The Skill to See

Posted by Melvin Bray on August 21st, 2006 filed in Useful Perhaps

Last Thursday I had lunch with a dear friend and partner in imagining and being the change we'd like to see in the world. Troy and I spent much of our time together conversing about his newly confirmed post as pastor of the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Sandy Springs, GA (a newly incorporated city that sits right up against North Atlanta). He was bouncing ideas off of me and asking for my feedback, which I shared for what it was worth.

One of our brainstorm exchanges involved how best to inspire new imagination among his parishioners about what it means to be church, which for the many would require the development of previously unused muscles. Though under-developed, Troy explained, such imagination is very much a part of the Presbyterian tradition and, in fact, are the same intuitions that led to previous innovations in the Presbyterian tradition now recognized among congregants as "the Confessions." Of course, one seldom thinks of tradition handed down to her as innovations of the past, but that's what Troy wants his congregants to see: that it is faithfully Presbyterian to re-imagine and re-form routinely what it means to be church.

He asked what I thought about how best to go about teaching this. I asked what was wrong with the way he had just articulated it to me. I went on to describe what it might look like from week to week: him finding a particular confession that he could use as justification for an act of innovation today. And his response was, "No, because that would develop the wrong muscle."

His response, like getting the wind knocked out of one, stunned me for a moment. The insight was just so keen. He reckoned immediately what that practice would produce fully formed.

Upon witnessing it, I recognized that being able to project what the fruit of a particular course of action might be is a skill lost to many leaders. Many are either too arrogant to even want to consider the possible unintended consequences of a proposed action or their vision is too immature and experience too limited to forecast accurately that far out. One forces plans forward that should have been interred on the drawing room floor. The other clings to the familiar because it is so easily predictable and, thus, perceived as safe or puts her energies into pseudo-innovations toward status quo or worse ends.

We see daily in the national political news the results of an agenda that under estimates then disregards its negative impact on the lives of people—even now that it has almost fully formed—"none is so blind as he who would not see." Yet, maybe sadder still, one is left to wonder what good is missed when other leaders don't innovate simply because they can't see how.

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