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A whack on the side of the head

The provocatively titled reflection was inspired by the book on my shelves, 'A Whack on the Side of the Head' by Roger van Oech. The author is not suggesting that readers physically harm themselves but rather that they need something to shake them out of a rut in their thinking and reasoning every now and then. This business book helps readers break through mental barriers and open their minds to new ideas and possibilities. So, what might it offer us as followers of Jesus?

In last week's post, I discussed the significance of having solid foundations and being rooted in our communities, gradually gaining insight and vision from God. This week, I'd like to suggest the importance of using our imagination and dreams to picture God's kingdom as fully present.

Imagination is the ability to make, change, and use mental models of events or situations that don't yet exist. I believe it is one of the key methods to exploring God's possibilities and opportunities arising from our challenges. Using imagination may seem like a frivolous luxury when in a tough spot. Still, it's essential if we don't want to get paralysed by the problems that will invariably come our way. I know from bitter experience the challenges of getting stuck in my thinking about a particular challenge. I believe David Pawson once said, “The only difference between a rut and the grave is the depth!”

You are aware of my caution in uncritically adopting business practices into the church; however, I am intrigued that some of the most successful and profitable businesses today have heavily invested in research and development during times of challenge and change. Is it time for the rural church to receive a whack on the side of its head and imagine what could be? By using our creative imagination and dreaming of what could be, we will do more than adapt to the new environment and culture we find ourselves in; we can shape it!

So, how do we begin? First and foremost, it is the creation of time for reflection and prayer. Unless we stand back, pray, and reflect, the chances of us seeing the bigger picture, let alone a possible future, are slim.

Second, we should ask ourselves active questions. In a crisis, the most natural questions are passive, such as "What will happen to us?"

On the other hand, the possibility of shaping events to God's preferred future tends to emerge when we ask active questions, such as "How can we create new possibilities from this?" Suppose we were to employ imagination in this process. In that case, a good active question is, "If we were starting afresh, what sort of church would we plant?" Working back from the answer to this question may give us valuable insights into what could change and develop now.

Third, we must give ourselves permission to be playful and creative. When we are in full crisis mode, we lose sight of our ability to improvise. In addition to providing much-needed stress relief, being playful and creative can be very productive. When we relax from our regular, goal-driven, pragmatic approach, we can make interesting, new connections between ideas.

Fourth, create spaces for people to collaborate on ideas and experiments. The key is to allow new ideas to be shared while they are still in development by creating forums for people to communicate casually, free of hierarchy, reports, permissions, or financial justifications.

Fifth, try new things and allow for failure. Natural systems are most resilient when diverse, which comes from experimenting with new ways of doing things. Ideas are only useful if they are given room to be tested and generate unexpected outcomes. This is what can spark further thought and new ideas. Ole Kirk Christiansen, the founder of the LEGO Brand, originally made homes and household products, such as wooden ladders and ironing boards, until the Great Depression of the 1930s forced him to experiment, and he tried building toys. You know the rest…

Finally, stay hopeful. When we lose hope and adopt a passive mindset, we give in to discouragement and lose faith in God's ability to see a different future for us. Remember, God is the same God who creates a universe upon exhaling a breath. That same God is still on the throne. He hasn't retired nor grown hard of hearing. Let's discover God's possibilities together through imagination, experimentation, and generosity of spirit. It is then I believe we will see these possibilities become reality, and a world transformed by Jesus.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21 (TNIV)

Simon Mattholie CEO, Rural Ministries


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