Leading With Bold Imagination: Takeaways

I’ve filled half a notebook full of notes at this conference. I’ve struggled with these notes. What will I do with them now? There are so many important things that I’ve written down. So today, I simply decided to make a list of the things that challenged me and that I will take away as I work toward leading with Imagination that is truly bold. We had several speakers and leaders, so I’ll list their name, their role (preacher, image presenter) and then I’ll list the takeaways (nice and organized, just like I love it). Also, I link to their blog or website if I know it and it’s appropriate to do so.

Carol Howard Merritt (The preacher)

(Carol’s blog is linked above. She’s also the author of Reframing Hope and Tribal Church.)

The first night, Carol preached using Esther 4:1-14 and Ephesians 3:14-21. She taught us about Esther and how Esther had every reason to be frustrated and claim abandonment…but instead? She claimed a purpose and she believed that God will do for her more than she can ask or imagine. We, too, are called to bold imagination in “such a time as this.”

The second night, Carol preached using Miriam’s story in Exodus and Hebrews 11:1-12. She told the beautiful story of Miriam’s life and intertwined the story of a modern day church struggling to imagine what life could be like. Miriam was bold and she had hope that allowed her to continue to imagine what could be. I was in tears thinking about Miriam’s joy upon crossing the sea with the newly liberated Israelite people. She had been through so much and her response was joyful song and dance because her hope was realized.

Tonight (Wednesday), Carol talked about Mary (the mother of Jesus), and what it would have been like for her to realize she was pregnant in a culture that stoned unmarried, pregnant girls. Yet, Mary still hopes and imagines (the Magnificat of Luke 1 was used beautifully in worship). Mary was enough. I am enough. You are enough. Sometimes in the church we use scarcity language: there aren’t enough people to…there isn’t enough money to…But our narratives teach us that we have enough–in each other, in Christ who strengthens us. Our capacity for ministry isn’t based on numbers or possessions. We have enough.

The worship team: Mel Bringle, Eric Wall, Ann Laird Jones and Will Young

These four people (and people who supported them) led brilliantly creative worship services that used a variety of artistic expressions, musical styles, multicultural offerings and creative worship styles. A few ideas they gave me:

  • Intermingling Scripture readings. On the first morning, the Scripture passages were 1 Samuel 1 (the story of Hannah) and Acts 2 (the story of Pentecost). These passages were read by two people (one reading Hannah and one reading Pentecost), but they read them intertwined. So part of the Hannah story was read, then party of the Pentecost account. Then more Hannah. Then more Pentecost. Then more Hannah and finally, more Pentecost. Get those texts out and see if you can see how this could happen. It worked beautifully. In all of my experience with reading Scripture aloud or assigning others to do so, I had never considered doing it this way. I loved it.
  • At a talkback session with this team, Will Young mentioned that he ended a recent worship service with the Gloria Patri. Beautiful idea! I’m going to use that.
  • Hopefully you look at my posts about the beautiful worship spaces that Ann created throughout the weekend. Post 1; Post 2; Post 3.
  • Music is a big deal. And there is so much beauty in traditional music and newer music and church music from around the world. The music team did such a beautiful and imaginative job with their musical leadership and song choices.

Christine Yoder (Bible Scholar from Columbia Theological Seminary)

Christine led two incredible Bible studies that made me really miss my days at UE and my classes with James Ware, my Biblical Studies professor.

On Tuesday morning, she taught from 1 Samuel 1-2 and prayer as bold imagination.

  • Hannah’s prayer becomes a recommended model of prayer: prayer is personal, prayer is heart rending, prayer is bodied, and Hannah gives back from what she receives from God.
  • God is the creator of the world and so his exultation of the lowly (which figures into Hannah’s prayer) is woven throughout the entire created order.
  • Hannah refused to accept anything less than the very gift of God.

On Wednesday morning, her text was the entire Second Isaiah (Isaiah 40-55). That seemed like a big task–and it was–but she taught beautifully about the Imagination of the Prophet.

  • The moment you have to carry the weight of your ministry on your own shoulders, it has become an idol (referencing Isaiah 44:9-20)
  • God uses old forms in new ways.
  • God acknowledges God’s own abandonment of God’s people and this was part of the healing and reunification of God and the people. When people are hurting and feel abandoned by God, it is not useful or helpful to brush it off and remind them that God never leaves them. Sometimes what hurting people need is an acknowledgement of their loss and abandonment.

Image Presenters (an image presenter is basically with us to tell the story of their own Bold Imaginations and God’s work):

Thomas Daniel pastor at Kairos Church in Atlanta.

  • Thomas was our theme enabler. He did not teach, exactly, but he led our discussions after each Image Presenter. I didn’t want to leave him off the list because I learned a lot from him about facilitating discussions well!

Corey Widmer pastor at East End Fellowship, Richmond, VA

  • Churches often adopt an “8-Track Strategy:” There’s a need for new technology, but we respond by trying to make a better 8-track tape. The church needs innovation.
  • If our only measurement of success is the three B’s (Buildings, Budgets and Butts in seats), we will continue to fail.
  • A question to ask: “If we only do what we are currently doing, who will we never reach?”
  • Questions the church should ask are: What is God doing? Where is God sending us? What is God already doing in our community that we might become a part of?
  • We need new forms of church, but there is still a need for traditional church, too. In traditional churches, there may be leadership that seeks to do something new. Rather than being threatened by this, the church should encourage the imaginative leader to seek new ways even while the old ways continue.
  • True boldness is the conviction that NOTHING depends on us.
  • Failure can also be incorporated into God’s purpose. Failure is not a bad thing in God’s Kingdom because God can use even our worst failures for good.

Tina Carter pastor at Parker Lane United Methodist Church

  • Tina taught us a lot about generational poverty. In GP, possessions are not things, but relationships. In GP, moneys is not to be managed, but it is to be used, spent and shared. In GP, the understanding is not that you can be whatever you want to be, but that you will be what you’re fated to be.
  • Tina talked about doing ministry WITH the poor, as opposed to doing ministry FOR or TO or BECAUSE OF the poor. A video about this is found at ministrywith.org
  • Prayer is the first move in everything Tina and her church do. Their “board” meets 2 times each month. The first time they meet, they only pray. The second time they meet is for business.
  • Parker Lane does not allow scarcity language. They say God is always enough.
  • “I am nothing more, but nothing less, than a child of God.”
  • “I might have a good idea, but God has a good plan.”
  • When you hit a lull, trust that it’s just a lull. It’s not that you’re bad at your job. It’s not that the ministry has stopped. It’s just a lull. Breathe and relax.
  • Be aware of what’s needed and don’t be afraid to ask for it.

Tom Tewell leader of Macedonian Ministries in Atlanta, a ministry for Pastors

  •  The name of the ministry comes from Acts 16. Paul has a plan for ministry and the spirit of Jesus stops him and closes a door. Then Paul has a dream and is called to Macedonia. Sometimes God closes a door, and we think we’re finished…but that’s not the case at all.
  • Pastors and leaders need to be open to God’s new thing.
  • Tom prays with his hands open, rather than closed. He’s willing to give up the old things he’s doing if that’s God’s will, and he will accept the new things God places in his hands.
  • Leaders need to study the community and see what’s already there and happening.
  • Leaders need to create a space for people to be bold and imaginative.
  • We need to believe that everyone can have bold imagination–not just us.

Jay Thomas is the former pastor of College Park Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. Currently he’s working on a PhD at Emory.

  • The right question for churches to ask is “What is God already doing in our community and how can we be a part of it.”
  • He practiced “Listening to the Neighborhood.” He paid attention to the neighborhood. Then he formed relationships in the neighborhood.
  • There’s an urgency (a ticking clock) for every church: Are we doing what God has called us to do? If not, we need to DO IT!
  • There are different kinds of leadership. Transition and crisis calls for a different kind of leadership than is required at churches that are not in transition or crisis.
  • When staff appoints leaders to take on particular tasks or ministries, the staff should take all responsibility for dealing with complaints and grumbling from people who may not like what is happening.

It was an excellent conference in church leadership in a beautiful setting! I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be there!