Alongsider Briefings: Reflections of a Life Lived with God

Wanted: Ministry Innovators

It’s coming! October 17 is the release date for my newest book: The Ways of the Leader: Four Practices to Bring People Together and Break New Ground

Wanted: Ministry Innovators

Navigators’ founder Dawson Trotman, was a master ministry innovator. When someone mentions “The Navigators,” one image often comes to mind. “You’re the people who memorize the Bible.” Scripture memory is part of our culture, the DNA of our movement. How did it get started?

Early in his Christian life, Trotman’s life was transformed by memorizing Scripture. As he ministered to sailors in the 1940s, he wanted to create a way to encourage Scripture memory. His imagination led him to create verse cards that fit into a packet that a sailor could slip into his chest pocket so he could review verses anytime of the day. To encourage memorization, Trotman grouped verses around topics. Nothing like this existed at the time.

This was the birth of the Topical Memory System (TMS), the most widely used tool for memorizing Scripture today.

Here was a local leader meeting a local challenge with an innovative solution. Life and ministry today needs more ministry innovators!

Everyday leaders are growing in the realization that cookie-cutter solutions are no longer adequate. We enjoy buying off-the-shelf solutions because it’s efficient and easy — little hard work is required. However, local challenges demand innovative local solutions. It takes work, but God has created us with an innovative nature that can be harnessed and released with the Holy Spirit’s help.

Unfortunately, most worship settings, evangelism strategies, and disciple-making ministries have a high familiarity with one another. In their book The Shaping of Things to Come, authors Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch write, “It sometimes seems as if there is some form or ‘template’ at work in evangelical churches all over the world, regardless of language and culture.”

I used to travel to Eastern Europe to help pastors and churches develop disciple-making ministries. Imagine my surprise when I attended a worship service and knew all the songs we sang. The words were in a different language, but I recognized the tunes — we sang the same songs in my home church. If if it wasn’t for the language, the entire service could have been lifted from this location, planted in my home church, and no one would have known the difference.

It’s easy to leave our creative God parked outside the doors of our ministries and churches. What could happen if we brought the mind of an artist or the imagination of an inventor to bear on leading a youth ministry, designing a worship service, or encouraging evangelism? What if we practiced the Great Commission in artful and innovative ways filled with faith, creativity, and risk?

Today’s challenges require new and inventive ministry forms for everyday leaders. Everyday leaders must harness their God-given imaginations to wisely innovate and create new strategies and resources — the breaking of new ground — that is good and right for each context. In the words of author and philosopher Francis Schaeffer: “The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.”

How can we encourage innovation? We must unleash our imaginations.

“Why is it that professed Christians dutifully sit in church . . . and then go out to live like pagans?” asked author and pastor Warren Wiersbe in his book Preaching and Teaching with Imagination. “I have a suspicion that one factor is the starved imagination of congregations . . . The truths of the Scriptures have never penetrated their imaginations.” Wow! What an indictment. What a challenge for imagination.

Here’s a working definition of imagination: Imagination is the creative act of making new images that draws our senses into experiencing God’s truth.

The Puritans were practitioners of the imagination. I know this goes against our images of somber, dressed-in-black eighteenth-century men and women. The Puritan theologian, pastor, and philosopher Jonathan Edwards believed that “[imagination] can enable the mind to grasp circumstances never actually experienced.” Like John Calvin, Edwards wanted to evoke suavitas (Latin for “sweetness” or “delight”) in people’s souls as they heard the promise of Christ. The sweetness of grace can be experienced through imagination.

Without imagination, walking with God would be like replacing our high-definition flat-screens with a 1950s black and white television. Unfortunately, the church often lives in a black-and-white world. When was the last time you heard a message or took a course on creativity and imagination?

Imagination fuels innovation; it generates new ideas, frames the obvious in new ways, and encourages new ways of thinking outside the boundaries of our typical approaches.

Imagination drew Dawson Trotman to picture a way for people to fill their lives with the Scriptures through memorization. This imagination led to an innovative approach to Scripture memory that is still impacting lives today. Everyday leaders can learn from the example of Trotman and become ministry innovators — designing local strategies and resources for local challenges.

How do we practice ministry innovation? How do we unleash God’s gift of imagination? In my newest book, The Ways of the Leader: Four Practices to Bring People Together and Break New Ground is an entire chapter on the principles and practices of ministry innovation. This blog is an adaptation of part of this chapter.

This blog was adapted from Bill’s up-coming book: The Ways of the Leader: Four Practices to Bring People Together and Break New Ground. It will be released October 17.

You can pre-order the book at Bill’s website: Go to the “books” tab and learn how to receive a 30 percent discount on the book.

One Comment

  1. I tried to order your WAYS OF THE LEADER book via Nav Press (MOWRY30 for discount). No luck.
    Will you sell copies at our Nov meeting in Texas? If so, can wait till then.
    PS. I noticed that the publication date is Oct. 17th. Maybe that accounts for the failure to pre-order and place in my cart.

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