Innovative Adventism

Raj Attiken.png

The fifth annual International Conference on Innovation happens this October in Dublin, Ohio. Spectrum asked its organizational dynamo, Raj Attiken, how the conference began and what keeps it going.

Question: How did the Conference on Innovation begin? What role does the Ohio Conference have in its organization each year and which other groups are involved?

Answer: The idea to hold such a conference was born from a sense of “holy discontent” that several of us in the Ohio Conference were feeling regarding certain realities within the Adventist Church in North America, and out of our desire to experience the church as a vibrant, dynamic, and robust movement. During our initial conversations we realized the need for a space for Adventist innovators to gather, share, learn, network, and develop community.

Although these conversations were initiated by the Ohio Conference, we soon discovered that the hearts of leaders in many organizations were being stirred by the same concerns and longings. Our early partners in launching this endeavor included the Kettering Adventist Healthcare Network, the Versacare Foundation, the Kaiser Institute, and the estate of the late Fumiko Rice. Since then, other partners have emerged. These include the Columbia Union Conference, the North American Division’s Church Resource Center (Vervent), Andrews University’s Department of Educational Administration, Washington Adventist University, the Center for Creative Ministry, Advent Source, Re-Church, FaithHouse Manhatten, and other individual and business partners.

Question: How is the Conference on Innovation funded?

Answer: All funding for this event comes from two sources: our generous individual and organizational partners, and registration fees. Partners also contribute their time and services.

Question: The expressed intent of the annual conference is to foster a “culture of innovation” within the Adventist Church. What does that mean?

Answer: By a “culture of innovation” we mean an environment within the church that recognizes, validates, rewards, and gives sufficient personal and organizational priority to innovation; a culture that affirms and protects those who are willing to push against the inertia of the status quo; a culture that is highly risk-tolerant, and which accepts a degree of failure as an inevitable outcome of innovation.

Question: How important is innovation to the future life and ministry of the Adventist Church?

Answer: In this time of massive social, political, economic, and religious upheaval, we face obsolescence of form and structure. I see three possibilities for the future of the church: 1. We can be left behind. 2. We can allow ourselves to be mindlessly shaped by the many forces at play in our world, or 3. We can be proactive about shaping a preferred future. It is in this third option that I see the Spirit of God active. I believe that innovation is the work of the Spirit and, therefore, a key component in the life-blood of the church. Innovation that is Spirit-led results in our honoring our past, celebrating our present, and shaping our future.

Question: Where do you see the spirit of innovation developing successfully in the Adventist Church?

Answer: I see the spirit of innovation manifest mostly in the human spirit. Our ultimate limitation is our imagination, and I meet Adventists across the country who are re-imagining their own life with God and their experience of church. This spirit of innovation transcends programs, processes, and institutional and organizational boundaries. I see men and women daring to dream big and small, and to take bold steps towards fulfilling those dreams.

So, I see “success” everywhere. But, because of our tendency to glamorize programs, we may miss noticing what God is doing in and through the restless souls who have an almost cellular drive to be co-creators with God and to follow Him in innovative pathways of living and serving.

Question: Who have been some of the conference’s most notable speakers over the years? Who is presenting this year?

Answer: I sincerely believe that every speaker God has brought to us over the years has been outstanding and notable. Their vastly varied backgrounds have provided a tapestry of perspectives that have enriched us, adding depth and breadth to our conversation. I would fail if I tried to identify who, among them, were the “most notable.” We are consistently baffled that such a world-class cadre of individuals would be willing to participate in this church-sponsored event. The full list of past presenters is posted on our website.

This year’s presenters include Suzy Welch, Michael Lindsay, Margaret Feinberg, David Neff, and Samir Selmanovic. Their bios are posted on our website: www.sdapartnersininnovation.org.

Question: How many people and what mix of people do you expect to register for the conference?

Answer: Last year we had about 180 registered participants, and we anticipate having more this year. We plan to open the session with Suzy Welch up to the larger central Ohio community. Her national name-recognition in co-authoring a weekly column in Business Week with her husband, Jack Welch, and her recent interviews on several national TV programs regarding her newly released book, 10-10-10, have generated significant interest.

The mix of participants have typically included lay and business leaders, pastors, chaplains, healthcare administrators, college and university professors, secondary and elementary school teachers, college and university students, and denominational leaders. Last year’s participants came from several states, from Canada, Europe, and Australia.

Question: How do you expect the Conference on Innovation to benefit attendees?

Answer: Attendance at this event will probably jolt people into confronting some brutal facts about the church, and open unlimited possibilities for ways our faith can intersect with culture, business, education, politics, and various other segments of our lives. While we will not prescribe methods or rally people around specific programs, we will inspire, invite, and nudge people toward serious exploration of how their faith can be lived in relevant ways within the specific contexts of their ministries and professions.

Question: What opportunities for sharing and discussion are being planned for conference participants? What feedback have you received over the years in terms of the conference’s impact on those churches that have sent participants? How is it impacting churches in Ohio?

Answer: Built into the program are multiple opportunities for group discussion and interaction among participants. Significant learning can occur through these experiences. Besides these formal opportunities there always are those hallway discussions that sometimes extend into the night. Last year there was one group that continued their discussion into the early hours of the morning and was back in time for the morning session!

We are very attentive to the feedback we receive each year, which has been consistently positive. Participants frequently write to express their appreciation that such an event happens within Adventism, and they urge us to keep the “movement” alive.

We have not tracked the impact on churches at a national level. In Ohio, however, the spirit of innovation among participants has actualized the nature and quality of ministry in their churches and schools. People are taking bold steps for God and for his kingdom. People are moving through their own fears about change and transformation, and are transcending many of their self-imposed boundaries. People are exploring alternate ways of thinking and doing ministry. People are finding and building new bridges to their communities, engaging them in redemptive and transformational ways. People are taking risks. People are failing and messing up! People are recognizing the difference between a program-centered church and a Spirit-led community. People are embracing the promise of a future with God.

Question: Has the speaker roster been planned yet for 2010? If so, who is coming?

Answer: Invitations have been extended to some speakers. We are not yet ready to announce a list.

Question: How can people sign up to attend this year’s Conference on Innovation?

Answer: There are several options: 1) On-line, through our website: www.sdapartnersininnovation.org 2) By telephone: (740)-397-4665 (Ext. 165) 3. Through the SDA PlusLine: http://www.plusline.org/

Conference brochures are also available and may be obtained by writing to information@ohioadventist.org.

Raj Attiken is president of the Ohio Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

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