29 January 2010

Leadership Fridays: Be unoriginal and always be new

We like shiny new things. I think humanity always has. Novelty brings with it a sense of possibility. Every August, fans throughout Minnesota look at the new roster and think "This could be the season for the Vikes!" I tempted to think my new Kindle will finally give me bibliophilic, gadget-istic, transcendence. A possible change of any state (vocation, location, recreation, co-habitation) whispers the promise of something better... something new.

This age-old sense that new = better ("Here's a fruit we haven't tried before!") is amped up in a culture where we anxiously count the days until the "reveal" of the next product from Apple or the next star to arise in the night sky of reality T.V. As leaders we have to recognize we swim in this ocean as well. We are tempted to think that one of the deadly sins of leadership is to speak of things that people already know (yawn). We sense the need to innovate in order to stay fresh and to continue to lead.

Something dawned on me this week. I preach the same message every week. I encourage my friends with the same things day in and day out. And that isn't going to change. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever and the Gospel is the sole, unchanging basis of our one faith. I won't find any novelty in the message or the mission. The New Testament authors agree:
Finally, my brothers,rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. (Philippians 3.1)

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. (Hebrews 2.1)
Leaders, we will be repetitive. The message isn't subject to innovation. Are we o.k. with that? Is this search for "new", then, bad or good? Are we doomed to a life unsatisfied life of one limited new thing after another? Is there something more going on here?

New does not equal different
In Revelation, when Jesus proclaims that he is making "all things new" (nice name for a blog), he is not saying that he is perpetually making all things different. The Trinitarian God does not grow stale. He is always new and freshly alive but never changing. The work of redemption is bringing everything into conformity with this "newness."
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4.13–14)
Jesus is offering something unique to the woman at the well in offering her something perpetually new. A stream of living water is that cool, ever-flowing, always-clear brook you remember dipping your toes in. It's always new but never different. That's what makes it so refreshing. Christ delivers living water in the unchanging promises of the Gospel (2 Cor. 5:17-18) and his revealed (unchanging) glory (John 17:3, Hebrews 13:8). They are the only bases for life giving hope, transcendent beauty and a secure future.

When we stagnate in life, the ache for the new increases. Leaders, be careful that you don't satisfy that ache with something that only appears to be new. New purposes, new projects, new curriculum, new churches all stop being new. A new gospel (even with a subtle change) is no Gospel at all. Eternal newness, eternal life comes in an unchanging message. Stagnation only means we have missed an old truth. That is what we need each other.
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. (Hebrews 3.12–14)
And the church needs leaders because they initiate the continual return to our original confidence. Newness is a matter of the heart and new ground is always taken there - with an old message. Don't forget this. Don't be troubled by your lack of originality. Everything that is "new" today will disappear in 50 years but the Gospel will still be bringing new life to those who have heard it a thousand times. And when you ache for something new, remember you need the same old message, not something different.


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