I wonder if anyone has ever asked you this question: Do you get bored in church?
I quite often get bored in church, and I have to admit that is partly me and partly church. I am highly creative, I need lots of variety and the stimulation of the new, and I enjoy and feel fed by opportunities to appreciate beauty and excellence. Unfortunately mainstream evangelicalism in which most of my local church experience falls, seems to struggle with creativity. As we try to achieve unity within diversity and meet the needs of many different people there are many balances we need to achieve. One of the tensions that the church needs to find balance on is between the need for excitement and stimulation that creatives need to feel at home, and the predictability and familiarity that those with a high need for stability need. Instead of finding a balance where these too elements can come together in one congregation we tend to position our churches in one camp or the other. Mainstream evangelicals tend to be particularly oriented towards predictability, safety and security. Perhaps it comes from evangelicalism’s roots in the reformation that changed our focus from symbol and allegory to a rational emphasis on preaching and teaching, truth was no longer seen but heard. Perhaps it comes from the influence of the puritan movement on evangelicalism.
As evangelical Christians we often don’t have a good understanding of what creativity is. I know some people think of creativity as simply those who are good at ‘the arts’. But creativity is much broader than that. Creativity is an ability to think beyond what is in front of us, it is tied to imagination. Merriam-Webster defines creativity as “the ability to make new things or think of new ideas”. It is linked to imagination which is defined (Merriam-Webster again) as the ability to imagine things that are not real.
In fact just as you don’t have to be artistic to be creative, you also aren’t necessarily creative just because you are ‘artistic’. Often I sit in church and wonder if we have just sung the same song 4 times, artistic expression can be derivative and not contain that freshness that I associate with creativity. Another issue for creatives in the church, is that creativity is often seen and portrayed as a bit juvenile. It is ok to want to express yourself through colour, and paint if you are 7 but really you should grow out of it by adulthood. It might be something that is ok in Sunday school or youth group but then is abandoned once you hit the ‘real service’ where it is abandoned in favour of practicalities.
Perhaps a deeper understanding of creativity and how it can play a part in our faith is needed. From the very beginning of our biblical narrative when God imagined the world as a new thing, that had not before existed, we see a God who is the embodiment of creativity. Then humans are created in the image of this creative God, so as we exercise our creativity we image our creative creator God. Michael Frost (in his book Exiles available here) brings this alive to me by pointing out that part of being God’s children and calling Him Father, is to be apprentices in God’s family business. We are to learn His craft and trade and join him as workers in the business. He continues to point out that a large part of God’s business is creating and building. So as we exercise our creativity we are learning God’s business of creating, imagining and building. This is a powerful and useful image for me as I seek to expand and nurture my creativity. When I have the opportunity to tap and express the creativity that is within me I feel closer to God and my relationship with Him is made more vibrant and whole. For me this makes creativity a spiritual discipline because when I am at my most creative I feel most connected to God.
Creativity is not safe, it is messy, challenging and often promotes change, perhaps some people, some churches are scared to nurture the creativity of their congregation. Feed them and they could be imagining and creating anything! But that is the point that is why we need creativity in our churches because part of our call as Christian community is to be exercising our eschatological imagination. To be able to imagine the future resolution of God’s story, from the hints and ideas given to us in the Bible and to make every effort to live in the light of that and work toward that resolution as apprentices in God’s family business, is the work of Jesus followers. Nurturing and affirming the creativity in our churches assists us as individuals to grow in faith and assists our churches to grow in their call to live with hope and light.
What does your church do that nurtures your creativity?