Digital Parish: The church in the age of innovation

In a culture that is obsessed with innovation and individuality, what is the place of the Church and the spiritual? That’s what we’re getting into with Andrew Root in this culturally-context-obsessed session of Pastoring in the Digital Parish.

“The church must change or die…” These dire words get repeated about 100 times a day across the Twitterverse. We do need some creative ideas (like more digital ministries!), but  Andrew Root cautions that innovation is not explicitly our mission. Instead, we’ll seek to creatively draw people towards the ongoing mission of spiritual formation.

The Episode

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Ryan Dunn:

Hey, this is Pastoring in the Digital Parish, your resource for community and insights for ministry in the digital realm. I'm Ryan Dunn, the host of this podcast and a fellow practitioner of digital ministry. We need to change or die. I'll bet you've heard that phrase before. I think that phrase appears in the Christian Twitter verse a hundred times a day, and we know why the church of the west is shrinking. And in saying this, we're sending out a call to reclaim a passion for mission in outreach. The ways of the past are following a bit short and we need to innovate, right? And we're seeking this change in the midst of a society that eagerly awaits the next product announcement from Apple or the next advancement in battery powered vehicles or the next reboot of the Spider-Man franchise. We're a culture infatuated with innovation and that bleeds into our mindsets for ministry.

Ryan Dunn:

Andrew Root is going to remind us that mission and innovation are not the same thing. There's truth in saying that we need to do some things differently, but our mission is not changing. And if we let innovation become our mission, then we're going to struggle. In a culture that is obsessed with innovation and individuality then, what is the place of the church and the spiritual? That's what we're getting into with Andrew Root in this culturally context obsessed session of pastoring in the digital parish. I was first introduced to Dr. Andrew Root through his writings on youth ministry, including books like Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry and The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry. His most recent books are Churches and the Crisis of Decline, familiar topic, The Congregation in a Secular Age and the upcoming, The Church After Innovation, which provided the platform for our conversation here. Andy is the Carrie Olson Balson professor of youth and family ministry at Luther seminary.

Ryan Dunn:

He writes in researches in areas of theology, ministry, culture, and younger generations. The Church After Innovation starts by telling a story about Andy attending a conference, also attended by a couple archetypal characters, which he gave some cute names too. We started by trying to introduce those characters. Andy also uses the term neoliberalism several times in our conversation inferring that we live in a time of neoliberalism to put some context on that. Neoliberalism here is defined as a policy model that encompasses both politics and economics. It favors private enterprise and seeks to transfer the control of economic factors from the government to the private sector. Andy ties this mindset with one that places a lot of value on the individual and personal uniqueness. All right, enough said, let's meet our adjunct professor for this session of Pastoring in the Digital Parish. Andrew Root. Andrew Root, I'm so glad to have you with us. I'd ask you how it's going, but I have a feeling that a question that might be a little bit more comfortable for you is what are you watching?

Andrew Root:

What we just started watching, and I think I'm in, but we'll have to see how it unfolds, but I'm late on this one, but Yellow Jackets on Showtime.

Ryan Dunn:

Okay.

Andrew Root:

It's like a retrospective. I mean, it's a drama, but it's based in the mid nineties and then it's goes forward to the present day. And it's basically like Lord of the Rings is, or not Lord of the Rings, Lord of the flies in a present day. That's a very different thing, Lord...

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah.

Andrew Root:

Yeah, so that's what we're watching, but it's got a really, it's a hundred percent on rotten tomatoes.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah. Okay.

Andrew Root:

And I've only watched the pilot and I'm not sure how it's a hundred percent yet, but I'm sticking with it. So yeah, that's rare. But we are watching The House of the Dragon, but I watch that week. I don't binge that. I watch that every week, so.

Ryan Dunn:

Right, okay.

Andrew Root:

And then I rewatch right before the next episode. And so I have a few days here. I think we're recording this on a Wednesday, so I'm starting to get myself jonesing for the next episode.

Ryan Dunn:

It's already the itch is there one episode in and it's already set, you're hook.

Andrew Root:

Yeah.

Ryan Dunn:

Okay.

Andrew Root:

Yeah, man. I was traumatized by the final episode of game of Thrones, but it has all the allure and the kind of same feelings as all those great episodes before the darn finale that almost ruined the whole thing, but that's not why we're.

Ryan Dunn:

No, it's not.

Ryan Dunn:

Here's the turn I'm going to make here. Follow me now. And you introduce a storyline in your book and we're introduced to a couple characters in that storyline. There's Applebee's boy and there's senate executive guy. And I was hoping that you might kind of give us a quick synopsis of what those two archetypes are, who are those, not naming who those individuals actually are, but who they're meant to represent.

Andrew Root:

Those people are many different people that have become a single person.

Ryan Dunn:

I thought so.

Andrew Root:

As I sit in my basement trying to write this, but they do, they are archetypes. Like you said. So this book is really, I was telling you before we started to record. I mean, we're pretty nervous about this book, because if there's anything that's become, I think in the last 10 years, but for sure in the last five years, quite a sacred, maybe even conversation or quite a kind of fundamental conversation across Protestantism, but particularly mainline Protestantism has been this kind of shift, this, move, this turning towards innovation. So I'm not trying to be a deconstructive ranting pain in the butt, but I do want to ask some big questions about it because you find it everywhere. And I have the privilege of going around the church quite a bit and you know, go to a college and they're talking about tuition being down or their student body being down and applications being down, they need to innovate.

Andrew Root:

Every congregation needs to innovate, denominations and denominational leaders are really into innovation and even foundations and endowments are funding, congregational innovation and camps innovation and things like that. So I'm trying to ask what's really going on here? And to get to that story I create these characters, which I probably do too often in my writing, but Applebee's boy. And this all comes from Seinfeld about TV, but growing up, being in college, early college when high school and then college, when Seinfeld came out, I have to be very careful not to date myself too much.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah. Well I'm vibing with you just so you know, you're all the names that you drop in there, man, hands and soup Nazi. I know those characters.

Andrew Root:

So, and I even say this to the book I'm so bad and my mind's been so warped by Seinfeld that I do that with myself. You're supposed to do that with your buddies or whatever, but I'll just do it with myself. So when speaking at denominational conferences and senate theological conferences and things like that, you meet these people, you meet Applebee's boy, who is, this has happened multiple times. But in my write up, which is a little bit for TV or for the book is the equating of the church with Applebee's and using this as a way to say that the Senate has to take a turn towards innovation, that reading an article about how Applebee's is going down and really not naming Applebee's, but just saying, "Hey, this is what's going on". And then revealing that it's Applebee's. But the church has to do the same thing. So this kind of person who's really, really wants to innovate, be creative, thinks that the core pastoral practice is doing that.

Andrew Root:

And senate executive guy is usually the person who really wants to fund that and is really trying to be quite faithful and realizes that they don't have much money or in some denominations there's been like the PCUSA, which my wife's a pastor of, there's been in some presbyters, a windfall of money, but it's a one off because it's happened as churches have left and they've had to pay for their buildings as they've gone. And now there's this money here and what are you going to do with this money? It can't really keep you going for next two decades or so. But it could, if you could invest it the right way and particularly if you could invest it in some kind of entrepreneurial innovative process, then you could turn that money into more money. And I think that's legitimate, you hear Senate executive guy say, we just don't want to pay for roof repairs and then have that money go away. But there's another character you didn't mention, which I think I call brown turtleneck guy or something like that.

Ryan Dunn:

Yep.

Andrew Root:

Which is, you always experience these people within any kind of judicatory that your church is in. It's the person who hates the idea of innovation and just wants to go back to some kind of pre-modern understanding of the church .or really echoes of the early 1960s or something or some debate they had in the eighties in a theology, a seminary classroom that they want to bring back like, oh yeah, the church is in trouble, but if we just had our doctrine rights and we did the liturgy this way, when everything was that's the way we used to do it in 62 and everything was fine. And so all this talk of innovation is awful.

Andrew Root:

So I'm trying to thread a needle here of wondering, in really being on the side of Applebee's boy and Senate executive guy. But wondering if there's been enough thinking about what we're really grasping hands to, when we talk about the need to make this turn towards innovation and then not trying to fall in being critical of innovation, not trying to fall into being bearded brown turtleneck. Cause I think what I call them.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah.

Andrew Root:

We all know the guy with the turtleneck and this beard, sometimes one the same color. And...

Ryan Dunn:

Did it just roll up over his face? Yeah, I kind of self-identified with Applebee's boy as I was reading and to personify that a little bit, Applebee's boy is kind of making this claim that we need to innovate or we're going to die. And it's all about innovation. Innovation is the thing. So recognizing that there are a number of people in this particular audience for this podcast who dwell in that space as well. Why might we need to pump the brakes a little bit? What's the warning that we have in going overboard in the innovate or die mindset?

Andrew Root:

Yeah. First of all, I mean, we should get clearer. You're not sponsored by Applebee's, are you?

Ryan Dunn:

I mean, I wouldn't close down the door to it, but it hasn't happened yet. Yeah.

Andrew Root:

Those $5 entres are delicious. Yeah, no, I think the concern here is there is that kind of rhetoric. You set that up really well that I put in the mouth of people like this and we hear that all the time is it is really innovate or die. And I guess the big thing that I don't feel like we've come up against that I try to front in this book is first of all, not to catastrophize. And this kind of echoes a book that came out earlier this year that follows us in the series called Churches in the Crisis of Decline, which is that it's really easy to catastrophize. And there's no doubt, this is bad times for the church. This is bad times for Protestantism. We are not in a golden era in any stretch of the imagination.

Andrew Root:

Anyone who's in ministry knows that these are hard times and coming out of the pandemic, really hard times, it's difficult, but it's really easy then to say things like if we don't find some creative way within ourselves, within you as a pastor, if you don't find it, your church is going to be dead and the whole denomination is going to die. And the church of Jesus Christ will no longer exist on planet earth. And I guess my point is that's a little bit catastrophizing. It may be true, that some of our denominations will wither away. It may be true that your congregation may not be here long term, but your congregation still rest within the larger confession that God's kingdom is coming. And that the church is here to proclaim the gospel and that the church still is Jesus Christ. So that's one element of this, but the other real kind of practical one, or maybe practical one it's more, maybe even philosophical is to remember that when we harold innovation, we are talking about a kind of form of late capitalism and that's not bad. That's not bad.

Andrew Root:

The church has always had to exist in different economic systems and different cultural systems, but I don't really think we've fronted what that really means and how innovation fits within the larger kind of neoliberal capitalist system that we exist within now. And that if we're not really careful, this doesn't mean we can't embrace innovation, but it does mean that we have to be aware of some of those realities or we'll take in their own moral visions. I mean, it would be quite naive. And I think we have been quite naive to assume that you could pick up the practices of innovation and they don't come with certain moral assertions, certain understandings of what it means to be a human being, that all of these ideas that we hold on to all of these even forms of human action, do make certain assertions, have certain horizons about what is good. And I guess ultimately in the book, I just want to front, that innovation is not neutral. It's not a neutral reality. It comes with its own history. It comes from somewhere.

Ryan Dunn:

So, is it then the warning that we're kind of an idolatrizing innovation making it too important in a way?

Andrew Root:

Yeah. I mean, what I really want to get at is to say that what happens? I mean the first thing that I find really quite interesting as Protestants that, and as a Protestant and a Lutheran seminary, Uber Protestant, and a wife, who's a reformed Presbyterian pastor. I got all the marks of Protestant and utterly committed to Protestantism. And one of the interesting things about both the Lutheran reform Protestant kind of traditions is work really mattered, you could look in the medieval system and did work matter? Yeah, of course it mattered, but there were other things at play here and really the kind of front line of living out your faith wasn't at work. But the reformation changes that, where work really matters. And if you follow certain theorists like Max Vaber and Charles Taylor picks up on his work and others, there is this sense where the way our economic structure works from the 17th century on has a lot to do with how we believe and in the way Protestantism functions.

Andrew Root:

So you can think of it as the flows of church life, the flows of our belief filter into how we work. What I find really fascinating now is that flow, if you think about it, guess a flow of water has reversed completely. And now these forms of work out in the secular male you, are flooding back into the church and we're told what's good ministry now matches these forms of work. And it could that be idolatrous? Maybe, but it does. What we have to be aware of is that wash back in comes with all sorts of commitments that we maybe should be aware of, bring new struggles to forms of faith formation. They bring certain kind of secular kind of imminent based realities to them. And the big one I want to kind of point out is just the way that the innovation based economy of neoliberalism has a very different conception of the self and really does have to make the self the most important thing.

Andrew Root:

And this is a long story that people can read, but this is kind of the big move from the 1970s into the 1980s and the move from Keynesian economy where the economy was a really organized economy under certain restrictions to make sure there was employment and make sure that there were benefits for workers and things like that to the neoliberal age, where a lot of those restrictions were taken away. And a lot of workers' protections like unions and things like that just disappeared, but what you got in return and why a lot of workers were willing to do it and why even today were willing to do, it is there was a lot, in midst of the flexibility and, could go to work tomorrow and get fired. But there was this sense that work was about a self-development process. And particularly it was about being creative and you were being creative.

Andrew Root:

And what you were doing, your creativity is that, you would even yourself as your own individual become your own, essentially your own individual company. And this is even how LinkedIn works right now, what your protection is, not your company. It doesn't matter how long you've worked at your company. What you protection is, is your own listing of your resume, that makes you competitive to get another job. So if your job now allows you to accrue enough kind of skills and experience that you could parlay that into another job. So point being, you're always your own kind of individual company working on yourself. And that can be a problem, I think.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah, if we think about how we create meaning for ourselves, that there is very little kind of subscription to a system or an institution there, right? That it is very much a self creative process that you're touching on. Or so if I'm going to be formed in faith, it feels like now the onus is upon me instead of on somebody else to direct me. Do you see that happening a little bit?

Andrew Root:

Yeah, absolutely. And I think that's one of the things I try to show is how inside of Charles Taylor's age of authenticity, where one of our highest goods is to be an authentic self, that innovation just sings that same kind of song being an entrepreneurial self. And in a theorist that I draw on beyond Charles Taylor is this German thinker named Andreas Reckwitz, who has this really great book called The Society of Singularities, where he talks about pretty much every section of our society now, the drive is to be singular, to be uniquely singular. So you need to use creativity to be singular, and that's how you win. So it's not a compliment to go into a coffee shop and be like, well, this is just every other coffee shop I've been, everyone's looking for the unique place to go and that unique place to be.

Andrew Root:

And it puts this drive that everything, and he does this really amazing job showing this, it's like the Metro system and cities now is trying to be a creative force. Things that before we never wanted to be creative now have to be creative. And we, creativity becomes a really high good because out of creativity comes this singularity that makes you able to broadcast your authenticity. And again, some of those things are really good. I would rather work in a creative environment. I mean, it's somewhat hypocritical for me to be like, oh, you're down on creativity where you get to spend most of your day painfully writing or reading. You know what I mean? So I don't want to be down on creativity. It is just really interesting how creativity functions within the larger kind of neoliberal work reality inside of the demand of companies to permanently innovate so they can continue to thrive, they ask you to be a creative force and use people up for that creativity.

Andrew Root:

But what you get back is that even if you're only filing papers at a law firm, you're supposedly working in a creative environment or you get to be creatively yourself. But that also is often used in a neoliberal society for the company to find its permanent innovation to survive and go faster. I'm just especially kind of working this Lutheran theological perspective, like Luther defines sin as a turning in on oneself. It's like an over obsession with the self. And what I really ultimately worry about is that if we're not careful and we don't take innovation through a kind of more theologically critical place that we allow innovation to smuggle in a view of the self that actually ask people to be more and more over concerned with themselves. And, don't have to scratch very far in Twitter and other places to see a lot of pastors who are broadcasting their unique selves and are trying to be known as the most creative person. So if we're not careful, the good pastor becomes only the creative performing pastor. So, that's my ultimate concern.

Ryan Dunn:

As a minister myself, I'm questioning a little bit. What is the role of the pastor or minister or your leader in helping an individual who is in such an individualized space? Who's looking for their own authentic voice. How do we work through our traditional system to help them create meaning or help them create I guess particularly a meaning of faith or a spiritual meaning?

Andrew Root:

Yeah, well, and this is where maybe this is my own theological commitments here. So people can definitely push back on this, but it does feel like to me if, at the core of the Christian life, is this deep sense of being transformed in the spirit in some way. To echo Paul, to be in Christ or to find, to be taken up in the spirit. It does feel like, and we have to be really careful with this, because this can be overdone, but there is a sense, I think of discipleship where one has to lose themselves to find themselves. And again, now we have to be careful that can easily become spiritually abusive, you have to do what I want to do in the church because you have to lose yourself to find yourself. You know what I mean?

Andrew Root:

We can use that in a very negative way, but this becomes part of the struggle, I think, inside of our situation where there is this utter almost, you talked about idolatry earlier that if there is a kind of cultural idolatry in a neoliberal age and in this kind of secular age of authenticity, I think it's the self that becomes the kind of idol on our own deep kind of sense of self. And so I think one of the pastoral tasks is to help people get out of the way of their own self.

Andrew Root:

Now again, I think the only way you can do that often is by, in many ways, going deeper into participation in life with other people, there's this sense of kind of service and of ministering to another. And one of my biggest concerns for a pastor is how the pastoral identity inside of a kind of hyper innovation focus becomes being about this kind of creative, innovative genius, as opposed to being the one who leads people into this kind of experience of confession and prayer. And the other side that we don't want to get to is bearded brown turtleneck, where what it means to be a pastor is to protect the tradition.

Andrew Root:

There's got to be a way between those two, to thread that needle. And for me, the kind of threading of that needle is how do the way we get out of the way of the self is not to ignore the self. But to remember that the self is fundamentally not a God, but is finite that the self will die, that the self has many experiences of suffering and loss. And the more those experiences are turned over to the God who is dead and made alive in Jesus Christ, the God who turns all that is dead into new life. The more that the self finds itself lost in Christ or finds itself given back and now in Christ. And so I just don't know that the practices alone of just ideation, innovation, entrepreneurship, without some real theological work without implanting them a different theological anthropology can actually get there. I don't think we can just take them off the Silicon valley shelf and that can happen. I do think we need to recover more of the kind of Meister Eckhart kind of mystical reality.

Andrew Root:

The theological dramanica, all these mystical works that impacted the reformers that were really about the way that the self has to let go. That the self has to get itself to the ground. And there finds a God who is broken for us, a God who gives us God's self through death and the self isn't necessarily magnificently creative, but that the self is bound in life and in communion and in belonging. And that meaning comes from that. So is meaning bound internally within you in what you do or is meaning found in the way you're called out of yourself to minister the world, the called out of yourself, to hear like Bonhoeffer said the call of Jesus Christ to come and follow, that the disciple, heres Jesus Christ, call the follow and follows. And where does, in Bonhoeffer, where does Jesus Christ follow? To come and die, to come and go to the cross, to come and lose themselves in the life of Christ. And again, it's dangerous stuff it's costly. I mean, that's why Bonhoeffer called it costly.

Ryan Dunn:

There's the idea that one of the aspects of God is God is the creator. And so this calling out of self is almost calling us into that creative space and saying that we are not creative in and of ourselves, but we are creative through the spirit of God in which we can participate. When again, we reach beyond ourselves, just kind of, I don't know, a profound realization because even I struggle with the own idea of maybe it's a little bit of anti-establishmentism, but it's like, I don't want to ascribe to everything that the institution's telling me, man. So, there's this idea that well, but there are times in which maybe it's not the institution, but there is a sense of mentorship, leadership, even discipleship.

Andrew Root:

Yeah. I mean, discipleship is following. And even to say that we're made in the image of God is to say that we reflect that God is the true creative force in the world. And we are simply a reflection of that. And that means a kind of level of participation, but we're all that way. We've all been formed culturally in part of my point is like, this is where innovation comes from. It comes from this kind of cultural reality where conformity itself is ruled out. None of us want to be conformists.

Andrew Root:

And really since the late 1960s conformity has been quite well, it's been actually shown it was justified as even a quite evil thing. Like what allowed Nazi Germany to become Nazi Germany. The generations that led to the youth crisis in the 1960s and the counter cultural movement really were educated by sociologists and philosophers and different thinkers that were showing that conformity was an evil and that the German society was far too conformist. And that's what brought forth this very diabolical evil. So being authentic, being unique has been for you can see how it's for moral reasons, there's moral reasons to do that.

Andrew Root:

And there's parts of it we should still embrace. But the question is since the 1990s, since the late eighties, has it tipped to a point where it all becomes about authenticity now? And our danger isn't to kind of lose our humanity in conformity, but is to kind of lose our humanity in this self referential idolatry of our own need to be uniquely creative in how that creativity. One of the really, I think very different things about God's own creativity is God's own creativity is not competitive. God does not function in God's actions competitively. But in a neoliberal economic realm of permanent innovation, it is an entrepreneurship, innovation entrepreneurship are always fundamentally competitive, therefore competition. And so the self is a performing self that's competing against all other selves. And we know that if you team doesn't win the project you're fired, that's it. There's something deep in our consciousness that led to all sorts of things. To hear someone say on national TV you're fired. That seems really quite powerful. And almost, I don't know, it speaks something profound. I'll leave at that. I'm not going to unravel that.

Ryan Dunn:

So when you write about the sense of creativity and innovation, possibly becoming cancers to our theology, is that what you mean then, that it encourages this sense of ultra competitiveness?

Andrew Root:

Yeah. I mean, I think what is created inside of this innovation obsession and a way of work that's about constant and permanent innovation, which is really different. The companies of the mid 20th century did not want permanent innovation who would want permanent innovation. It was way too costly. You had to re manage people and retrain people. You had to re machine all the stuff you wanted some innovation, but you didn't want permanent constant innovation, but since the mid 1980s, and for sure into the 1990s and then the .com boom, permanent innovation is necessary because it's a new Darwinian war. And we saw this with Apple. There was no way Apple in a garage with these two young guys could ever make any dent on IBM and they make their own prophetic statement in their 1984 commercial that they're going to do it.

Andrew Root:

And they have their ups and downs, but for sure, by the year 2000 IBM, they destroyed them. And now by 2010 or whatever, 2015, they have more cash on hand than the government, Apple does. So permanent innovation can really do something, but then you have to prepare workers for permanent innovation and this filters throughout all culture. And what it leads to is the kind of self that's a performative self, as a lot of social theorist said that you're always in a constant performance, you have to perform your creativity. You have to perform your authenticity. And this is what I do worry about with pastoral identity, that the pastor has to perform their pastoral identity and is essentially performing all the time. And it will lead to burnout. It will absolutely lead to burnout because what will be fueling you is either metaphorically or literally the likes that come through, not something bigger and something transcendent and something that takes you out of yourself.

Andrew Root:

And we all know that most kind of transcendent experiences we have, we almost forget about ourselves. Even in playing a musical instrument or playing a sport where things are really going well, there's a certain way that you fully you're being as fully involved in this, but you forget about yourself in some ways, once playing a sport, once you're really aware that there are people in the stands evaluating you or thinking about you and you lose touch with the flow of the game, then it becomes a very different reality. And I think this is often what happens to us.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah, I like that. I appreciate that analogy. And I also appreciate the name of the book because the name of the book is The Church After Innovation, not like the church should not be a part of innovation or something like that. There's an acceptance. And I want to reiterate that innovation can be healthy. There is a push for innovation and we can accept that creativity.

Andrew Root:

That's all really important. I just want us to think about it a little bit.

Ryan Dunn:

So help us paint a future forecast then, the church after innovation, the church in five years will, or the church in five years should do what or look like what?

Andrew Root:

Yeah, well, this won't be surprising to anyone who's heard me talk before or read anything that ultimately what the church is called, what the church is, I think compelled to be in the future, is faithful to the crucified Christ. But where that, and seems really pietistic statement to say. But I do think that forms us in a certain way. And I think really what I would hope the church would become in the future, or we would be satisfied with being, because it doesn't always feel so kind of sexy inside the neoliberal, permanent innovation economy we exist in. But to be really be houses of prayer, places where people learn to pray, people that learn to tell their stories as their prayers and then pray their stories. And that pastors would be people who teach people to pray. And that's really the echoes, the end of Eugene Peterson's memoir, where he talks about the big breakthrough in his own ministry was to try to teach people to pray.

Andrew Root:

That was what he was about. Yeah, maybe we'll need some innovations to get there and maybe we'll need some innovative funding models to get there, but I don't want the cart to go before the horse where we're thinking our own identities, what makes a church good, our own moral kind of horizons we have, get to be kind of pressed out by the innovation economy and not by learning to pray and be with each other and wait on God. And I think that's a big move here. We do in the church need innovation, probably there's things that need to change, but if we're not careful that change can become more poisonous. I mean, it can impose forms of action that just burn people out, lead people to be competitive. That really form us in a very different way than in the image of the crucified Christ.

Ryan Dunn:

Well, and that call to prayer really speaks to a value in this cultural norm that we're kind of working against in the church because prayer is the practice through which we really do become aware beyond ourselves. Isn't it, where we get a focus on our own place in the world and that there is a world beyond us, yeah?

Andrew Root:

And in many ways, the contemplet prayer practice is hard to forget about yourself, but to never deny yourself in some sense. I mean, you're always there. Your body is there the way you put your body is really important. You're never discounting your body, but in another sense that you're trying to commune with something outside you, not something within you, which is sometimes very different than certain forms of mindfulness, which are often used at permanent innovation institutions. Companies we want to do mindfulness and we have a mindfulness app so that you can then code faster.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah.

Andrew Root:

And I think we want to avoid that in the church. "We want to teach people to pray. So we get more volunteers so people can actually do more for the church". Oh, I don't know. I do think that the spirit will lead towards change and towards innovation, but we really do have to listen to the spirit and maybe that's more of a focus on prayer and silence and what it means to hear each other and hear the world and ultimately what it means to be people who wait and inside of permanent innovation of neoliberalism waiting is a very bad thing.

Andrew Root:

If you wait, your company goes down. So just innovate, innovate, innovate, innovate. And this even goes back to Edison, where, how does he create the light bulb? Just repeated failures over and over and over again. And at one level we really celebrate, what most innovation books really celebrate that. that You have to be willing to fail to do this. But you look, and there's just piles. You think about ecological crisis, just piles of waste to get to this too. And I don't know if that's the best way to steward things as well. So I think there's a place for failure in that, but the failure too, has to have a deeper purpose and an astrological horizon in a calling of the spirit.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah. Well, and you point out that this is all incremental innovation as well. So Edison was not building one model of a light bulb, scrapping it, and starting something else completely.

Andrew Root:

That's true. Yeah. Yep, absolutely.

Ryan Dunn:

Which, I think can also be our allure or temptation when we start building up too much of a fascination with innovation, where we just want to scrap everything that was there before, instead of just thinking about the next incremental step.

Andrew Root:

Yep. Absolutely. Yep.

Ryan Dunn:

Well, sounds like this book, the church after innovation is building one upon the next, speaking of incremental stuff. So what's next.

Andrew Root:

Yeah. Well, I guess it kind of is. I don't know if I have a big, there's no beautiful mind diagram in my basement here of like, this is going to come and that's going to come, but there will be a sixth volume to this Ministry in a Secular Age series.

Andrew Root:

And this book ends with mysticism and trying to recover mysticism to mystical conversations with mystical thinkers. And really what I get into in this volume six is get deeper into that mystical thought deeper into the way prayer functions, but also try to describe, and the kind of cultural philosophical way that I've tried in other books is how we've had all this rebirth basically inside this innovative creative obsessed economy, this rebirth of mysticisms, particularly through memoirists, but we have these really weird spiritualties that come about in this kind of secular age that have no need for God, but really want spirituality. And that is a really weird thing that is really common. We almost don't even think about how common it is, but it's really weird that we have these kind of mystical experiences we can have, or these desires to be spiritual people. But think that God is not necessarily ingredient you would need in that. And so try to explore how that happened and what we should be careful of there too. So that's what's next.

Ryan Dunn:

Awesome. Well, Andy Root, thank you so much. Keep up the good work and thanks for bringing all this really complicated stuff to a level of understanding for most of us, I was not prepared for, as I got into the book, just how much of a cultural history I was getting into, but it was super informative and stuff that as I read it, I realized I need to understand this. So I appreciate that it's on.

Andrew Root:

Thanks for your patience. I'm very aware and thank all the readers out there who just go and my self indulgence in these long cultural histories. So I appreciate it. I do give you TV references. So.

Ryan Dunn:

Yes, yeah.

Andrew Root:

You got that within their so.

Ryan Dunn:

And everybody gets a cool nickname, so.

Andrew Root:

That's right.

Ryan Dunn:

A great follow up to this session would be our season one session with James King titled What is Digital First Ministry? That session gives a good perspective on digitally native culture, which is really our prevalent culture today. Another good episode related to this topic would be season three's, The Future of the Web and Digital Ministry with journalists, Mitchell Attencio. I'm Ryan Dunn. I'd like to thank resourceunc.org, the online destination for leaders throughout the United Methodist church. They make this podcast possible. And of course they host our website, PastoringintheDigitalParish.com where you can find more online resources for ministry. I'll speak with you again in a new episode next week in the meantime, peace to you.

On this episode

Dr. Andrew Root of Luther Seminary

Dr. Andrew Root’s most recent books are Churches and the Crisis of Decline, The Congregation in a Secular Age and the upcoming The Church after Innovation–which provided the platform for our conversation. Andy is the Carrie Olson Baalson Professor of Youth and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary, USA. He writes and researches in areas of theology, ministry, culture and younger generations.

Ryan Dunn, co-host and producer of the Compass Podcast

Our proctor/host is the Rev. Ryan Dunn, a Minister of Online Engagement for United Methodist Communications. Ryan manages the digital brand presence of Rethink Church, co-hosts and produces the Compass Podcast, manages his personal brand, and obsesses with finding ways to offer new expression of grace.