June 21, 2015

By Eddie Pipkin

You’ve probably never heard of Alex Kipman.  He’s the engineer behind one of the ‘wow’ developments in tech devices right now, a gizmo that Microsoft is developing called the HoloLens.  According to Time Magazine, the HoloLens is a virtual reality headset that “effectively projects 3-D holograms directly in front of the user in a seamless blend of fantasy and reality” and was recently demonstrated for what the Time writers called a “stunned press corps.”  It’s pretty amazing.  Videos show teachers using holograms that appear to be hovering in the room and interactive and visible to all the students in the room wearing the HoloLens headsets.  (Here’s a link to Microsoft’s breathless promotional video: http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=youtube+hololens&FORM=VIRE1#view=detail&mid=D4D3D9BEFE3FAE094CE0D4D3D9BEFE3FAE094CE0.)

It’s Alex Kipman’s job to shepherd and bring to life these kinds of bold ideas.  His actual job title for Microsoft’s Xbox division is “Director of Incubation,” and he headed up a previous little project called the Xbox Kinect, which used sensors to revolutionize the way gamers use their own body motions to interact directly with video games.

Tech companies don’t survive and thrive without creativity and innovation, and neither do congregations.  Do you have a “Director of Incubation” as part of your leadership?

Sure, we have Trustees Chairs and Finance Chairs and Staff-Parish Chairs, ad infinitum, the necessary structures to keep our congregations organized and operating with integrity.  But within our leadership structures is there a built-in focus and celebration on creativity?  Do we have a process for generating and empowering new ideas and new ways of thinking?

Microsoft is actually a pretty great example for church leaders to consider.  It is a tech behemoth, a once-upon-a-time trailblazer that dominated the industry and controlled vast swaths of the market.  Now it’s still a huge company, but it is struggling to stay relevant and to compete with Apple and a thousand small but enthusiastic start-ups.

Sound familiar?  Perhaps all too familiar for struggling congregations across the American landscape whose once dominant “operating platform” of Christianity is being abandoned for more interactive models in the same way that consumers have abandoned desktops for iPhones.  Microsoft is fighting to not become the bureaucratic behemoth that it dethroned in its rise to innovation, IBM.  But any institution that has been successful for a long time falls into comfortable ruts and develops protective structures for doing things “the way we’ve always done them.”

The key to staying relevant is a focus on people and their ideas.  Alex Kipman famously refers to his programmers as dreamers (computer programmers celebrated as dreamers!) and was described by one of his peers as having “a certain naivete about what’s not possible.”  That’s downright biblical: the idea that we encourage big dreaming and bold thinking.  That we give God’s people the tools to explore their Spirit-infused ideas, to experiment with ways to follow their ministry passions, and that we actually develop a reputation for joyously shaking things up

Because our most creative people are not necessarily our most organized or technocratic, they don’t tend to be selected as leaders in our tightly defined congregational governance structures.  And because the approval path from idea to reality in many of our congregations can be long and torturous, folks with ideas can get the message that they need to tone it down, slow up, or stop rocking the boat.

What if instead, we identified those creative types and built a culture in which they were empowered and celebrated and given a stronger voice at the table?  What if we seeded them throughout our leadership structures and were clear that innovative analysis was their job wherever they served?  What if we gave them forums and meetups extraneous to the traditional leadership structures, and at these gatherings they could feed off one another’s energy.  Then we took the ideas that were birthed by this process and nourished and nurtured them?

What if we actually had a “Director of Incubation” sitting on the Church Council as part of our leadership structure, a disciple whose job was to identify creative types and innovators and be sure that they were involved and engaged, honored, and given the tools they needed for success?

Or maybe that would require a certain naivete about what’s not possible.

How does your church value and utilize its creative types?  How does your church encourage innovation and fresh ideas?  Share your success stories and the roadblocks you’ve encountered in the comments section.


CNN article on HoloLens: http://money.cnn.com/2015/05/03/technology/microsoft-hololens-bet/index.html

Time Magazine article on Alex Kipman and HoloLenshttp://time.com/3842334/microsoft-hololens-alex-kipman/

Youtube video (and channel) on HoloLens: http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=youtube+hololens&FORM=VIRE1#view=detail&mid=D4D3D9BEFE3FAE094CE0D4D3D9BEFE3FAE094CE0