some people’s experience of these, as well as learn about a couple of innovative conferences and a church in the Borders that has been exploring new possibilities during the last ten months. All these stories are well worth hearing and in them you’ll find a godly desire for newness.