Innovative Ministry from Phillip Mutzelburg
Whenever we articulate this very descriptive word “innovation” in connection with church work we are thinking of being a church that is ground breaking, advanced, or pioneering. This is our heritage, and something we should be proud of, and something we should determine to keep as distinctives in our churches. When the charismatic renewal began to sweep Australia in the late 1970’s, it was originally contained in a very small number of mainline churches that adopted the restored truths that were being revealed to the leaders of this dynamic move.
One of these leaders was the much loved founder of CLCI, Trevor Chandler. Very quickly these truths which were so innovative in the day created tensions that forced the establishment of new Christian centres where those who were being touched by the move of the Holy Spirit could gather and worship, learn, and have community together. Those who were embracing these truths were seen as “mavericks” by the established church and watched with suspicion.
The Mandate for Biblical Innovation
Why were these early adapters of restored truths treated with so much suspicion, and even isolated by the mainline churches? There are a number of reasons but I consider chief amongst them to be the idea that what was happening lacked biblical precedence. This is simply not true.
A key section of scripture which we read over to easily is found in 1 Corinthians verses 19 through 23. I quote here verse 22.
“ To the weak I became weak to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some”.
I encourage you read this whole section.
Many years ago I sat in a room with the renowned theologian Gordon Fee who said,
“We do not realise how innovative and ground breaking the ministry of the Apostle Paul was to the established religious system of the day”.
He went on to cite many examples of things Paul said and did which was totally foreign to their closed spiritual eyes and ears. He gave examples of Paul’s wit, the kind of colloquial language he used, the examples he used, the style of his speaking, the people he embraced, the way he ministered, the extremely positive nature of his message, his personal transparency, his capacity to change his style to suit the audience, and others I have forgotten. He said all these things were a direct result of a personal encounter with Jesus and being filled with the Holy Spirit which was key in the charismatic renewal.
These are many of the distinctives we were birthed in. Let me put them to you again in slightly different language. We openly have fun in our churches and like to laugh. This was almost unheard of in the church of my youth which was arguably the leading evangelical denomination at the time. The kind of language we use in our churches is so different to the church of my youth where King James language was considered the only way to present the truth of the gospel. We use many examples to explain application of truths being taught which once again were considered by those opposed to the move as simply opportunities to tell stories when only the word should be considered. We embraced people from all walks of life. People off the streets, drug addicts, “hippies”, and the unlovely in general. We all have our styles of ministry, and many of us are conservative in the way we express the ministry of the Spirit, but there is no denying that there was a certain “flamboyance” about the way we ministered and still do in some places. We were very positive in the benefits of the gospel, and open about our own humanity.
Today all of this is a given. There is nothing really ground breaking about these things, and most of the evangelical church has embraced these distinctives. I have no hesitation is saying this is the way the Lord of the church, King Jesus wants it to be.
A casual look at the ministry of Jesus shows us in a blink how innovative and ground breaking his style and message was. The gospel are full of examples. I love the criticism Jesus took for hanging with irreligious people who drank too much at their parties, and his disrespect of the traditions of the religious system of the day. I love the way Barnabas celebrated the church in Antioch when he was sent by the Apostles in Jerusalem to “check out” what was happening there. They were doing church dramatically different to how they were in Jerusalem. The music was different, and men and women were sitting together. Outrageous stuff to the establishment.
There is so much more. Even the Old Testament is full of innovative ministry examples as times changed and people changed.
Innovation Does Not End Here
I believe God created us in his own image just as it says in Genesis. Take time to think about how creative our God is. Lie on your back on the grass some time, as I did recently, and look up at a starry sky. I laid there thinking to myself, “I have just seen God”. He created us with creative genes but in many cases we have put them on the shelf, and embraced the style and nature of church as the norm.
I refuse to believe that church as it is expressed today in most places is where God wants us to be. I dream of a church that is un-recognisable from what we see today. I hope that does not shake too many of you. We live in a “anti-theist” environment, and something innovative, ground breaking, advanced, and pioneering is desperately needed to connect with the men and women and young people of Australia who are far from God. We have the right DNA in us to once again be a bunch of mavericks who stir up the established system and bring about a move of God.
I celebrate those of you who dare to close the church doors on occasional Sundays and join in a major community event where you can showcase the church. I celebrate with those of you who bring qualified intellectuals into the mix of the debate about the origins of the earth and man himself. I celebrate those of you who put on parties for little girls to be a princess for the night. I celebrate those of you who teach using aids on the platform to present a picture that helps people get their head around a truth being presented. I celebrate those who build a replica of Bethlehem at Christmas and give the masses opportunity to see the real Christmas.
But there is so much more you can do. Don’t stop there. If you are thinking out of the box, it could be God prompting you to do something that will open up your community to the gospel.
What to do Next
Why not do coffee with the business people and pastors in your area and talk about some innovative ideas you have for reaching the lost and doing church at your place. Think expansively and make one rule. No one is nuts for thinking out of the box.