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?