Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World


Written by: on February 1, 2021

…as imagination bodies forth, The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen, Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing A local habitation and a name.”

Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, vi.14-17

Effective leaders stoke the imagination. Anytime we move beyond, in our mind’s eye, where we are now, that’s imaginative. The imagination should never be reduced to early childhood but should be evoked for modern-day leadership. For C. S. Lewis, the imagination was the organ of meaning. For much of his life, his intuition and imagination were held distinct and separated. These divided hemispheres rushed together when he met the One who could capture the furthest reaches of both his intuition and imagination.

Frederick Douglass was another man and leader who discovered the potency of a vivid imagination. A biographer writes, “What the cruelty of slavery had stolen from him, he seized back in his empowering imagination” (Blight, 11). Steeped in the atmosphere of Negro spirituals and the story of Exodus, Douglass’s mind and imagination for what “could be” were forming. He recollects memories of social and musical communion where “wild songs, revealed at once the highest joy and the deepest sadness” (31). The rhythms, moans, and improvised lyrics both mystified and formed a young Douglass. Upon further reflection, while these slaves owned very little if anything at all, they “owned the sounds and rhythms, the melodies and lyrics” (32). Hearing these songs, Douglass suggested, would do more for the cause of abolition than reading whole volumes of anti-slavery philosophy.

February providentially marks the scheduled reading of Exodus in my year-long reading plan. This quintessential Hebrew narrative filled with oppression, genocide, nationalism, murder, infanticide, deceit, plagues, and idolatry also shines with deliverance, empowerment, rescue, justice, miracles, restoration, and worship. Few passages stoke my imagination more than Exodus’s key text, Exodus 3:7-8 “The Lord said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hadn’t of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land…” I’ve emphasized the verbs ascribed to I Am: Seen. Heard. Concerned. Come down. Bring up. They pique interest, catalyze the imagination, and provide a pattern for leadership that involves incarnation (seeing and hearing), empathy and solidarity (a bowel-turning concern), and action (come alongside and bring up). I have to believe this story helped provide the second pillar for Douglass as he “cultivated a furtive, lyrical imagination rooted in his discovery of language” (50).

In times of liminality, leaders feed their own imagination and capture the imagination of others.


Photo Credit: Library of America

David W. Blight, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2018).

About the Author

Shawn Cramer

7 responses to “Imagine”

  1. Darcy Hansen says:

    It always amazes me how music gets into our bones and moves us toward the Holy of God and the freedom God desires for God’s people.

    As you consider your work in innovation, how do you see it embodying “empathy and solidarity (a bowel-turning concern)”? “A bowel-turning concern” I’ve never heard of empathy and solidarity described this way. The imagery is compelling. What “come alongside and bring up” actions does it invoke in your context?

    • John McLarty says:

      I want to jump in on this thought. I’ve known lots and lots of white American Christians (myself included) who have been mesmerized by African-American worship music. There’s an energy and joy that most mainline “white” churches just don’t have and cannot replicate. I wonder if the attraction is because of how the music taps into and unlocks a holy memory or longing.

      • Darcy Hansen says:

        Growing-up, my step-dad always said he’d go to church if it was one of the African-American churches in town. He loved the music. Sadly, to my knowledge, that never happened. Instead, my mom took my brother and I to the Presbyterian church from time to time, and then just from time to no time. I wonder what my life would have looked like if I’d grown up going to a church filled with African- Americans, with both my mom and step-dad and brother while living in small town, Southern Alabama? I’m pretty sure I’d have seen the Holy of God a whole lot sooner in life.

  2. Jer Swigart says:

    Your emphasis on the verbs in Exodus 3 brings me to Philippians two where Paul reveals the downward trajectory of God for the sake of a bigger libration/restoration. Makes me wonder if the prophetic imagination or, in John Paul Lederach’s words, the moral imagination, does not require suffering in order to be awakened. Perhaps a lack of the experience of suffering (as embodied by marginalized communities) is among the reasons why white leaders seem to lack prophetic/moral/restorative imagination?

  3. Dylan Branson says:

    Shawn, leadership that captures the imagination can be a powerful force. Who were the leaders who captured your imagination? How have you tried to capture others’ imaginations as you’ve navigated your own journey of leadership?

  4. Greg Reich says:

    Great blog! Part of coaching is to bring people to understand that yesterday is used up future, today is our reality and tomorrow is fiction until we live it out. I find that many people struggle with imagining what could be. Imagination is a huge part of visioneering. One of the things I have always enjoyed about mountaineering when I was young was navigation. Laying out a route and making a plan was always a best guess process even with topographical maps and goggle earth. It wasn’t until my feet actually hit the ground did the true terrain unfold with all its hidden challenges. But, the planning time was key because it prepared my mind for the possibilities so when reality happened I was able to make quick adjustments. I think the greater challenge in using our imaginations is keeping it linked to a realm of reality so it produces usable results. Do you see a difference in age groups and generations in how they can use their imaginations to propel them forward in life? Which age group in your experience has a harder time using their imaginations innovatively?

  5. Chris Pollock says:

    Hi Shawn, thankful for the mention of imagination. Leaders and imagination. Imagining that ‘promised land’ (whatever that may be). Seemingly, there’s an interest in this movement there. Every step an adventure, every step needing a bit of an imagining of a next step, so present yet, dreaming.

    Do you think, in the capturing of others’ imagination, that there is a role of the leader in compiling the dreams of the community into a coherent movement toward an agreed-upon destination?

Leave a Reply