Sunday, September 27, 2009

Where does Innovation Training Come From?

As I have watched innovators grow and develop, I often wonder how they get to be where they are? Was it all circumstance or maybe it was sheer effort. Well, in God's economy we know it was neither. We know that our understanding of God, of His values and of His direction gives us the opportunity to innovate in dynamic ways.

Recently I have been thinking alot about discipline. The nonprofit world is not all that disciplined I have noticed. We regularly miss deadlines, fail to think through issues properly and regularly invest time in things that don't have much significance. Now one could argue that it is no different from the for profit world but it seems to be allowed much easier in the nonprofit world.

After all we are working for God and He will get it done in the end . . . right?

But is that they attitude that sparks innovation? No, innovation and dynamic ministry come from a disciplined life that is finely tuned to God's voice and is willing to courageously act in God's name. How do we prepare ourselves for that kind of life?

Recently I read through a book called "Stand: unleashing the wisdom of God" by Alex McFarland. This is a small devo for young people on the book of Proverbs. As I read it I realized that one of the keys to innovation as a ministry person is learning the disciplines taught in Proverbs when we are young. That foundation is such a powerful piece of what it takes to make innovation happen.

In this short book, Alex walks through the Proverbs in a topical way based on the issues that young people are dealing with. I really enjoyed the section on leadership and self control. The idea that following God's prescriptions for life don't just lead to missing out on things that give us pleasure - they lead to significance and impact.

In the end, I think this is one of the key lessons I am learning. If I am willing to live as God asks me to, then I will be in a position to have a part in His Kingdom work. If I ignore Proverbs and other admonitions in the Bible, I will not have the Kingdom impact.

As we think about where innovation comes from, we have to go back to basic decisions like this. Our obedience to God at these basic levels will open us up to be used by Him and to innovate in incredible ways. Our unwillingness will relegate us to a life of missteps, self-focused patterns and insignificance.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Begin with the End in Mind Part II

This topic is so important that I want to park here and talk about it just a little more. I hope each of you will indulge me. But more than that, I hope you will realize how critical this topic is to innovation.

If you do not have an end identified when you go out and seek to innovate, then you will not be doing your cause any favors. Now I know many people are thinking - what about those innovators that just tinkered around until one day they invented Post-it Notes (that is the famous one from 3M).

Let me make a distinction. If you are a scientist looking to further your field then that is your end. At that point you might not have a specific cause you are focused on - instead you are wanting to see knowledge increased and new ideas/resources be brought to market. That may look like meandering but most of those people did have an end in mind.

In the case of this blog and of innovation within mission, we have "ends" that are a bit more focused. For some of you it is church planting in Africa. For others it is Internet evangelism, and still others it is new discipleship tools. Whatever the cause that God has put you on, beginning with the end in mind is critical to innovating for the Kingdom.

Let me share a few things that you are more able to do when you begin with the end in mind:
  1. Identify the key players: If you know where you are going, it is easier to identify the key individuals that you need to build relationships with, network with and partner with.
  2. Stay focused: By defining what you believe God wants you to be reaching for, you can avoid the many other "nice but not necessary" things that will pop up all around you. We all know brilliant people who can't focus on their main objective and keep getting taken down side paths to the detriment of their main project.
  3. Spot Opportunities: When you have a clear goal in mind, the "windows of opportunity" that God brings along will be very evident to you. They will jump off the page and you will be ready to engage with the opportunity that God puts in front of you. Many other people who do not have a clear focus let these opportunities pass by just because they are not sharp and focused.
  4. Learn Strategically: With focus comes intentionality. When you are focused you then look for the things you need to learn and grow in so that you can better accomplish your goal.
  5. Be Spiritually Alert: Those who are intentional about mission innovation will be spiritually alert. You will be praying about the thing God has put on your heart. You will know what sacrifices He is asking you to make. You will also be more aware of changes in the direction that God has you going. You will be able to flex and modify your focus based on how God changes the ends He has given you.

I hope this is an encouragement in the disciplines of focus, intentionality, and learning. Now here is the question: What End has God put on your heart that He would have you be focused in achieving for Him?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Begin with the End in Mind

"As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance." Daniel 12:13

When Daniel received this word from God, he had just been given a revelation about the end times. But as with many of those revelations, he didn't understand much of what he saw. He was trying to be a diligent God-follower and "get it right" but you can imagine the frustration when the pieces God was sharing didn't quite make sense. Daniel wanted to understand the "how" of the prophesy but in the end God was more interested in him focusing on the "why" and the "what now".

Then, as the last verse in the book of Daniel, God tries to calm Daniel down and focus him. I love the line "go your way till the end." God had shared what would happen in the end and why it must happen, now Daniel was supposed to live out his faith with expectation of that end.

I had lunch with a friend yesterday and we were talking about innovation in organizations. He shared with me an exercise he did during his masters studies that captured my imagination. The professor told the class that they should pick an age at which they think they might die (75, 80, 85, etc). Then he asked my friend and the rest of the people in the class to work their way backwards to today and try to plan out the goals they had for their lives.

My friend shared how powerful this exercise was to define values, goals and priorities. What is so special about beginning with the end in mind? Well for one it clarifies the picture quickly. When time is flowing out in front of us, then it seems like we have all the time in the world to accomplish what is on our heart. But when we start at the end and work back to today, then we have a limited space of time that we must invest wisely based on God's call on our lives.

This exercise also helps us to think through next steps. If we know where we are trying to end up, then it is easier to break it down and think through all the pieces that must come together. For example, if your goal is to innovate in how member care is carried out for missionaries from new sending countries, then you can begin to think through what experiences you must have to understand the challenges and the victories. You can think about the education you need. You can decide about the mentors you need in your life. Finally, you can think through the time it will take to build the relationships and connections that will give you a say in that particular area.

The amazing thing about this exercise is that a life becomes much shorter than we would ever imagine. From where many people sit, life flows out in front of them and there seems to be enough time to do just about anything. But when we really count our days and ask God to help us see how we should spend them, they become much more limited than we would ever realize.

As you consider the innovations that God has put on your heart, are you beginning with the end in mind? God promised Daniel that if he went his way based on all he had heard then he would receive an inheritance. What is "the way" that God is calling you to? Will you measure it and invest it for the Kingdom?