Over the years that we’ve worked with churches, it’s been our observation that of the four critical elements of healthy, effective churches—Integrity (systems, processes, organizational wholeness), Passion (communal commitment to the mission), Servanthood (outward focus), and Imagination (change capacity and innovation)—the most avoided one is Imagination.
We define Imagination as the ability of a church (or any organization) to envision possibilities that transcend past and present realities. People are open to new opportunities and experimentation is encouraged. At the same time, change is not made for the sake of change, but rather for the sake of remaining relevant and productive, or fruitful to use Jesus’ terminology. Imagination is woefully neglected in most churches and often feared. Organizational innovation and creativity take hard work and by nature require leaving something behind. The “something” could be:
a ministry philosophy
a deep-rooted fear of change
a polity that values conformity over creativity
an entrenched “power person” holding a church hostage
a fear of monetary loss
Business author Harvey Mackay once recounted a story about a couple with a new dog who chased and barked at a baby squirrel trapped up in a tree. As the squirrel jumped to another branch, it missed and fell right into the mouth of the dog who quickly downed the little furry Snausage. They later reported that for years, the dog would sit underneath the tree looking up waiting for another squirrel to drop out of the sky. Some of our churches and organizations are like that dog. We’re stuck in reactive patterns and haven’t had any innovation or spiritual breakthroughs in decades. What’s worse, some lack such little organizational self-awareness that they don’t even know they are spiritually stuck. Some long for a return of the “glory days” when the church was at its peak. The problem is: it was a different time, a different context, and a different culture. And the church is still looking up at the same tree waiting for something to drop. It never will. Why? Because the situation, conditions, and frame of reference have changed. In other words: the context is very different. Right after Jesus reminded his followers how valuable they were and if they would chase after his Kingdom, everything they really needed in life would be given to them, the greatest Change Agent the world has ever known followed that sentiment with this:
“I’ve come to change everything, turn everything rightside up—how I long for it to be finished! Do you think I came to smooth things over and make everything nice? Not so. I’ve come to disrupt and confront!”
LUKE 12:49-51 THE MESSAGE BIBLE
Sitting under the same tree with your mouth open simply won’t work. Maybe it’s time for some disruption via innovation. I’m afraid if we won’t do it, God will.
And if history teaches us anything, it's always better if we first willingly and prayerfully initiate it.
Dave Workman | ELEMENTAL CHURCHES
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