Dry Hands

The legendary paper towel dispenser.
Yes, this post is about innovation. Innovation is somewhat of a buzz word today, and it should be. Innovation drives a great deal of what I do in ministry, and life in general. Anyone who relies on their own ability to produce something knows the value of efficiency. I’ve got stuff to do, and I’d prefer to get it done faster than slower, but not at the expense of quality. There is always work that needs to be done. If I can learn a technique, or purchase a device that can simplify this work, I’m all ears. Is it worth it?
 Webster defines innovation as “the introduction of something new”. I think for most of us, there is an underlying implication that innovation is a positive thing. But according to Webster, this isn’t necessarily true. Innovation is simply taking something (a process or device, for example) and saying “here’s a new idea that MIGHT make it better, let’s do it.” Sometimes that isn’t the best idea. Sometimes. 
Growing up on the Key Peninsula, I heard this phrase almost daily: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” While usually used in its appropriate context, this statement is pure wisdom. Don’t take something that works, or works well, and waste time and energy trying to make it better when it didn’t need improving in the first place. This logic can be abused, of course. Take carburetors for example.
Carburetors manage the amount of fuel and air that goes into the cylinders of an internal combustion engine. This technology has a lot of variances, but generally, carburetors do a pretty good job of this. They are a simple technology that requires minimal maintenance, and with a little knowledge, can help an engine operate at peak efficiency and performance. When electronic fuel injection first hit the automotive scene in the 1950s, it was wrought with problems. Tons of wires, sensors, and even computers, that are all busy using valuable electricity to calculate and automatically adjust the varying fuel and air needs of an engine. Certainly, many frustrated mechanics, even to this day, yearn for simpler times, and prefer working on carburetors. At its inception, electronic fuel injection was probably a bad idea, but over the decades, it has improved, and now carburetors for modern engine applications are nothing more than archaic. Fuel injection is far superior, and offers vastly improved engine performance in cars across all industries. (Despite this, carbs still have their uses.) Why do I bring this up? Because I’m glad there were innovators who pushed past that initial resistance, and knew they were onto something that would improve the automotive industry in an enormous way.
But what about the paper towel dispenser??? I noticed this at my gym a few days ago. There’s a simple paper towel dispenser on the wall. It’s basically a rectangular basket with a slot at the bottom. You put a stack of folded paper towels in the top, and pull one out the bottom. Every time you pull one out, the next one also comes partially out, ready for the next. Simple. Elegant. Efficient.
However, innovation has hit the paper towel dispenser. Firstly, someone thought they should build a mechanism that causes the towel to drop for you. So, more money went into it, and they built a bigger, more complicated towel dispenser that has a lever that you have to touch. Now we have a germ problem. So someone took the same dispenser, and put a LASER MOTION DETECTOR on the front, so you can wave your hand at it, and wait for it to reward you with a towel, 3 minutes and 42 seconds later. These devices are so predictably unreliable, that they usually include a horrifically not-user-friendly mechanical option, for those who need a towel in the event of a localized EMP burst, or the motion detector fails for the 72
nd time that day. After all this innovation, we have a towel dispenser that A) Spreads more germs B) uses electricity C) is more expensive and D) is harder to reload with towels.
The original dispenser (the one at my gym) has NONE of these disadvantages. You can take a towel, have it instantly, use minimal energy to do so, and spread ZERO germs. Also, reloading it is a piece of cake, it uses no electricity, costs less, and weighs a whole lot less. I call that a no-brainer.
This isn’t a statement against innovation, mind you. What I’m attempting to convey is that sometimes innovation (though this may be an abuse of the term) should involve looking backward. Some of you may remember the old toothpaste factory story. Basically a huge toothpaste company spent millions of dollars in R&D to solve a problem that was solved in 10 minutes by a factory worker and a $20 fan from Wal-Mart. I’m betting that the innovators who developed electronic fuel injection learned a lot of what they needed to know from the trusty old carburetor, but perhaps not so much with the paper towel dispenser.
Sometimes I think we can get so caught up in looking forward, and trying to think up these wonderful whirligig ideas when what could save us a ton of time, is to look back, and see if what we are dreaming of is actually better. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it… But if you can make it better, do it! I want to be known as an innovator. I like to invent things. I like to think of new ideas, think outside the box, and change how people think about things. We need to stay fresh. It helps us get work done in better and faster ways.
How does this relate to youth ministry? As organizations like ours look toward the future, we are constantly being reminded not to be stuck in the old way. This statement rings true: Never keep doing something a certain way simply because that’s the way you’ve always done it. We should always be willing to go back to square one, and reanalyze what we are doing. If Five17 were start today, from the ground up, would I build it any differently? This is a good question. Are there things that are happening “because that’s how we’ve always done it!”? If so, INNOVATE. But hold on to the good stuff. That is just as important. 
1 Thessalonians 5: 21
“…but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good.”