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Conference on Innovation, Day One

I’m sitting in the computer room at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Dublin, Ohio, where the fifth annual Conference on Innovation is underway. The fun started early this afternoon with an opening address by Dr. Michael Lindsay, sociologist, researcher, and author of several books including Faith in the Halls of Power.

The Conference on Innovation is organized by the Ohio Conference of Seventh-day Adventists under the leadership of president Dr. Raj Attiken (read interview here:…). For five years the Conference on Innovation has created a space for missional entrepreneurs in Adventism to gather for brainstorming, networking, and mutual encouragement.

During the opening session this afternoon, Dr. Michael Lindsay began by making clear to us the difference between creativity and innovation: creativity develops ideas; innovation implements them. If creativity arrives at the wrong time or outside the context of a supportive environment, it cannot be implemented and is therefore not innovative. Dr. Lindsay spent quite a bit of time talking about both the danger and value of institutions. While on the one hand creative individuals can rarely effect institutions, usually it takes a community of people (like that found in an institution) to turn creativity into innovation. So what is a person to do? Dr. Lindsay’s answer was simple and straightforward: we must create a revolution or “culture” of innovation within our institutions (i.e. the church). That we don’t have to swim upstream.

After the first session we enjoyed a networking banquet and cheered for the Atlanta Berean Seventh-day Adventist Church, winner of the North American Division’s “Innovative Church of the Year” award. Dr. Lindsay’s evening address focused on his extensive research into the spiritual lives of high-profile people of faith. In the public world of business, entertainment, athletics, and politics, Christians desiring to live and share their faith find themselves in circumstances requiring extraordinary innovation. My favorite example was of Horst Schulze, former president of Ritz-Carlton. Schulze had been disturbed by the “customer is king” mentality endorsed by the hospitality school where he trained in Germany. The prevailing idea in the hospitality industry of his day was that whenever a paying guest passed a hotel employee, the employee should look downward to signify the paying customer’s “superiority.” When Schulze placed this up against his Christian conviction about all humans being created in the image of God, he rejected it and innovated a new course. The motto at Ritz Carlton is now We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen. When people ask him why he has been so successful he says, “Well, see, you’ve gotta get your theology right.”

This is my first year attending Innovation, and so far the setting has been very conducive to conversation. Approximately 180 people from across the North American church have registered. I’m not sure whether I should wish that more signed up— more seminary students, more lay people and pastors— or if I should just relish the opportunities provided by such an intimate gathering. This afternoon when I walked into the meeting hall I recognized Margaret Feinberg (who was tagged by Charisma magazine as one of the top 30 emerging voices who will lead the church into the next decade). I flashed a big smile at Ms. Feinberg, who will speak tomorrow, and she smiled back at me warmly. Perhaps, later, I will find her for a chat. I already enjoyed a brief one this evening with Samir Selmanovic, founder of FaithHouse Manhatten. Tomorrow and Tuesday we will also enjoy conversations with business journalist Suzy Welch and Christianity Today editor-in-chief David Neff.

All in all, I’m having a great time.

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