Could Imitation be a Step on Our Path Toward Creating the New Church?

Brian McLaren

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, according to age-old wisdom. Imitation is also a critical step in the path of creating the new church, says Brian McLaren. Brian McLaren is an author, speaker, and activist whose most recent books are “Faith After Doubt” and “Do I Stay Christian?”

His advice to those working in the church today? Commit one day a week to imitating the innovators.

Three Imitating the Innovators Ideas

But what does “imitate the innovators” really mean? Here are three ideas from the wisdom and experience of innovative leaders who have recently been named the 2022 Locke Innovative Leader Award recipients.

#1 Discover What Makes You Come Alive

Kit Evans-Ford is passionate about supporting women who have experienced domestic violence.

Starting a social enterprise was not what Kit Evans-Ford had in mind for her ministry. She had no idea how to create a business that would support the healing of women who have experienced domestic violence. But she knew her passion was to help women heal from domestic violence. Kit’s family’s history with abuse and her own survival from a violent assault gave her a “different sense of empathy and compassion and love for women and children who have experienced similar realities.”

Argrow’s House is named after Kit’s grandmother who lived through a violent marriage. Women who come to Argrow’s house receive holistic support, including small groups, yoga, therapy, art therapy and spiritual direction. They can also work in Argrow’s House bath and body business creating beautiful products that provide them a living wage and help them take steps towards financial strength and independence.

Argrow House

There are many ways to discover your passion. Maybe, like Kit, your passion comes out of your personal story. Maybe you had an experience that moved you with compassion. How often one’s passion is connected with compassion for another!

Howard Thurman describes your passion as what makes you come alive. When Kit shares about Argrow’s House, she comes alive. Her whole face lights up in such a way you know the Spirit is shining through her.

#2 Pursue New Questions

"Shannon pursued the questions no one around her was asking."

Shannon Hopkins' pursuit of questions is changing the church.

“How do we get more people in the pews on Sunday morning?” is a question that has been asked and answered a lot. How many more answers can there be to that question? Asking old questions about church did not inspire Shannon Hopkins, so started asking new questions.

Twenty years ago, no one in the U.S. was asking “What are the spiritual needs of those who will never darken the doors of the church?” and “How do you create spaces of authentic belonging?” Shannon pursued the questions no one around her was asking. Her pursuit led her from Texas to London where the church had long been living in a post-Christian culture and innovating out of necessity. “People thought I was crazy for moving to London!” she says.

This posture of wonderment changed her life and her ministry has changed the church for the better.

Today, Shannon is the co-creator and Lead Cultivator of RootedGood, a non-profit organization that supports new forms of Christian community. She is still pursuing new questions. “I’m looking for the next new questions God wants me to pursue,” she says today.

#3 Discover Your Neighbors' Gifts

Cote Soerens

Coté Soerens lives as if her neighborhood is her world.

John Wesley’s famous quote “The world is my parish” offers a beautiful image for ministry, and…it can be overwhelming to think as big as the needs of the whole world. So, do we dare to suggest a slight adjustment to Wesley’s words?

“The parish is my world,” says Coté Soerens. Over the past decade, Coté and her husband Tim have made their neighborhood of South Park, Seattle, their world. When the neighborhood becomes your world, you invest all your time and resources in the neighborhood. Coté opened a coffee shop in the heart of South Park in order to create a third space where she could meet neighbors and where neighbors could meet each other.

Coté’s main question when she is meeting someone is not “what do they need?” or “how can I help them?” She is looking for the gifts God has given them. Looking for gifts leads to having an abundance mindset. Inviting people to use their gifts for the benefit of the community leads to thy kingdom come.

What does making the parish your world have to do with innovation? When you bring people together and invite them to use their gifts in community with others, the Spirit shows up. People dream dreams and see visions and the impossible becomes possible.

Imitating the innovators in these three ways may not be easy or rewarded. For many, the Locke Innovative Leader Award is the first time they have received public recognition for their innovative ministry. (For further inspiration listen to the stories these innovative leaders shared during the Locke Innovative Leader Award Celebration. This is 40-minutes of inspiration and awe!).

What will happen if those of us in the institution imitate the innovators in these three ways? God only knows, and wouldn’t it be something to find out?

Blair Thompson-White

Rev. Blair Thompson-White, Director of Leadership Ministry

Blair Thompson-White is a speaker, writer, and preacher. Blair joined TMF / Wesleyan Investive in 2020 as the Director of Leadership Ministry. Blair facilitates conversations with leaders from across the Wesleyan ecosystem especially in the areas of naming core values, discerning purpose, and exercising the Five Muscles. She serves as the Program Director of TMF's Lilly-funded Thriving Congregations initiative, Courageous Congregations Collaborative (C3). Blair is also the creator and producer of Leadership Ministry's podcast "Igniting Imagination.”

Blair is a versatile and skilled facilitator. She is known for her engaging presence, excellent session design, collaborative approach, and the ease with which she navigates difficult conversations.

Blair is an ordained Elder in the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church. Prior to Leadership Ministry, Blair served as a pastor in a variety of settings, including small town Kansas, downtown Dallas, and suburban Richardson, Texas. She completed her dissertation on pilgrimage in the development of clergy leadership for her Doctorate of Ministry degree in 2018.

Blair is married to Adam White, a deacon in the UMC, and they have a daughter, Abby.