You’ve heard the story no doubt. Some guys have a paralyzed friend. They know enough about Jesus to know they need to get their friend in front of Him. They also see a packed house so they decide to literally “hit the roof.”

But what’s most revealing about this story is not the faith in action, but Jesus’ response to their action. Jesus didn’t get mad. Jesus didn’t continue His teaching to make sure He covered all his points. On the contrary, He stopped teaching and went even beyond what they actually came there for. He healed the man both physically and spiritually. Surprise meets surprise. An out-of-the-box approach meets an unexpected blessing.

Here we have yet another example of Jesus not only giving permission to do whatever it takes to get people before Him, but lavishly rewarding the untried and unconventional. This, along with countless other examples of Jesus’ varied methods of miracle working, teaching and interacting, shows an absolute openness when it comes to ministry methods. Jesus was a unique blend of being a player in the story by His incarnation and taking pains to show there’s more than one approach to ministry.

Leonard Sweetonce said,“Creativity is the only intellect without a shelf life.” In other words, creativity will never be outdated. And yet, creativity and innovation have long struggled for legitimacy in the church world. Perhaps this is because the difference between the message and the method has been allowed to stay blurred. For example, 20 years ago, few church leaders would’ve felt comfortable with the idea of minimizing the church hymnal in favor of projected words behind the platform.

Twenty years ago, church leaders couldn’t even conceive of having a global impact in their ministries simply by developing a virtual church on the Internet.But we now see how these innovations have actually enhanced the Gospel message. At each methodological change, be it putting words to bar room tunes in the 1800s or virtual preachers on video in the 21
st

century, the struggle to differentiate between the message and the method is revived.

And perhaps this is as it should be. The process of questioning an innovative ministry method may actually help strengthen the commitment to keep the message pure. The downside is when the distinction is blurred, innovation is stifled, and ministry is aborted before it’s birthed. Worse yet, things are put on hold for a more favorable “time/situation/climate/financial picture/etc./etc.” The paraplegic’s friends in Mark 2 could have easily gone back earlier the next day to get a front row seat, but would Jesus have moved on by then?

Once the question of message vs. method is dealt with, there are at least two forms of innovation that affect ministry. One is the tools available for ministry which includes current and future technology. Much space could be given to the unimaginable technological advances in recent years that will affect ministry methods. Suffice it to say that living is becoming more and more “incarnate” when you look at the trends of development.

We now have access to any information and experience in the world without being tied to a particular place or machine. Soon clothes, glasses and other wearable items will have the computing power and user friendliness to let us seamlessly be in touch with anyone, anything, any time, anywhere. A recent study by the Barna Group indicates that “the nation is splintering into increasingly smaller, sharply defined and diverse segments. The ministry strategies that may have reached the masses in years past have less relevance and appeal to growing proportions of the American population.”

The church can capitalize on this by discovering ways to get the message to people on an individual basis rather than just a broadcast basis. On-demand religious teaching can now be provided through a website. The next step will be to configure the message in compelling, virtual ways that engage people as much as the Sims virtual reality engages the younger generation. With the right tools, specialized religious training can target smaller groups of people and even individuals themselves. Whatever it’s eventual form of delivery–a computer chip in a shirt or imbedded under the skin–the Church will need to look for ways to package the message in an increasingly personalized manner.

If the tools for ministry are like the cars we drive, then the methods of ministry are how we driveour cars. In other words, it is how we choose to “do church.” And this is where the differentiation between message and method becomes more difficult because methods have a way of becoming sacredly sanctioned and next to impossible to change. Interestingly, this is a form of idolatry that is hard to realize, much less accept.

But let’s look at a couple great examples of churches that kept the message transcendent over methods. What if God was calling you to reach truckers for Christ? At the ‘Lil Chapel on Pennsylvania Interstate 80, Pastor Kris Tackitt decided to provide ministry to truckers and converted a semi-trailer into a church building complete with organ and pulpit. Since the road often dictates trucker’s schedules, she offers church services at 7:30p.m. and 10:30p.m. Monday through Friday, in addition to the traditional times on Sunday.

What if God was calling you to reach cowboys and cowgirls for Christ? The Frontier Church of Ellis County in Waxahachie, Texas, started a church for people that have a passion for western heritage as well as a love for God. On Sunday morning you would definitely stick out with a suit and tie, but blend right in with a Stetson and spurs. The worship music is accompanied by hammered dulcimer, fiddle and mandolin. People leave their offering in a cowboy boot on their way out, and baptisms are conducted in an 8-foot horse water tank. And this is just one of many “cowboy churches” springing up across the West.

These are just a couple examples of how to “drive the car” a little differently. It’s important to note that each of these churches used indigenous innovation that grew out of their calling, while keeping the message central and pure. The changes came from the inside out. The tipping point comes when the mission transcends the method. It comes when we decide that styles, methods and practices pale in comparison to the urgency of seeing lost people come to Christ–when we’re willing to “hit the roof!”

[Since 1983, Jim Couchenour has partnered with hundreds of churches to design and build new facilities through his work with Cogun, Inc. He is currently developing innovative ways to bridge the gap between church and the unchurched.]

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