The Church after Innovation: Questioning our Obsession with Work, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship

Philip J. Reed reviews Andrew Root's latest book.

Andrew Root
Baker Academic, 256 pages | Published September 20, 2022

Innovation is trending in church circles. Webinars and new books abound on creativity and entrepreneurship for church leaders. In The Church after Innovation: Questioning our Obsession with Work, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship, Andrew Root places this trend in theological perspective.

Practical theologian Root introduces us to three people to lead us through The Church after Innovation. Young pastor “Applebee’s Boy” and seasoned veteran “Synod Executive Guy” are both equally committed to innovation; Russ is an Associate Pastor who attracts the most coveted demographic – college-age and young professionals – to his mainline church. With a three-year grant, he guides young adults to design new initiatives, but in year two, they are running out of steam, and some are dropping out. Three well-intentioned pastoral leaders, due to an overemphasis on innovation, are naively pursuing the wrong course of action.

Root excavates our cultural moment to tell us what has gone wrong. He narrates brief histories of the nature of work, capitalism, management theory and money, leading us to conclude that we have adopted uncritically the presumptions of late modernity and invited them to determine our practice of congregational leadership. The current emphasis on innovation is the latest example.

The problem with unbridled innovation, according to Root, is that it overinflates our understanding of the self. Exaggerated reliance on our capacity to innovate makes us less and less aware of what God does in our world. Innovation will not necessarily reverse our decline and save us.

The Church after Innovation points us beyond ourselves and our congregations to encounter the living and creative God who will reveal a new way to us. How do we encounter this God? Root suggests a mystical turn. But the need to even ask the question reveals how far we have drifted into ourselves and our all-encompassing attention on human agency. Root’s project in The Church after Innovation, and in the first four works in his “Ministry in a Secular Age” series, is to encourage a renewed and empowering focus on the agency of God.

As a Presbyterian minister for over 40 years, I put into practice many of the big ideas for church growth that trended through four decades: seeker-sensitive model, purpose-driven church, church health, missional church and moving-back-into-the-neighborhood church. Some of these strategies actually worked! For a time, I was Russ, enjoying significant growth in members and money. (No spoilers here — read the book to learn what happened to “Applebee’s Boy,” “Synod Executive Guy” and Russ.) After a while, however, the successes ran out of steam, the church really did not change and the crisis of decline continued.

Andrew Root is a voice crying out in the wilderness of church trends. Instead of focusing on what we can do, even at our most innovative, he points us to the truly innovative One, whose most creative act is sending us a Savior, Jesus Christ.

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