DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Legacy and Innovation

Written by: on September 9, 2019

Let me begin by saying that I had the privilege of visiting Oxford in February 2019 with my housemates.  We all readily agreed that Oxford was one of our favorite places we visited on our European excursion.  A friend of ours was attending one of the colleges, so she and her fiancé knew all of the ins and outs of the town and were able to show us around.  While we wandered the streets and marveled at the beauty of the architecture and cool “university town vibes” Oxford had, I couldn’t help but reflect on why Oxford stood out above all of the other places we had traveled.  At the core of these feelings, it was the overwhelming sense of Oxford’s legacy that weighed on my mind, something that The Secret History of Oxford hits upon.

Reading through the book, one of the things that stuck out was just how rich the history of Oxford is.  Even though the book is a short and light-hearted romp through the town’s history, one cannot help but reflect upon the legacy that Oxford has left upon the world.

When my housemates and I were planning our trip through Europe (a fast paced five countries in ten days experience), we settled on staying in Oxford for two days to finish the trip.  Our old housemate had moved to Oxford with his fiancé a few months before and we wanted to experience it through his eyes.  But while that was the “surface motive” for going to Oxford, I pushed it for an ulterior reason: I wanted to visit The Eagle and Child.

For me, visiting The Eagle and Child was a sort of holy pilgrimage.  I’m an avid reader of fantasy and have always dreamed of publishing my own fantasy novels.  When one thinks of fantasy, the first name that will likely come to mind is JRR Tolkien, the father of what today is considered “epic fantasy.”  Add to the fact that this was pub that Tolkien met with CS Lewis (another big influencer in the development of my spiritual life), and it was a no-brainer that we needed to visit it.

When we finally arrived and sat down, my friends and I kept joking around, saying things like, “I bet Tolkien and Lewis sat right there” or “We just stepped where JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis stepped on their way to the restroom.”  Yet, at the same time there was a semblance of almost being on holy ground.  I couldn’t help but wonder, “What conversations were had here?”  The Eagle and Child bears with it a legacy and it bears that weight well.  And yet, at the same time I couldn’t help but wonder, “What are the conversations happening here right now?”

Oxford is special not just because it has rich legacy, but because that conversation isn’t over.  As we walked the streets, we saw many university students walking along with their friends.  These young scholars come to the university with dreams – dreams that further the legacy that is continuously being written there.  This legacy may look different in the years to come, but it is built on the backs of those who came before.

For true innovation is built on the back of tradition and legacy.

Let me continue with Tolkien to elaborate this point.  For many, JRR Tolkien is seen to be father of epic and high fantasy.  The themes he uses (which in and of themselves are not unique, but an innovation on classic mythological texts), the archetypes of his characters (again, an innovation or inspiration of classic myths), and even the creatures he uses (once again, innovation or drawn directly from classic myths) have become the benchmark of what people know about fantasy.  If one were to read the vast amount of literature that came after Tolkien, one can easily see his influence on their writing.

Robert Jordan, the author of The Wheel of Time series and often regarded as the “modern day Tolkien”, once said in an interview that the opening chapters of his first novel The Eye of the World were written in a way that would purposely evoke the imagery of the Shire.  Jordan introduces the reader to a vast cast of characters that journey from the small town of Emmond’s Field under the guide of a “wise wizard”-type character, Moiraine, because the Dark One is hunting this unseemly party of farm kids.  Is Jordan’s work original?  In many ways, yes.  However, it is built on the foundation that Tolkien laid with the publishing of The Lord of the Rings.

Innovation can be seen in all areas of life.  If one were to look at who influenced their favorite musician, one can likely find interviews where the musicians points out an older musician who influenced their sound.  I remember watched a History of the Eagles documentary where the band members shared who some of their biggest influences were or which ones inspired them to learn to play music.  They are building on the foundation of those who came before them.

As leaders, what does this notion of “legacy” have to do with us?  In my undergraduate program, I was required to take a General Baptist Heritage class (my school was sponsored by the General Baptists).  The professor was an older General Baptist preacher who was working at a local Methodist church as an interim pastor.  One day, as we were discussing the material, he looks at our class and tells us how important having a heritage is.  In a moment of musing, he said, “You know, for me the hardest thing to see is many of these ‘non-denominational’ churches.  I often wonder what they have to fall back on when things get tough.”

I remember that this statement struck me fairly hard.  I had never considered the implications of tradition, history, or legacy at this point.  As General Baptists, we had a history that we were carrying with us or that we could look back on to see how things have changed.  It was a history that molded and shaped us into who we were today.

But that doesn’t stop the process of innovation.  When we look back at our history and our legacy, we see where it is we come from and can have an idea of where we are heading.

As we step into our Doctor of Ministry program, we follow the steps of those who came before us.  We step into their legacy as much as we form our own.  We step into the mistakes that were made, but we also step into the triumphs that were celebrated as well.

And that is something to be excited about.

About the Author


Dylan Branson

Small town Kentuckian living and learning in the big city of Hong Kong.

7 responses to “Legacy and Innovation”

  1. mm Steve Wingate says:

    Oh the process! A friend of mine said on the day of his death, “enjoy all the processes of life.” Can I tell you that I really don’t enjoy them all! You wrote, “We step into the mistakes that were made, but we also step into the triumphs that were celebrated as well.”

    Agreed. I want to add that our steps are history for future students and faculty, too. Let me learn well Jesus for my transformation and to aid those coming after me.

  2. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    I almost posted on Oxford’s legacy as an incubator for innovation as well. My innovative theory takeaway was the power of a broad, yet unified “brand.” Starbucks has this with brick and mortar stores, stores attached to grocery stores, and simply their coffee served in hotel rooms and cafes. Oxford’s brand is broad in that it make space for different viewpoints (royalists and republicans, Catholics and Protestants, to name a couple), while remaining under the umbrella brand that is Oxford. Innovation happens on the fringes, and too much control will stifle it.

    Innovation theory is moving away from the lone genius model and moving towards the collective genius model – arranging people in their strengths, incubating them in the right culture, and giving them a meaning problem to solve. Thanks for the reminder of innovating from a posture of acknowledging, respecting and learning from the past.

  3. Nancy Blackman says:

    Isn’t that the fascinating aspect of legacy? It is spoken about many years after. How we step into the same places of many before us with a new, innovative way of thinking allows us to make our own mistakes while learning the mistakes and triumphs of others. This entanglement, if you will, allows us to be a part of something that was and create something new.

    I would push back on your professor of General Baptist Heritage and the statement made about non-denominational churches. Non-denominational churches “fall back” into the arms of Jesus. The churches that I have been a part of do and have.

    In the end, I think we are all where we might need to be for that moment and season.

    What kind of legacy do you hope to leave? And how do you imagine London and Oxford being a part of that legacy?


    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      That’s a good point about falling back into the arms of Jesus. I think part of it at that time was that non-denominational churches weren’t widely known in my area (not saying that they weren’t around; but for the most part you would find Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, and Church of Christ churches in that particular area of southern Indiana/Kentucky).

      I ask that question of legacy all the time. I always tell my colleagues when I’m teaching that when the day comes I have to leave my current school, if my kids don’t learn a lick of English, what I want them to know is that they’re loved. But I guess you never truly know the legacy you leave behind until you’re gone.

  4. mm Greg Reich says:

    I know little about Innovation Theory but there is a classic question when studying statistics that came to mind when I read your post. “How many molecules of a famous person do you inhale every time you breath? This is known as a”Fermi Problem” where answers are sought to answer seemingly impossible questions. The science in finding the answer is far beyond my capabilities but the result found was that by breathing we regularly inhale carbon molecules that have been exhaled by famous people over the centuries. Some where someone will be inhaling carbon molecules you and I have exhaled. When looking at Oxford and the legacy of impact of individuals that have gone before us I can’t help but be humbled. I have no clue how this visit to London and Oxford will impact me but I do know I will not return the same person as when I arrived.

  5. Darcy Hansen says:

    Dylan, I appreciate the richness of the words you have shared. Thank you. I do so hope you will share with us some of the treasures you discovered during your previous visit to Oxford.

    Legacy is such a tricky thing. On NPR the other day they were remarking on the legacy Trump will leave on the US as President. It was noted that regardless of what he does, he will always be known as a reckless bafoon (my summary of conversation content). There is something to be said for those who utilize tradition to both stabilize and propel them into new endeavors. As one who attended a non-denominational church for many years, I would agree with your professor that at some point they have little to fall back on, and because of that somewhere along the way they lose their sense of identity. Again though, that is only my experience, as I did see that Nancy’s was contrary to mine. Still, how we live impacts not only our present and future, but it shapes the past others will look upon and learn from. I’m excited to sit in historical sites and wonder with you about all the conversations that happened in those spaces and the impact they left on that which we know to be true today.

  6. mm John McLarty says:

    I especially enjoyed your recollection of the time spent at the pub- imagining sitting in the presence of past heroes, walking where they walked. Old places have a way of both capturing and unleashing our imagination. In many ways, this is what good liturgy can accomplish. If we believe that worship exists in both the kairos and chronos understanding of time, then we can not just imagine standing where they stood, we can experience their presence with us in the moment.

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