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Four Lesson Plans on Imagination – Lesson Plan #4: Imagining church

Lesson Plan #4: Imagining church

Nishioka ends his article with an image of church that resists some of the paradigms many mainline Christians may carry. He says, “Somehow, by God’s grace, I marvel how all of this is emerging into a new paradigm of being the church—the body of Christ—who, by the power of the Holy Spirit at work even in us is able to do far more abundantly that we can ask or…imagine…all for God’s glory now and forever. Amen.”
At the conclusion of his article, Thompson poses a question to all of us: “If God is doing a new thing, if there are now rivers in the desert, what can we bring forward from our tradition to provide good interpretive frameworks for those who engage the text in a new way?” This lesson plan seeks to ask, “Where are we being led as a church?” and “What does it mean to re-imagine church by the power of the Holy Spirit?”

This lesson plan is intended for a 60-minute adult education class as part of a series on imagination. Participants may have read the articles on Imagination by Nishioka, Hylen, Clayton, and Thompson, but this is not necessary. This lesson plan may be adapted for a shorter or longer timeframe.

The room should be arranged with a circle of chairs in the middle of the space and a table set up in the middle of the chairs. The table should only be used for the responding section of the lesson.

At the end of the teaching session, a participant will be able to
1. Identify different worshiping communities and the contexts that make them unique,
2. Discuss the role of imagination in the life of the church, and
3. Consider a new vision of church by creating a piece of art as a community.

*(optional) The following articles on imagination: “This Imagination Life,” by Rodger Nishioka and “Moderns, Post-moderns, and Imagination” by Casey Thompson
*Drawing paper and chalk pastels or other drawing medium (to be used in the opening section)
*Computer, projector and screen
*stoneware or earthenware clay

Opening (7 minutes)
Welcome individuals to the room and give time for them to greet one another.

In his response essay, Thompson invites us to think about the ways in which we engage scripture as a church and consider methods of interpretation that invite us into the text rather than keeping us outside of it. Thus, the opening and closing liturgies intend to invite participants to experience the Psalms and be led to experience the rest of the lesson in imaginative ways.

–Prayer for Illumination:
God who imagined order out of chaos and light out of darkness, silence in us any voice but your own, that we may hear what you have to say to us today and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, see you anew. Amen.

–Reading: Psalm 126
–Before beginning, invite participants to close their eyes during the reading or use provided drawing media to imagine themselves in the place of the psalmist.
–Repeat the process one more time to give participants time to contemplate this short psalm.
–Invite participants to reflect briefly on the experience.

Presenting (15 minutes)

Nishioka and Thompson encourage us toward imagination in the church, from the ways in which we break bread to the ways in which we engage scripture.
Invite the class to consider an initiative of the PC(USA) called 1001 New Worshiping Communities. Refer the class to the 1001 New Worshiping Communities website, http://www.onethousandone.org. If possible, it will be helpful to use a projector so that the class can see the site for themselves. There you will find the following description of how 1001 New Worshiping Communities began,

“In June 2012, the 220th General Assembly declared a commitment to a churchwide movement that results in the creation of 1,001worshiping communities in the next 10 years. At a grassroots level, new worshiping communities are joining this site to create a presence and connect with one another. The Presbyterian Mission Agency is coming alongside to fan the flames of this movement, to inspire and equip the wider church to participate in the creation of 1,001 new worshiping communities in the next 10 years.”
Many of the worshiping communities featured on the site include videos telling their story. Show the videos for the following worshiping communities:
The Journey
The Upper Room
New Hope
Bare Bulb Coffee

Ask these questions after each video:
What is central in the life of this community?
What assumptions are at work in their ministry?
In what ways does this community exhibit imagination?

Read Acts 2:43-37 and ask the same three questions about this worshiping community.

Exploring (15 minutes)
Clayton uses Dykstra’s idea of “ecclesial imagination” to discuss ways of seeing God anew in community. Hylen discuss “a community of interpretation” that is necessary as we engage scripture and the world around us by the power of the Spirit. In his image of postmodern interpretation, Thompson suggests that imaginative interpretation and discernment happen in community. Nishioka’s fifth act suggests that mutual sharing, testimony, and honest questions create a community of imagination in which God is active in the experience and conversation of the community, and we are able, by God’s grace, to engage in a pattern of seeing that reaches beyond narrow paradigms that might shade our eyes. The purpose of this exploring section is to create an imaginative community and explore the ways in which God may be calling the church to live in new ways or to return to some of the ancient ways of being that extend all the way to Acts 2.

As a group, invite participants to consider the following questions:
What is central for your worshiping community?
What seems central in you worshiping community?
What paradigms are at work in your life as a community?
How might your community embrace in a new way what you feel should be central?
How might your community look in 10 years? 20 years?

Responding (15 minutes)
Offer each participant a piece of clay small enough for them to hold in their palm and ask them to respond to the question, “What do you hope for most in the church?” Give them 5 or more minutes to construct a small sculptural object expressing their understanding of church. To ease anxiety that may inhibit exploration, you will want to remind participants that there are no right or wrong answers here, no critique at the end of the session, and no expectations about what might or might not be an acceptable sculpture. Play contemplative music of your choice during this exercise.

When participants are finished with their work, invite them to the middle of the room to gather around a table that should be set up there. Participants will have created individual interpretations of the prompt given. Some will be pondering how they will display their sculpture when they get home, and some will be wishing they had never begun the activity. Offer an alternative to focusing on these individual concerns, though, by asking participants to work together to create an entirely new sculpture, comprised of each individual sculpture. This is an exercise in releasing control and opening oneself to imagining the community anew. Invite a few participants to make the foundation of the sculpture using their small creations and connecting them in any way they see fit while maintaining the integrity of each piece. These first contributors can then sit back down. Invite a few others to contribute another layer to the foundation, connecting pieces in any way they see fit while maintaining the integrity of each, then invite them to sit down. Move forward this way until all participants have contributed equally to the larger sculpture.
*note: The work should communicate a collaborative effort while showing concern for the value of each artist and their original work, thus illustrating issues of primary and secondary imagination that Coleridge discusses (see Nishioka’s “This Imagination Life”). The result may not look “beautiful” to some. In fact, in the end it may look like nothing but a huge pile of clay. However, the focus here is on the process, not the product.

Give participants a few minutes to view the sculpture after all have finished their work.
Ask the following questions of the group:
Can you see your original piece in the larger sculpture?
What did it feel like to contribute your piece to the whole?
What do you see happening in the sculpture?
What do you see happening in the community in this room?
Does this process make you think differently about what it means to be church or about what the church should look like? If so, how?
What most impacted you during this exercise?

Closing (7 minutes)
Read Psalm 126 again.
Ask the following questions:
What, if anything, did you hear differently this time around?
Why do you think that is?

End with this or another prayer.

Come, O Holy Spirit.
Come as Holy Fire and burn in us,
come as Holy Wind and cleanse us within,
come as Holy Light and lead us in the darkness,
come as Holy Truth and dispel our ignorance,
come as Holy Power and enable our weakness,
come as Holy Life and dwell in us.
Convict us, convert us, consecrate us,
until we are set free from the service of ourselves,
to be your servants to the world. Amen.
–from The Book of Common Worship of the PC(USA)




  1. David Chagall, “David and Bathsheba,” paper, 1956 (Musée national Message Biblique Marc Chagall, Nice, France). http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/marc-chagall/david-and-bathsheba-1956
  2. He Qi, “The Dream of Jacob,” 2001. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=46092
  3. John August Swanson, “Peaceable Kingdom,” poster 1987. http://www.anppm.org/NonProfitStore/default.cfm?BodyNav=DisplayProducts.cfm&id=73816
  4. Fra Angelico, “The Annunciation,” fresco, 1437-46 (San Marco Museum, Florence).
  5. Unknown artist. For more information, see here: http://www.biblewalks.com/Sites/AnnunciationMosaics.html
  6. Matthias Gothart Grünewald, “Isenheim Altar,%rdquo; oil on panel, 1512-1516 (Musée d’Unterlinden, Colmar, France) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mathis_Gothart_Gr%C3%BCnewald_019.jpg
  7. Giotto di Bondone, “Raising of Lazarus,” fresco, 1236-1337 (Cappella Scrovegni, Padova, Italy)
  8. Lee Porter, “The Raising of Lazarus,” quilt, 1992 (Collection Samaritan Inns, Washington, D.C., USA) http://www.leeporterart.com/Story-RaisingLazarus.html
  9. Robert Lentz “The Syrophoenician Woman,” icon, various mediums. Available for sale at https://www.trinitystores.com/store/read-more/syro-phoenician-woman
  10. Enrico Casarosa, La Luna, Digital Short, Directed by Enrico Casarosa. Emeryville, CA: Pixar Animation Studios, 2011. Distributed with Brave (2011).