As a potter the process of making a beautiful and/or functional vessel hasn’t changed much over the centuries. The tools of the craft may change but their purpose is still the same. The basics of throwing clay are the tried and true: wedging, centering, opening up, pulls, shaping, collaring, design, and finishing. I could go on and on, and though very little has really changed I still peek at the new-fangled products and glazes that promise innovation.
Ah, that’s the word on my mind this morning: Innovation. As I think about Christianity and the United Methodist Church in particular, I am very tempted to say it’s time to innovate, but I may be way off-base. New-fangled may be disastrous rather than helpful. It may be better to renovate rather than innovate. Innovation suggests a fresh start. It suggests that we chunk all the old ways that we’ve been doing things, but like pottery-making, there isn’t really that much that’s really better. Innovation leads to a fatalistic surrender that throws the baby out with the bath water. I think Jesus suggested ways to get old and new to work together as in the shrunk and unshrunk pieces of cloth. So what’s the deal? Is it better to innovate or renovate?
Innovation requires a tearing down of old structures, like “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” Demo Day means tear that whole house down. Renovation exposes the “good bones” of the existing structure and makes improvements while preserving the integrity of the house. As I ponder the United Methodist Church and its structure, or even my personal life, I’m wondering whether renovation might be the better course of action than innovation. Renovation does what Jesus suggested about the marriage of the unshrunk cloth and the shrunk cloth. It honors and uses the best of both to make things better. Sure innovation is a quick fix, and probably less costly. We have all heard that it’s easier to tear down and build again rather than renovate, but I think we too often succumb to the temptation to take the easier path that promises lower costs. Don’t you think about the bridge you’re crossing being built by the lowest bidder?
Just some thoughts as we await the United Methodist “Call to Action” Committee’s recommendations about how we’re organized as a denomination. What will it be: innovation or renovation? As for me, I’m leaning toward doing renovation carefully removing that which is ineffective and wasteful, preserving our “strong bones” of Connectionalism, Wesleyan Process Theology, and the localism of strong Annual Conferences. Where I would like to do some creative renovation is in improving the effectiveness of Bishops who will actually see their Annual Conference leadership as the most important vantage point to make Disciples for Jesus Christ, clergy effectiveness valued over status, and agencies of the church that are trimmed down or merged into workable entities that will empower local churches more than prop up out-of-touch bureaucrats. I know this sounds easy and too simple, too much like innovation; but what I hope to suggest is really renovation using surgical precision rather than a wrecking ball.