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Friday, July 27, 2007
Thinking Outside the Box
Thinking Outside the Box
I have always admired individuals who have the ability to "think outside the box," who see perspectives of problems and opportunities that others simply can’t envision. You and I see a box, but they look at the same thing using another perspective and see that it isn’t a box at all, but rather, it is a pyramid.
Perspective is critical when you are trying to solve a problem or trying to take advantage of an opportunity. Traditions are very important and they develop because certain practices and approaches have worked consistently well over the years. I’m a very traditional fellow, but I’ve come to realize that when things quit working as well as I would like, it’s often helpful to look at the problem from a different perspective.
My wife and I recently had the pleasure of having dinner with a friend and his wife. We happen to belong to the same church and we have all been involved in a number of church-related activities both locally and nationally. Our national church body has been around since the mid 1800’s and it faces the same sorts of challenges and opportunities that other church bodies face—changing culture, declining membership, leadership needs (both pastoral and lay), etc.
My friend, who happens to be a doctor, made a thinking-outside-the-box type of observation that "blew my mind." He said that even though medicine changes dramatically every 7 to 10 years (in terms of medical breakthroughs), they can still take a graduate of a music school like Julliard or someone with a degree in English or history and turn that person into a doctor four years later. He said they needed to give that person some chemistry, but that some of these individuals became the very best doctors because they came to the medical profession with a different perspective and with a mature passion that someone who started down the path at a younger age often did not bring.
I thought that observation was amazing. I didn’t realize that medical doctors came from such diverse backgrounds. I assumed, given the sophisticated nature of medicine, that every doctor started as a pre-med student. However when it was explained to me, it made sense. After all, how many young men or women really know what it means to be a doctor or feel a calling to be a doctor when they are just out of high school?
My medical doctor friend followed up that observation with this question: "If we can teach someone with a music degree to become a medical doctor in four years, why can’t we take someone with an engineering degree and make them a pastor in four years?" He went on to point out while there are dramatic advances and changes in medical treatment that continue to change the practice of medicine, Christian doctrine hasn’t changed in more than 2,000 years. A traditionalist would argue that you must have preparatory high schools and colleges so that an aspiring pastor can master Greek and Hebrew, among other things. But if medical schools can help music majors get the necessary chemistry, while keeping their students on top of the ever changing medical scene, why can’t seminaries provide the necessary Greek and Hebrew basics for men aspiring to become pastors?
By eliminating preparatory high schools and colleges required to attend a seminary, a church body like the one I belong to, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, would not only open up opportunities for more pastors to be trained, but perhaps also practice better financial stewardship.
This "outside-the-box" change would eliminate the need to ask young people to make a life decision at such a tender age when they really have no idea what they want to do with their life, and do not have a true understanding of what role a pastor plays as the leader of a congregation.
Perhaps the result would reduce the number of pastors who lack the passion or the necessary God-given skills to shepherd a congregation, and produce more men who do have the passion and the skills. Perhaps we would reduce the number of pastors’ sons who are pressured into becoming pastors, while producing more laymen’s sons who feel a real calling to be a pastor. Perhaps the financial savings of such an approach would provide the funds to do a better and more effective job of fulfilling the Great Commission.
Perhaps this is the right answer to running a church body in the 21st century, perhaps not. But we need to put everything on the table when we try to lift up an organization to new heights and to meet new challenges. We need to start thinking outside the box. Tradition is a great thing, and should be treated with respect. However, sometimes the old ways just don’t work any more because the culture has changed. What’s your latest outside-the-box idea?
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