Innovation In Ministry Is Nothing New

Innovation is an important part of anything that wants to grow. The word has caught a lot of flack in Christian circles because we saw where some innovations had split the church or taken things off course. It is important that we are all taking seriously the church we find in the New Testament and need to make sure that we are embodying the same message and mission as those who walked and talked with Jesus did. But not every decision we have to make is clearly laid out in scripture. This is not a new situation we are in but an ancient one. Innovation in the church is nothing new. It sounds ironic but it is true. The early church had to innovate. Not everything they did was directly handed to them by God, chiseled on tablets are spoken of in prophesy. Consider a couple of examples…

Example 1 – Judas’ Replacement
In Acts 1 Peter realized that Judas needed to be replaced. His recognition of the need for replacement was based on scripture as he cited Psalm 109:8 for his rationale (Acts 1:20). What was not laid out in scripture was the qualifications for his replacement. They decided the new apostle was to have been with them from Jesus’ baptism onward and a witness of the resurrection (Acts 1:21-22). It was also not told to them in scripture how the man was to be chosen. They developed a procedure of nomination and casting lots to determine Judas’ replacement (Acts 1:23-26).

Example 2 – The Choosing of the Seven
As the church grew the responsibilities and needs grew as well. The apostles could only be stretched so thin. When it came to their attention that certain widows were not being attended to they came up with a plan to choose seven men who were to be full of the Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6:1-7). There was no prophesy turned to. Something had to be done and they turned it over to others. It allowed the apostles to do what they thought was most important and what is more the church actually grew as a result of this delegation and releasing of these capable men to meet a need.

My point is not that every single decision calls for innovation. There are clearly some things that we don’t need to go around and change just to change. But we do have biblical precedent to have the leeway to make prayerful and wise decisions in areas that call for the creativity, wisdom and humility of people who love God and are called according to His purpose. Innovation is frowned on in some circles because the call is to only do those things which have biblical precedent when the reality is that there is biblical precedent for innovation. The main thing is that we aren’t out to innovate to make things into the church of Matt or the church of Steve or the church of Sue. We are making decisions in order to advance the cause of Christ and that is done through submission, prayer, and studying the scripture to make sure the things we do are in line with godly priorities and purposes.

About mattdabbs
I am a minister, husband, and father. My wife and I live and minister in Saint Petersburg, Florida. My primary ministry responsibilities include: small groups, 20s and 30s, involvement, and adult education.

9 Responses to Innovation In Ministry Is Nothing New

  1. James says:

    I’m reminded, too, of Acts 15 and decision of the apostles and Jerusalem elders. In particular, I don’t think I’ve found a satisfactory answer to how they came to the conclusion that their decision not only seemed good to them, but to the point they could say “and to the Holy Spirit.” We’d all like to know we’ve come to a conclusion that would be pleasing to the Spirit as well, but how do you think we always know for certain as they did?

    • mattdabbs says:

      The reason I didn’t include Acts 15 is because there is some biblical precedent for their decision to bind those three rules on the Gentiles. Some point back to Leviticus to say that those three things were required in the Torah to be bound upon aliens and strangers living among them in the OT. I thought I wrote a post about that at some point but I can’t find it off hand.

      Can we know that every single decision we make is or isn’t pleasing to God? For instance, you can even do something you know is scriptural, but do it with a rotten heart so that we may be fulfilling the letter of the law but not the heart of it. Some figure it was pleasing to God because they did it the way the Bible said to but even that doesn’t mean God was pleased. That doesn’t mean we should be so paralyzed that we can’t make any decisions at all otherwise we would still be meeting in caves and catacombs, have no lights/electricity in our assemblies, and only sing the songs we find written in the New Testament like in Philippians 2. Clearly some innovation has to take place on some level and we do it our best and in the ways we believe are consistent with God and his purposes and rest in faith to know that God can take even the things we goof up and turn them into something good or at least forgive us for our ignorance.

    • Hank says:

      I think it was because those men were inspired. They were able to know precisely how God felt and what was pleasing to him because God revealed it to them directly. Today, apart from the written word, we simply cannot know for certain as they did.

      • Hank says:

        Not to split hairs, but I’m not so sure that the disciples weren’t given instruction from on high regarding the replacing of Judas as an apostle. I mean, was that decision really left to them? Had they chosen to not replace him at all, or to replace him with 3 more apostles, would God have been pleased? Or had they neglected to make knowing and being with Jesus from his baptism onward a prerequisite, would God have been fine with that? I just have a feeling that they were given specific instruction. We certainly can’t say for sure that they were not.

        As far as the decision of the apostles in Acts 6, well, they were inspired apostles. When a person lied to one of them – they lied to God directly.

        Just my thoughts.

      • mattdabbs says:

        Hank,

        Good thoughts here…I completely agree that their inspiration would have weight here. But we don’t know on these issues that God DID inspire it because these men still had the ability to make their own choices and even make wrong ones even though they were inspired to write the New Testament. For instance, we find out later that Peter was mistreating the Gentiles in order to please his Jewish brothers. Shouldn’t the inspiration he received have let him know that was wrong? Inspired…of course, but still with the ability to make decisions both good and bad.

        Also, if the point were made that only inspired people can come up with some new way of doing something, where are you left when that group dies and no one then has the ability to decide anything other than what has been done in the past? If we go by that strict of an approach then we need to be wearing 1st century clothes, having service in Greek and Hebrew and not use electricity either…right? Someone had to make those calls to change some things and that was okay that they did.

        So here is the point…there are some areas where innovation is fine and other areas where it is not. We don’t innovate a new way for people to be saved and move away from Jesus Christ. But we do have the freedom to make some decisions on the mechanics of how we carry out the various components of our faith. Let’s take the Lord’s Supper as an example. We know we need to take it, commune with each other, remember our Lord, etc. But does it matter if we pass from the back, front or sides? No. Does it matter if we take it sitting, standing, lounging? No. But someone has to decide a way for it to be done otherwise we are just paralyzed. That is kind of a silly example but it makes the point.

  2. Jesus innovated – with regard to the Sabbath (http://keithbrenton.com/2008/05/12/redefining-the-sabbath-day-unauthorized-worship-part-1/), baptism (http://keithbrenton.com/2008/05/17/baptism-for-repentance-unauthorized-worship-part-2/), and the elements of the paschal meal (http://keithbrenton.com/2008/06/22/at-the-table-unauthorized-worship-part-3/). While He certainly had authority to do so, doesn’t He imply that what what we binds, heaven binds; what we loosen, heaven loosens (Matthew 16:19; 18:18)?

  3. Hank says:

    Matt,

    I believe it comes down to the significance of the innovation and whether or not said innovation helps us fulfill the already revealed will of God, or if it alters it. For example, the decision to seek out and add new apostles to help lay down the very foundation of the church was something I don’t believe to have been left up to man. As if it were just an idea which they came up with apart from any revelation from God. I believe the same was true with the decision of the inspired apostles to create an entirely new and official office within the church.

    On the other hand – using electricity, passing out the Lord’s supper from different angles, wearing modern clothing, and reading the Bible on our phones, is an entirely different matter.

    I guess my point is that “innovations” for and within the church are fine and good and up to us so long as they are instituted as a means of helping us fulfill the already revealed will of God. But if any innovation is going to add to the already revealed will of God, like creating new and official (qualified) offices within the church, well, that is an entirely different matter. I guess, before innovating anything at all, we should always ask, “what exactly am I innovating, and will God for sure approve or at least, not care?”

    Does that make sense?

    • mattdabbs says:

      That makes sense 100%. There are people who are afraid of any and all change. Some times it is even kind of ironic like those who say you can’t have a kitchen in the building yet the early church met in homes and didn’t have buildings…in some cases change can actually bring us back to what God intended because we had made it into something it shouldn’t have been in the first place. I think God gives us the freedom to make decisions within reason as long as we are honestly and respectfully trying to fulfill His will and his purposes and not trying to hoist our own agendas up over God’s.

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