Friday, August 20, 2010

creativity in church part 3

If the goal of creativity is to bring clarity, then what does that look like in our service planning? My hope in this post is to share some of my current thoughts on how to implement this principle.

This Summer I had the opportunity to plan 3 worship services for students called Remix United. I was speaking, so I got to create the teaching series, help pick the songs, make some videos, and figure out what props could be used to help communicate my bottom lines. (I’m a fan of Andy Stanley’s one point concept. Rather than teaching multiple points in a message, just teach one. You can read about that in his book Communicating for a Change).

As I was working with Michael Bayne on the service planning, we stumbled on to an idea that I think I’ll use the rest of my service-planning career. I was reading him my summaries for each of my three messages for the Summer, and he asked me to summarize each of them into one word. We always break the message down to one point, but he asked me to break it down to one WORD.

So the 3 messages went like this:

1. Complicated
2. Stuck
3. Messy

Everything I was talking about in each message was condensed to one single word. That allowed us to plan the entire service around a single idea. We started asking questions like, “How can we use the word “complicated” throughout the service to illustrate your one point? We don’t have to say the word from stage over and over, but what can we do creatively to build tension around this word? How can we set Nate up when he starts speaking to where everyone in the room is already thinking about things being complicated?”

Asking these questions forced us to channel our creative planning towards communicating with clarity. Rather than enhance an experience, we were able to clarify a message.

The key for this to work is finding the tension in your communicator’s message. What is the tension he (she depending on your church… haha) wants the audience to be wrestling with? Once you find that, figure out how to condense it to a single word. Then start using your creative energy and planning to work that into your creative avenues (drama, video, song selection, game if you’re working with middle schoolers, message bumps, etc.)

This is just an experiment, but I really do think there’s something to the idea of breaking everything down into a single word. What’s the word that the entire service is hinging on? This can work in any environment. We used it in our kids’ environment for our current virtue. My word was “problem”. Everything revolved around the fact that there was this huge PROBLEM called sin. One idea… one word.

For church creative teams, I think that means that the communicator needs to be actively involved in the creative process. Just as Orange attempts to break down the silos of family ministry, I think service programmers and creative directors should be attempting to break down the silos in worship gatherings. The creative process needs to point everyone towards one message you want to communicate. Having the band cover a song that somehow relates to the message is not cutting it. That’s old and been done (it can still be effective, but really? That’s the idea every series?). We need to start figuring out how the communicator can incorporate the creative ideas your team is coming up with to more clearly communicate his (or her) big idea. If you have a creative team, you probably think you’re already doing that, but what I’m talking about is channeling ALL creative ideas around one idea. This is a lot of pressure on the communicator, though, because he or she has to know where they’re landing and what the tension is a few weeks in advance, but it can and needs to be done.

What do you think? One word service planning? Good or bad idea?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

creativity in church part 2

If we land on the fact that creativity should be used in church, then I think it's important to decide what it's purpose should be. As I've visited modern churches, and been to dozens of services, the tendency is for creativity in church to be about creating a better experience. The creative ideas are channeled towards stage design, service programming, promo videos, etc.

Many times, churches that embrace creativity use it in all areas of the service except the message portion. The creative team meets and the services get a lot more edgy, but the messages generally stay the same. It’s like there’s a gap between what the speaker says and the rest of the service. There might be a cover song that kind of ties the whole thing together, but other than that, the speaker prepared, walked out, and spoke as if the creative team had never met.

This is because the creative process was geared towards creating a better experience. This is where the problem and debate arises.

Rather than creativity in church being funneled towards creating a better experience, it should be used to make a clearer presentation. Creativity should bring clarity to a message; not merely excitement to a service.

I think that churches focused on reaching the next generation desperately need to get this principle. Programming, videos, music, lighting, drama, and all of that are EXCELLENT! But the goal isn’t to create a more entertaining, “more bearable than your average traditional church” experience, the goal is to communicate a message. And our challenge is to use the gift of creativity that God has given us to further the ministry that God has entrusted us.

We need to be striving to use creativity to bring clarity. That is what Jesus did with the parables. He took a central idea he wanted to communicate about God, and creatively engaged his audience to bring clarity to His message. I’ll be sharing my thoughts/ramblings on the details of that in the next post.

Who are some communicators you’ve heard bring clarity through creativity?

Monday, August 16, 2010

creativity in church part 1

One of my first conversations at Moody centered on creativity in church. It was a topic that was somewhat debated throughout the year in different circles, and I’ve spent some time this Summer praying/processing through it for myself. The next few posts are my attempt to formulate some of those thoughts.

In the conversation previously mentioned, I made a comment about “designing a new discipleship system for students”. I thought (and still think) that small groups/Sunday school wasn’t getting the job done, especially with teenage guys. The girl I was talking to said, “That doesn’t matter. It’s all about speaking truth.”

And here we have the debate of the decade. Does creativity have a place in the Gospel presentation, or is the Holy Spirit entirely responsible for engaging people through simply "speaking truth"? Do humans play a part in engaging an audience, or is that fully on the shoulders of the Holy Spirit?

I personally believe it’s both, but that’s a cop-out answer, so I’ll share my thoughts in detail.

In Acts chapter 8, we read the story of Phillip and the Ethiopian.

28...and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet.
29The Spirit told Philip, "Go to that chariot and stay near it."

The Ethiopian was reading the Bible, clearly being presented with truth, yet the Holy Spirit intervened in the process by sending Phillip over to the guy. The Holy Spirit could have simply acted by working through the Ethiopian’s reading of Scripture, but instead He chose to work through Phillip.

30Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. "Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked.
31"How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?" So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

There's no question the Ethiopian had encountered truth, (he was reading the Book that contains truth) but that wasn't enough; he needed someone to explain it to him. The Holy Spirit was in the middle of the entire process, but He worked through the explanation.

The Holy Spirit is fully responsible for reconciling people to God, because unless the Spirit draws them they can’t even be open to hearing from God. The Spirit is also responsible for convicting a person’s heart, but God, for whatever odd reason, has decided to use us in that process (2 Corinthians 5). If God wants to use us in His plan to seek and save the lost, then shouldn’t we accept that responsibility with a dedication to do it with the best of our ability? With all creativity God Himself has given us?
We’ll talk more about that in the next post. But to conclude part 1:
the explanation of truth matters.

Stay tuned this week for some more of my thoughts. How have you seen this principle at work in your ministry?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

relationship v reputation

Reggie Joiner made a statement in a leaders' meeting at Bigstuf Camps that I've spent a lot of time processing this summer. He said, "The relationship you have with students is more important than your reputation as a leader."

Initially, it seems like there are a lot of problems with that statement.

1. Your reputation will always stay with you... students won't.
2. The reputation of the students you have relationships with shapes your reputation.
3. If student pastors gain a reputation of maintaining relationships with "bad" kids, that can damage the image of the church.

In student ministry world the best way to maintain a pure reputation with parents, the church, and the community is to form relationships with students who are making wise decisions. I mean you don't want people knowing that YOU were the mentor in the life of the kid who just got arrested. Because of that, the tendency as student pastors/workers is to design ministry for the kids who are already making wise decisions... that way the students in your ministry aren't the ones showing up on the front page for doing something stupid.

But if what Reggie Joiner said is true, then we should value our relationship with students (regardless of their current lifestyle) above our reputation as a leader.

Here's why: Relationship is the route to life change, and God has not called Christians to a ministry of reputation, but to a ministry of reconciliation. And the only way that we can lead other students into a reuniting relationship with God, is if we first establish a relationship with them. If you're going to lead lost students into a relationship with God, then you've got to have some relationships with lost students. And having relationships with lost students can damage your reputation.

So which will you choose? Relationship or reputation?
Who do you have a relationship with that is potentially damaging your reputation?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

real talk w/ the reeds

This Thursday @ 7 PM, Brandon and Kara Reed will be hosting an event called Real Talk at their house. The idea for this event is very simple: we want to create discussion about God's design for dating relationships in high school.

Brandon Reed is the Director of College Ministry at Grace, and he and his wife Kara are passionate about investing in students. You don't want to miss Real Talk!

Regardless of your relationship status, you are constantly thinking about dating. So why not spend an hour Thursday night learning from Brandon and Kara about establishing healthy relationships? We PROMISE to make this as un-awkward as possible, and you won't be put on the spot in any way. This is just a chance for you to listen, learn, and ask questions if you want!

Hope to see you! If you need more information check out the Relevant Facebook page. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

hats in church

I grew up not being allowed to wear hats in church. I always hated that, so in middle school I found 1 Samuel 16:7 (which says that God looks at the heart and not the outward appearance) as my battle cry for the ridiculousness of not allowing middle schoolers to wear hats.

When I got to Moody this past fall, I quickly learned that they adopt the same policy towards hat-wearers. At Moody you can't wear a hat in the cafeteria or in classes. Naturally, I fought against the rule. I made a bunch of comments about how legalistic it was and complained a lot about how it was creating a legalistic culture.

Frankly, I think it is a legalistic argument to not allow someone to wear hats in "God-centered" environments. I've heard every argument there is for why it makes sense, and I disagree with them all. However, I now realize that I was just as off base with my response to the rule.

In Romans 14, Paul addresses the issue of clean/unclean foods. He says he is convinced that no foods are wrong to eat (which Jesus also taught in Matthew 15). While the hat argument doesn't deal with food, the principle still applies. Wearing a hat doesn't defile a person, the heart does. But after Paul makes that statement, he also says that if another believer is distressed about what you eat, then you're not acting in love if you eat it.

In other words, if one believer thinks it's wrong to wear a hat, regardless of how wrong I think they are, I'm not acting in love if I deliberately wear a hat around them.

This is convicting for me. What about you? Have you ever struggled with a similar issue? How did you respond?

Monday, May 10, 2010

two things... a few thoughts

My last exam is on Tuesday at 10 AM for New Testament Survey. As soon as it's over I'll be heading home for Summer. It's been a weird year, and I thought I'd take a few minutes to reflect. Here are the two most valuable principles I've learned this year:

1. Faith always precedes understanding

2. Discipline is the pathway to Godliness

The first principle hits home the most for me. It is birthed from Proverbs 1:7, and it pretty much sums up this school year. There are so many things I thought I knew this time last year, and all of them have been questioned or refuted this year. There are many things about my current life that I don't fully understand, and that I would change in a heart beat if I could. It would be easy to let those things influence my faith, but faith always precedes understanding. I may never fully know why God is allowing me to deal with certain thoughts and emotions right now, but that's alright, because faith always precedes understanding... and I refuse to stop believing.

The second principle hits home, but makes me feel way worse about myself... haha.
It's impossible to become like God without discipline, because everything about my nature is ungodly. However, as a believer I have a calling and expectation for Godliness, and so I must become disciplined, because discipline is the pathway to Godliness. The problem and frustration I have with this is that in order to BE disciplined, I have to HAVE discipline. I feel like it's impossible to become disciplined without already possessing discipline, because the act of becoming disciplined takes discipline! This sucks for someone who doesn't already posses it.. So, I'm still working on the discipline thing. It's absolutely crucial though, because discipline is the pathway to Godliness.

Two things, a few thoughts, and you have my spiritual journey for the year in a nut shell. The next few days I'll be sharing some big plans for Summer 2010 at Relevant Student Ministry.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

get rid of bad ideas

When I was in high I had the opportunity to lead a few school-wide events. I would always get a team together to help me plan the event so that we could come up with the best ideas possible. Occasionally our team would get stuck, and when you’re stuck, it can be very easy to move forward with a bad idea simply because you can’t come up with anything else.

Inevitably in these type situations someone will say the phrase, “don’t criticize the idea unless you have a better idea.” Basically they’re saying, “don’t say this is a bad idea unless you have a good idea”.

I used to even agree with that statement. I can remember thinking, “yea that makes sense. Don’t knock other people if you can’t come up with something on your own.”

It’s a very well meaning statement, but how could a team of people wanting to pursue excellence ever agree with that statement? A bad idea doesn’t become a good idea simply because there aren’t any other good ideas in the room. You can’t move forward with a bad idea just because the feelings of someone in the room are attached to the bad idea. Handle it gently, but don’t accept mediocrity simply because you haven’t come up with the good idea yet.

It’s ok to say, “I don’t know what the idea is yet, but I know THAT isn’t it.”

The longer you let bad ideas linger around the longer it will be until you find the good ones.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

just trust

I have a paper due tomorrow morning at 8, so I should probably be working on that... but there's not too many things I dislike more than writing those.

This year has by far been the most difficult year of my life. I've had to go home 3 times for 3 different funerals, one of which for a very close friend. Mixing all of those emotions with the emotions of being homesick in general has been interesting. At the beginning of my first semester I sensed God trying to teach me to trust in Him with every aspect of my life, and unfortunately I've continued trusting myself instead of Him.

I think learning to trust God completely is the most important thing that any Christian could do. Imagine what would happen if every believer truly started living by faith in every arena of life.

It's hard. I really suck at it. Instead of spending time with Him I sit on facebook and write blog posts..

Trust God. What does that mean exactly... I don't know. But I know God's real and has a real plan. The goal if figuring out how to stop holding on to my life and surrender it to God, but again, I don't really know what that means or looks like.

It's amazing how unstructured this post is...

Monday, April 12, 2010

it's engaging, not entertaining

All my life I've heard Bible-believing, well-meaning Christians criticize modern ministry methods because they were more "entertaining" than "Biblical". Before I could go to "big church" the argument was over hymnals vs. projector screens. When I was 8, everyone was all bent out of shape over "dressing up for church". People had begun wearing collared shirts and khakis instead of shirts and ties. When I was 10 it was over "contemporary music". When I was 12 it was over small groups vs. Sunday School.

Because I was in a large traditional church, they just eventually took the middle ground on everything. The hymnals were left in the pews, and every so often they would have "Hymnal 138" written on the projection screen to satisfy the hymnal wanters. Strategically picked deacons would wear a jacket with an open collar. They started having "blended" services that would accommodate both crowds (which satisfies neither by the way), and they implemented small group ministry without getting rid of Sunday School.

Now, I haven't graduated from Seminary, so my opinion may be somewhat invalid (although I am in Bible School... and a conservative one at that), but oddly enough, NONE of these programs/ministry techniques are addressed AT ALL in scripture. None.

Since I started going to a "modern church" or whatever you want to call it, I've had to participate in a lot of conversations about how our method of doing church is more about entertaining people than discipling people. As if a different music style, discipleship method, or jeans make us less Biblical. As ridiculous as that is, there are TONS of evangelicals who would argue that.

So, here's my argument: It's engaging, not entertaining.

The goal is never that we merely entertain people for an hour once a week. The goal is that we help them encounter Biblical truth in a way that ENGAGES them. Having the pastor take off his tie for the message is NOT engaging! Blending a service is NOT engaging! It's a LAME attempt to do exactly what modern churches are doing!

Traditionalists criticize the modern church (that's modern... not "post" modern) for choosing to engage their audience with excellence, when they attempt to engage their audience with mediocrity. Their failure to engage the next generation is not based on their Biblical message, it's based on their outdated techniques. People are not leaving the traditional church because they're "preaching truth"... they're leaving the traditional church because they're not preaching it well.

It's about engaging... not entertaining.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

thankful for a transparent dad

Through my time the past month in God's word I've come to have a much deeper appreciation for my dad. So many things I'm learning about God and His heart I remember watching my dad either experience or try to teach me, and I can't explain how much that strengthens my faith. As I continue internalizing faith for myself I become so much more thankful for a dad who was willing to be open about his faith with his kids. (And just for the record, my dad doesn’t know I’m writing this. This week I’ve just been so overwhelmed by encountering Biblical truth I’ve seen modeled in him that I feel burdened to share.)

I want to list just a few things I can remember my dad doing with me that I think ultimately helped shape my faith. I don't really know what readership I have here at Moons From Burma, or if I have any at all, but if you're a parent or want to be a parent someday and desire that your kids love Jesus more than anything else, I think you should apply some of these to your parenting.

1. Let your kids see you worship.
I remember countless times either in our "junk room" at my old house, driving down the road, or in a worship service where I could see my dad worshiping. Most the time he didn't even know I was watching, but there's something powerful about wondering why in the world your dad is raising his hand, closing his eyes, or singing in a non-goofy way.

2. Let your kids see you struggle.
My dad has always talked to me about his struggles. Whether he was explaining a bad business deal, a frustration with an employee, or a question about theology, my dad would always talk to me about what he was dealing with. Now, looking back, I wonder why in the world he would trust me with that information, but I think he realized how much my character would be impacted by watching him handle his struggles with character. If I never knew about the struggle, I wouldn’t know what Godly, real-world character even looked like.

3. Let your kids see you wrestle with God.
Just like Jacob, Godly men may have to spend some time wrestling with God before they can be Godly. My dad, intentionally and unintentionally, allowed me to watch him wrestle. I can remember two specific times when I was basically spying on my dad in the other room when he was on his knees crying. That’s the kind of information my dad wouldn’t necessarily want hitting the streets, because typically he isn’t a very emotional person, but I can’t explain how much of a difference it made in my life being able to watch my hero cry and plead with God.

4. Let your kids know when you’re in over your head.
When I was in 7th grade our family was having some trouble financially. Instead of hiding that from me, my dad was open about it. He had no clue what was going to happen, but rather than pretend he knew all the answers, he used it as an opportunity to teach me the most important principle in all the world: trusting in God. Because he let me see him trust in God, I learned what it meant to live by faith. There’s a whole chapter on that in Hebrews by the way…

Typically 5 points would make more sense than 4, but I’m going to stop here. The bottom line is that if you care more about your kids’ faith than any other aspect of their life, then be transparent. Or cleverly, be a “Trans”-parent… My dad is not an open person by nature. He is actually very introverted and very much enjoys privacy. That is irrelevant. This is a principle, not a personal personality bent.

The best person your kid can see live out faith is you. Throughout the Gospel of John Jesus assures his followers and listeners that everything He reveals is a reflection of what His Father had revealed to Him. God was transparent with His son, so live life with your kids too.

Monday, January 18, 2010

the teenage alcoholic

High school is an awkward time of life. As a Freshman no one is really sure what to make of the facial hair, boob sizes, and seemingly adult-like behavior of the upper class men. A considerable amount of time is spent trying to determine who you are, what your legacy is going to be, and how you're somehow going to fool everyone else into believing you're awesome instead of insecure.

Most teenagers are consumed with impressing people.

The problem with this consumption is that it often drives teenagers to make decisions they don't really want to make. Don't get me wrong, some teenagers make stupid decisions simply because they're stupid, but most teenagers succumb to stupid decisions because they care so deeply about what people think. This can lead to a lot of irrational decisions, but the one I feel most burdened for is the teenage alcoholic, because it can end up affecting everything else.

I was having a conversation this week with a friend who said he felt like our generation was a lost cause. His reasoning: everyone parties. "Even the so called 'Christian' kids party," he said. And I must admit, he's kind of right. So many teenagers go to FCA meeting on Tuesday morning, church on Wednesday night, Younglife on Thursday night, and get hammered Friday and Saturday... all in time to make it to church on Sunday. Clearly there's a problem with that picture.

The natural reaction to this problem is to set up boundaries for teenagers. We start pouring out our energy toward creating a safe place for the good kids who don't want to be a apart of that. Christian student groups become the escape hub for the students who want to make wise decisions and steer clear of the party scene. A gap is created between the "real Christians" and the "worldly Christians", who honestly probably aren't even Christians based on their works. As a result of this strategy, a wall is placed between the righteous kids and the unrighteous ones, and suddenly, unintentionally, a terrible terrible mindset is created.

This mindset is the purpose for this post. Somewhere along the way the pure students who wanted to make the wise choice bought into the lie that they were more favorable and righteous than the party-ers simply because they don't get drunk on the weekends... and I'm more guilty than anyone. My righteousness became my sin.

Is teenage drinking wrong? Yes. Are teenage drinkers making decisions that have potential to ruin their future? Yes. Is drinking really the problem? No.

You know what the problem is? The problem is not alcohol consumption; the problem is every teenager's pursuit of anything that will satisfy them other than Jesus. The only reason alcohol became the go-to sin is because it's the easiest substitute for value, love, and approval.

As easy as it is to write off the party-ers, we have to remember that drinking is not the unforgivable sin. Drinking and driving isn't even the unforgivable sin. God's basis for righteousness is no longer about our personal holiness, His basis is on Christ's holiness! None of us are saved for abstaining from drinking, drugs and sex on the weekends, we are saved because Jesus abstained from all of that, along with every other sin, and then chose to die for us. Through his life we have life, and we're to be his witnesses... even to the ends of the party scene.

This is a much longer post than I usually like to make, but it's so important for anyone dealing with high school students. Whether you're in high school, a teacher, a student pastor, any mentor of any kind, you have the ability to point teenagers toward Christ instead of alcohol. Don't give up on the teenage alcoholic!

Is my generation a lost generation for getting drunk on the weekends? Yes! But only because we need Jesus.