Imaginative gridlock is a term Edwin Friedman uses to describe the thinking processes of systems that are “stuck.” In trying to solve a particular problem, stuck systems (like churches) try harder to provide the right or better answer to the same questions. Unstuck systems are able to ask new questions.
A stuck system might ask, “What can we do this time to really draw people to our mid-week service?” An unstuck system will at least consider the questions, “Why do we have a mid-week service?” and “Is there a better way to meet the same objective?” A stuck church with 30 attenders and a track-record of decline will ask only, “How can we grow again?” An unstuck, declining church with 30 attenders might ask, “If God isn’t calling us to revival, could He be calling us to pass the torch to another church or join with another body of believers?”
At New Vintage Church, we’ve been trying to figure out our new office situation. No matter how hard we’ve tried, we simply haven’t been able to find good office spaces in our facility. We thought of every possible combination of offices we could think of. Then, someone asked, “What if we all shared one large space?” This led to us designing one large, more collaborative workspace. I’ll blog on it when it’s finished here in the next week or two. We didn’t need to think about it harder or bring in an architect. To solve the problem, we needed someone to ask a new question.
When a church is imaginatively gridlocked–they limit the scope of their ideas by the questions they ask. This imaginative gridlock is usually not a symptom of unintelligence or inherent lack of creativity. It’s more likely a symptom of the emotional processes at work in leadership that cause limited perspective.
What we often need to solve certain ministry problems often isn’t better techniques or stronger effort–though those are fine. We need God to give us new vision. We need God to give us a new question or ten. How does a church get unstuck? Usually, God unsticks someone. He spurs someone to ask the new question first and to keep asking it until it’s considered rather than summarily dismissed.
We need some new questions. So do our churches. So do our fellowships and denominations. We don’t need to ask them for the sake of asking–or to be quarrelsome. We ask new questions in service to God and His people.