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28 Jul '13

Conventional wisdom is conventional but often not wisdom

Posted by T.J. Addington in wisdom

There is a poster that I have never forgotten: If you always do what you always did you always get what you always got. People of influence understand that truth and don’t want to “get what they always got.” They are never satisfied with the status quo but want better, more effective, and a greater ROM (Return on Mission).

For example, in the past several decades we have assumed (conventional wisdom) that if we do certain things in our churches that those things will result in mature believers. Recent studies have rocked the church world indicating that this conventional wisdom was conventional but not wisdom as the promised maturity among congregants is in short supply. Because of that realization there is a massive effort underway today to determine better ways to see spiritual transformation take place.

In another example, the church world has been dramatically changed in the past decade by “video venues.” Essentially these are services that use the video from the main service location to other locations either on church property or on distant campuses. When the idea was first proposed people said, “no one will watch a message on video” (conventional wisdom). Today the practice is helping ministries grow all over the world using technology. It took a handful of church leaders who said, “I bet this will work, let’s try it.”

The world of missions has been going through a significant transformation as well. One of the most significant transformations has been the shift of missionaries from being primarily hands on practitioners (they are the experts and do ministry) to that of being primarily coaches and trainers (working alongside indigenous leaders) to raise up and champion healthy national workers who in most cases can do better in their context than we can. That shift took place when a number of mission leaders started to ask if there was not a better way to reach a world that has exploded from 1.7 Billion in 1900 to 7 billion today.

There are many such shifts that literally change the ministry landscape. But they start with a leader who asks why things are done the way they are, thinks deeply and comes up with a solution that is radically different than conventional wisdom that results in significant ministry leverage.

Contrarian thinking is characterized by these elements:

 Conventional wisdom is not simply accepted as wisdom

 Current practices are always scrutinized for better ways

 The questions “why” or “why not” are frequent

 Knowing what others are doing and why is constant

 Multiple voices are encouraged to speak into issues

 Risk taking and innovation are valued

 Leveraging for maximum ministry results is the constant goal

 Thinking grey is common

Innovation comes from thinking differently. And this is a key requirement for leaders of deep influence: They take the time to think, probe, question, dialogue, mull, read, talk to others of deep influence and always question what is for the sake of what could be.

The nemesis of leaders is the pace at which they run which is why the issue of intentional living is so critical. Unless I build significant “think time” into my schedule I don’t even have the time to question conventional wisdom and therefore am unlikely to see significant breakthroughs in the ministry I lead. Yet, how many of us really want to do the same thing over for the same results? It may be that “think time” needs to be at the very top of our list if we want to be people of deep influence.

Think time does not mean simply sitting still. For me, my best thinking comes either when I am writing or doing something deeply relaxing like fly fishing. In both cases, my mind clears of other issues and I can focus in a relaxed way on issues that I have been considering. In the absence of other distractions I come to clarity and ways in which our organization can be better at what it does. In fact, my annual weeks in Montana on vacation and fly fishing are some of the most productive weeks for ReachGlobal and the writing I do.

The busier I am with activity, the less creative thinking I do. And while I may fool myself into thinking that all that activity is critical the truth is that it takes only one significant breakthrough to change the whole equation and take us to a whole new level of ministry – but that significant breakthrough only usually comes when we have time to think. Activity is often the enemy of better ministry paradigms.