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In our effort to think outside the box, are we missing it?

“We’ve got to start thinking outside the box.”

This is a statement almost every leader, pastor or minister has said. For decades, creativity and innovation have been defined by a person’s ability to look beyond the traditional methods of the organization or church.

But in our effort to think outside the box—are we missing it? Could it be possible your next innovative idea will come from “inside the box” thinking?

These are questions I’ve wrestled with for a few months. Then, I heard this from Bobby Gruenewald at Catalyst Conference:

Innovation comes from ‘thinking inside the box’; believing God has given you everything you need despite constraints.”

If you’re not familiar with Bobby, he’s one of the creative geniuses behind YouVersion—so he knows a thing or two about innovation. After chewing on this idea, I spent some time comparing and contrasting these two approaches.

When we’re constantly trying to think outside the box, we:

  • Open ourselves up to constantly complaining about our restraints.
  • Are tempted to focus too much on creating the next big thing.
  • Might become guilty of only dreaming and never doing.
  • Start to rely on our ideas and strengths instead of God.

When we begin to think inside the box, we:

  • Look for solutions or improvements to current restraints.
  • Trust God and everything He’s given us.
  • Are more prone to use the talents and abilities God has given us.
  • Free ourselves to make a real impact and accomplish great things.

So … before you spend an entire day trying to think outside the box, spend some time inside that box, because that’s where the true innovation lies.

What are some of the benefits you’ve seen from thinking inside the box? How have you harnessed this idea to accomplish great things?   

Justin Lathrop With over a dozen years of local church ministry Justin has spent the last several years starting business' and ministries that partner with pastors and churches to advance the Kingdom. He is the founder of (now Vanderbloemen Search), Oaks School of Leadership, and all while staying involved in the local church. Justin is obsessed with connecting people to people and lives his life daily to make the world a smaller place. He now serves as a consultant in the area of strategic relations predominately working with the Assemblies of God, helping to build bridges with people and ministries to more effectively reach more people. He blogs regularly about what he has learned from making connection at

More from Justin Lathrop or visit Justin at

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  • Karl Ingersoll

    I have often felt that Great faith accepts what we have been given, as everything that we need, but changing our thinking is critical to innovation, in my opinion. To think differently is to think outside the box, from my perspective. I certainly appreciate Mr. Gruenewald and I read from YouVersion everyday but thinking inside the box, according to norms, would fail to stir me at any level.

  • $23313105

    Shaun, I hear what you are saying. So much pressure to innovate, but in truth we have not worked what we have now well. The temptation is to see the solution as change, when it fact it is fix what you got. I just left as pastor of a church after 15 years and it was an effort continually to keep ministry going. Everyone thinks the need is new ideas, when we have plenty of ideas. The battle is finding the laborers and steadfast commitment for the ones we already have.

    • ServantHeart2012

      I agree with your comment but am curious . . . who is “Shaun?”

      • $23313105

        Thanks. I double checked the writer of the article and must say I don’t know. Not good to send emails before 6:00am. :-)

  • Tanya

    I am a firm believer of that “old time religion”! We can get so caught up with programs that we don’t spend time really growing our personal relationship with God! When your relationship grows with the one true God that is when you can be used and the power of God can be seen even in just one person!

  • Pastjoe

    I once had a wise professor tell my that the Gospel must not, cannot change, but the way we share the Gospel must change according to the times and the people we share it with. The Good News must always be shared within the box of God’s Word. How we share it will differ from location to location and from culture to culture. You Version is sharing the Good News within the box of God’s word in a new way. We must always share in a way that is culturally relevant to those around us. Or as Paul said in I Corinthians 9:22 – “When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.” (NLT)

  • rdimpact

    God’s box is Huge!! We as humans shrink it. Stay inside it but remember Whose it is.

  • Aidan

    In the past I’ve heard myself complaining that I’m so regularly trying to think outside the box that the outside has become the box; my counter-norm innovations have become my new traditional norm. Really unusual and creative ‘out the box’ thinking would be to simply think inside someone else’s box, to get inspiration from what they do.

  • Hersh, or is it Harsh

    Is it me or did I not just see a month back or so here an article about the need TO think outside the box?ha ha ha

    • amos8

      No, it’s not you. They often present articles from different sides … or the give mixed messages.

  • Hank

    There is nothing new under the sun. Sometimes I think church leaders can fall into the idea that they need to come up with the “next big thing”. Something new and fresh that will revolutionize the church. Being creative is an awesome thing. God made us that way. The problem is when pride seeps in and twists our desire to please God to a desire to please man. Do what you want with the “box”, but we need to make sure our hearts are right before the Lord.

  • Pastor Dave

    This touches what some Old School Presbyterians called “the regulative principle” — that it is God, and not man, who has the right to define and regulate what worship is and how God Himself ought to be worshiped. So it is refreshing for me to hear that instead of inventing new things, that perhaps we should look at what God has already given us, and work with within that; Then, expect God to be faithful and make great things out of what He has already given us.

    Another angle on this article: Loaves & Fishes. We don’t need to invent new recipes to spice up barley rolls and dried fish in order to please the crowds, we need to give what God has given us back into the Master’s hands, and then hand out what He creates.

    Enjoyed the article. Thanks.

  • mkdb

    Whenever you exhaust what is inside the box (i.e. God’s Word) then we can talk about what is outside of the box.

  • justinlathrop

    Love all the discussion on my article. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

  • Billy Tang

    God is so varied that we can not possibly say he works in a box or outside a box. He can choose to see himself glorified in and outside of the box. Doesn’t matter how we are thinking if we stop trusting in God.
    I’ve marveled at how God uses certain individuals with quirky minds to see him glorified through Who Gives a Cow? campaigns and I’ve also seen God glorified in the simple let’s knock on doors and talk to people about Jesus.
    All done in love and reliance on the Holy Spirit = obedience

    • Andy Burkett

      Agreed! How can we think the words box when we are doing the works of the Lord and Creator!

  • lease of these

    as a young pastor….i too struggle with the idea of think outside the box….what i am learning is that if you don’t understand and manage effectively what is inside the box, in must cases we will miss the mark in dealing with what is outside the box. classic example our “modern church” in most instances have replaced evangelism with marketing strategies thus creating a audience of consumers rather than a church of converts and disciples of Jesus Christ. Jesus was a radical individual, however, He was not about replacing what was but improving on it. What was most important in Jesus’ action was to establish His Father’s Kingdom of earth not a mas following, popular practice or programmes to attain human exaltation but to God the will of God.

  • Shaun

    One Gospel One Truth One Way ! True freedom in Christ comes from the innermost part of your spirit. Once you totally surrender, ALL parameters that you’ve developed for God will fall down. It’s the unbelief that render’s our daily walk less than what it can be. Mark 9:24

  • Guest

    I think, like most things, it’s all in the balance. We need both.