Thoughts on Church & Creativity Part 1

I’ve been thinking a lot about “creativity” lately. It’s in my blood. It’s who I am. I mean, I’m not way out there (I don’t think), but I do love new ideas, solving problems, dreaming of how things should and could be better.

The Church has a little bit of a sordid history with creativity. At some points in history, the Church has embraced creatives, artists, thinkers, and dreamers. At other times it has burned, tortured, hung, and crushed the same people.

Here’s what I think, for what it’s worth:

Creativity is what keeps a church moving forward. Without creativity, things are done the same way for years on end. Churches become museums and the only “art” on display tells stories of years-gone-by rather than dreams of the future. The world is constantly changing, cultures are changing, new problems arise, new paradigms are born and we need to have answers and solutions in real-time.

What kills creativity at churches?

  • Fear of the unknown: Creative endeavors often have unknown outcomes. What will that song sound like? What will that art look like? There must be a great deal of trust built between the creative and the leader or leadership.
  • Fear of failure: Will people like it? Will the artist pull it off? Will we offend people? Will it even work? But we’ve all heard the quote, “If you’re not failing, you’re not trying anything new”.
  • Fear of change: Ah yes, change. For most people in my demographic change is just how life is experienced. Things change all the time and change faster as time goes on. Just consider the last 100 years: cars, computers, phones, travel. Successful organizations have figured out how to embrace change and use it to their advantage. The church, well some do, some don’t. Those who don’t end up dying slow and painful deaths.
  • Fear of emotion: This one’s tough. Men don’t cry. Passion is overused. Emotional decisions never last. It’s easy to stir people up. Blah, blah, blah. We are just as much emotional as we are physical as we are spiritual. Ignoring emotion, quenching passion will result in a culture that is heady, out of touch with reality, and unfeeling. Passion is what sells the dream.

I loved this quote from a comment on Vicky Beeching’s blog:

There was a time when the Church was known for artistic innovation. At a time when the music industry is imploding, a great opportunity exists for the Church to reclaim her historical place in supporting the arts…

Now for those who know me, I’m not lobbying for more drama’s on our church stages, or body painting during worship, or worship flags. That’s not the point. The point is, creativity is what solves problems in ways that move things forward. Creative thinking, dreaming, collaboration – these are like connectors between what is and what should and could be. And it’s not the Bible’s fault, or even the idea of the Church (the Gospel). The Gospel is transcendent, applicable to all cultures and all generations. But it’s our charge to live it out and present it in a powerful and convincing way to each generation, whether thru words, deeds, tweets, songs, art, etc.

I know, I’m not saying anything new. Or maybe I am. Either way, dream more…

(commenting doesn’t seem too popular anymore, but if you did comment, I’d love to hear how your church does or doesn’t embrace creative endeavors?)

4 thoughts on “Thoughts on Church & Creativity Part 1

  1. Stephen

    Hey Alex, I enjoyed reading the post. I think you did a nice job outlining reasons why creativity gets killed in church environments, but I would have enjoyed reading more about the benefits for churches that embrace creativity (perhaps a follow-up post?).

    I agree with the general idea of your argument, as it is completely necessary for churches to remain relevant in the world, but I disagree in seeing the necessity of chasing down every passing trend. I also think that it is important to weigh actual costs into decisions about creativity.

    Rancho has the uniqueness of being a multi-generational group. One of my biggest dreams is for the traditional service attendees and the contemporary service attendees to worship together. I think there is a benefit to kids seeing grandparents worshipping and vice-verse. I only wish that both sides would be a little self-sacrificial in their worship choices to allow this to happen.

    On the other hand, maybe we can use our creativity to bridge the gap. The worship team could rewrite older songs to make them a little more appealing musically to younger crowd. Whenever they play reinvented hymns, it is awesome. The worship team could also tone down the volume to a level that doesn’t stop hearts and entice the older generation with more songs that are not repetitions of the same lyrics 50 times. I happen to be of the opinion that hearing the voices of the congregation singing praises is more beautiful and powerful that the loudest guitar solo. That being said, I think there is a place for creativity through music, and can enjoy a good guitar solo.

    I’ll end with this last idea. I think that creativity is great, as long as it correctly reflects the congregation. I don’t think doing creative things just for the sake of it is worthwhile, unless it actually does something to move a congregation. Some churches are filled with artists and therefore, art is a huge aspect of their church. Some churches have wonderfully talented musicians, and therefore have string quartets that play before church begins. Some churches are moved by writing, and therefore have a poem or even rap to begin a service off with. I think what Rancho, or any church really, needs, is to identify what is the creative thing that really moves them, and go with that. Seeing what a congregation of artists does and emulating it might not be the best avenue to take as it doesn’t reflect the actual church culture you represent.

    This is probably a better conversation to have in person, and maybe we can continue it there. Good topic Alex, thanks. Sorry if my comment isn’t easy to follow 🙂

    • Alex McLean Post author

      Steve – good to see you here. I’ll be brief:
      – I kind of write like that, looking at the problem first. So look for a part 2 or even more as I process through this.
      – I agree that we should not chase down the latest trends. That’s not what I’m saying. But I am saying that we shouldn’t discount innovation, creative thinking, and solutions that we’ve never thought of before.
      – Rancho. Yes, this post isn’t meant *just* for Rancho, or really even reflect how Rancho does or doesn’t embrace creativity, arts, musical style, change, etc. However, I completely agree with where you are going – It would be amazing to see the generations worship together in some capacity and compromise is the key – and creative ideas like you’ve suggested are what will get us there… if that ends up being our goal. That’s a huge discussion.
      – And lastly, Rancho’s culture for creativity. Again another great discussion. Rancho is a subculture. Temecula is a subculture. So we should reflect our subculture, but we should also embrace what our culture may be becoming. I’m not talking about being worldly, I’m talking about the fact that our valley is saturated with “church”, “Christian music”, “Christian stores”, “Christian bumper stickers”, yet I don’t think we’re as “Christian as we think we are”. So how do we reach our valley? Serve our valley? Have discussions with our valley? Open doors and invite people? Dare I say, “attract” people? I digress… Kind of got off-track there. I don’t think that Rancho or the Temecula Valley is very “arts heavy” or “creative” in their approach to church, worship, etc. That’s why I’m not saying add more creative “stuff”. I’m saying more, think of creative ways to be the Church.
      Good stuff Steve – you got my mind working overtime.

  2. julianna

    Like it! Your last point “Fear of Emotion” is one that I’ve been learning the last couple months. We are emotional people and though we don’t want to force emotional decisions through worship, it’s proven that emotions stir our hearts to receive teaching, words of encouragement, and breed passion. 🙂 We need more passion.

    • Alex McLean Post author

      We do need more passion. And I don’t care what Sabo says 🙂

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