No Lone Rangers: Part 2

written by Kat Bair
4 · 19 · 24

This is the second post in a series. Read the first post here.

In Silicon Valley, there is this persistent mythic character: the Founder. Someone like Steve Jobs who is seen as brilliant, innovative, visionary, independent. These lone savant, millionaire, entrepreneurs are our modern day Lewis and Clark, Henry Ford, and Andrew Carnegies, all in one. In the archetype, they live at work, pouring out ideas faster than anyone can keep up, they are decisive, cut-throat, and solitary

In the tech world, these are the people that invent things. A brilliant idea is something one person strikes on, like a vein of gold, and then the investors pour in to bring it to market and get a slice of its success. Because of the tech sector’s power in our contemporary world, even those of us who are about as far away from Silicon Valley as possible in our work are influenced by its models. 

How often do we see platforms lifting up single individuals for some program they tried that was successful? How often do we see books, podcasts, speaker circuits, celebrating founders and solo leaders, and encouraging all of us to buy into their model, get a slice of their success?

Don’t we know better? 

Haven’t we in the church world seen, felt, and known enough church leaders, from the pages of our scriptures to the pages of the newspaper, who have built empires only to have them collapse underneath them? Don’t we know better than believing one person is going to swoop in with the idea that will solve everything?

The myth of the Founder is not only not a solution to our problems, it can be toxic to those we platform. For their sake, as much as for our own, we have to model a way of innovating that is different from the culture we swim in. 

That’s where the idea of an innovation team comes in. Last week we started this series, introducing that in ministry innovation, there are no lone rangers. An innovation team is a team that is intentionally formed, not necessarily of your best few volunteers, or of your most creative volunteers, but of a careful mix, in order to strike the alchemy you need to most clearly be able to hear what the Holy Spirit is doing in your midst. 

It can be tempting when you gather this kind of team to default to the volunteers or leaders you most like working with, or the ones who think like you. It can also be tempting to fill it with “ideas people” or people who have been on your case to start some particular pet project of theirs for years. We encourage you, instead, to think of building the team the way you would for a heist movie, you have roles that need to be filled (but don’t worry, no explosive experts or locksmiths required)

Here’s some of the roles that we have found to be effective together, but you’re welcome to iterate1:

  • Skeptic – this is a person who tends to poke and prod at ideas. A skeptic, who truly loves your community, is not actually a deterrent, but one of your most valuable assets for making sure your commit your time and energy to the right ideas by weeding out the wrong ones early. 
  • Visionary – this is a person who can imagine it all. They have the gift of seeing things that don’t yet exist, and are able to imagine where an idea could take your community. This person can provide valuable direction and inspiration for the group. 
  • Connector – this person knows a guy for that. The connector can hear about any idea, problem, or question and knows immediately who your group needs to call, or who needs to be roped in to the conversation. 
  • Historian – this person was here when we tried it last time. Institutional memory is hugely valuable for teams that want to innovate, both to draw inspiration, and to avoid making the same mistakes over and over. 
  • Theologian – this person reminds you why you’re doing this at all. They continually point the group back to the Holy Spirit, to the values of the specific church community, and to what the purpose of your work is. 
  • Artist – this person can take a good idea and make it a beautiful one. Whether they’re a wordsmith, a muralist, a dancer, or an accountant with a penchant for trombone, your team needs a person who has an eye towards the more esoteric or ethereal questions, who doodles for 45 minutes of the meeting and then asks one question that puts everyone on their heels. 
  • Outsider – this person is not one of you. Whatever “one of you” means to your context, this person isn’t one of them. If your goal is to reach new people, this person’s opinion matters most of all. 

The size and shape of your team, and the exact roles you need, is shaped by your context, but we encourage you to be intentional about the balance you craft. Some other things that have been helpful in teams we have seen: include several people who are not your normal volunteers, because if you just have one, it will be hard for them to speak up, and include one person under the age of 30 (under the age of 20 if you can). 

When you ask people on the team to join, tell them what role you’re asking them to step into and why. When the team first gathers, introduce them to each other, using these roles as a tool. If you know someone was intentionally asked because they were a skeptic, then it shouldn’t cause as much friction in the team when they shoot down your many ideas (particularly if you know you were asked as a visionary). 

What you’ll find is that people will grow beyond these roles. Your skeptics will start spitballing ideas, your connectors will start to take intentional moments of prayer, and, by the end, your outsider won’t feel like an outsider at all. But by naming the gifts and tendencies people bring into the group, it can create the sense of being known and accepted as you are that can create the safety needed to grow together. 

Over the next two weeks, we’ll talk about how to empower and use the team that you have built, but for now, take comfort in the fact that innovation is never something that you have to do on your own, and that even though the world offers us a model of the solitary founder (in a turtleneck sweater) we have the freedom to choose another path, and not to take it alone. 

  1. This list was inspired by content produced by Center for Youth Ministry Training’s Innovation Lab which I (Kat Bair) received as a participant in their program from 2019-2021. ↩︎

Kat Bair

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