I am in Columbus, Ohio, this week for the 5th Annual National Conference on Innovation. I have only missed one of these conferences and each has been inspirational while opening different streams of learning and innovation to participants. Every year I have listened to speakers who I’ve never heard before. This year has been no exception.
But before I get into who spoke today and what I enjoyed and was challenged by, I should also say that the main reason I come to the Innovation Conference year by year is to see and spend time with the other participants. In many cases this is the only chance I have to connect with other pastors, professors and church administrators in the North American Division. Each year this event, more than any other, brings together the brightest minds and most creative practitioners in the Adventists Church. This fellowship and conversation is the best thing about the Innovation Conference, in my opinion.
Today was a long day filled with rich presentations by three distinctly different presenters.
In the morning we heard two presentations by popular author and speaker, Margaret Feinberg. Her first presentation – “Church & Culture, Style & Substance” – challenged listeners to think about how fast culture is changing and how ill prepared the church is to minister in a changing world.
Two illustrations of this point stood out to me. First, she asked who in the group owned old vinyl records. Besides a few eager hands, very few owned records. Eight-track tapes? One person. Cassette tapes? Again, very few. CDs? Now most everyone raised their hands. But then, Margaret pointed out how fast CDs are becoming obselete. How many have iPods? Again, quite a few. She then talked about a few individuals and groups, including Madonna and Radiohead, who have taken matters into their own hands. She said, “Record labels can’t adapt fast enough, so musicians have decided to distribute their music in creative ways that often bypass the major record labels.” Interesting.
She also pointed out the trend toward personalization. Everything from M&Ms to Wheaties cereal to sneakers can now be personalized. She used this observation to say that people now want to be involved in their consumer choices and aren’t content to just buy what is on offer. They want to customize their purchases.
Later in the morning she gave her second presentation, entitled, “Backstage Pass: A Toolbox of Ideas.” In this talk she showcased a dozen or so churches who were doing very creative things to reach a younger generation. The stories were engaging and coupled with her earlier presentation, you could see how these churches were attempting to grapple with the rapidly changing culture around them. In the end, however, I was left feeling like the emphasis was on style over substance and as a result there wasn’t must emphasis given to how these church were being called by gospel to confront and and challenge the brokenness and systemic evil in our culture.
After lunch there was a significant shift of gears as we welcomed David Neff, vice president of Christianity Today International, editor-in-chief of Christianity Today magazine and former Seventh-day Adventist pastor. David spoke about “The Ancient-Future Church.” In many ways his presentation was everything Margaret’s wasn’t. Margaret’s presentation was fluid and conversational. David read a paper. Margaret’s spoke of the new things churches were doing to adapt to a changing culture. David emphasized the importance of church history and narrative theology. Margaret talked about branding and marketing as an important part of a church’s communication with the culture. David said that ecclesiology has become captive the individualism created in part by management theory and marketing methods.
I personally resonated much more with David’s presentation, though I deeply appreciated much of what Margaret was saying as well. David’s lecture ran much deeper, tapping into the ancient practices of the church as a well of wisdom for the church of the future. In my opinion, David got to the root issues while Margaret tended to describe surface level traits. As I talked to the people in the room, however, my sense was that both presentations were helpful in different ways. I was reminded that the church has always been and will always be very diverse, both in theology and methodology of ministry.
Finally, this evening, we heard from the very engaging Suzy Welch, author of the new book 10-10-10. She spoke very candidly about her own faith, life as a business commentator and journalist, remarking frequently about how liberating it felt to be able to speak about her faith in a friendly environment. She told us about how she developed her 10-10-10 concept, applying it first to her own life, then gradually sharing it with close friend and family and finally sharing it with the whole world. Put simply, 10-10-10 is a decision making tool that asks a person to think about how a potential decision will be perceived in 10 minutes, 10 months and 10 years.
As an added bonus, Dave Weigley, president of the Columbia Union Conference, made a spur of the moment decision to buy Suzy’s new book for every person in the room. As a result we each went home with a signed copy of 10-10-10. You can learn more about Suzy Welch, her new book and the 10-10-10 principle here.
The diversity of speakers – from a young, popular evangelical author and speaker, to the somewhat older, more academic editor, to the high-powered business commentator, made for an inspiring, if exhausting day. Tomorrow we will hear from my friend and roommate during this conference, Samir Selmanovic. Samir is the founder of Faith House Manhattan and author of the recently release book, It’s Really All About God: Reflections of a Muslim, Athiest, Jewish Christian.