Archive for the ‘books’ Category


As I consider The Imaginative Church, I decided to do a word search on Biblegateway.com to see how the word imagination is used in the Bible. Surprisingly, it doesn’t fare very well. It only appears four times in the NIV translation of the Bible and every single time it appears, it’s in a negative context.

Psalm 73:7 From their callous hearts comes iniquity; their evil imaginations have no limits.

Isaiah 65:2 All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations—

Ezekiel 13:2 “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who are now prophesying. Say to those who prophesy out of their own imagination: ‘Hear the word of the Lord!

Ezekiel 13:17 “Now, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people who prophesy out of their own imagination. Prophesy against them

That’s a little depressing and maybe even off putting when you’re trying to encourage people in the church to empower and embrace their imaginations. Please understand the above verses are not what I want you to embrace—not by a long shot.

Instead I want to look at the aforementioned Abraham, who chose to look past the impossibility of what God had foretold, choosing instead to believe God to be able to overcome impossible, or David using his faith and examples of God’s faithfulness, to look past an imposing giant, to a better the better reality that stood on the other side of victory, or a young virgin who looked an angel in the eye and said, may it be to me as you have said. The way I am using imagination is in this way—Where we look past the seeming realities of our world to trust in the faithfulness of our God to overcome the obstacles and do our part in bringing forth the Church that God desires to bring forth. It’s not imagination for imagination’s sake. It’s letting God show us the possibilities when things look impossible. It’s letting God use us as He calls into being that which is currently not (Romans 4:17)

This is not about vain imaginations. It’s about seeking the heart of God and the Mind of Christ. Let God inspire your imagination. Breathe in (the literal interpretation of the word “inspire”) the vision God is wanting to bring to life in you. Then step out in faith, and in Him, to bring it to reality.

This will require us to really seek God. It will require us to do as Paul says, in 2 Corinthians 10:5. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. It involves submission to God and to His Word, immense amounts of prayer and a full dependence on the God for whom all things are possible.

Imagination is essential to Christians. One of the most popular Christian songs of all times is I Can Only Imagine. The song reminds us of something essential to faith. Our ultimate hope is in Christ and the eternal life He bought for us with His blood. It is a place that is far from imaginary. It is in many ways the most real place there is. We see it described in Scripture, but the only way we can see it on this side of the grave is in our imaginations. We live this life in hopes of a world we can only imagine, trusting God to get us there. Let’s let God use that same imagination to help us imagine a church that will draw people to Him and ultimately to that place we can only imagine.

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I’m sure when Hilary Yancey wrote this book she was probably not thinking, “I hope a lot of fifty something men read it.” but I did. To be honest, I picked up the book because of it’s title. Her publisher offered it to me as a blogger for review and so here it is. The title is something I have been dealing with in my speaking ministry for quite some time. The idea that there are people out there who need to forgive the perfect, sinless, God. Hilary Yancey explores this concept in ways far beyond what I considered and she does so masterfully. I really can’t bring myself to say I liked this book. The subject matter is such that that would make me seem cold and heartless, as you’ll see in a moment. What I will say instead is that I am really glad that I read this important book, and I highly recommend it, because it will challenge your thinking in ways I had not even considered.

Hilary Yancey writes this book around her pregnancy and the subsequent birth of her son Jackson. You see Jackson was born with cleft lip/palate, only one eye and one ear, needing a tracheotomy and a g button. She deals with her prayer life, her struggles when her prayers for a miracle went, in a sense, unanswered. She deals realistically with the struggle when God doesn’t do things the way we think He should. Further she deals with her son and his “different kind of normal.” She is a doctoral candidate in the area of philosophy and this really comes through in her writing, yet the book is very readable and accessible. She has challenged my thinking on so many subjects, from disability to God and I honestly feel like I am a little bit better as a person for having read this book.


I’ve been working through the outreach chapter of my new book, The Imaginative Church, when I decided to explore the difficulties we run into when thinking about numbers when related to people. I think this might be helpful for my readers today.

Yes, it is about numbers (at least to some degree)

One of the things I hear far too often is it’s not about numbers and of course it’s true. These are precious children of God to whom we’re reaching out. We’d never want to treat them like numbers. They’re special creations with needs and desires and amazing possibilities, not to mention the fact that God has a unique plan and purpose for their lives. People are not numbers and we need to cherish them as the masterpieces they are. No sir, no ma’am, people are not numbers. But numbers are people. Every person you are used to lead to Christ counts. Every person added to the Kingdom, adds something to Kingdom. Every person that comes into your church brings with them gifts and talents and abilities that can be used to make your imaginative church closer to being the church God imagines. Of course I know and believe what John 6:44 says, that no one come to Christ who isn’t drawn by the Spirit, but obedience to Jesus command to go and make disciples has the wonderful byproduct of expanding the reach of your church for Kingdom purposes.

It is for this reason that churches must be faithful in every aspect of disciple making. In the vast majority of cases, disciple making starts with the “therefore go” part, i.e. evangelism. Outreach is a crucial part of the church’s calling. Now I know some will want to cite “wherever two or more are gathered.” That verse is about church leadership and leadership authority, not an excuse to be lax in our duty to be Christ’s witnesses.

I know some will also want to take me to task with the statements about “quality over quantity.” While I will agree that quality is hugely important, I must ask a question. Who appointed us judge over that? Secondly when did quality and quantity become mutually exclusive. They’re not. We are called to both. For a while in the evangelical movement it almost seemed to be a race. We’d get people all fired up, get them to say the sinners prayer and then move onto the next person without a lot of thought to the follow up. It is for this reason that a reminder is in order. Jesus commanded us to make disciples, not converts. Now to be clear, conversion is part of the equation, it’s just not the end of the equation. That’s why Jesus told us to both go AND make disciples. When he made us fishers of men, he did not expect that the people could come into the boat, cleaned, prepped and “Cry-O-Vac sealed for freshness.” No, we are out there to catch them, right where they are, the cleaning comes as Jesus comes in and makes them new creations and as they are discipled by the church, as they grow into disciple making disciples themselves.


(The following is an excerpt from The Imaginative Church Workbook, coming soon from AMOKBooks.)

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a million times (and that is only a slight exaggeration)—people lamenting the consumer mindset in the church. I lament it too, but I completely understand it. Before I could preach, before I knew enough to teach, I was a consumer and the reason was simple. There was nothing (or at least very little) for me to do. I wasn’t called to preach yet, teaching was off the radar, and I had no musical skills, either vocally or instrumentally. Preaching, teaching and music, I call them the big three of church involvement, and I had none of them. Further, I wasn’t gifted in any of the mechanical things that needed to be done, I was bad with finance and I didn’t yet have the Spiritual maturity for any type of leadership position. Basically all I felt qualified to do was to show up and try to worship. Now those formative years were crucial to me and I look back on them very fondly, but my involvement was really limited.

I’ve shared my story in several of my other books, and don’t want to belabor it here, beyond to say, I went from the person described above to a pastor/artist/speaker/author who has ministered all over the U.S. and written books and ministry resources that have been used all over the world, largely because someone got imaginative. A pastor found my gift of art and showed me through a very simple project that my gift was useful to the church. Once I knew that, I began to look for and invent ways to serve, because I could see something I already enjoyed and did well was useful to people i really cared about. Everything that I am doing today can be traced back to a single moment and I am convinced I am not unique. People want to know that they matter, and that they’re useful and this is a huge blessing of the imaginative church. You can show people they matter. You can get them involved and you can help them find ways to make a difference.

By the way, there is a really cool side effect from all of this. You will end up with willing fulfilled servants who will find meaning and purpose in the Lord and His service. They will be able to do all kinds of new and different things that will open doors to the church for many and expand the reach of your church in amazing ways. You’ll turn consumers into contributors (in the truest sense of the word), and the Gospel will spread.


You know what’s better than a book? A free book. You know what’s better than a free book? An excellent, life-affirming, God-glorifying book. That’s what this book is. A couple weeks ago, I received an email offering a review copy Jim Cymbala’s new book. Well that was a no-brainer for me. I’ve loved everything of his that I’ve ever read. This book is wonderful. It’s a quick read, I read it in two days, and given my schedule right now, that’s saying something. It is a book full of the testimonies of some people who’ve been rescued, mostly from pretty horrific circumstances, by the love Jesus. This is one of the most encouraging books I have ever read. Story after story shows how the love of Christ overcomes all matter of struggle, then at the end, is a clear presentation of the Gospel along with a final chapter called “Where to go from here” which helps a reader to find and take the next steps in forming a walk with Christ.

On this blog I talk a lot about telling a better story. This is a prime example. Few things testify to the greatness of Christ better than the story of a transformed life. The Rescue will give you seven great stories of people who’ve gone from the darkness into the light of God’s love.

This would be a great book to give to someone who is outside the faith, struggling with faith, or just generally having a hard time. It would also be a great book for a new believer. Do yourself a favor and check out this book.


In today’s second part of this post, I want to look a little bit more of the relationship between risk and trust.

The relationship between risk and trust cannot be overstated. As an example, in my traveling art/speaking ministry, can you guess which speaking opportunities are the easiest to get? Give up? The easiest opportunities are in the places I have already been. The risk of bringing a guest speaker into a church is pretty huge. I make the wrong move or say the wrong thing and the pastor’s phone will start to ring. I made the mistake, but I am gone. He or she has to deal with the fall out. Once they see they can trust me, and they know I will do a good job and bless the people God has given them to serve and entrusted to them, bringing me back is easy. The risk is diminished. We have to deliver and we honor God first, and then the person who took the risk.

That first project is hugely important. It is your chance to prove yourself faithful and if you prove yourself to be faithful, I cannot guarantee thing will go any further, but I can guarantee that if you are not faithful, closed doors are likely to stay closed. Do what you can, offer your gift to God and trust Him. He will make a way. Sometimes humble projects open greater opportunities.

One more thing, be appropriate. Know your audience. There’s a reason all the animals are smiling on the ark in the nursery mural. It’s because the mural is for children. Is it realistic? No, realistic is people clawing at the door of the ark before sinking under for the third time, but children aren’t ready for that. Give your audience appropriate content for the situation and environment you’re in.


One of the key functions of this ministry is helping the church to embrace creatives and creativity. Occasionally though, I feel the need to remind creatives how to end up being embraced. This two-part post from my upcoming book, The Imaginative Church is designed to that end.

He is well known in Christian art circles and he is brilliant, one of the best artists in this realm. He’s worked with international ministries and some of the most influential churches in the U.S. He’s kind of a hero of mine, but on this day I was a little disappointed. He was doing a live-webcast and he started talking negatively about how churches only want to use artists for the obligatory Noah’s Ark Mural in the church. He went on to talk about the ways churches misuse artists and he had some great points. Churches do need to treat their creatives well and value their services and talents, maybe even demonstrating that value financially. (Supplies are expensive, people, and the majority of us as artists are not rolling in cash.) My fundamental disagreement was with the Noah’s Ark Mural comment. Here’s why I think he was wrong, at least on that front.

My first reason was sentimental. My first art “job” in the church was painting a backdrop for Vacation Bible School. While that’s not exactly the same, I believe it’s comparable and the end result of that one project was everything I am doing today. That one little project was transformative, and I have no doubt that God used it to change he course of my entire life.

The second reason is even more important. I see this even more clearly now that I have lived on both the artist and the pastor sides of the aisle. The arts (especially the non-musical arts) in the church is a risky thing for the pastor. He is taking a risk and that risk could be substantial. The reason why is pretty simple. There are a lot of people with a lot of strong opinions in a church and the arts are subjective. When the pastor wants to empower you to use your gift to serve the church, he is taking a risk with the rest of the congregation. This is why that entry level project is so important and how we handle it matters.

Chances are, your first project will be one with less risk. Often this will be found in the children’s area. Most children’s ministry resources are visual based and artistic, so to use images and stories is a little safer there. The pastor is walking a bit of a line here. He or she is opening a door for you and giving you a chance. He or she is giving you his/her endorsement to the rest of the congregation an that is no small thing. The best thing we can do is look the project over carefully and count the cost. Does it fall within your skill set and can you accomplish what is set before you? Now, to be clear, it may not be exactly what you want to do, or the most fulfilling thing you’ve ever done, but understand it is an open door and it may lead to more opportunity, and the opportunity to do more of what you want to do.

So let’s say you decide to take the pastor up on the offer. The next step is to deliver. Remember Colossians 3:23 “Whatever you do, work at it with your whole being, for the Lord and not for men, 24because you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as your reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving… This is key and crucial. There is no such thing as “good enough for the church” as in “Well it’s not my best, but it’s good enough for the church.” Remember, we always are supposed to offer our best to God. While you’re at it, remember the risk your pastor is taking on your behalf. If you’ve ever over-delivered, now is the time. Also, deliver on time. Meet your deadline or “die” trying. Take care of the building, keep the mess to a minimum and make the most of the opportunity.

Further remember the risk your pastor is taking on your behalf and listen to them. You don’t know the pressure they might be under, so give them what they ask for. Your pastor is in authority over the church for a reason and when we work within the context of the church, we need to come under that authority. We give them what they ask for and if you have a different idea, run it by them before your start. The general rule is earn their trust, get more creative freedom on the next project. Even better do something so amazing that the congregation gets excited about your work.