“What will I do with a divinity degree?” My current answer: “I don’t know.” Help with this question is on the way, though, in the form of a course called Art of Ministry I: Introduction to the Life and Work of Ministry, a course all first-year students at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity must take and a course I misunderstood.
I thought that the course would be one that helps me figure out my strengths, my weaknesses, my interests, my passion, etc. Questions like “What is my vocation?” seemed likely.
Turns out, the main question posed by the course is not about me. The syllabus: “This course asks students to consider one central question: How will the world be different as a result of the work that God is inviting you to do?”
This central question is focused on everybody—everybody—but me. “How will the world be different …?” And it is focused on the impact of “the work,” not whether I am good at that work or even if I want to do that work. The central question is asking me to figure out how you (I mean you, the person reading this blog post!) and your family and your friends and everyone else will be different as a result of the work that God is inviting me to do.
That is a much more difficult question! Where do I begin in trying to answer it?
To start us along our way to answering this central question, the opening reading for the course encouraged us to develop “pastoral imagination.” I chuckled a bit at first and thought this was an unfortunate choice of words. Some would say that all of us Christians have plenty of imagination, and we don’t need to develop more, pastoral or otherwise—casting all of us as having an imaginary friend in the sky.
But this is not the sense of imagination to which the opening reading refers. Instead, as the reading explains, it is the sense of “imagination” that
involves what one might call ‘seeing in depth.’ It is the capacity to perceive the ‘more’ in what is already before us. It is the capacity to see beneath the surface of things, to get beyond the obvious and the merely conventional, to note the many aspects of any particular situation, to attend to the deep meaning of things.
Even at 47, I’ve met very, very few people who have displayed this kind of imagination. I’ve been fortunate to know a lot of over-the-top-smart people and a lot of over-the-top-nice people. The kind of ability described above, though, is exceedingly rare in my experience.
And I have not displayed this kind of imagination. There is a reason: I don’t have this kind of imagination.
That is OK, per the opening reading, because “the pastoral imagination is not something to be achieved or attained.” Instead, looking to the future, it “comes as a gift” through faith.
(Picture: The top picture is one I took of Wait Chapel on campus at Wake Forest University last week; I thought one with a tree partially blocking the view of the Chapel was appropriate for this week’s topic–I can’t see, in depth or otherwise….)
“The syllabus …”: Beth Kennett & John Senior, Art of Ministry I: Introduction to the Life and Work of Ministry Syllabus (August 2016), 1.
“involves what one might call … “: Craig Dykstra, “Pastoral and Ecclesial Imagination,” in Dykstra and Bass, For Life Abundant (2008), 48.
“the pastoral imagination is not something …” and “Instead …”: Id. at 54-55.