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For the sixth consecutive year, Columbus, Ohio will be the site of the National Innovation Conference (IC), a joint venture of the Ohio Conference, Columbia Union Conference, North American Division Church Resource Center, Kettering Health Network, Washington Adventist University, AdventSource, Center for Creative Ministry, and others. Ohio Conference president Raj Attiken is the visionary behind IC, which has featured speakers like Leland Kaiser, Suzy Welch, Phillip Jenkins, Leonard Sweet, Robert Wuthnow and Michael Lindsay.
LS: What led you to start the IC?
RA: The recognition that the Adventist Church in North America needs to find fresh approaches to mission and ministry that are relevant to our time and place. It has become clear that, except among immigrant groups, the Adventist Church in North America has become ineffective in its mission. Methods that served us well a few decades ago no longer appeal to the majority of the population. A group of us felt impressed to create a forum for learning and exchanging creative ideas.
LS: A few of our people have been very troubled by the Innovation Conference, and have raised public objections against it. Why the controversy?
RA: The Innovation Conference represents a call for change, and change is hard. The conference speakers have been challenging, too: we are inviting speakers to an Adventist gathering who are not Adventists, and some of them hold views on various subjects that do not conform to our beliefs and values. Although the topics they have been invited to address are very specific, some of these views might come through in their presentations. Having such speakers at our event has been troubling to some. We think, however, that a mature Adventist audience should be able to weigh the information for its validity and compatibility with their view of Scripture, and dismiss that which is problematic.
We understand that there is considerable fear among some about events like this. Sometimes our fear betrays our feelings that the church’s foundations are so rickety that one well-placed question or idea might bring down the house, or that a sincere question might cause us to doubt what we’ve been taught.
We believe that our truth is much more durable than that. Isolation from ideas and people in the wider Christian community is not the solution. There is more to be gained than feared by examining a variety of views.
LS: How do you answer those who say we don’t need change, that religious truth is by nature unchanging?
The story of redemption is a story of change: for individuals, for humanity, for the planet, and even for God! The biblical narrative is filled with invitations to and promises of change: new covenant, new commandment, new earth, new heart, new heaven, new songs, new name, etc. Early Christianity grew by courageous creativity and change. Likewise, early Adventism thrived on an entrepreneurial spirit, with Ellen White herself being an agent of change and innovation.
The role of the Adventist Church at this moment in history cannot, and will not, be best served by retrenchment. The call of God to us to follow Him into unknown paths and radical pursuits for the sake of the kingdom consistently comes with an invitation to “Fear not.” Fear is always the enemy of grace. Fear seizes control and demands compliance. When fear is employed, facts are incidental. Grace, on the other hand, trusts others to make their own moral decisions. Fear provides no room for error and always wants to have its own way. Grace is expansive and gives us the time and space to learn and grow.
LS: What innovations does the IC promote?
RA: It isn’t designed to promote any particular innovation. Rather, it exists to create space for people to be inspired, nudged, encouraged, and supported in discovering what God might be calling them to. Most transformational innovation emerges from outside the established hierarchy—it happens on the edges. Our goal is to create a culture of innovation within the church where individuals, guided and empowered by the Spirit, can pursue their God-inspired dreams for mission and ministry.
LS: What can we look forward to at IC 6?
RA: Barbara Bradley Hargerty, award-winning religion correspondent for NPR, will speak on her research on science and spirituality (“Is There Evidence for God?”); teacher, author and missonal strategist Alan Hirsch will highlight the opportunities and challenges of missions in Western society in the 21st century; Neil Cole, church planter, will describe dynamics present in today’s world that foster the rapid birth of “organic churches;” missional entrepreneur Samir Selmanovic will speak on God’s designed plan for emptiness in the Christian life; Adventist theologian and philosopher Zack Plantak will speak about the Christian imperative to be involved in issues of peace, justice, and reconciliation.
LS: Who would benefit from this? Is it only for pastors and teachers?
RA: Anyone who is serious about following Jesus into His mission field—21st century society—would benefit from this. Anyone who wishes to be purposeful in effectively engaging our culture in redemptive and transformational ways would be benefited. Anyone who loves God and loves the church would be benefited. Past audiences have included pastors, educators, healthcare administrators, college/university students, congregational leaders, denominational administrators, and others. Persons interested in attending October 3-5 can register at www.sdapartnersininnovation.org.