Imagining our best future
Focus on what we want more of – what God wants more of – rather than what we might desire less of
One of the things I enjoy most as Canon for Formation and Transitions is to imagine the best future of our church. This past July, as part of my continuing formation in transition ministry, I spent five days in Connecticut with a group of transition ministers guided by the Rev. Robert Voyle of the Clergy Leadership Institute. He led us through a series of opportunities designed to help congregations envision their best future. The focus was on what we want more of – what God wants more of – rather than what we might desire less of. My thoughts here are only a brief introduction; more information can be found at http://www.clergyleadership.com/index.cfm .
Most of us tend to focus on our problems and how to get rid of them. The Appreciative Way, as Voyle teaches, asks us to focus on the opposite of what we perceive as the problem. He offers a way to imagine our best future rather than to dwell on our worst past – to spend our time embracing what is life giving rather than avoiding that which sucks us dry. For example, we may want to criticize less; what would happen if we spent our time affirming others more rather than figuring out how we might criticize others less? The affirmations would eventually replace the criticisms. What if we wanted to stop living out of a mentality of scarcity? What might it look like to spend our time embracing an attitude of abundance and discovering, accessing and applying resources to achieve that abundant life?
Sounds a bit like something borrowed from Pollyanna’s happiness game, doesn’t it? But it’s about more than being positive or even happy. Thinking appreciatively is about focusing on what is life-giving to people and the organizations to which they belong. It offers a resurrection point of view. Problems or circumstances are not ignored; they are defined from the perspective of what our future holds rather than who’s to blame for it or what caused it. An appreciative way of thinking will direct us to look for a situation’s valued counterpart and provide us with a new way of imagining the solution. We may think we want less poverty, but what we really want is more provision of what’s needed for all. What might it look like if people have what they need? And what resources might we need to discover and apply to make that happen?
When we see something that we don’t want, with God’s help we can transform it into a positive goal of what we do want and what we want more of. It’s a matter of looking for “what we need” rather than “why we can’t.” It’s a matter of beginning where we are and imagining what it might look like at its best. What can you see in your present circumstance that you’d like more of? What can we imagine as our best future? Are the questions we’re asking helping us grow in the direction of our best future?
Give it a try. With God’s help, identify a current circumstance or situation; begin where you are. Know and remember that nothing about where you are can come between you and the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:31-39). Ask yourself what is best about where you are in your current situation. Now, using the best of where you are presently, imagine your best future. What resources will you need to get from where you are presently to that best future you just imagined? Ask yourself what success will look like when you have more of what you – and what God – wants for your future. Then see where it takes you!
Lynn Carter-Edmands serves as Canon for Formation and Transitions for the Diocese of Southern Ohio. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.