Can The Church Be Innovative?
One of the best shows on TV, in my opinion, is Modern Family.
But that’s not the one I want to talk about. That is, also on ABC, Shark Tank.
For those who aren’t familiar with the show, it goes a little something like this: An inventor or someone with a “good” idea or product needs financial help. They may need financial help to be bailed out of the debt they’ve incurred upon themselves, they may need it to grow the business. Whatever the case, they need financial help for their business and so they seek an investor to invest in them and their product in exchange for a percentage of equity in the company or product.
Think of it like this: Joe Schmo makes really cool socks. And his sock business has been booming. It’s been selling so well that he cannot meet the orders that he is getting, and so he is forced to make customers wait for the product (weeks, maybe months…sound familiar Apple?). So, in order to meet demand and not turn customers away, he comes and asks the group of investors (referred to as “Sharks” on the show) for, let’s say, $50,000 in exchange for 20% of his business. The idea is that the idea and product are so good that with the Sharks’ help, the business will grow and both people will make lots of money.
In fact, that’s the goal…make money. One shark in particular, Kevin O’Leary, makes that point very clear. He isn’t interested in stories of heartache and suffering. If he can’t make money, he isn’t interested at all, no matter whose feelings he hurts.
I’ve struggled with why I like this show so much.
I think it is exciting. I think it is a neat idea, and to be honest…when a really good idea comes along, the show is breathtaking.
Then, last night I was reminded of one of Jesus’ message while putting away laundry watching Godspell. You know the one, about not serving two masters…God and money in Matthew 6. The Greek word used is “μαμωνα” which I think is borrowed from Aramaic and is most often translated “money” or “wealth.”
If we agree to work off of that translation (and not the one of the personified Mammona), we can see the rationale for people in ministry attempting to live a life of non-wealth (I personally think that describing American pastors as living a life of “poverty” is unfair and untrue). We can understand why many pastors and Christians get upset at pastors like Joel Osteen. We can also see why many pastors feel comforted when they hear of Rick Warren serving his church for free (although let’s be real, Warren is making plenty with his book…it’s just that by most accounts he tries to tithe most of it back to the church).
Keeping that in mind, back to Shark Tank. As someone who admittedly has issues with the wealth of the world and collecting products (I should really count how many Apple products I own sometime), my first reaction to this realization that these two worlds might possibly be incompatible was to come down on myself as being a gluttonous pig. While I’m not saying that isn’t true, it still didn’t feel like the right answer to me.
So I thought, what is it that I like about Shark Tank? Why am I so intrigued by Apple and the tech industry?
I realized: innovation.
I like the idea of progress. I like the idea of humans using their minds to be creative. I like the idea of humans truly pursuing their callings by inventing things. And I’m not saying all innovation is good, but I do think it has helped all of our lives (even those who think that things were always more authentic and better way back when). Some forget that the very Scriptures we read were written down on a paper like material…and copied over and over, all a form of technological progress.
And that’s why I like Shark Tank. The people that come and bring in companies and products are innovating, for the most part.
But it occurred to me, the world and life-centering ideology of money and the inspiration for innovation go hand in hand. In our capitalistic American society, people innovate because they want to find a way to sell their invention and make money…lots of it (and save me the arguments about people like Jonas Salk, who are obviously the exception to the rule).
And if we function off of the rationale that these two function together, my question becomes: where is the Church? Are people inspired to innovate for the Church?
There was a time when the Church influenced the culture. Sometimes, that was paired with the Church ruling over others’ lives without their sayso or freedom. Today, the Church doesn’t seem to have much influence on the culture.
It seems to me, in these days, that the Church has also lost its interest in innovation. We study tradition (for good reason) and then sometimes we sit by the tradition and have it speak for itself. But we have forgotten that the Gospel is what needs to speak for itself. While the tradition of the Church has brought quite a bit of positive influence of the Church, it has also destroyed many many many people’s faith in God. Our tradition is good, but it is also bad.
The churches that ARE innovating these days are drawing large crowds. And they get looked down on for that. Unfortunately, because often these churches have innovated in new forms of worship with the intention of drawing more people in, to collect more money. They sell their products outside the services. (I can’t remember so well, but I seem to remember Jesus not liking that idea.) So these churches aren’t truly innovating for the church, they’re innovating like Americans innovate…for money and money alone (and probably to “save souls”).
Maybe, then, the question is less about the Church innovating…and more about letting the Gospel innovate through the Church. At least, I sure hope that’s what it is.