Does your church push away creative, right-brained people?
Just when the culture is shifting, churches are resisting that change.
I’ve seen this happen in several churches, including one that tries hard to appeal to the surrounding culture. The problem is, even in technical, business-oriented Silicon Valley, great value is placed on right-brained thinking. A cultural brain shift is taking place: away from controlled order… towards creative unpredictability…
And just when the culture is shifting, churches are resisting that change. They cling to the rational, fearing the wild creativity. Sadly, this excludes the wildest creative of all: the Holy Spirit. And so instead of seeking out churches, this weekend the creative types are at Burning Man instead.
Have you ever been bored in church?
Author and thinker Len Sweet is a student of Jesus and a student of culture. I’ve written about his books So Beautiful and Jesus Manifesto. In this video, Len explores the beauty of creatives, and is asked, “Why do you think the church is afraid of right-brained people?”
“The fact that we’re bastions of boredom, rather than bursting with creativity and release of the arts is such an embarrassment.”
Note: when I talk about boredom, the antidote is not entertainment. That has been the approach of seeker-oriented churches, to be entertaining. Years later, we’re realizing: by being entertaining, we’ve produced audiences instead of disciples. The church has played directly into the words of the unlikely prophet Kurt Cobain: “Here we are now, entertain us.”
So that’s not where I’m going. But please, deliver me from boredom. It’s a sign that who I am is not being allowed to experience and express the lordship of Jesus.
Boredom is not the only problem creatives face with churches. I know churches that’ve invited artists to play a more prominent role, asking them to contribute or even lead. Then after the artist has contributed a work, or led out in a new direction, they are told, “We can’t have that here.”
The artist, having poured her heart and soul into the work, feels rejected. It’s not just a matter of “not measuring up” or “people don’t get it.” It’s essentially being told, “That thing doesn’t belong. Oh, it’s an expression of your core? Well, then maybe you don’t belong.“
Unfortunately, artists and churches tend to pull in opposite directions:
- Artists are interested in provoking a reaction.
- Churches want to make people feel comfortable.
- Artists desire unique expressions.
- Churches want to keep everyone moving along together.
- Artists value the unpredictable.
- Churches want things predictable and planned.
Ultimately, the artists feel marginalized. So they leave. …Meanwhile, churches wonder where there apostles, prophets and evangelists are — not realizing they inadvertently chased them away! Everyone loses …but only the artists feel the loss directly. The churches carry on, unaware.
It can be done, I’ve seen it
It’s a shame. The problem isn’t just that the individual artist feels he has no spiritual home. It’s that the church is not reaching a growing segment of society. It’s a missional problem. Churches may experience some numerical growth, but not in the kind of person who is at Burning Man. Think these are just freaks on the fringe? Burning Man is becoming so popular, some artists are worried it’s becoming mainstream! This indicates how much it’s growing and entering the broader social consciousness.
But back in 2003, I experienced a gathering of creative Christ followers called The Soliton Sessions. The following picture is just one small portion of our collective art-worship spread across the floor:
See the rest of my Soliton photos. That experience brought me through a crisis of faith. I came to the intersection of my changing faith and my changing culture, and found Jesus all over again.
In a right-brained culture, mission and art must intersect.
I remember weeping, full of relief and joy.
But this was seven years ago! I have yet to see that kind of creativity encouraged and released in any church nearby. And that’s a crying shame. Because it can be done — I’ve seen it.
If folks here in the US were aware of the alternative worship movement of the UK, I’m afraid they wrote it off as “weird.” Or they tacked it on as gimmicks or props, not something from the heart. Contextualization of the gospel requires many forms, expressing “Jesus is Lord” in the heart-language of the culture. In a right-brained culture, mission and art must intersect.
Leaders of faith communities, what can you do? Maybe these questions can be a starting point:
- Who are our your artists? Do you see any apostolic, prophetic or evangelistic gifts in them?
- Take stock of those who have left. Were some artists who felt marginalized?
- Instead of trying to change what you already have… can you launch experimental missional communities where creativity is not a prop, but at the very core?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. What are your reactions, experiences, questions and concerns? How do you respond to the video? Please share in the comments below!
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