I truly enjoy my work with the Missional Wisdom Foundation. As the Director of Operations many of my tasks focus on the logistics and details of our various ministries and efforts. As our organization grows, the IT aspects of my job have also become increasingly complex. The crazy part is that I’m not a detail person by nature, nor do I have any formal training in IT. I’m out of my comfort zone and “expertise” fairly often. While this isn’t always pleasant, it has been incredibly beneficial. I’ve been forced to stretch and grow aspects of myself that would be very easy to leave dormant. Like physical exercise and balanced diet, I believe these challenges are slowly reshaping me into a healthier person.
They’ve also helped me appreciate even more the aspects of my work that do come more naturally. I love teaching. A lot. I love the process of coaching and walking alongside folks as they explore their own calling, decide to take risks and then step out onto the edge.
Of all my tasks, teaching the first course in the Academy – The Missional Imagination – is probably the most exciting. Participants in The Academy are excited about the possibility of something new and more authentic – but many are also unsure, confused, intimidated or even a little terrified by the thought. I have the honor of helping them begin to see more clearly.
As we spend time over the first six weeks exploring the need for and the practice of a missional imagination my prayer is that we begin to envision the ways we can go by staying, because, as Wilson-Hartgrove claims, “If real life with God can happen anywhere at all, it can happen here among the people whose troubles are already evident to us.”1
A missional orientation elicits a tangible response from disciples of Jesus. This is not an ivory tower philosophy, it is recognition of a call to be answered with our intellect, our emotions and most certainly our actions. However, it cannot be stressed enough that missional is not simply an adjective to be placed alongside a program, model or pragmatic list of activities.
Though it carries a significant call to active faith, missional is an orientation (who we are) rather than a program (what we do). The cultivation of a missional approach to faith does not originate in a study of best practices of business, vibrant churches or high-profile individuals. It is not a church growth strategy developed through market analysis. First and foremost missional is a theological issue rooted in our encounter with the one true God of the universe; modeled in the text of scripture, witnessed in the life of the early church and evident throughout our history.
This Missional Imagination course is concerned with the role of missionally oriented imagination regarding the themes of God, scripture, discipleship, worship and community. Imagination is used by advertisers, movie and television producers, motivational speakers, politicians, personal trainers, psychologists and even infomercial gurus. Imagination cultivates us as the germination ground for the seeds of revolution, reform, embodiment of particular ideals or commitment to a particular brand, product or cause.
Imagination is what we experience when a story takes root in our mind. As tendrils of the narrative spread, new regions of brain activity are ignited. Once our imagination is fully engaged, we not only hear the story but we see the story; we can smell it, taste it, touch it…experience it. There are those who believe that the imagination is just for keeping children occupied. They are sorely mistaken. Imagination is an essential aspect of development during childhood. Imagination helps young people explore their world, discover their place in the story, develop the confidence to face monsters and pursue dreams.
Imagination is significantly more than entertainment for children and its significance does not dissipate in the transition to adulthood.
No organized sporting contest, no battle for liberation, no educational reform, no campaign for office, no quest for a corner office, no cry for release from captivity, no response to that cry, no charitable organization or humanitarian cause has ever been conceived or realized without the assistance of the imagination. It is our window into the world that could be. In the case of the missional imagination, its our window into the world that should be, can be and will be through the power of God.
Missional imagination is the ability to see a day in the future when you and your elderly (and to this point barren) wife have become the ancestors of a people that outnumber the sands on the beach and the stars in the sky. It equips us to envision a valley of dry bones being knitted together by God, with life breathed into places formerly inhabited only by death.
A missional imagination inspires conviction and courage in the face of seemingly hopeless odds. This is why in Isaiah 61:3b-4 the prophet, despite contemporary evidence to the contrary, could say:
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his spendor.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.
The missional imagination can take a simple mustard seed, or perhaps a handful of seeds, a coin, a sheep, a lump of bread dough or a lamp on its stand, and transform them into a vision of an entirely new reality.
And this is our goal.
…Yes, I enjoy my work with the Missional Wisdom Foundation.
1 Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture (Brewster MA: Paraclete Press, 2010), 24.
In my class on the Missional Imagination students are required to select a “missional space” for the duration of the course (and hopefully beyond). The only requirements for selection are that it must be local, public and regularly accessible. So, for instance, if they live in Fort Worth, their location shouldn’t be a favorite hangout in Dallas (unless they drive there every day for work), it shouldn’t be a church building or their living room and it shouldn’t be someplace like Six Flags that they can only afford to visit a couple times a year.
Beyond that, they can choose just about anywhere. A coffee shop, local bar, grocery store, community center, town square, neighborhood park – or in some instances, perhaps even their front yard.
Each week part of the course curriculum involves spending time in this location. The first assignment is simply to describe what they see. What are the sounds and smells of the place? How is the place decorated? How would they describe the atmosphere? What do they notice about the people? Is this a place where people come for escape or connection? Do people notice each other or keep their heads down as they go about their business?
And what we often discover is that we’ve seen a place a million times without ever seeing it.
As the course progresses I ask them to look again. When we talk about the missional imagination, we’re talking about the ability to see what could be, can be and will be as the kingdom of God breaks in more fully. Where is the kingdom of God already breaking in here? Where does this place and these people desperately need God’s kingdom more fully?
What do you see?
I believe that most, if not all, of us could benefit from someone walking alongside us all day long asking this question. “Wait. What do you see?”
Because our temptation is simply not to see. Perhaps its a matter of convenience, self-absorption, frustration or fear, but we just don’t see. We don’t see the stuff that is right in front of us…so how can we possibly see what could be? Whenever people ask me to help them think through ways to engage a more missional orientation to faith, this is one of the first questions I ask.
Whenever someone complains that missional – or any other – theology is too abstract or theoretical, this is one of the first questions I ask. Whenever someone says that they aren’t sure what they’re supposed to do with their life, don’t know how to move from intellectual to holistic faith, don’t know where to begin…I ask, “What do you see?”
Everywhere we look, if we will look, there are signs of God at work and there are signs that the people of God need to cry out for God’s ministry of reconciliation, redemption and rescue.
So, what do you see?