Cultivating Learning and Innovation I: Preserve Tradition by Innovating

While it is true to say what got you here won’t get you there, genuine learning is not done in a historical vacuum, and innovation is not simply novelty. Some of our best expressions of adventurous church have been movements that exist in our past and form part of our historical tradition. In The Forgotten Ways I suggest that every church already has all it needs to get the job done—in other words, we have latent potentials, and through disuse or misuse, we have simply forgotten how to activate them. Part of our learning then is not simply coming up with faddish ideas, but recovering the deepest identity and potentials that we already have as God’s people. Becoming the church that Jesus built will require courage, because it means letting go of what we have become . . . of abandoning the security of institutional church to become a movement.

At the conclusion of the musical Fiddler on the Roof, the question is asked, “What holds him [the Fiddler] up?” The answer the audience hears is “Tradition.” But being guided by tradition and being traditionalist are two entirely different things. The traditionalist is the institutional persecutor of change and will subvert the missional cause. Intransigent and closed to the spirit, they lazily rely on the past successes of those who have paved the way before them. Tradition, on the other hand, involves being sensitive to the fact that we have a long history and we don’t operate in a vacuum. Paradosis, the Greek word for tradition, means “to hand down.” The creativity of “fiddling around” is possible when it is done within the ongoing self-consciousness of being part of the ancient people of God. What we do now has a past as much as it has a future. It is this sense of identity handed down through time that gives us the imagery and the security to think the new. Undoubtedly the best way to preserve tradition is to have children, not wear your father’s old hat (Picasso).