Thursday, February 07, 2013

Imagine that

My little post the other day about how we respond to the House of Commons vote coincided with a blog post I read from David Fitch about mission statements and shared imagination. The two are not directly linked in any except in the small chain of ideas that they set in motion in my head.

David's point was along the lines that a church needs a shared imagination maybe more than a mission statement, and it was that word imagination that stirred my thinking. As I reflected on the commons vote it was our imagination, or lack of it that that I think at times gets in the way of engaging with the real issues. It's a bit of a balancing act to get it right. It doesn't take much research to see that there have been times when our imagination has run away with poor theology and set up home in some distant land far from Biblical truth. But how far is far away? For some, one step from a literal interpretation of scripture is a step too far, for others nowhere far enough to engage with our ever changing society. It's a tough call.

And yet, without imagination, without thinking the odd, strange, wild thought, we might never make any progress. Continuing to do the same thing over and over again and expecting different results should not actually require the intellect of Einstein to highlight its absurdity. But isn't that exactly what life without imagination condemns us to do?

The danger in church life is that we take this further. First we sanctify what we do and then we justify it by building a scriptural base for it. Then we enshrine it as tradition and at some point it becomes the unchangeable pattern, the only pattern that reflects the truth. Then we keep doing it. Then, and this is where it gets absurd, we start to blame the unchurched for not doing this way too. We start to blame those who don't come to church for not coming, those who don't share our beliefs for not sharing them. We blame the darkness for being dark as if it had the power to become light all by itself.

The light still shines, but it no longer shines in the darkness. It shines among the safety of all the other lights. We preach the gospel to the converted because at least they appreciate and understand it. They know the language and the rules.

We need our imaginations if we are going to survive and flourish. We need our imaginations if we are going to engage with our ever changing culture in ways that offer redemption without marginalisation of the very people we know God wants to redeem. Without our imagination we may find it easy to stay faithful to the gospel, but we will fail to be able to engage meaningfully with our culture. We will miss generations and tribes because they don't fit our model and our model is so very precious.

I don't know what this model will look like. I wish I did. I wish I could describe to you how we are successfully planting a faith community where we live, seeing lives transformed as people encounter Jesus without the trappings of a church building or programme. But I can't because it hasn't happened yet. Maybe one day it will, maybe one day my imagination will finally bear fruit!

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