Innovation in World Mission: A Framework for Transformational Thinking about the Future of World Mission. By Derek T. Seipp. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2016, 2733 locations, $9.95 Kindle edition.
What does the future of world mission look like? In Innovation in World Mission, Derek T. Seipp aims to answer this crucial question by examining current global trends. Seipp focuses heavily on a principle he calls “strategic drift”, or the widening gap “between what we actually do and what needs to be done (Kindle location 152).” He argues that the Church has been far more reactive than proactive when it comes to developing new strategies for missions. The book relies heavily on anecdotes from the business world to explain the dangers of not looking forward to the future. While Seipp does develop his thoughts by examining the Scripture, it is obvious that much of his thinking on innovation has been shaped from his experience in the business world.
The book is divided into 8 chapters, with chapter 1 being the most informative and chapter 8 being the most applicative. Throughout the book, however, Seipp instructs the reader to put the book down, think critically, even complete a project before continuing. I think many readers will find this helpful as they try to practice the skill of innovation in their own lives.
Chapter 1 explains the nature of our “changing world” and why innovation has been important since the beginning of time. The Creator God has created us in His image, “and we were called to be creative. When we apply that creativity to work, we simply call it innovation (Kindle location 216).” Seipp believes that a failure to innovate stems from a lack of awareness and will result in an unpreparedness for the future (Kindle location 244). In the business industry, the things that worked yesterday, may not work today. Seipp explains that “world mission is not less immune to these changes (Kindle location 189).” With several real-world examples, chapter 1 serves as a wake-up call for the global and local Church to innovate now.
Chapter 2 deals with the “mega-trends” that are contributing to the various changes we see in the world today and how these trends are affecting the Church and its mission. While only six mega-trends are listed in this chapter (globalization, technology, economic change, deculturation and reculturation, mobility, and environmental change), Seipp explains that the list is not exhaustive (Kindle location 272). I found it telling that he chose to write first and focus heavily on globalization. Globalization is good for global business: it helps stimulate global economies and essentially levels the playing ground for the poor and marginalized who previously had no opportunities (Kindle location 294). Yet, “Globalization is also changing the problems we face. Prostitution rings are now global in nature (Kindle location 320).” Seipp does a good job of explaining both the pros and cons of each trend; or it could be said that he demonstrates how they all come with their blessings and curses.
Chapter 3 also focuses on mega-trends, but specifically those to watch for within Christendom. Seipp spends much of the chapter discussing changes occurring within the confines of missionary sending and the current climate of the American church. Being that I am a 24-year-old American missionary, I felt as though this chapter was written about me. At various times, I would audibly say “that is so true,” or I would immediately share a passage with my wife for her consideration. Regardless of age or profession, readers of this book will find Seipp’s commentary in this chapter to be spot on, if not prophetic. I must also commend him for staying impartial while discussing some of the hot-button issues within the American church (e.g. rise of Pentecostalism and New Calvinism). However, the same cannot be said of the discussion of the shift in the American Church’s understanding of Missio Dei. Seipp seemed troubled by the reality that many young missionaries are bypassing mission agencies and “the wisdom and experience from a long history of mission involvement (Kindle location 791).” Time will tell if his cause for concern is warranted.
Chapter 4 explains the vital role innovation has played throughout Church history. The Apostle Paul is sited as a Gospel innovator, whose courage to “stand up” contributed to the conversion of Roman Empire (Kindle location 833). Seipp also takes this opportunity to appeal to the Old Testament to support his thesis, most notably 1 Chronicles 12:32. Seipp believes that the men from Issachar’s ability to “understand the times and know what Israel should do” was a prime example of innovative thinking. Seipp will go on to site this passage several more times in the book. I noticed that Seipp stressed heavily that innovation is a trained skill. He also emphasized the need for “an entire organization of transformative leaders (Kindle location 905).” There is tremendous wisdom is discussing these issues with other godly innovators. However, it is difficult to understand how to carry these principles over into the local church whose leadership differs from that of businesses and para-church organizations. Perhaps Ephesians 5:21 is the key to applying these principles in every area of life.
Chapters 5 and 6 are more explanatory than others, but for the benefit of the student of innovation. In Chapter 5, Seipp explains the role of research in decision-making and ultimately seeking God’s will. A company or business that neglects research is susceptible to “creative destruction.” In other words, “the creativity of one company of organization causes the destruction of another (Kindle location 956).” Seipp claims the principle also applies to ministries and non-profits. If the non-profit’s supporters are not engaged by the “story” they will take their money elsewhere; to put it simply: innovate or die (Kindle location 1049). The rest of chapter deals with s-curves and the importance of capitalizing on the life cycle of a product or idea. I have personally seen s-curves being incorporated in Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ) leadership training. In chapter 6, Seipp provides tools (scan hits, impact maps, and plausible scenarios) to help the Church innovate with the future in mind. This chapter is quite technical; it may seem out of place in a mission(s) textbook; however, I think it helps drive Seipp’s point home about looking to the future. It could be said that Innovation in World Mission is timely, ahead of its time, or a mixture of both.
Chapters 7 and 8 brings the book to a close by providing examples of ways to practically implement the information from the rest of the book. Seipp points to organizational leadership for successful innovation in chapter 7. He devotes a lot of time to the value of learning and dialogue within these organizations (Kindle location 1912). I found this chapter to be a little redundant a times, but I can’t deny its truthfulness regarding innovation within missions. Chapter 8 wraps things up nicely by recapping the content from the other chapters. Seipp does an excellent job of encouraging the reader to experiment, but on a small, focused scale at first. He also makes clear that failure is a good thing; it is “an opportunity to grow (Kindle location 2091).” Seipp closes out by looking to the cross. “If God simply drew a line from our past, he would have never sent his Son (Kindle location 2157).” Seipp seems to be saying that the things/ideas/events that change the world come from drawing a line from the future to today.
I would recommend Innovation in World Mission not only to new missionaries, like myself, but to anyone curious about where our world is headed. It is a wonderful resource for the local and global Church to take a step back and look at its current course. If I have any critique it would be for Seipp to have spent more time examining the Scripture. Occasionally, I felt as though he was reading some of his personal biases into the text; yet, nothing he said ever made me feel uncomfortable. Overall, Innovation in World Mission is a quick read that will help train many new innovators to carry out the Great Commission in new and exciting ways.