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Why your Imagination matters in ministry

Why your Imagination matters in ministry
 

During my seminary years I worked as a trauma MRI tech at a University Hospital in South Carolina.  On one of my first days at work, the mentor assigned to oversee me shared a profound insight: one of the greatest assets in saving patients’ lives was our human imagination.

She was so right!  Over the next four years I found myself in repeated situations where creativity, intuition and thinking outside the box led to lives being saved.

We worked within an organization that recognized and validated the importance of every team member’s creative abilities and structured our environment to help keep us fresh.  We were often reminded to get consistent breaks outside the unit, vary our roles on the team and make sure that we never worked more than a few days straight.  Our team leader was almost religious about it, always saying that if we didn’t mix things up, learn how to laugh, set small goals and just simply enjoy life, we wouldn’t have the imaginative energy needed when the time came.

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More recently, I’ve started working on doctoral studies, and I’ve found myself reinvigorated by a new cohort of friends collaborating in an imaginative learning environment. I’ve been asked to step outside of my typical box as I engage with students, teachers, and writers from around the world. It’s an experience I’m deeply grateful for, and one that I find is continually inviting me to stretch my imagination.

For example, in one of my readings, I was struck by the concept of “Anhedonia.” Yeah, I had never heard of it either.  Anhedonia is essentially the inability to experience pleasure.  Many in job situations where work is tedious and non-intermittent begin to experience a quasi-anhedonia.  This quasi-anhedonia is a milder form of the full-blown thing, but when displayed by a team member or leader, it can have devastating effects on the organization.  It’s a precursor to burnout, and if it’s not addressed, it can have significant impacts on our lives and ministries.

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Those who study Anhedonia in organizations, suggest various ways that teams can counteract the subtle slip into monotony. Here are three that I found especially poignant for those of us working in church contexts:

1. A Sense of Flow

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says it this way, “We need to rediscover a sense of “flow”, a feeling comprised of exhilaration, concentration, and such total involvement in what we’re doing that we lose all sense of time.”  You know what he’s talking about.  Work in a way that you enjoy but also in a way in which you are able to partake in life.  We work hard, but we also laugh, dream, rest…  and then we work hard again.  And before we know it, the day is done!

2. Needing a Challenge

Challenge is absolutely essential because it forces all of us to learn.  If we work predominantly without challenge, merely managing our day, our senses become blurred.  Built into every human being is the hunger to create, explore and move beyond the mundane.  Churches that help their leaders through creating opportunities, fuel the souls of their workers.  The natural outflow then becomes a healthier worker, work environment and organization.

3. Needing Small Milestones

We all need milestones.  Have you ever been on a long distance road trip and found yourself counting down the green mile markers along the highway?  They give hope.  Without small accomplishments along any journey or even a work day, our work can become monotonous. Within our flow we must set small goals, and once accomplishing those goals celebrate the win.  If we simply get locked into nonstop work, never celebrating, never pausing to taste what is good, we are in grave danger of dulling our senses and losing our human imagination.

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I wonder where you’re at. Do you find yourself in your own version of a quasi-anhedonia, trudging along without a sense of vision? Be careful you’re not becoming a dead leader running.  Ask yourself the question, “What can I do to regain a sense of excitement in my work?  How can I re-invent myself?  If human imagination is the most meaningful asset I have to offer an organization, how can I unleash my specific gifting within this imagination?”

My prayer is that you find a sense of flow, capture a compelling challenge, and celebrate the little milestones in your ministry.

Rick Rhoads
Professor of Student Min at Lancaster Bible College
Rick is the Director of the Student Ministry Majors at Lancaster Bible College. He has served as an Assistant Professor in Student Ministry at LBC for the past 7 years. Over the past 18 years, he has served in various Student Ministry roles at Lebanon Valley YFC, LCBC, Calvary Bible Church, and Riverbend Community Church. Rick, his wife Naomi, and their two children Grace and Eli live East Petersburg, PA.
  1. Nate Butler11-26-13

    Rick, Thank you for your words. I think one reason why I love being in camp ministry is because this topic is pretty much what life is like for me at Trout Lake Camps. I love what I do and how there are seasons of change here and it all flows well. There are always new challenges and we are currently working on setting small goals along the way to reach the big goal at the end. I think that staying creative/imaginative keeps you on your toes and keeps things fresh for yourself and the team around you.

    • Richard_Rhoads11-26-13

      Nate, so good to hear from you my friend. Love the connection you made to your current setting. So true. I love the small goal approach, thankful for you, Rick