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November 2011

Traditioned Innovation

Will Willimon, who recently spoke and preached at Luther Seminary's Celebration of Biblical Preaching event, has been busy during his seven years as a United Methodist bishop in Alabama. As a sign of his unwavering commitment to mission, his conference's infamous clergy "dashboard" (recently lampooned in the The Huffington Post) shows the world, Sunday by Sunday, how many people attend worship at each church under his supervision; how many new professions of faith are made in each place; and how much outreach in mission is taking place. The dashboard then shows growth (or decline) chartable over time.
As one might guess, lay leaders love it! The dashboard has been mocked as a mainline version of church growth strategy, Jason Byassee, fellow in theology and leadership at Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School, reports. But as one looks behind the dashboard, you can sense something deeper is happening in not only Willimon's churches but around the country. That something is innovation.

Byassee goes on to make a connection between what Willimon has been practicing and what Duke Divinity calls "traditioned innovation," institutional leadership that neither attempts to create new models ex nihilo nor is enslaved to the past for its own sake. Rather, it draws treasures from the tradition in creative ways to accomplish God's mission.

Innovation, like creativity, seems to thrive on limitations. The current recession, along with the multiple challenges of local congregational life, have created an environment for ministry that demands innovation. Standing still spells danger. Mission-driven innovation has potentially redemptive powers for local congregations—and the seminary. The world that God so loves needs a church that is completely committed to innovation as it "witnesses to salvation in Jesus Christ and serving in God's world." (Luther Seminary's mission)

Innovation is one of Luther Seminary's chief characteristics. It's in our DNA. Traditioned innovation at Luther digs deep into our faith roots with the intention of reaching out to a new generation of transformative, passionate leaders. If the world is looking for innovation today, let them look no further your local congregation—and Luther Seminary.
A commitment to mission today leads to innovation. Let's include that commitment on all of our ministry dashboards.

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