We are living through a very interesting time. Many of the things we previously took for granted as ‘normal’ have been swept away. This pandemic, and the future beyond it, has thrust us into uncharted territory. Huge changes can lead us into periods of doubt and inertia, or we can choose to view them as a season of new opportunity where we can think differently, form new collaborations, and do some spiritual and missional exploration.

Imagination and reimagination

The Oxford Dictionary defines imagination as mental faculty for forming images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses,” and the ability of the mind to be creative and resourceful.” Imagination involves taking time to be creative, to develop unknown worlds. It is forming in our minds external objects which we can’t see, hear, touch, and so on. I suggest it is going to a place where we seek to discern what might be’ rather than living always in the what is’.

If we spend a lot of time around children, we will see how they naturally use imagination – taking external things and reinventing them in their minds. A couple of times I have done a random little test where I ask a few of my friends to draw a house. They all do a great job although, admittedly, some are better artists than others. Most go for grey, white or black, with four windows and a door in the middle. Some add a cute little gate, others sketch a garden – you get the picture. I also ask a few children to draw a house. They all know what a house looks like, but the houses they draw are bright blues and purples, some have one window, a couple don’t even have a typical house shape. These are not houses I’ve ever seen before.

That exercise came back to me the other day while watching Grand Designs, when a participant on the programme asked why their house needed to look like most other houses. They were going to build the house of their dreams, and though it was a struggle because it was so different, they got there in the end.

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I believe that we follow an amazing and creative God who fires our imagination through His beauty and His story. However, often in church life, I see that imagination and creativity take a back seat to efficiency and maintenance. Let me be clear: I do believe that some order and structure is important, but some of us are so busy keeping the ship going forward – moving rapidly, doing pastoral care, engaging with lay leadership and so on – that we have very little time to see beyond where we are.

Why is all this so important today? I believe that we are moving into a rapidly changing season, one which has been forced upon us by the pandemic. A season that causes fear and uncertainty, and perhaps one where we need to use a bit more imagination about the possibilities ahead rather than mourning where we have been. The temptation will be to try and keep hold of what we have and to get as close to the old norm as possible, but might God be calling us to stop, listen and reimagine, to find new possibilities even in the most challenging circumstances? I want to point out two areas of reimagining that I feel are important in this season.

Firstly, the reimagining of the possibilities of how God could use you. Many of us have filled roles within church and organisational structures for many years. For some we can’t even remember why we took up these roles – sometimes just because no one else would. Others, perhaps more in leadership positions, have worked in a particular way for a long time, and it has served well. However, this is a time to wait on God, read His word, and listen. Imagining the difference you could e make as you see new areas that the Spirit might be taking you. Can you imagine yourself changing the way you do things, or even doing different things altogether?

Secondly, I want to think about prophetic imagination. Much has been written about this and I just want to highlight a couple of things that I hope will make you want to reflect more. By prophetic I don’t mean predictive, but rather those who listen to God, understand culture, and begin to see a God-way forward. People who hear the voice of the Spirit and the cry of others – listening to both God and culture. People like Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Jesus all challenged the views of the prevailing narrative around them and believed that God was able to do so much more. Sometimes this led to grief, and at other times to a sense of burden. However, at its heart is the belief that in God there can be a different community and a different story that lead to new ways of being: ways of freedom, forgiveness, transformation and hope. It is to begin to articulate the possibilities in God and to see your place in them.

To work for and engage in prophetic imagination is to speak, live and minister in ways that challenge the prevailing systems, whether they are found in the church, our communities or our country. In doing this we can offer a freshness and a hope, a newness that points to futures that lift others to possibility. It is the sharing of vision that enables yourself and others to break free from apathy and acceptance, and believe that in God things might change.

We cannot implement a new church, community or society until we can reimagine these things. To imagine is to wait upon God and then to use language to share a transformative, challenging set of possibilities. I believe that the time we find ourselves in enables us both personally and as a leadership or community to ask questions about what things could look like.

Questions

  1. How might I spend time waiting upon God?
  2. What might be my biggest challenges to sharing new possibilities?
  3. Might this be a time when you are able to imagine your life/​ministry differently?
  4. Could we begin to articulate a vision that gives hope of other possibilities for those around us?

To imagine is to wait upon God