Disruptors enter markets at the low end where the establishment can’t or won’t invest, re-inventing delivery systems and meeting old needs in new ways.
Toyota did it to Detroit. The mp3 did it to music. Netflix did it to screen entertainment. Uber is doing it to urban transportation. Disruption is the hustling spirit behind every underdog start-up willing to feel peoples’ pain and solve problems they have yet to recognize.
Disruption is the new opposable thumbs. We are challenged to evolve in the face of rapid web-driven change, increasingly complex problem solving, and an ever-growing communications overload that grows both wider and shallower by the day. Individuals and organizations are thrust into a state of permanent beta mode. Those unwilling to adopt DisruptionOS risk being the next Blockbusters in a Netflix world.
Look to the future with commitment to a New Evangelization, one that is new in its ardor, new in its methods, and new in its expression. (Pope St John Paul II)
Ever since I learned about the theory of disruption, it’s made me think of the great movements of God and the men and women who helped birth them.
Jesus was the great disrupter. He “entered the market” not at the top with Herod and Caesar, but at the absolute bottom, first in the womb of an unknown young Jewess and then in the stable at Bethlehem.
After three decades of obscurity, Jesus entered the scene as an upstart rabbi with no official credentials or recognition from any establishment other than the Father’s spoken endorsement. He proceeded to break long-held monopolized strangleholds both human and angelic. He announced good news to the poor, welcomed and dined with tax collectors and sinners, sought out and saved the lost. He proclaimed the last to be first and the servant to be the leader.
Jesus disrupted law with grace, judgment with mercy, religion with Kingdom, power with love.
The Book of Acts proceeds with Peter, James, John, Paul, and others continuing the pattern of disruption through their Spirit-led witness of Jesus Christ crucified and risen.
From the martyrs of the early church and on up through the centuries, the saints continually emerge as the great disrupters allowing the creative and ever-new Spirit of God to break into history. These men and women enter “low end” peripheries of the market where others can’t or won’t invest, re-invent delivery systems for the Gospel, and meet old needs of the heart in fresh ways.
For the saints, the field of disruption is not primarily music or entertainment or transportation. For Augustine, Benedict, Francis, Dominic, Ignatius, Joan of Arc, Katherine Drexel, Mother Teresa, et. al… their disruptive impulse was driven by the persistent, urgent, and ever-elusive need outweighing all needs: the cry of the human heart for the Infinite love of God.
Today's vast and rapid cultural changes demand that we constantly seek ways of expressing unchanging truths in a language wich brings out their abiding newness. (Pope Francis)
It is certainly true that Christianity upholds many inherited traditions and a deposit of faith that is not negotiable. I take it as a given that the creeds and the catechism, liturgy and sacraments, et al. remain inviolate.
Kingdom disruption involves methods and means, not aims and ends. Putting people into contact with the saving person and work of Jesus Christ is always the goal. Let’s never forget that our doctrines, creeds, liturgy, and all other institutions are all meant to serve that end.
Through deep discernment and prayer lived in the context of a real community of believers, every disciple is called to sing a new song and incarnate the gospel anew through creative disruptive movements of grace to reach the lost and bring the gladness of the Kingdom to the margins and peripheries.
Disruption is not about being hip and novel and cool. It has nothing to do with crowd pleasing fads or adopting secular business models. No, it is actually a matter of charity. Christians MUST be willing and able to communicate the gospel message through delivery systems that really warm hearts. Our perceived cultural obsolescence should be a cause of grave soul-searching and self-examination for anyone sharing Jesus’ heart for the lost.
One of the difficulties is that Catholic institutions, and perhaps parishes in particular, are disruption-resistant by design. They are inhabited by mostly long-time believers with deep-seated habits and expectations that naturally tend toward self-preservation and a certain self-referential conservatism. This is both a strength and, increasingly, a manifest weakness when it comes to evangelization, discipleship and mission in today’s world.
Perhaps this is why so much vitality within the Catholic church during the past fifty years has involved extra-parish entities such as lay movements. This is a topic for a whole other conversation.
From a disruption angle, the easiest thing in the world for a parish pastor is to cater to expectations, please the masses, uphold the status quo, and fatten the “ninety-nine” (today it’s more like twenty-three) while the lost “one” goes neglected and forgotten. This is a most vexing pastoral issue.
Today’s great pastoral challenge is to disrupt in due measure - shaking things up in ways that are Spirit-led and genuinely Kingdom-advancing - while keeping the “product” integral and intact. That is to say, remaining faithful to the institution and all its inherited spiritual capital; while having the pastoral boldness and creativity to take big risks for the Kingdom on behalf of the poor and the lost for whom Jesus suffered and died.
Netflix did not abolish movies and shows; they came up with a better delivery system more suited to people’s current lives. Uber has not abolished urban transport; they have decentralized it, app’ed it, and lowered its costs.
In the same way, the Christian disrupter is not out to change the gospel, but the way it is delivered and practiced. Motivated by charity and zeal for souls, Spirit-filled disciples of Jesus reach new markets on margins and peripheries that others can’t or won’t serve. In so doing, they disrupt the dismal reign of sin and darkness, bringing gospel truths with clarity and conviction to compellingly warm hearts and provide credible witness to the Kingdom of God manifest among us.
The deposit of faith is one thing...the way it is expressed is another. (Pope St John XXIII)
I believe there is vast room, in the Spirit, for effective disruption that falls safely under the umbrella of doctrinal orthodoxy. The saints certainly provide ample evidence for it. But they were burning with Christ’s zeal for souls - a zeal which, to the degree we also possess it, will inspire us to do likewise. But those who are so risk-averse as to thwart all potential disruption must confront the other risk: that we fail in the Great Commission and the Great Commandments mandated by our Savior, causing the light to remain hidden, the world in darkness, the poor unserved, the lost unreached.
The local church need not become the next Blockbuster in a Netflix world. But if that’s not to be our fate, we better start disrupting.
NEXT POST: Getting practical - seven steps towards self-disruption
who are putting the New Evangelization into practice.
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