The reality is that the church is really not a “what if” culture. We’re a “what is” culture. We’re informed by what is, and our precedent has more power than our imagination.
What Is the What If?
Looking back on all of the different things I’ve started throughout my life, I suppose it’s fair to say my addiction or dysfunction is that I’m a serial entrepreneur. While it may appear that I’m unemployed a lot, and I certainly have had a serious number of failures along the way, overall this neurosis has worked well for me.
Much of this has been a journey of self-discovery. Never having obvious natural talent, my passion and hard work compensated for what I lacked in innate gifting. Much of my life has been the result of great burdens, big dreams and fierce ambition driving me to find a way to overcome what was obviously lacking. What do you do when you see a future you must create and know you cannot do it alone?
In contrast, some people have obvious, extraordinary talent. When my daughter Mariah was 2 or 3 years old, it was already apparent that she was a musician. We were changing channels on the television and we hit this orchestra, but when we changed the channel again, Mariah started singing back in perfect pitch what the orchestra had been playing. I told my wife, “Go back, go back … Watch!” Mariah just started mimicking what was on the television. By the age of 3, I started writing songs with her. I’d tell her to just start singing, and I would put it to music and try to connect her with the extraordinary and obvious talent that was given to her somehow in her genetic code.
I admire people who are prodigious, people who have these extraordinary talents—the Mozarts of the world, the Picassos of the world. Maybe you’re one of those people. You just have this incredible talent from your first breath, but I’m not one of those people. I’m one of the people who has been searching for his particular talent all of his life. You know those kinds of people?
I told my son, “If you don’t have any obvious talent, then you have the gift of leadership.”
There are people who seem born to become world-class cellists or Olympic sprinters. They’re mathematical savants, or they have the gift of painting or sculpting. But then there are a lot of us who, in one spectrum of analysis at least, would be in the “No Perceivable Talent” category. That’s why we’re leaders: because we then begin to imagine a creation that is beyond our own capacity.
If you’re like me, you begin to experience a level of angst because you can see something that’s beautiful, but you have never had the talent nor the capacity to execute it or create it. You know that story needs to be told, that a world needs to be created, that a future needs to be shaped. That creates a dissonance between the idea that moves you and motivates you and the reality of your limited gifts, talents and abilities. If anything, I am immensely grateful that God decided to make me so untalented so that I would find myself dependent on the gifts and talents—the genius and beauty—inside so many other people.
I’ve discovered I’m one of those unemployable people because you can’t really figure out what I do—but if you take me out of the equation, the formula loses its catalytic force. My talent, it seems, is to unleash the talent of others. If you move me out of the room, the room stops dreaming, elevating, creating. You see, that’s what I do. I do that. What is that? I don’t know. Just move me, and you’ll see what it is.
But whatever it is, it moves us from “what is” to “what if.” What you find is that the church, cultures, societies, nations and empires are built and unleashed by men and women who are driven mad by an imagination of a world that could exist, but they lack the personal creative talent to make it happen unless they create this beautiful thing called community. The church is ultimately God’s agent to usher in the future. The church unleashes the future that exists only in the imagination of those who dream with God.
For me, that’s the “what if.”
I’ve come to realize that the source of my dysfunction is that I do not live well in the present. I have always felt as if I were born in the future and somehow found myself lost in time. In a world that lives comfortably in the “what is” it is hard to find a place to belong if you live in the “what if.”