February 14, 2017

What a Ballpoint Pen is Teaching Me About the Future of the Church

I’m a simple man, really. I like gadgets and such, but when it comes down to it I do most of my thinking with a paper journal and a ballpoint pen. So when I ran out of pens the other day, I walked into the store to buy my favorite brand.

That’s when it hit me. There, on the package of Bic Crystal pens (the brand I’ve been using since high school, and which was first made in the 1950s) I saw those big, bold words: NEW & IMPROVED.

Why on earth (and how on earth) could you make a simple, plastic, ballpoint pen “new” or “improved”?

That got me thinking about innovation and the church. I’ll spend the next several weeks sharing what this “New & Improved” pen has me thinking about that. First, the very idea that the best-selling pen of all time can (and should) be improved upon is a lesson for us in the Church.

How can we be “new & improved”?

Now, I already hear the nay-sayers: we don’t need to be “new,” and
“we can’t chase after the latest fads.” Yes, and no. But we, as the Church (and Anglicans, in particular) historically have looked to proclaim the Gospel in new and improved ways.

Stained glass, musical notation, the printing press, and even a bound collection of common prayers, were all at one time innovative. They were all new and improved ways of worshipping and proclaiming the Gospel, not too long ago.

So why can we be so reluctant today? Why are new technologies often shunned, in favor of other technology (paper is a form of technology, after all)?

There are deep theological discussions to be had around the use of any technology, not just something deemed “new.” And I’m not advocating the abandonment of old practices (the Bic Cristal has the same shape today that it did 60 years ago...but more on that next time!).

But we should be willing to ask the question: are there places in the Church, in our worship, and in our communal life that we can seek to make new?