Spiritual Tenacity 2 - Adapt, Innovate, Evolve
Updated: Sep 9, 2019
Chan Gin Kai
One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. (Luke 5:1-3)
Jesus started his ministry by preaching in the synagogues every Sabbath. Whenever he was rejected, he simply went to another synagogue in another town or city. And wherever he was accepted, he still moved on to new places, so that more people could get to hear the good news.
The Need to ‘Adapt, Innovate & Evolve’
The committed Jews attended synagogue services every Sabbath, but it was not uncommon for more dedicated ones to go to the synagogues a few times a week. As Jesus’ popularity grew, he preached even more frequently, on other days besides the Sabbath.
In Luke 5, Jesus had moved from teaching in the synagogues to preaching in public places. He was no longer limited by the synagogues’ capacity, or confined by the synagogues’ availability. Instead of sticking to a tried and tested method that had worked well for him, or the traditional ways that other rabbis use, Jesus adapted to the needs and his ministry style evolved.
As the beach of Lake Gennesaret thronged with a growing crowd, it became difficult for Jesus to preach to the people squeezed right beside him. So Jesus innovated. He got one of the fishermen to bring him a little away from shore, and preached from the boat. It was a little unconventional, but it worked perfectly.
Right after that, Jesus evolved his ministry again. He started calling for disciples to join in his mission.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:8-11)
After Simon, James and John, more were added. The Twelve Disciples were certainly not the only ones Jesus called to spread the message. His methods had worked very well, and his impact was growing. But for his ministry to truly multiply, he needed others to spread the word of God too. Jesus was already planning for a future when he wouldn’t be around anymore.
From teaching every Sabbath to preaching every day, from the confines of the synagogues to the openness of public places, from a pulpit to a boat, from doing it solo to training a team, Jesus adapted, innovated and evolved his ministry style. That’s what we have to learn to do too, if we want to be effective like Jesus.
Obstacles to ‘Adapt, Innovate, Evolve’
As leaders serving God’s people, the main obstacles to adapting, innovating and evolving are our laziness and pride. We may have had victories with ‘tried and tested methods’, so why do we need to evolve? We allow past successes to lull us into complacency, and we become too proud change. We put our security in proven methods and become too lazy to think.
If we don’t watch our pride, we may even become so self-righteous and confident in our methods that we restrict our disciples’ ability to exercise initiative or try out alternative approaches. When we do that, we are teaching them to trust us more than they trust God. We’re discouraging them from allowing the Spirit to move them. We’ll build a new generation that’s incapable of thinking on their own, and never able to outgrow us.
Whether you’re a young Christian learning to witness to the lost, or an experienced leader that’s been successful, you’ll need to continue learning. The church demography evolves with time, societal trends are capricious, and people change. What has worked in the past may not work now because circumstances are different. What has worked for others may not work for you either.
While we should be humble and learn from others who are successful, it is the heart and attitude, more than the methods that we need to imitate. Even as we learn from them, we will always need to adapt and innovate for the people we’re helping, because the context is often different.
The secret behind Jesus’ ability to relate to the people, and to adapt his style and methods to the needs of the ministry is his love for them. Where we see a crowd or a congregation, he sees individuals; each with their own dreams, concerns and needs. Because he relates to each person, he is able to know the best way to share the gospel with the person.
We are working with people, not products, and each person is unique. There are certainly skills we should pick up, and effective methods we should learn. But more than anything else, we need to learn to love people as individuals. When we become more in touch with people’s hearts, we will naturally become more discerning in how we can adapt our approach and style to their needs.
Ultimately, we should always remember why we even want to be effective in the first place... we want to impact people because we love.
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Chan Gin Kai
Gin Kai is a film producer who believes in the power of media to inspire positive changes. He has spearheaded disaster relief and capacity building projects in impoverished communities across Asia. In church, he serves as a mentor to young professionals in the EDGE Ministry. He describes himself as "just a sinner who wants to get right with God".