Formation as Innovation in Missions

Formation as Innovation in Missions

Our mission is to nurture new ways for least-reached peoples to experience the fullness of life in Jesus. And out of that mission, we have identified four core functions around which we orient our initiatives: innovation, formation, missiology, and publishing.

In this blog, I want to share the connections we are sensing and experiencing in our communities related to innovation and formation. It is becoming more and more clear that our spiritual formation informs our innovation. I, along with others, have been noticing how much of the discernment process cultivates self-awareness, the ability to listen well to God and others, and deepens our capacity to hold uncertainty with grace. All of those (and more) are really results of our formation yet they deeply impact innovation.

Becoming New Offerings in Jesus

When we look at Christian scripture, we see Jesus' desire for people to experience a whole new way of living and being in relationship to God, themselves, and others. Jesus began his incarnational ministry by calling people to repent and change their minds (metanoeite, Mark 1:15).

The inner process of change, or spiritual formation, is fundamental to everything as it informs how we think, act, feel, imagine, etc.

Rather than viewing innovation in missions only as something we do—whether at the level of new services, new contextual approaches, or reimagined missiological paradigms—I want to suggest that innovation is also about who we are becoming in Jesus.

Another way of saying this is that our formation in Christ can be an innovative new offering in the world that helps to overcome barriers to people experiencing fullness of life in Jesus. Of course, that means the inverse can be true too. How we follow Jesus and the ways we are formed in community can actually present barriers to people experiencing life in Jesus. (1)

This is because the primary thing we bring into every situation is ourselves. Everything we think, say, and do emerges from who we are. It follows then that innovation around missiological paradigms or fresh approaches to contextualization are integrally tied with our formation. New ways of seeing missiological paradigms are woven into our life in Jesus. Likewise, new ways of contextualizing good news are lived out, not as an organizational strategy, but as our own transformation into the likeness of Christ as he lives in us. And from there, other forms of social, service, and product innovation might also emerge to further support new ways of expressing the fullness of life in Jesus.

New ways of seeing missiological paradigms are woven into our life in Jesus. Likewise, new ways of contextualizing good news are lived out, not as an organizational strategy, but as our own transformation into the likeness of Christ as he lives in us.

Despite this, we might not think of spiritual formation as something that can be innovative. The primary emphasis of formation is faithfulness as we follow Jesus and are formed into his likeness. At first glance that might not seem closely related to innovation, which values divergent thinking and the creation of sustainable new solutions. However, spiritual streams and practices of prayer, worship, communal life, and so on all emerge within lived cultural contexts with particular challenges and needs. That means pathways of formation in Christ can provide new ways of bringing blessing and flourishing in response as communities seek what is Good, Beautiful, and True.

Luckily, we do not have to figure out new ways forward on our own. God is already present among every people (and in every unreached part of ourselves!) in ways that are far wiser than we can understand. So, what might happen if we allow God within us to form and shape us into a different way of being in Christ? How might this lead to new ways of expressing life in Jesus that resonate?

Alongsider Formation as an Innovation

The concept of an "alongsider" is one example of an innovative formation path. (2) While the term includes a range of characteristics and uses, an alongsider is someone who walks with followers of Jesus (often "insiders" who remain within the socioreligious context of their heritage) and humbly empowers locals to make decisions and contextually theologize for themselves. This alongsider posture represents a shift in approach to power dynamics and a willingness to receive from the God-given wisdom of other religious heritages. This shift is made in the context of sharing life together with insiders, pursuing union with God in Christ. These changes are an innovation that opens new pathways for all peoples (ourselves included) to experience fullness of life in Jesus.

However, even if we have this alongsider posture in mind, it remains a process of formation to actually become this type of person. Becoming sustainable new offerings in Jesus often requires a reimagining of our mental models and deeply held assumptions. For alongsiders, there is a required reimagining of the role of a missionary and their authority and increased trust in locals as the Holy Spirit leads them. This might involve unlearning old ways of being and leading and instructing others. There is also a reframing of how we understand religious categories in relationship to identity as followers of Jesus. By looking at these mental models afresh and prayerfully revisiting Scripture, alongsiders express hope for peoples from all nations, tribes, and tongues to follow Jesus from within their socioreligious heritage. And, without denying the importance of Scripture as God's self-revelation, alongsiders experience God stretching their assumptions about where they will find sources of God's truth. In the journey of walking alongside insiders, they not only share Jesus but also receive God's wisdom from other religious heritages in ways that enrich their own life in Christ.

The point is not simply to pull things apart, but to invite the Spirit of God to help us discern with open hearts so that we do not miss out on ways God is moving in the world. Our operating assumptions and mental models shape what we can imagine God might lead us into and what types of innovative initiatives we can create or embrace. Innovation in missions includes the process of spiritual formation as we revisit our assumptions with God. We reflect on scripture and context afresh while trusting in God's goodness to lead into new ways for peoples to experience fullness of life in Jesus.

Steven Spicer, Innovation Lead


(1) See Pennington, Paul J. Christian Barriers to Jesus: Conversations and Questions from the Indian Context. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2017.


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