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Sparking Innovation in Ministry by Becoming an Expert Generalist

Orange Leaders
Orange Leaders Tuesday March 5, 2013
<? echo $type; ?> Sparking Innovation in Ministry by Becoming an Expert Generalist

by Elle Campbell

I recently read an article from Art Markman about “the benefits of being an expert generalist.” You should really read it. Markman’s article is the inspiration for today’s blog because, I’m convinced, this “expert generalist” thing is something that we, as youth workers, could really learn from.

First, a quick summary of the original article . . .

The greatest innovators throughout human history have something in common—while they might be known for their contributions to one particular field, the greatest innovators know a lot of things about a wide variety of topics.

They are expert generalists.
People who love and are committed to learning.
People with a wide knowledge base.
People who explore and delve into many different fields of study—even those unrelated to what they do.

These “expert generalists” are often the people who are our best creators and innovators. Because they have expanded their knowledge beyond one single field of study, they are able to see connections, draw parallels, and solve problems that the rest of us simply can’t.

So, what does this have to do with youth ministry?

Take a second and think about all of the “knowledge” you consume during a typical week. Books you read. Blogs you subscribe to. Videos you watch. Podcasts you listen to.

What percentage of those books, blogs, videos, podcasts, whatever, are ministry related? Sermons, youth ministry blogs, books by your favorite theologians or ministry heroes. Chances are, for most of us, that percentage is pretty high. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Learning about ministry stuff is good. Keep it up.

But, maybe, what we can learn from this “expert generalist” thing is that we need to expand our horizons a little bit. Maybe, by seeking out knowledge in new fields—like economics or marketing or psychology or design or literature—we can actually do more for our ministries, and for ourselves, than we could by simply consuming more ministry-related knowledge.

Maybe . . .

  • Staying current on new technological advances sparks an idea for better way to connect with your students outside the church walls.
  • A leadership lesson from the business world helps you become a better manager of your volunteer teams.
  • A novel you read helps you better empathize with the situation of one of your students.
  • Studying the work of some talented designers and artists inspires you to step up the quality of what your ministry creates.
  • An obscure story, fact, or historical event you’ve been studying turns out to be the perfect metaphor for that message you’re preparing.
  • An article written by someone of a different theological persuasion, or a different faith altogether, opens your eyes to something you never really considered before.

As youth workers, I believe broadening the scope of the knowledge that we consume is essential. We church people have a tendency to become a little “ingrown” sometimes, both in the way we do things and in the way that we think. But by choosing to listen to new perspectives, deciding to learn new things, and being strategic about the knowledge that we consume . . .

We can become better people.
Better thinkers.
Better problem-solvers.
Better leaders of the next generation.
Better innovators.

And to get us started . . . here’s our all-time favorite places to learn about non-ministry things.

What about you? Has there been a time when something you learned outside of ministry that helped you innovate, problem solve, or create something new in ministry?

Elle is the Small Groups + Volunteer Coordinator for the Middle School Ministry of The Chapel in Buffalo NY and Co-Creator of stuffyoucanuse.org. She loves Kenny, small groups, orange, coffee, making stuff, and sharing. This post originally appeared on StuffYouCanUse.org. Used with permission.

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