Thomas Friedman believes this is a great time to innovate. There’s even room for the faith community to play a part, but only if it starts moving at the speed of innovation.

We’re living in an age when technological innovation is accelerating. “If you want to be a maker, an inventor, or an innovator, this is your time,” writes Friedman in his new book, Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Acceleration. The title is taken from schedules being overrun by accelerating technology. Friedman’s thankful when people show up late for a meeting. It gives him time to think.

When we take time to think, we see how our technologies lack a telos (Greek for purpose). They merely make more and more technologies faster and faster. Because of this, Friedman says our workplaces “need to be reimagined.” Good idea, but he says our workplaces are not adapting. To do so, they must “widen their aperture and synthesize more perspectives” so that businesses pursue what he calls “moral innovation.”

At one time, the church was considered an expert in moral innovation. Innovation is Latin for the Greek renewal—the mission of the church (Col. 1:18-20). The church assisted in the renewal of medicine, commerce, and capitalism, as well as launching the Scientific Revolution and the modern university. The church is, however, AWOL when it comes to today’s innovations. It no longer moves at the speed of innovation.

The faith community can get back in the innovation game. Friedman says acceleration is increasing so rapidly we’re not talking about disruption but dislocation. I like that. Dislocation is what the Judeans experienced in the Babylonian exile. The few who recognized exile—the sons of Judah—learned the language and literature of Babylon (Daniel 1). They eventually brought moral innovation to Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom.

Many cultural analysts say the Western church is in exile. Ours is now, emphatically, a post-Christian culture and the community of Christian believers are now, more than ever—spiritually speaking, exiles in a land of exile, writes James Davison Hunter. “Christians must come to terms with this exile.” Here’s one way to do it.

Recent findings in neuroimaging indicate the Western world is left-brained, the result of 500 years of the Enlightenment. This makes moral innovation unlikely to happen, for it is only in the right hemisphere that we understand moral issues. The left doesn’t. It’s narrowly focused on making things. It is only in the right that we make sense of the world, widening the aperture and synthesizing more perspectives. The left hemisphere thinks products, processes, and profits—all necessary. The right thinks purpose.

Moral innovation requires the right and left hemispheres collaborating. This is how the brain is designed to work—in an ambidextrous fashion. Only ambidextrous organizations can foster moral innovation. Right hemisphere leaders provide the outsider view. Left hemisphere leaders are the insider view. Together, they create technologies with a telos.

The Christian tradition can provide these right hemisphere leaders. But it requires churches operating as ambidextrous organizations. We have to practice what we preach. And churches have to move at the speed of innovation. Both happen best in an innovation lab. Friedman alluded to innovation labs in a previous book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded. “We need 100,000 people in 100,000 garages trying 100,000 things—in the hope that five of them break through.”

How about 100,000 churches running 100,000 innovation labs trying 100,000 things—in the hope that five of them break through with businesses pursuing moral innovation? It could happen, but only if churches start moving at the speed of innovation.

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2 Responses to “Moving at the Speed of Innovation”

  1. Bob Moffitt says:

    Could it be that the major impediment to innovation in the evangelical/conservative church is its unintentional disobedience to the Great Commission? It seems to me that our actual priority in terms of time and financial commitment is to entertaining the troops, and what we call evangelism. The Great Commission’s emphasis is discipleship – not Hollywood-style worship or getting names on commitment cards. This idea is unpacked in a recent book, “Could Evangelism Lead to Sin?”

  2. Mike Metzger says:

    Bob – Could be part of it. However, I think a bigger culprit is our (unwitting) embrace of the Enlightenment. It can be demonstrated this yields a left-brained faith, and left-brained organizations generally try to pin things down before doing anything. They prefer to ponder, pause, pray, “process” (a word I am coming to very much dislike) – but then do nothing. I recognize there is value in pondering, but not at the expense of acting with some alacrity when necessary.

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