You can observe and imagine doing ministry. Yet until you enter it with your whole self, alongside people in everyday situations, you cannot know fully how a calling comes to life.
Pastoral Imagination: Bringing the Practice of Ministry to Life informs and inspires a process of learning ministry in practice. The book’s stories, questions and provocative ideas will accompany you in your learning. And they will show you how it happens across time, through your body and relationships, and by encounters with the holy.
Pastoral Imagination offers up moments of learning from real pastors and ministers. Each of the fifty brief chapters explores a single concept. The book addresses indispensable topics such as defining moments, navigating conflict, and future stories. Ministers, chaplains and activists show us how they learn through being there, cultivating questions, or failing creatively. And in their stories, you will see how each concept comes to life, as well as how they all interrelate.
One key learning from the Learning Pastoral Imagination (LPI) Project is that ministers learn in remarkably similar ways across a wide range of life experiences. For example, ministers in the book come from various denominational backgrounds. And they embody a significant array of ethnic, geographical and gender diversity. Yet they all need pastoral imagination to bring the practice of ministry to life. And they wrestle with the same kinds of moments as they shift from the beginner stages to greater competence and confidence in how they lead.
Each chapter invites you to take key concepts of the book deeper. For instance, following the stories and ideas, each chapter offers provocative open-ended questions. And those questions can spark conversation between you and a mentor, or among your ministry peers. They can also launch your personal journal reflections.
Above all, the love and sacred presence of God infuses this book just as it infuses the world. It is a love that bears witness honestly to suffering and brokenness. And it is the love that invites your flourishing, even as you envision possibilities for healing, compassion and delight.
Pastoral imagination is a capacity that brings together all of your knowledge, skill, and identity as a minister. And as you learn to integrate this knowing through relationships and by embodied practice, you can become a minister who leads with pastoral imagination.
From Pastoral Imagination Intro:
The Practice of Ministry
When I get on my bike for a ride, I don’t actually think through all the steps that I take: Left leg over bar. Stand on my right foot. Hold hands on brakes. Shift weight to left foot. Back to right foot. Put up kickstand with left foot. Spin right pedal. Turn handlebars to face the direction I want to go. Walk a little forward. Spin the right pedal again. Place right foot on the pedal. Lift up onto seat. Place left foot on the pedal. Balance body. Look right and left. Pedal harder and go a little faster. Balance again. Pedal faster, then slower. Calculate and shift gears.
No. More typically, I simply jump on my bike and ride. Away I go fluidly, perhaps wobbling slightly, yet mostly without deliberative, conscious thinking about it. I just ride my bike, something I learned to do at eight years old.
Ministry is not unlike this. We take dozens of steps and do multiple sequences of activity without thinking through them step by tiny step. But in the beginning, things are different. We need guidance to think through each step. We need people who will hold the seat or help us put on the “training wheels,” as Bishop Carlos in the LPI study puts it. And then we need some help taking off the training wheels later. Having mentors who will show us and support us as we learn is a great gift in ministry, just as it is in learning to ride a bike.
In our first paper on pastoral imagination, Chris Scharen and I wrote about this early stage of learning in practice as “imagining ministry.” As a novice and beginner, one is preoccupied with the rules, pulling up buckets from deep wells of knowledge, worrying a lot, and asking, “Am I getting this right?” Gradually with time and experience, we begin to know more, grow in confidence, and take more risks with how to respond.
Once we learn to really ride a bike, it’s something that stays with us for a lot of our lives, stored as muscle memory, balance, and posture. Only certain kinds of aging, memory loss, or injury take it from us. Also, with ministry, if we take the several years to learn the skills, tasks, and postures and integrate them with knowledge and pastoral ways of assessing situations, we begin to lodge our ministerial knowing in our bodies and in habits of thinking, speaking, and responding.