Here at Ministry Incubators, we’re focused on missional innovation, sustainable revenue streams, and learning everything we can from design thinking, tech startups, Native American agriculture, psychologists, and ivy league business schools.
But we are also people of faith, and before any of our work is informed by the latest research or biggest trends, it is shaped by a deep belief in the sovereignty of our God, in the ever-moving Spirit, and in Jesus.
We are in a sacred season of anticipation for God’s annual crash-landing in our midst. As we consider Jesus, born to Mary in a manger, and young peasants in a backwater town, carrying the light of the world, it calls us to set down our spreadsheets and flow charts and self-importance for a moment and wonder.
What kind of God is this who would choose to chart redemption this way? What does it mean that Emmanuel, God with us, was with a young unmarried girl before He was with anyone else? Why would the Spirit choose these people, this place, and this time? What does it teach us about who we are called to be now? How can we be transformed by the incarnation in not just our spirits but in our work this season? How can we play midwife to God, breaking in once more?
Here are three lessons we can draw from that story to our work today:
1) We don’t have to wait until the moment is right to follow God’s call.
How often have we held out on a good idea because it’s just not the right time? How often have we delayed following the call of God because there’s just too much going on right now, because life is just too crazy, because things will calm down after next week, only to find this hypothetical next week never seems to come.
Ministry Incubators Cofounder, Kenda Dean, describes innovation work as needing a “bias toward action.” She firmly believes that faithfully following God’s call often means taking a first step, or a next step, when we don’t feel ready, when we don’t have the information we need, or when the timing seems inconvenient.
God chose to enter into the world through a woman who wasn’t married yet. Jesus was born when Mary was far from home and family, on a night when she and Joseph didn’t even have a place to sleep. God acts when God acts, and sometimes that means following God’s prompting to create something, start something, or move something forward even before all the pieces are just in place.
2) We are called to use the resources and people around us, no matter how unexpected.
How tempting is it to solve problems for a hypothetical community with the issues you want them to have? How tempting is it to imagine a perfect solution for a community that has exactly the resources, the people, the desires that you would like them to have and then resent that community for not actively embracing the solutions you concocted for some alternate version of them?
Jesus was born in a barn, laid in a manger, and welcomed by shepherds. The great announcement of the Messiah’s birth wasn’t made by talented musicians, perfectly positioned orators, or cheering crowds. It was done by the people who happened to be there. And that was enough. In fact, it was perfect. God’s perfect plan wasn’t one of recruiting all the best people and gathering all the best resources. It was to use a peasant family and some local shepherds, knowing that it was already more than enough with God being in the midst of it.
We are called to embrace the context we’re in, the resources we have, the people around us as exactly the context, resources, and people we need to fulfill God’s call for our community. In the non-profit world, this is often called asset-based community development. This perspective looks first at what strengths and resources a community already have and then develops a response based on those. We might just call it faith.
3) A faithful response to God’s call does not ensure a smooth path, but it does ensure transformation.
No matter how many people tell us how hard innovation could be, we often aren’t prepared for how hard innovation can be. It often feels lonely, grindingly slow, infuriatingly pointless, and seems to beg you to give up. Starting something new, or transforming something old, often involves pushback, disappointment, and dozens of small (if not medium or large-sized) failures. And yet, at an important milestone, a launch, a victory, we present an image of unstoppable progress, of dynamic growth, of smooth sailing, and can’t believe people believe us.
Ironically enough, we read other innovators’ stories of unstoppable progress, dynamic growth, and smooth sailing and inexplicably believe them.
We tell these stories because we believe somewhere in our minds that if something is a good idea, and we’re smart, and God is behind us in this work, then it should be easier than this. We believe somewhere in our hearts that our struggle is somehow a sign of our failure, our inadequacy, or worst of all, God’s distance. When in fact, it is often the opposite.
Our continued, small, sluggish progress towards good even amid our struggle is the most significant sign of God’s presence we can ever hope for.
Mary and Joseph knew that their baby was to be the Messiah, the king of all creation, the prince of peace, the very son of God, and what did that look like for them? Poverty, doors shut in their face, having to flee the country. Don’t you think they were also tempted to wonder if this was really what God wanted? Shouldn’t it have been easier? And yet, we know that this is where God chose to act, the way God chose to tell the story. That God couldn’t have been closer to them.
Following God’s call on their life led to the radical transformation of the world. Following God’s call on your life will do the same, and no amount of hurdles along the way mean otherwise.
This advent season, we at Ministry Incubators reflect on a girl, her fiancé, and some shepherds in a barn. We contemplate on a manger, a star, and most of all, a baby sent to transform the world. We are struck with awe at how God chose to use the unprepared, under-resourced, and even the unlucky. We’re amazed that he continues to do so.
May our work, hearts, and communities be shaped by this sacred story. May we find in it the peace, hope, joy and love that we welcome with every Advent. Unto us, messy, chaotic, too-busy, us, a child is born, and God breaks into our worlds once more.