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Fast Forward: Embrace Uncertainty

Working on my doctorate of ministry in entrepreneurial leadership, I decided to write on what it takes to create a culture of innovation. In my time in Seattle and Los Angeles, it had become obvious that innovation is necessary to reach a diverse and post-Christian community. In addition, sustaining innovation remains critical. To erroneously rely on the innovations of the past leads to irrelevance in the present and the future.

I set out to discover the skills necessary for a pastor to develop in order to create and sustain an innovative environment within his or her leadership team and church. I identified the skills necessary for a leader to organize and sustain innovation, as demonstrated by historical and biblical leaders as well as contemporary leaders within businesses and churches.

I read about the transition from Jethro to Moses to Joshua and Jesus to Paul to Timothy. I looked at historical figures like Martin Luther and his predecessor Philip Melancthon during the protestant reformation and Abraham Lincoln and William Henry Seward in their efforts to unite our country and end slavery. I also had the opportunity to interview leaders from Google, the Gallup organization, Saddleback Church, Willow Creek Church, a Vice President from Disney, and many more.

In analyzing the data gathered during the review of the literature as well as the interviews, I discovered five internal skills, five relational skills, and five future-oriented skills necessary for a pastoral leader to exhibit in order to create and sustain a culture of innovation.

The internal and relational skills make for an effective leader, but the leader who creates and sustains a culture of innovation also demonstrates skills for navigating the future. These skills include a bias for change, the ability to embrace uncertainty, the courage to take risks, the freedom to fail, and resilience.

Innovative leaders embrace uncertainty. Pastor Chrzan from Saddleback suggests that effective leaders manage in the midst of a fast-moving and loosely structured environment. He contends: “Being organized and being innovative are two things you’re going to have to hold at tension.” Pastor Peacock suggests that people of faith can navigate uncertainty with more confidence as a result of their relationship with God who guides and protects His people.

Innovative pastoral leaders take risks, experiment, and create an environment where the other leaders in their church have the freedom to fail. When encouraging the leaders at 12 Stone Church to experiment, Pastor Reiland shared a mantra they use: “Make mistakes, make lots of mistakes, make big mistakes, but never make the same mistake twice.” Pastor Chrzan suggests that to sustain innovation in your ministry, leaders need to remind their team not to let fear stop them from trying something new. Along the same lines, Pastor Peacock contends that “the enemy to innovation is fear.”

Ed Catmull from Pixar insists leaders “have to accept the uncertainty, even when it’s uncomfortable.” The business literature suggests innovative leaders know how to “manage uncertainty,” “tolerate ambiguity,” and “handle complexity.”

All organizations (if unwilling to embrace uncertainty and continue to innovate) could fall prey to the “innovator’s dilemma.”[2] Clayton Christensen explains in his book The Innovator’s Dilemma; organizations fail if they continually rely on their successful past innovations. For example, the inventor of the first floppy disk drive soon lost its digital storage market share to the inventor of the smaller disk drive. This pattern takes place in any industry in which organizations or companies fail to sustain innovation.

Our fear of uncertainty robs us from moving forward faster!

Let’s see what happened to Jonathan after he decided to move forward in the midst of uncertainty.

So both of them showed themselves to the Philistine outpost. “Look!” said the Philistines. “The Hebrews are crawling out of the holes they were hiding in.” The men of the outpost shouted to Jonathan and his armor-bearer, “Come up to us and we’ll teach you a lesson.”

So Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, “Climb up after me; the Lord has given them into the hand of Israel.”

Jonathan climbed up, using his hands and feet, with his armor-bearer right behind him. The Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer followed and killed behind him. In that first attack Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed some twenty men in an area of about half an acre.

Then panic struck the whole army—those in the camp and field, and those in the outposts and raiding parties—and the ground shook. It was a panic sent by God.

Saul’s lookouts at Gibeah in Benjamin saw the army melting away in all directions. Then Saul said to the men who were with him, “Muster the forces and see who has left us.” When they did, it was Jonathan and his armor-bearer who were not there.

Then Saul and all his men assembled and went to the battle. They found the Philistines in total confusion, striking each other with their swords. Those Hebrews who had previously been with the Philistines and had gone up with them to their camp went over to the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan. When all the Israelites who had hidden in the hill country of Ephraim heard that the Philistines were on the run, they joined the battle in hot pursuit. So on that day the Lord saved Israel, and the battle moved on beyond Beth Aven.1 Samuel 14: 11-23

In your life, if you wait until you have certainty to move forward, you will miss so much of what God has for you!

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Dr. Eric Michael Bryant serves with Gateway Church in Austin as the team leader for Central and South Austin and as part of the teaching team. Eric previously served at Mosaic in Los Angeles and his books include Not Like Me: A Field Guide to a Influencing a Diverse World and A Fruitful Life: Becoming Who You Were Created To Be. Eric coaches church planters and campus pastors, teaches on Post Christian Ministry, and leads a cohort for a Doctorate of Ministry in Missional Effectiveness through Bethel Seminary where he earned his Doctorate of Ministry in Entrepreneurial Leadership.