I can’t remember exactly where I first read it, but I came across this thought again yesterday that we should do ministry out of imagination, not just out of memory. Mark Batterson, who may be the first writer I found this from, writes: “One of the great dangers of leadership is this: we stop doing ministry out of imagination and we start doing ministry out of memory. We learn how and forget why. We stop creating the future and start repeating the past.“
Unfortunately, I think many of us in ministry are prone to this danger. We fall prey to the inertia of a sort of ‘ministry muscle memory’. Instead of working to build new muscle, we’ve lived through the ‘annual cycle’ of church life so many times that ministry is at least partially automated; we just show up and do it all again. We’ve learned how and forgotten why.
I’ll explore some of these later, but for now, here’s a list of thoughts about why this may be the case: (please add to it in the comments section)
– Disconnection from God – If we are not extremely intentional about spending time with the Creator who crafted us for ministry in the first place, our imagination and creativity will suffer. He’s the source of creativity.
– Being Tired (or Lazy) – Sometimes, it’s just easier to brush of an old message than to wrestle with a new one.
– Misunderstanding of Leadership – For some, leadership in ministry is tantamount to preserving the past. Imagination is needed to pioneer – but maybe not so necessary to maintain the status quo.
– Past Success vs. an Uncertain Future – If a particular part of our ministry has gone over well, it’s tempting to not fix what isn’t broken. The logic is sound. But what if my ministry now needs a rocket instead of my good-enough-as-it-is bike to get where God is leading?
– Painful Circumstances – Hurting people hurt other people. In ministry, often hurting people hurt us. Church splits, miscommunicated messages, death or illness… these things hurt church leaders deeply and when we hurt, it’s comforting to lean back into familiar territory – to rest in places we already know are safe.
– Given up Hope – When it seems like things just aren’t going the way we’d hoped, it’s tough to muster up the energy it takes to move from imagination to action. God may be filling our imaginations with great ideas, but when we give up the hope of Him carrying them out, it becomes too exhausting and we slip into cruise control.
– Keeping up Appearances – Let’s admit it, churches play the Joneses game, too. When the church down the road gets a new, flashy sign, suddenly our little nameplate isn’t quite as impressive. Instead of imagination, we simply copy someone else’s because it worked for them.
Over the next week or so, I’d like to dig into each of these a little bit on an individual basis. Maybe you have other reasons you’ve seen yourself or others slip into memory mode. I’d love to have your input here and get some good discussion going as to why this happens and what we can do to more effectively engage our imaginations in doing what God has called us to do.
So, what do you think?
*I know that some of you who read this may not really be that comfortable in the online world – maybe this is a good time to stretch yourself and jump into the dialogue… Use the “comments” link below to leave your thoughts.