Divergent Imperfection: An Approach to Reaching Your Goals

Different Methods for Success

You could say that my methods and strategies for success aren’t always the most obvious ones.

“It might not make much sense,” said a companion of mine once to a mutual friend, “but he somehow makes it work!”

In my own little world, believe it or not, I am relatively ordered. It’s just that the order and linearity is mostly something happening in my interior world. You might say that from the outside, that disorder might be a better descriptor.

I prefer to call it “adaptive order.”

(That’s also the name I would give to the next operating manual of our church, the PCANZ, were I conscripted for contributing to an upgraded model of our “The Book of Order.” How about it: “The Book of Adaptive Order.” It has a ring about it, right? Oh, and I do not mean any disrespect for the Book of Order. Trust me. It is awesome and I appreciate it.)

Not All Tangents Are A Tangent

There I go. Off on a tangent again.

The point of this post is to point out that there are different ways to aim ourselves at our targets in life.

Some approaches are straight and direct. Some approaches are tangetial. Sometimes things are very reasonably and logical. Other times, they can be more colourful and swervy.

I’d like to make the case that we need a mix of tools in life to achieve what we are aiming at. And we need a mix of people who bring different gifts and approaches to the table.

In fact, in a world like ours which can be categorised as Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambigious (or, VUCA) the fact is that in many cases it may be that the unconventional, slower, non-linear, and divergent approaches that are more effective in getting us to where we need to go.

Where do you need to go?

Toward a Destination, Unconventionally

If you’re someone who is part of Student Soul now, or has been in the past, or perhaps has been on the outskirts at some point, you probably have a sense of what it’s like being around me. I’m Tom. I’m Student Soul’s minister, and this is my 7th year hanging round here. (It’s my 4th year full-time, before that I was an intern, in training.)

If that’s you, you may at times have wondered, “What is Tom doing?”

You may have wondered, “What strategy is at place here?”

You may have wondered, “Where is this sermon going?” or “Why did he bring the piano accordion?”

I’m here to tell you, as if you didn’t already know, that my approaches may not always make sense!

But there’s a reason for it. And that is because one strategy for success that I employ is called “divergent imperfection.”

What is Divergent Imperfection?

Divergent imperfection is an approach to things that has the following principles:

  1. Play the longer game, because the future is coming
  2. Allow yourself to be human, and therefore imperfect
  3. Prioritise connecting with others above mastering the details
  4. Create a lively sense of community which balances nurture and growth
  5. Give (slightly) more precedence to what is yet to be than to what is
  6. Keep people on their toes, so as to keep a healthy edginess in the system

What does it look like to practice divergent imperfection? First, it’s starts with having a destination.

One of my goals is to build creative church cultures. You could say that is a destination, something to aim at.

Take it a step further down the ladder, and it means building creative ministry teams.

Go another step further down and it means building music teams. That’s important to me, and it’s important to this ministry that we call Student Soul too.

Divergent Imperfection: Using Sunday as an Example

Practising divergent imperfection in this context looks like this. Let’s use last Sunday night as an example.

  1. Great music teams or bands don’t grow overnight, so enjoy the process as much as possible while also pushing forward.
    • This means that we try and mix it up week to week. To put different arrangments of people together, and different arrangments of songs. All the while, helping people grow with an eye to the future.
    • This week it meant giving one of our legendary musicians a rest, and bringing in one of our new emerging legends to play on the team for this first time.
  2. As a leader and music director, practicing imperfection in my leadership context means not being afraid of letting it be unpolished.
    • For example, last Sunday night I sang. I played no instrument. It wasn’t because we didn’t have options. It was because we made some priority choices in other areas and opted for that approach.
    • It went OK. I am confident singing. I am not the best singer. I am not used to singing as my primary instrument and there are other instruments I could lead from. But, because it was relevant to our goals for the week, I was OK to practice the imperfection of leading the singing the way I did.
  3. For me on Sunday night, making connection the priority over the details probably resulted in some messy songs and some messy transitions.
    • It meant not stressing about the fact I forgot the double chorus, and to instead turn it into an opportunity to speak encouragingly to the congregation. (And to laugh!) It meant an imperfection transition into prayer, and being grateful that Dominic had my back.
  4. Lively community that balances nurture and growth (in the context of music), involves both the music team and the congregation.
    • On Sunday night it meant, we were not afraid to introduce two and half new songs in one night (growth).
    • But having compassion on people means: don’t do that every week, and work really hard to lock the new songs in so we all know them! (nurture)
  5. Precedence to the new or “yet to be” over the old, from a musical point of view, means:
    • We are building the team that will be. We are recruiting, we are inviting, we are exploring untapped opportunites.
    • But it’s only “slightly” more precedence. Because the music team of 2024 and 2025 starts with the music team of 2023. So, we are working in the here and now, building and growing together. All the while maintaining a shared disposition of seeking God who is at work in the new.
  6. One of the reasons it’s helpful to keep a sense of edginess is that it’s how we know we’re alive. The tendency in human life is to watch Netflix, not to run up the mountain.
    • Healthy communities and environments need us to be at the edge of comptency and skill, capable but daring. That’s how we all move forward.
    • On Sunday night, that looked like me as a music director showing the team and congregation that there are different ways for us to do things. We can mix it up while still heading toward our goal.

There’s so much imperfection in that list it makes me quake. But embracing the imperfection does not mean I and we won’t improve.

It means we accept it as part of the process, and a viable strategy for sucess.

I think that has a lot of relevance for all of life.

Embracing Divergent Imperfection

That’s how divergent imperfection showed it’s face on Sunday night at Student Soul.

It’s not the only approach to getting to your destination. But I think it may be an unconventional one. But I think, in church life and life generally whether you are a follower of Jesus or not, we could do with some more divergent imperfection.

So why not throw some caution to the air! Let go of those tightly held reigns! Try some of these principles on for size and see if they bring an added spark of life into what you’re doing!

The truth is, the future is rather unknown and life is a lot less controllable than we think. Becoming more confident and brave in exploring in some of what I’ve hinted at here may be just what the doctor ordered. Who knows?

Anyway, I’d love to hear what you think about this. Is there anything in here that resonates? I haven’t said much about the life of faith, not concretely. Is there anything you’d like to question or highlight?

God bless you in the name of Jesus our Lord.
And take care out there. It’s a wild world!

** No A.I. were harmed in the making of this blog post **

Tom Mepham

Tom Mepham is the full-time minister of Student Soul. He received his Diploma in Ministry from the Knox Centre of Ministry and Leadership in December 2019, prior to which he graduated with a Bachelor of Theology from Otago University in 2017. He is a member of the Southern Presbytery, part of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand. Tom is also a writing and performing musician and you can keep up with his explorations at his website.

Comments (2)

  • What a wonderfully refreshing perspective, Tom. Thank you so much for sharing. All the better that no AI were harmed in its making, that warms my heart :))

    I have been thinking some thoughts and pondering a few questions.

    It is definitely timely after last week’s service … during which I too was imperfect, musically/relationally/otherwise, consciously and unconsciously. And since this post, I have imperfectly navigated life and wrestled with how to reframe it guided by the principles in the post.

    It is also particularly resonant during the assignment-heavy, pre-exam moment that many of us are in right now. We are offering up our mahi via Turnitin, test papers, presentations etc. to await and receive (as it sometimes feels, at least for me) inspection of the imperfections. It doesn’t have to feel this way! Yet I think this underlies some of the stress behind my study lately – perfection paralysis with assignments has been reeeaaal for me this week. And so this blog post has been a healthy (though no less risky) challenge towards reimagination.

    It has left me with lots of questions, and they have been interesting and useful for me (maybe for someone else):

    How can I approach this assignment so as to be conscious that it is contributing to the long game? What would it look like to forgive myself for my imperfect humanity? What can I practice around exam time to help me honour the past/present/future for what they are – what was, what is, and what could be?

    What does it look like in this moment to practise the whakataukī, “He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata!”? What if we saw imperfection as life keeping us on our toes? How does this approach affect how communities (especially church communities) look at imperfection together? What does it do to our collective understanding of sin, for example? How can we nurture one another and grow together as the Student Soul community this week?

    Lol, another worship service is just around the corner. And it will have its own imperfections, and I’m gonna try be intentional about embracing them. Surely God loves our worship (all of it, our lives) that is all the more authentic and genuine for its unpolished imperfections?

  • Shot Hannah! Thanks for engaging! I like your reflections. I like seeing how you take some of those questions and fire them back in a different context. Good luck with all the study!!

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Student Soul is a church for students and young adults in Ōtepoti/Dunedin, New Zealand. We're committed to inviting young people into a life of daring creativity and radical freedom in Jesus.

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