This may be a little TMI (too much information), but the best ideas come to me while in the shower. Whether it’s a work challenge I’m thinking through, or an issue that calls for a creative solution, there’s no greater clarity that comes to mind than when I’m engaged in the routine task of self-cleansing.
Showering physically and mentally places me outside of my workspace so that I’m intentionally not focused on the tasks before me that need attention. When my mind is freed up to not focus on these tasks, it actually wanders in and through those tasks in a completely different way. It’s like my brain has been freed to ponder new possibilities and literally connect synapses that once were separate from one another.
Intuitively, it may make sense to focus harder on a challenge in order to solve it; but that actually makes it more difficult to come up with creative possibilities. Psychologist Ron Friedman articulated it this way:
When we let go of a problem, our perspective expands. This explains why we discover so many solutions in odd places, like the shower, the commute back home, or the visit to the gym. Redirecting our attention to an unrelated task also provides room for incubation, a term psychologists use to describe nonconscious thinking. Studies show that following a brief distraction, people generate more creative solutions to a problem than those who spend the same period of time focusing on it intently. (“Get Your Brain Unstuck,” Harvard Business Review, July 9, 2014)
Our lives are more demanding and task-oriented than ever, and this is certainly true for clergy. Pastors spend most of their time juggling administration, preaching, pastoral care, program facilitation, worship, community and professional demands, and personal / family responsibilities. I can guarantee that the majority of these pastors spend their shower, workout, or commuting time in reflection on the week’s sermon or how next year’s confirmation class will be structured. At their best, when they are given the freedom to move from one task to another without over-focusing on a topic or challenge at any one time, new ideas, connections, and possibilities come to light. Perhaps this is a kind of holy ruminating through which the Spirit speaks.
Where does this holy rumination take place within congregations? Church leaders seek to be faithful stewards of resources and to be as efficient, time-conscious, and effective as possible—for many, this means spending focused amounts of time together in agenda-laden meetings inside a church building. What if the church council were to meet at a nearby coffee shop, train station, or skating rink—or rotate among the three? What if one committee meeting per quarter was spent visiting another organization (even a for-profit company) to experience leadership in a different context? What if the board committed to regular walking sessions (if possible for all) or clean-ups at a nearby park as part of their work as a team? Switching the task, the setting, and even routine body positions can open up new possibilities for a congregation’s ministry and impact.
Worship and other congregational events can follow this model as well. Many congregations routinely hold worship in another church’s sanctuary, outdoors, or in a strip mall. Some spend their fifth Sundays of the month engaging in a community service or advocacy activity, or holding a different type of worship service. Some even take an annual congregational retreat and do nothing but play and worship together.
We live in a world of deadlines and deliverables, which is often the kryptonite of creativity; this doesn’t need to be the case, however. If we allow just a little more breathing room in the day for “incubation,” we may actually be more creative and more productive. It’s something to (not) think about…
Sparking Ministry Conversations
What are your incubation spaces and activities? What are your congregation’s incubation spaces and activities? How might your congregation’s leadership intentionally create space for holy ruminating / nonconscious thinking?
The Rev. Dr. Kristina Lizardy-Hajbi is director of the United Church of Christ's Center for Analytics, Research and Data (CARD). Kristina and other ministers-researchers blog about questions of importance for the UCC and beyond at http://carducc.wordpress.com.