I recently had the privilege of being interviewed by Brady Shearer on the Pro Church Tools podcast. We talked about creativity and branding, but spent even more time on the idea that the church in the next generation may be larger than ever, but also more spread out in smaller clusters than ever. So it’s absolutely key to think larger and smaller at the same time.
Preaching is a sacred task. We who shepherd congregations are entrusted with the assignment of opening God’s very own words to his people, week after week, and translating ancient truth to today’s people. We are to preach so as to build up (edify), to hold up (encourage), and to fire up (exhort).
I’m burdened that so much preaching today remains in its ancient context and fails to be interpreted to our current cultural circumstances. I agree with Chuck Swindoll that boring preaching is a crime, and I wish more pastors would come to the pulpit not only prayed up, but touched with the feelings of their flock. In a given year of preaching, we ought to at least touch on every major area of doctrine, each genre of Scripture, and address the major points of pain and need in people’s lives from Scripture.
I do this by preaching thematically in shorter series’ but it can also be accomplished through an expository framework equally well. But this isn’t really a post about what topics, themes, or books of the Bible you should be preaching from. It also isn’t about preaching about current cultural crises which, while highly appropriate at times, shouldn’t be the general shaping influence of our pulpits long term.
This is a post about one of the most neglected topics in preaching – the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I once hosted a revival service and invited a man to preach whom I had known in the past as a very talented guy. I had heard him expound the Scripture and explain the gospel well, but his life and ministry had changed significantly since my last contact with him. The revival wound up as a series of really good motivational speeches with no mention of Jesus, of the cross, or of any way to be saved and changed by the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Tragically, this happens weekly in pulpits around the world. In various kinds of churches there are various kinds of messages given and various approaches to preaching taken. Some address issues of social justice and others offer practical help in the areas of family and finances. But too often, Jesus is absent, or receives an honorary mention at best.
I believe strongly that modern preaching suffers from a lack of relevance, but I believe relevant preaching is a pointless waste of time if it doesn’t ultimately center around Jesus and drive toward the gospel.
Whatever you’re preaching on this Sunday, preach the gospel! Present Jesus. Adorn the doctrine of Christ. Make it clear that King Jesus is the star of the story and is ready to save anyone who calls out to him and make an appeal in every single message for people to place their trust in him. There is an urgency about this issue that I can’t express in a single blog post. Jesus matters more than anything else you could possibly preach this weekend.
Yes, preach about finances, but always point your hearers toward the ultimate Giver of life. Yes, preach about marriage, parenting, and relationships, but always point the audience toward the Father who is gathering a family to himself. Yes, preach about addiction and brokenness, but always point people toward the Healer and Great Physician. Yes, preach about the cultural issues of our present hour, but always point people toward the timeless Creator and Savior who came and just the right time in history.
As I write this, I’m preaching a three-part series of messages called Margin. We’ll use pieces of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount to address our deepest anxieties about time, money, and relationships. We’ll talk about how we need some space and solitude in our day for the sake of our sanity and our spiritual growth. We’ll talk about dumping our relational baggage from past hurts so we can have healthier friendships and marriages now. But…
Each and every one of those messages will ultimately point people to find their salvation, their healing, their rest, their confidence in Jesus, who died to forgive our sins and rose to lead us as our King!
I’m an advocate of being very sensitive to the seekers among us, but I’m even more an advocate of exalting the Savior to every seeker. I love cool sermon graphics, clever titles, and services that are crafted to communicate ancient truth in a modern context well. But we can have “church” on Sunday and everyone can go home happy and still on their way to hell if we who preach neglect to offer forth the most life-changing truth of all – the good news about Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and eternal reign.
Whatever you are preaching this Sunday, talk about the gospel. The world needs it desperately, and God has called you to be the messenger of this sacred good news.
I get the feeling that churches like left-brained people more. I don’t think it’s intentional, but we tend to gravitate toward people who have teaching and organizational gifts rather than creative gifts. Organizers help us structure the church for numerical growth in logical ways and typically like rules and traditions a little more than the left-brained crowd, so they’re less scary and less threatening to our comfort zones.
Personally, I think the church is missing out on something rather valuable and precious when we pass over creative-types. The gospel is a narrative, a story told through different means at different times. Abraham saw it in the stars and David portrayed it with a home for the ark. The apostles saw the gospel in flesh before them as Jesus. Michelangelo painted it on the ceiling of a church and C. S. Lewis allegorized it with a lion, a witch, and a wardrobe.
God is quite creative in His telling of His own story, and He certainly calls us to reflect His creativity as well. I love a good, well-organized sermon as much as anyone, but we need to foster creativity and celebrate the diversity of ways the story can be told if the church will be all that God wants it to be as His chief storytelling agent in the world today.
So how to do you foster creativity in your church?
1. Focus on empowering, not controlling people.
I wrote about the concept of empowering people to do world-changing things recently, and in that article I offered a reminder that people are not a means of getting ministry done. People are the ministry. Helping someone to try out a ministry, or try something new in ministry, is a win when it fits with the overall vision and values of the church.
2. Help people discover their unique SHAPE.
Not everyone is a painter, singer, speaker, or seamstress. Everyone has a unique make-up of spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality, and experiences. God uses all of these factors in ministry, and when combined, our SHAPE is what makes us unique. The church works best when people are serving according to their God-given SHAPE. At Grace Hills, we do this by trial and error, asking people to “try out” an area of ministry once or twice to see if it’s a fit. We also plan on conducting personal SHAPE interviews once we have our Ministry Matters class up and going.
3. Celebrate great story-telling.
When someone creatively tells a story well, celebrate it. Congratulate and thank them and highlight their work so that the church understands how much we value the labor of love that produces creative things.
4. Provide resources for creative story-tellers.
When we moved to northwest Arkansas to plant Grace Hills, one of my earliest purchases was a Canon XA10 HD camcorder so that we could stream video online. Just yesterday I received a text from someone on our creative team asking if we could sell the Canon and use the money to buy a less expensive camera that would be better for the job. What? Better than what I picked out? My answer was yes, whatever it takes to empower our creative team with the best tools we can afford… within reason. We also hope to utilize some extra office space for a Mac equipped with professional video-editing tools.
5. Allow creatives to reach other creatives.
The funny thing about musicians and artists is that they tend to find each other. I wouldn’t know where to find a great guitarist, but God led me to Neil Greenhaw who has drawn other creative individuals to work in proximity to him. He loves them and empowers them, which excites me.
Thousands of years ago, artificers and craftsmen were recruited for the building of the tabernacle. Later they built a whole temple. Today they’re building churches – not just the brick and mortar buildings, but the people who make up the body of Christ.
Get creative for the gospel’s sake.
Some churches view the staff as hired workers. If that is the case in your church, respect your leaders and don’t blame any rebellious attitudes on what I am about to say about this. Other churches view the staff as interdependent creative thinkers and leaders. In the first case, the usual mentality is “anything you aren’t doing for the church should be done ‘off the clock’.” In the second case, the mentality is “everything you do as ministry and mission benefits us as long as your priorities are in order.”
When I was at Saddleback, I learned some pretty great lessons about systems, structures, and staff leadership. In spite of our blessed chaos and the “fast, fluid, and flexible” environment of the southern California megachurch, I learned a ton about leadership and how a church staff can function in a healthy way.
One of the principles Pastor Rick often shared was that every church staff member is expected to fulfill three different ministries, on or off “the clock.”
1. Every church staff member has a ministry to the lost. And our ministry to the lost trumps our other responsibilities every time. We advocate for the lost, relate to the lost, and give our time and energy to bringing lost people to Jesus, first and foremost.
2. Every church staff member has a ministry to the church. It is this second priority that is made first in many churches, probably to the detriment of the creative potential of the staff collectively. We wind up falling into the trap of just doing the work we’re expected to do with little time for independent, creative thinking. Apple, Google, and thousands of other tech startups could teach us some important lessons here about freeing people up to think beyond what currently exists. Gmail, for example, was a product born out of the personal development time granted to some employees who were free to play around on the clock. Today, it’s a core Google component. If we aren’t thinking about the lost and how to creatively reach them as much as we think about getting our jobs done, we’re toast.
3. Every church staff member has a ministry to his or her peers. That is, we have a responsibility to pour into and invest in our parallels. As Pastor Rick put it, Saddleback’s receptionists were to minister to other church receptionists, children’s ministry leaders to other children’s ministry leaders, etc. This is the trickiest of all for established churches who see “outside” ministry interests as competing with the productivity of their own staff. But it boils down to a matter of stewardship. If my church is blessed with knowledge or resources, it’s up to our staff to share that blessing with others. Ministering to our peers keeps us in the company of encouragers, prevents isolation and burnout, keeps me up-to-date and sharp on leadership innovations, and is ultimately good for the kingdom (and heaven knows how we need more kingdom-minded churches!).
It’s a tough shift. If you lead a church to be clock-punching and productivity-obsessed, you’ll get a lot done and perhaps build a larger, more effective church. But if you care about developing people into more influential leaders and growing the kingdom as much as you care about growing your institutional machinery, you’ll at least open yourself to the possibility of releasing your staff to think more about the lost than your church and also spend time investing in their peers.
Graphic background by Zach Fonville.
Our Creator designed us to be creative. And out of our inborn creativity come forth plenty of good ideas, but an idea is only as valuable as its successful implementation. In other words, brainstorming is good, but completing ideas is even better. Charles Lee, the founder of the Ideation Consultancy and many other brilliant ideas, helps leaders cross the finish line with well-developed good ideas.
In his new book, Good Idea. Now What?, Charles presents a guidebook that is very thorough, but also very readable. It’s a book for leaders, for thinkers, and for creators. It’s written in such a way that the reader can join in at any point, like a reference book. But it’s also a journey that can be followed on a pathway to creative growth. Here’s what Charles has to say about the book…
Going from inspiration to execution is hard work. Many steps stand between a good idea and the hit product, profitable company, or social change you envision. Your initial “aha!” moment provides the key to begin this process, but it’s the way you make your dream happen that truly defines your success.
Good Idea. Now What? gives you the tools you need to make your inspiration a reality. This accessible go-to guide features practical advice from leading idea-makers that will help you get your vision off the ground.
Personally, I’d recommend getting copies for your church staff, your creative arts team, and if you’re in business, for your leaders. Charles has had some pretty great ideas himself. He’s the creator of grassroots efforts including JustOne, the Idea Camp, Ideation Conference, and the Freeze Project as well as the co-founder of JustOne. Charles regularly speaks around the country on topics such as creative process, idea-making, innovation, branding, new media, and compassionate justice. And now, you can have his wisdom in print to refer back to when you need an expert’s insight.
Being creative is a reflection upon our Creator. To be more creative, observe beautiful things made by creative people. Every day, I read posts from around the web that showcase some amazing creative talent. Each is a link, so click the picture for more. Enjoy…
This is an article that Pastors and anyone in the field of Church Communications needs to read and bookmark for later research. It’s the short version of a talk that Phil gave at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention. Phil was instrumental in sparking a huge interest in me in the realm of media and communications when I met him at a conference at Prestonwood Church in Plano a few years ago.
Here are Phil’s main points, but you need to click through and read his comments…