Church Leadership

Innovative Leadership: 3 Questions for Gary Hamel

July 19, 2015

A few weeks ago, a few thousand Seventh-day Adventist pastors from across the United States, Canada, and Bermuda got together in Austin, Texas for four days of inspiration and fellowship. The North American Division Ministerial Department put together CALLED, a ministry convention unlike any other in recent memory. It really was a phenomenal event for everyone who attended.


Gary Hamel, a forward thinking creative leader, with a shared love of plaid shirts.

One of the keynote speakers was Dr. Gary Hamel, a well-known speaker, author, and consultant on management. Gary is one of the world’s most influential business thinkers. He has worked with leading companies across the globe and is a dynamic, sought-after speaker who has presented at many of the world’s leading business conferences, including the World Economic Forum, TED, the World Business Forum, Techonomy, and Fortune Brainstorm.

His lecture to the pastors focused on developing innovative leadership within the church structures. I’m not going to reproduce the entire presentation, but thanks to an opportunity at Best Practices (the NAD Ministerial Department’s weekly newsletter for those interested in pastoral ministry), I was able to interview Dr. Hamel after his lecture and ask him a few questions.

When you think of the word “innovation,” “church” doesn’t immediately come to mind.  What other thoughts do you have for the pastor who has a passion for innovation but faces the continued challenges of inertia and status quo that permeates most churches today?

If you want to build a more innovative church, I think you have to start by opening up a conversation with all of your congregation about what we can do together that’s new and different that will move our church forward. The fact is that most people have never been asked that question; they often don’t feel that the pastor is particularly interested in their view.  When you look around the world right now, you’ll see that the most powerful mechanism for innovation is open conversation (when you invite people to help you and share their ideas) and we haven’t been very good at doing that at church.

So what happens, in my experience, is that when you put out that question and say, “We want to make a difference for God, we want a bigger impact, what do we need to challenge and change,” if you open that conversation up to the whole congregation you will find pockets of passionate people emerging that you never knew were there! Often these people are strong and committed enough to challenge and overcome that inertia and resistance that you’ll find in other parts of the church.

Remember, it can’t be your dream as a pastor. The role of a leader is to create other leaders and that means being open to their ideas and being willing to support them and help them. As long as you think, “I have to be in control,” and “The ideas have to start with me,” then you’re going to miss out on a lot of that energy.

What resources are out there for pastors or administrators who want to go further with this idea of innovative leadership in their churches and organizations?

I’ve written about the work we’ve done with companies through the years on innovation and I can also recommend a few other books on this topic as well. One is a book called “Innovation to the Core” written by some of my colleagues. I would also read anything by David Kelly who works at Ideo, it’s one of the most innovative design companies in the world out in Palo Alto, California. His most recent book “Creative Confidence” is really great. I would definelty check it out.

If you’ve never heard of David Kelley, here is one of his TED talks: “How to build your creative confidence”

If you had a magic wand and unlimited resources, what is one program or initiative that you would invest in?

In today’s world, if you want to make a big impact you don’t build a program; you have to build a platform where everyone can contribute, kind of like Jimmy Wales did with Wikipedia.  One of my dreams would be to build a technology platform where pastors all over North America and the world could share what’s working for them. If we could brainstorm around our challenges and work collectively around thousands of minds together rather than working individually, that would propagate best practices all across entire church. Because today you can’t wait simply for great ideas to bubble up to the top and trickle back down a company, we have to connect people laterally. The technology already exists, I think it would be possible to do it, and we just have to use it to its full potential.