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Preaching and the Power of Imagination

However, you may just find that asking people to close their eyes and imagine what you’re describing is more powerful than any picture or video you could show.

Not only is Jesus the perfect model for leadership, He is the perfect model for communication. Jesus was the greatest preacher who ever lived. You only have to read the gospels once to see how Jesus captured the imaginations of all who came to hear Him. Jesus understood if you can capture one’s imagination, it will take them on a glorious adventure and have far greater impact than a picture or video we try to show them. Jesus, through parables, led people on a journey of discovery and insight by using words and illustrations which got across the message He was trying to teach.

Often, I’ve used the example of Moses parting the Red Sea. I’ve asked classrooms full of people to close their eyes and picture the giant walls of water on each side of them, with fishes, whales and sea creatures swimming about, but not breaking through the walls of water. Then, I would show them a drawing of Moses parting the Red Sea which some artist came up with and I’d ask: “Which was better? What you saw in your mind or this picture of a drawing?” It was always what they had pictured in their mind.

“We can apply this understanding to our own creative efforts at many levels. On the most superficial level, we learn from the prophets that the tools best suited for communicating to the imagination are image, parables and sometimes even bizarre activity! At a deeper level, we learn that if we are to effect permanent change in people’s hearts, we must do more than simply teach them facts or reduce them to some emotional experience. Like the prophets, we must learn to reach out to the heart as well as the mind by speaking to the imagination. We must allow our audience the freedom to make realizations on their own, as with the parables of the prophets, particularly the prophet Jesus!” —Michael Card, (Scribbling in the Sand)

David Enyart said, “Frequently, creativity and imaginativeness are casualties of ministerial education. Ministers start to mistrust or ignore their own creative impulses; they come to view imagination as a child’s play toy rather than an essential tool for vibrant communication.” What a shame.

Mark Batterson wrote an article titled “Postmodern Wells.” In it, he said, “Don’t get me wrong: the message is sacred. But methods are not. And the moment we anoint our methods as sacred, we stop creating the future and start repeating the past. We stop doing ministry out of imagination and start doing ministry out of memory.” Are you doing ministry out of imagination or out of memory?

“Our imaginations are involved in every area of our lives, in everything we do or say or are. It is no wonder that God is so intent upon recapturing them. Therefore, we must seek to understand the imagination biblically, that is, Christ-centeredly.

The imagination is the bridge between the heart and the mind, integrating both, allowing us to think/understand with our hearts and feel/emote with our minds. It is a vehicle for truth. Through the use of images, metaphors, stories and paradoxes that demand our attention, it calls for our interaction. The imagination is a powerful means for communicating truths about God,and so God shows an awesome regard for the imagination in His word.

Because we are called to creativity, a working, gut-level understanding of the imagination is vital. It can be our greatest strength or our greatest weakness. To harness the imagination, or better yet, to bring it under submission to Christ is something about which we don’t talk or pray or do enough.” —Michael Card (Scribbling in the Sand)

Michael Card, whom I respect, believes having a “working, gut-level understanding of the imagination is vital.” Not only this, he thinks it can be “our greatest strength or our greatest weakness.” Wow! What if you or someone on your team has this glaring weakness which has never been pointed out? What if you’re not tapping into the power of the imagination and your leadership, team, service and ministry are suffering because of it? What if…?

“Creativity is part of God’s divine nature, and He has given it to us as a gift. Like so many of God’s gifts, creativity is often neglected or wrongfully used… Imagination is the first storytelling tool. To properly tell a story, you must see it in your mind.” —John Walsh, author of The Art of Storytelling

My prayer for pastors everywhere is that they become better and more effective communicators of the gospel. How have you used your words to paint a picture for your people? Is God speaking to you in this area and will you allow Him to tap into the power of the imagination of your congregation?

*** Some parts of this were excerpts from my book Strange Leadership.

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Greg Atkinson is an author, speaker, consultant, and the Founder of the First Impressions Conference and Worship Impressions—both specializing in guest services and hospitality.