A Heart to Innovate

(This blog was adapted from a video script written for ACSI professional development conferences.)

Introduction

All members of the community in a Deeper Learning Christian school are invited to see their identity as God’s beautiful handiwork, made in his likeness. As image-bearers of God we are created to create—God’s first role was Creator. Made in His image, we are made to create. (from Christian Deeper Learning)

 

The longer I am in education, the more I tremble at the responsibility it is to stand before a class of open-faced, impressionable students and realize I am a model of Jesus for them. They will be marked by who I am as much as, or more than, by the lessons I teach. I tell them that I love Jesus, that I am his disciple—that I will pray for them to be disciples as well. And as a teacher, I pray that I model the love, compassion, wisdom, and kindness of Jesus. But do I model a Jesus who embodies creativity, innovation, newness?

So often as teachers (and humans!) we are resistant to change. Our default position is tradition or the “way we’ve always done it.” It takes energy, courage, and support to make changes in the way we teach. And sometimes we need to change; sometimes there is a better, more effective, more engaging way than what we’ve been doing.

Jesus, the Master Teacher, the one we long to become more like, is both our model and source for innovation and creativity. Talk about new methods, new ideas, new products!

Watch out when you open the New Testament! It’s a new testament! It’s like opening a soda can that’s been shaken. There’s so much newness in it that it fizzes out. It’s like seemingly endless bubbles, or like fireworks. There is newness, creativity, welling up like a fountain.

Just open Matthew; the first page of the new testament starts with an innovative genealogy. Jewish established practice didn’t include women, but the genealogy of Jesus includes four of them. Right off the bat you can see that soda can being shaken up. Next up, the conception of Jesus is not according to any established method, then a new star announces his birth. Before long we’ve got Jesus healing on the Sabbath, going against the established religious traditions of his people. Then race on to the Beatitudes—and we’re only in the fifth chapter of the New Testament—talk about new ideas! Blessed are the poor in spirit. Since when have the poor in anything been considered blessed? Blessed are those who mourn? Who are persecuted? The meek? These ideas are so new, so fresh, so innovative, that after 2000 years we’re still not sure what to make of them.

Jesus rarely heals the same way twice; you cannot predict what he’ll do. He puts clay on one, puts his finger in another’s ears, puts his spit on another. When the disciples need money he tells Peter to go catch a fish and they’ll find a coin in its mouth.

He gives us a new commandment. The established commandment was “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Now he says, “Love one another as I have loved you.” That’s innovation!

So, how do we, as teachers, as administrators, develop a heart to innovate? We have that heart already! We have been made in the image of a creative God to be creative. We ourselves are new creations. We are in an endlessly creative, innovative Christ. We need to be willing to have that newness, that innovative spirit, released into our schools. And that might take courage for some of us.

I don’t know if you’ve sensed this yet, but God is doing something new in Christian schools. Aslan is on the move! God is ushering in a fresh wind. God may be calling you out from tradition, from past experience, from accepted “wisdom” about teaching. If the stories in the bible are any indication, God seems to love to call people out of their comfort zone into something new. When God calls we have a choice, but you don’t want to resist that call because you’ll be missing something wonderful.

God called Abraham out from an established city into the wilderness. Because he said “Yes,” he eventually became the father of all who believe. Moses, who had settled down as a shepherd, is called out of Midian at the age of 80 for a huge adventure. He said “Yes” and became the deliverer of the Hebrews. Mary is called out of a life as a normal Jewish housewife; because she said “Yes,” she became the mother of Jesus. Jesus is called from the glory of heaven to earth to be born as a human, and because he said “Yes” we are here today. Jesus called Peter out of the boat to walk on water, and as long as Peter’s eye was on his Lord, he could do it. When it turned to the waves and the wind, he sank. I believe God is calling us Christian educators to get out of the boat and have the courage to innovate!

We can’t bring this freshness, this innovation, using our own strength. There is no formula, no scope and sequence. But when we depend on the guidance, the inspiration, of the Holy Spirit, our schools won’t look the same. There will, I hope, be a similar spirit in them, but each one will be different in its freshness and creativity.

Let us seek the Holy Spirit and pray for an openness to new ideas and practices. Let us ask God for revelation to see where tradition, or how we were taught, how we were trained, might be holding us back from something more wonderful, more engaging, more life-giving for our students so that they become Jesus lovers and world-changers.