One thing, I will call it a spiritual discipline, that I am working on practicing is that of imagination. In order for me to minister effectively and to be an effective pastor, I need to have a vivid imagination when I view my world.
It is very easy to look around my church and see only the surface. I see the water damage, and places where the water continues to seep in through the walls. I see the cracked plaster, imperfections in the walls, paint that has suffered decades of life and is dirty and smudged. Places where the carpet is torn, and places where there is more tape than carpet. I can look out at the neighborhood and see pieces of trash littering the edging of the curbs, I see condemned houses with the windows and doors boarded up. I see houses with broken windows which are covered in plastic in an attempt to keep the rain, snow, and wind at bay. I see graffiti tags on the sidewalks, buildings, and signs, broken picket fences.
The problem arises if I am not able to look past the surface. If all that I every see is only the above, no fruit will ever arise out of my time here. I need the imagination to be able to see past the surface, to see what lies below the surface, to see not only what is, but what could be.
The question I must continually ask myself is this: can I imagine the new heaven and new earth in the midst of our neighborhood? If I can’t imagine this, then I have no vision for the future, and if I have no vision for the future, I cannot carry on ministering to my congregation and my community. A vivid imagination is not just wishful thinking, it is the practice of hope.
“Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:24-25). Imagination does not always lead to hope, but hope always requires imagination. In order to have a concrete hope, we need to be able to imagine something more than what is. It is this imagination that leads to hope that allows us to remain steadfast. The word translated as “patience” above can also be translated as steadfastness, perseverence, fortitude, endurance. So this is not simply being patient as in passively waiting for something to happen, but hope allows us to remain steadfast, to have endurance, to continue to persevere.
If there was nothing more to our church or our neighborhood than meets the eye, than it would be pointless to try to live into our calling, because all that will be, already is. However, if we can have the imagination to see below the surface, which drives us to hope that God can transform our neighborhood and our church, that drives us on into the future, that drives us to discern our calling and to try to live it out, this drives us to continue ministering in our neighborhood, and to continue our small ministry, in our small neighborhood, in the midst of a big city.
The development of pastoral imagination is something that I need to work on, and it is something that I need to continue to grow in, and something for which to ask for grace, because it is central to pastoral ministry, not only here, but everywhere.