My Purpose Driven Life: – Day 22 – Purpose 3: Innovation and Discipleship

hydrogenbombJesus said: “Follow Me.” This means that we will not remain in the same place, doing the same thing, over and over again, without end, amen. Something new is going to happen … are we open to what is new?

This topic has been studied by scientists. The “Diffusion of Innovations” understands that human beings sort out into five basic categories with regard to their openness in adopting innovations. Each category has a strength for discipleship and a weakness. Here’s a parable to understand the categories – the pastor asks a question and each one answers differently.

Pastor: “There’s a light bulb burnt out in the sanctuary – can you help?”

Innovator: “If you’ll just be patient, my nuclear fusion bulb will be at the prototype stage real soon now. Never needs changing and uses no electricity.”

Early Adopter: “Has anyone analyzed whether it’s in our best interests to spend the extra money on those long lasting bulbs?”

Middle Adopter: “Sure.” (Gets ladder, puts new bulb in.) Is that it?”

Late Adopter: “Are you sure we need a new bulb? There’s nothing wrong with the old bulb. Give it a chance. My mother gave that bulb to the church as a memorial to my grandfather; see the plaque next to the fixture? Have you tried praying for healing for the bulb? Where is your faith?”

Laggard: “After a while, the truly faithful really begin to sense God at work in the dark. Perhaps God prefers the dark. When God wants a new bulb, He will change it Himself. Stop interfering with the will of the Lord with your devilish desire to change everything!”

Jesus pointed out that his form of the kingdom was a hybrid, a blend of the old and new that brought out the best of both. Consider Matthew 13:52:  And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” We strive for purity, but in genetics, the more pure a genetic strain, the weaker it is; a combination of robust, differentiated points of view is much stronger in a church because it generates energy.

The five categories form two basic groups.

First there is an innovative minority that favors change. Their strength in disciple making is their hunger for new ideas. Innovators restlessly explore the whole world and bring back new information to their home culture; they are the means by which new ideas enter a culture, but their focus is outside their home culture. Early adopters have a focus on local optima; they restlessly consider how to employ new information to give their team an advantage over the competition. The innovative minority represents only 16% of a people group; only 16% are truly interested in change. This is why bringing change is so difficult.

The innovator’s weakness in discipleship is that they are fickle and rapidly move on to the next idea before the first one has taken hold. They do not have the self discipline to follow Jesus, but are continually wandering off because something off to the side seems more interesting in the moment. (“Squirrel!”) They are impatient with anything that does not interest them in the moment. Jesus calls us to focus on learning from him.

The early adopter’s weakness in discipleship is that they shift their focus from becoming more like Jesus to becoming more spiritual than the others. The disciples reflected this attitude by arguing who among them was the greatest.

This tendency to seek their own benefit was rebuked by Jesus in Matthew 16:23-24: But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.” 24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me…”

Early adopters will push people to pick up a new idea before they are ready … thereby creating the conflict that prevents a new idea from being accepted.  Jesus calls us to focus on our own growth and apply lessons to ourselves first, so that we model the changes we encourage.

Early adopters also complicate discipleship with their love of analysis. They produce discipleship courses that involve reading thousands of pages and hundreds of hours. They are always wondering what a passages says “in the Greek.” Their understanding of discipleship is too hard for ordinary people to implement. It’s likely that this high demand culture means that many of the scribes and Pharisees could have been early adopters.

The remaining three categories can be grouped together as a Pragmatic Majority. At 84% of a group, they can prevent change from happening; their primary interest is for the system to operate in a practical, beneficial manner. New ideas to them can seem risky, a poor investment, or even dangerous to the common welfare. Do you really want a “fusion bulb” in your house, considering the potential problems?

The middle adopter’s weakness in discipleship is that they become satisfied if everything is running smoothly. It’s a discipleship of “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” Middle adopters can fail to see the potential of what Jesus is asking us to do, and settle for everyone getting along. Following Jesus sometimes means rocking the boat; doing God’s will means change – unless we are perfect – and change is sometimes uncomfortable. The middle adopter’s temptation is to say “close enough” and stop additional effort needed to more completely fulfill God’s will. Middle adopters, however, are practical and will adopt new ideas if it is clear that they are beneficial and the “how” is clear and easy to implement.

The late adopter’s weakness in discipleship is that they are very comfortable with “the way we’ve always done it before.” They are nostalgic. It’s difficult for them to see the advantage of following Jesus when the old ways seem more effective. Jesus spoke to them in Matthew 7:13-14: Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few. Rather than walk a new, more difficult path with Jesus, Late Adopters want to bring Jesus on to their preferable path … to renew or remake the wide and easy way they prefer into the best path to follow Jesus. They are willing to follow Jesus if he will restrict his movements to their preferences and travel only on the traditional, wide and easy path.

Paul encountered them in the Judaizers mentioned in the book of Galatians. Late adopters want to bring back the good old days of Christendom and frequent lament the state of the church. Late adopters want to renew and remake our institutional faith so that it will work in the present day. It’s likely, with their reverence for the temple traditions, that many Sadducees were Late Adopters, if not Laggards.

The laggard’s weakness in discipleship is their violence. They will do “whatever it takes” to stop any form of change to what they rigidly understand as “the way we’ve always done it before.” They view any disagreement as a threat to the future of the church and believe that anything that offends them is even more offensive to God. Laggards put Jesus on the cross, and rejoiced at his death; they see the devil everywhere and are ready to go to war. Listen to the leaders of the religious culture in John 11:48:  “If we let him go on thus, every one will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” The Sicarii are a good example, combined with the Sadducees who provoked the Roman destruction of the temple in 70 AD.

In which category do you find yourself?

(Hint: if you are reading this in a blog on the internet, you’re probably in the innovative minority … in fact, only the innovative minority is reached by any presentation through media. The pragmatic majority only hears new ideas when they are brought up in personal conversation with a trusted peer.)



A visual form of this parable can be viewed at

More information on the diffusion of innovations can be found here:

More information on Pharisees, Sadducees and the Sicarii can be found here:

The photo, possibly an accident with a fusion bulb, is from the Internet. Artist unknown.

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