I remember the first time I heard the word “brainstorm” as a little kid in school. My imagination immediately kicked in and I started imagining heads full of lightening bolts, storm clouds and precipitation. Little did I know, I was fully embracing the concept right then and there! Brainstorming is somewhat of a lost art. I remember learning it as a child: no ideas are bad; write everything down without evaluating; and don’t react! Those were the rules … or the un-rules, you could say. It definitely took some practice. It often seemed silly to not to evaluate along the way or settle on one idea early on, but brainstorming beautifully and in a God-like fashion seeks to honor all ideas as worthy of at least some space on the page.
I would love to cultivate and stimulate the practice of brainstorming among church leaders more often, because it makes space for and helps develop so many of the qualities that make for dynamic spiritual leadership. First, it promotes creativity. Brainstorming is the ultimate creative process! It pushes us to think outside of the box; it seeks a Creator-inspired solution to doing things the way we’ve always done them. It does not settle for what works, but asks what can be. Brainstorming is aimed towards innovating and evolving – two things that the community of God always needs to be doing to make sure God is accessible and present to all, especially in changing contexts and generations. When we are creating, we are seeking God among us, as God is always doing a new thing.
But how many times has a brainstorming session felt like it was over before it even began? “Just throw out some ideas!” the facilitator encourages. “All ideas are good. There are no right or wrong answers.” Yet, so often these words of hope and expectation are met by a room of adults with their eyes averted and … … … crickets. Why? Because brainstorming is risky. Spiritual leaders need to be willing to risk failure in order to succeed. There is vulnerability in brainstorming – in throwing out an idea before the group. Even though brainstorming seeks to create a safe space, the idea may or may not be chosen for the future. The practice of making oneself vulnerable and risking possible failure and/or rejection somewhere along the way is almost a necessity for success. If our faithful fathers (and mothers) were not willing to take calculated risks in order to further the kingdom of God, well, there would be no kingdom of God today to further. Brainstorming encourages a small level of risk and vulnerability that is needed even more when an idea moves from idea to action.
Finally, brainstorming is meant to level the playing field. By the rules set in place (or the lack of rules), it promotes a sharing of ideas where all are valued and counted. Spiritual leaders need this “child of God theology,” where they continually seek to honor and esteem every human with the attitude of the Creator. Brainstorming welcomes diversity and aims to be accessible to all. When brainstorming is going well, ideas can build upon one another and the excitement of generating ideas is contagious! It is so easy to criticize, but brainstorming takes away the opportunity for criticism and challenges the participants to be generators rather than dead-enders. Spiritual leaders need to be those who build others up, seek the Godly in each person and aim to create environments of peace and positivity.
The very process and practice of brainstorming promotes and encourages the needed characteristics of creativity, willingness to risk and accessibility/peace-making of spiritual leaders. When we brainstorm together, we create together. When we brainstorm together, we risk failure together, which affords opportunities for success. And when we brainstorm together, we come together as children of God, creating a space that is safe and accessible for each and all. When was the last time your community of God brainstormed together?
JULIE RAFFETY serves as the pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Franklin, New Jersey. Julie is a violinist, aspiring writer, snowboarder, runner, identical twin and crazy about popcorn.