Selling Worship

For some reason, printer/copier companies have been knocking on our door lately. I went to a little mixer a couple of weeks ago to check out a company with my brother. I wasn’t severely impressed with them, but it was a good experience and it got a few ideas of the direction I want to head with that sort of technology in mind. Today a small group of us went to another mixer “working lunch” with a guest speaker who acted like he knew quite a bit about church communications, and after 4-5 minutes, I realized he was a product pusher, and not a communicator. I was slightly perturbed by it and found myself immediately dismissing what he was saying.

Shortly after that, it was time for the worship meeting, something I genuinely look forward to, this is where all the “magic” happens, in my opinion. This is the only space we can all get together and hash out ideas that will either become part of a worship experience or not. As we started the meeting, I was determined to make them view creativity in worship differently no matter what. It wasn’t until the middle of my rant about why we should be using social media in worship that I recognized the similarities between the speaker at the lunch I attended and myself. Now, it wasn’t about sharing the ideas, it was about selling them to the worship team.

There I realized I had made a fatal mistake. These meetings aren’t about selling my ideas to them, it’s about finding the most suitable way to express ourselves in worship at our services.

In the end, worship isn’t about doing the flashiest or techiest things possible. It’s about breaking hearts and renewing the spirit within. Our main goal shouldn’t be to maintain job security or do something simply because another church is doing it, you need to do what’s right for your congregation and what’s right for the Kingdom. If you do that, everything else will fall into place as it should be. And that’s where innovation in the Church begins.


Passion in Ministry

I’ve been thinking quite a bit on a conversation I had with a worship director on the importance of creativity in worship, and it really got me thinking on a few issues that I hope to get around to blogging about in the next couple of weeks.

Breaking Traditions
He made several comments about how difficult it’s become to break away from the normal routine of worship, and at least in the Lutheran Church, I know even I’ve found it easier to please our large audience by playing it safe and not taking the risks necessary to innovate, and in return I’ve found myself displeased by the results. If you have found yourself on like situations, know this:

You were not created to play it safe.

You are not in a position to lack risk-taking.

The thoughts you have in your head about where you should be taking you and your church– they’re what you need to start doing.

We are each called to our creative positions, and God doesn’t call us to maintain the status quo. You’re an essential part of the Great Commission and it is your duty to tell the Story in the greatest way possible in your church, so do it. Innovate. Bring God the glory by breaking the chains of safety and pushing your creative limits. He isn’t going to put you or your team into a situation that you can’t handle, so take every new project or idea and take it to the fullest possible capability. People are going to hate you, but if people hate you, someone will love you, and the worst thing you can do as a creative or a church leader is to become invisible or to become bland. Kill any sort of comfort in maintaining your routines, because with every routine you create in your ministry, you remove the excitement and buzz surrounding it. Break it! Shake things up on a consistent basis, and you’re going to find consistent excitement with what you do.

Inadequacy in the Creative Department

“Your work sucks.”

Now, likely, you’ve never had this said to you, but if you’re anything like me, that little phrase has gotten stuck in your head at one time or another. You feel inadequate, like the work you’re doing is under par of what should be considered under par.

Don’t ever believe that phrase.

If you have found yourself to be a creative, or you’ve been put in a position that requires your creativity, then God has put you there for a specific reason. The way you see the world and show others is going to change the way others see the world. You need to be confident in yourself to create what God’s imparted on your heart, otherwise you won’t see it. The times where I was having the most problems coming up with creative material were the times I was majorly comparing myself to someone at another church who can do it better, faster or more creatively. You can’t get caught up in that–If you do, you’ll never grow, you’ll stay just as stagnate as the moment you started feeling the creative jealousy.

Here are a couple of things I found that really remedy the creative jealousy:

Look to your members | In the end, they’re going to support you the most. Church is like a family to most people, so when you succeed (i.e. make a new poster, change up something in the bulletin, make a set switch, etc.) they’re likely to notice. Get feedback. I’m the kind of person who HATES criticism, but I take it knowing I’m 100% more likely to act on it and fix it than if they had smiled and said, “Sure! Looks great.” Take a creative risk. You need to, or you’ll never receive feedback(good or bad).

Go to your boss | I am truly blessed to have a direct supervisor who genuinely cares about the work I produce, and lucky enough, in the Church, that’s going to be the majority of creatives. Whether you report directly to the pastor or to the business administrator(such as in my case), chances are, they care just as much about what you do as you. Seek advice from them, get their two-cents. Before our quarterly publication goes out, my boss and I sit in his office and discuss the pros and cons of last quarter’s publication (as hindsight is always important) and how to improve/change the way we do things this quarter. This is definitely easier for our quarterly publication than our weekly bulletin, but the same can happen week-to-week.

Do a couple of online Photoshop tutorials | Yeah, this one may be a little specific, but it can be metaphorical for other creative positions. The times I was most fired up for creativity were the times I learned something new (Yes, I do recognize college will be a liiiittle bit different than that). Everything I know is either self-taught or from online tutorials (Which in a sense is like self-teaching I suppose….), and because my major is a little different than what I intend to use it for, it’s imperative that I’m keeping myself fresh with the tools I use in the workforce because there isn’t a class for it. Now, I don’t know, you may have a formal college education and have been in the workforce for many years, but you still need to do this, too. When you create, you’re spiritually connecting yourself to God with that piece, and when you replicate someone else, you’re learning the skills they used to do that same process. I don’t agree in claiming someone else’s thought to be your own, but I do agree that in order to hone in on your creative skills, there has to be a certain level of the ability to replicate. You’ll feel better about yourself afterwards, too. I like to use Abduzeedo for my tutorials, just because his are a little more detailed and allow for originality.

Pray | When you lack in the communication department with God, you’ll find your communication department in the Church lacking as well. You NEED God, and just like He longs for you, you should do the same. There’s nothing worse than unrequited love, and what’s the most important thing in a relationship? Communication. You’ve got to communicate regularly with God to find out what He wants you to do. Iit would be like if you never talked with your mom, but wanted her to give you $50. Unless you communicate that to her, you’ll be short $50. Do you really expect God’s going to strike you with a brilliant idea out of the blue for absolutely no reason if you haven’t been at least talking to Him?

And as the great Jon Acuff said so beautifully, “Never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.” I have the biggest problem when surfing other church’s websites and seeing how well they’re designed and being jealous (Now, if they’re outsourcing their design, I typically laugh and go to the next site, outsourcing your design, especially when you have competent people on staff is not only lazy, it’s cheating.), but I’ve learned that I’m only 18, and I should be proud I’ve got something that even competes with the 30-somethings. While my situation probably isn’t the same as yours, think on this carefully: Why should you be jealous of something someone else in the Kingdom has done? Use it as inspiration and improve your work, that’s the great thing about creativity; always room for improvement.

Media in the Church

I figured I’d post about something I’m really, truly passionate about, and get my thoughts and feelings out there. This subject is also the reason I blog, so referencing it at least once would probably be a good idea. 😉

We live in a culture that is thriving on social media. Our thoughts are on Facebook, our ideas on Twitter, and somewhere in the mix, we’re meant to find church. How can we do that if so many in the Church are failing to recognize the true importance of media? Our congregants are tech-hungry, they’re socially hungry too. So how do we implement media into the Church? I’ll tell you, it really is more than a couple of projectors and a different color of paper for your 16-page bulletins(shudder).

Have you ever thought closely on the word, “media”? What’s a word that sounds similar to it? Medium. Media is but another medium to tell the Story. We shouldn’t be frightened or stubborn about finding other means to tell the story, because if you only tell it one way, you’ll only get the group of people that understand the way you’re telling it. On my Pre AP Algebra 2 teacher’s wall my Junior year, there was a typical motivational poster, the only thing different about this particular poster is the moment I read it, I understood immediately that this was applicable to the Church in today’s society. It read: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” If we as the Church continued without trying to use media to reach out to this society, how can we ever say that we’ve done everything in our power to do the one task given to us by God?

The youth minister at our church recently gave me Shane Hipps’ “The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture”, and so far, I’ve found it to be one of the most thought-provoking and unbiased church media books I’ve read (Now, I’d like to point out that I have Blaine Hogan’s UNTITLED and Gary Molander’s Pursuing Christ Creating Art in my book cue, both of which I heard trump every book I’ve ever read in existence, so this is bound to be updated in the next couple of weeks.) There are very few people that have been able to accurately pinpoint the pros and cons of media in the Church, and he is at the top of the list. In my opinion, everything has the ability to be both good and evil, everything can be taken out of context, and so I find it pointless to feel this way about church media when the exact same things can be said about cooking, driving and the Bible.

Yeah, you read my words. The Bible. In different religions, the Bible can be seen as false and unacceptable, teaching false ideologies and more. Also, there are specific “Christian” sects that have taken the Bible completely out of context in order to push themselves to the front of the line in God’s eyes, or so they think(Seriously, if you didn’t pick up on that, just Google “Westboro Baptist Church”). Churches using media can be seen in the same 2 viewpoints. Some may think that the Church is falling into secular stereotypes to copycat, and some think that the negative powers of social media outweigh the benefits of it, and if the Church starts using social media, it very well be the end of the Church altogether.

We can’t think that the above two thought-processes are the only solution. There can’t be simply black and white to this situation.  We have to realize that some of the technologies available to us today are applicable in the Church community and if we don’t utilize them we’ll end up being like the old man(or lady, depending on your thoughts on the gender of the Church) sitting on the front porch with a shotgun  and a glass of lemonade and anyone who enters his/her property with different beliefs is shot down immediately(I really hope you get that this is a metaphor and that the Church would never physically shoot someone…..).

The Church must constantly strive to tell it’s Story creatively, and if that involves using media to do it, why not? Why hold back? Even if it impacts only 1 person, why keep yourself from impacting that person? When I think about different ways to convey the message of a particular event, even if it’s not the greatest quantity of people to convey it to, I still find a way to get them involved. We are always on the cusp of something life changing, and as Creatives it’s our duty to take the Church to the next step. Your biggest fight won’t be budget, it’ll be getting the unwilling to accept newness and change in the way things are done in your church.

Take my grandmother, for instance. Love her to death, but she and I have completely different views on media in our church. Well, actually, we differ on any change in our church. Anyway…. Last night our contemporary service came up in conversation. I happen to have very intimate feelings about our contemporary service, it’s always on my mind, I’m always thinking of ways to make it better, and I care for it deeply. It’s not that I dislike the other services at our church, I’m just partial to this one. She, on the other hand, hates it. She calls it the “LaLa service” and thinks it should just disappear. Our contemporary service is the only thing I have gotten terse with her about and it’s probably one of the few things in her lifetime I’ll defend to the end. If you have people like this in your church, you totally know what I’m talking about. If you think you don’t, you do, and you just haven’t met them yet.  If we only ever had a liturgical service, we’d never reach the people who want contemporary worship and we’d have a much smaller congregation size. We would never progress, we’d remain in the liturgical era. We need to break the barrier between the lits and contemps, and I mentioned this in a previous post, but this isn’t just applicable to worship styles, it’s imperative that this happens in the way we do print, worship, graphic and web design. If we constantly have to tame our creativity to please the crowd who won’t appreciate it anyway, we’ve lost the point of creativity completely. Not that I’m complaining about taming my work, it’s just I’d rather have to tame my work for an audience that thinks creativity matters in some way. When I have to tame my work to please those who don’t find my job or my calling important, I think we’ve lost sense of why I was brought on board in the first place. If you’re feeling the same way, how have you overcome this? How do you push the limits?

And that, friends, is the only question of creativity.

Creativity in Worship

I referenced in one of my previous posts the importance of creativity in worship, that same night, I came up with a few creative ways to create some buzz with our “Do Something” campaign. A thought I had was to have congregational members offer their creativity as an offering, and since then, I’ve been thinking of ways to enhance that. It’s not enough that we’re offering up our ideas to God, we should be offering everything we have, talent-wise. So how do we do that? And how do we do that in worship?

Offering our ideas is a great start. By doing this, we’re requiring that congregational members don’t just go through the motions, as so many do. They have to think, and they can’t use the Jesus answer. We as creatives must do this to consistently provide a worship experience each week, so doing creative things like this doesn’t mean the same things as it might mean to the congregation, so it’s important to highlight this.

One problem I feel is conflicting the Church is that too many worship leaders are trying to entertain the guests to boost numbers, get bigger budgets, only to focus on entertaining the congregation again. While there are ethical issues wrapped up in this, Colossians 3:23 states “Whatever you do, do it with all your heart, and do it for the Lord, not for man.” Creatives must strive to create for God, not for the entertainment or awe of man. When we create for God, the desired result with man will come naturally. For whatever is good and pleasing to the Lord is beautiful and lovely to mankind.

Another concept I’ve been thinking about is changing up the way we worship. What if instead of creating a set and having a rigid timetable of the worship service, we allow God to move through us in worship? This may not be all that foreign for some churches, but this is something I’ve found the majority of churches that I’ve seen doing. Here’s one quick idea– What if for one service, you try getting your members/guests to take off their shoes before entering the sanctuary? This ends the stuffy “we’re at church, we have to act perfect” attitude that I can guarantee at least one of your members feel. People used to take off their shoes before entering the temple as a sign of respect and to show that this is holy ground. You will face resistance, especially if you have older members in your congregation, and I know that in my congregation, elderly make up a rather large portion of our member-base, so this would be a concept that we would have to use in our contemporary service.

Here’s another idea– Turn off your house lights, light candles instead. Bring the retro liturgical service back. There WAS a time that electricity didn’t exist, and there were Christians long before that, so how else did the get together? They lit candles. Those societies were definitely closer-knit than ours. While I am one of the biggest fans of using social media, I do believe that too much of a good thing is dangerous, and today’s society, especially Americans, are used to becoming stuffed to the point of discomfort with most of anything. When you take away the technology, you make your congregants rely on each other during the service. Grab an acoustic guitar, a Bible, and you can lead one of the most impacting services you’ve ever had. The biggest moments I’ve had in my spiritual life were not when I was awed by the technology and the delivery of the service, it was youth retreats that required limited resources and community. Emulate this in your normal church service, you’ll be glad you did.

I challenge you to strive to find ways to break the structure of your service. Don’t let your church become routine, make it an experience that will challenge and grow your congregants each and every week.

Contemporary Worship

It’s been one of my greatest dreams that the Church would find a way to make the way we worship the most creative possible. Sure, there’s singing a few new Christian songs, maybe moving when we read the scripture, but what does it mean to be contemporary?

When we think of what it means to be contemporary, it’s imperative that we recognize and applaud the liturgical service. These were the pioneers in Contemporary worship, and without them, we wouldn’t be as progressive as we are now. We must recognize the flaws and beauties in both services, or we’ll never know how to progress.

Liturgical services by nature require a rigid formulaic strategy. If you’re like me, routines kinda bug me, and it’s not because I’m ADD or anything, it’s just I think switching it up a bit every now and then wouldn’t hurt. If I were an extremist contemp, I’d think that the liturgical service NEVER changes and it’s ridiculous to come to church every week if you know exactly what you’re going to do, however, I believe that the way lits can combat this belief is matins! Lits, use your matins! You switch things up every 6-ish months, you change a hymn every once in a while! 😉

It’s not about singing hymns, and I think most contemps(contemporary followers) get this crazy mindset that it’s all about the organ with the lits(liturgical followers), and that the louder the organ, the better the service, and the problem with this mindset lies in that there are a few contemps that don’t think this is a problem, and use this strategy with the typical worship band and then the lits just assume that the contemps are typical teenagers who want to “put the speakers on 11 and shake their bodies left and right”(Nerdy Kelly Clarkson reference…. ignore me!) However, it’s not about how loud you can get.

Those are just a couple of differences in the contemporary v. liturgical debate that I’m sure has been around for ages, and extends far beyond the guitar v. organ debate.

Something I’d like to touch on, and something I believe is one of the most important in contemporary worship, is creative means of worshiping. We are not all made equally, and everyone has different means of learning, of believing, and of thinking, so why isn’t the Church doing more to stimulate a larger audience? There are so many different ways to worship God, and I think so often we get caught up in the belief that you have to sing, and you have to give an offering of monetary value, and you have to give a 15 minute sermon. What if worshiping isn’t about that? Would God be angry if we praised him a little differently? I highly doubt that, and therefore, I challenge the Church, let’s find the craziest, most insane ways to worship God, because God loves the creative soul, and we’re capable of so much more than sitting in the pew and going through the motions every Sunday. Give everything to God, even your creativity, and He will bless you bountifully!

Eat. Pray. Love. Creativity.

I’ve been thinking about silence recently. And it’s not just being quiet, it’s about what we say with the things we create. Silence plays an important role in today’s society, and I think it plays an important role in our creativity as well.

A few days ago, I finally got around to watching “Eat. Pray. Love.” and I was taken aback by the dedication Julia Roberts’ character saw in others throughout the movie. While I looked at her belief in that particular religion to be more because she lacked a backbone spiritually, I saw parallels to today’s Christian congregation. There are so many humans that simply peruse through religions as if they were part of a large Sears catalog, that our ability to outreach has stopped being how impactful our message is, but rather, how impactful our messenger is. The boyfriend of Julia Roberts’ character was nothing but a charming young man who believed that this particular religion was the best, and it wasn’t his dedication she fell for, it was his portrayal of impacting meaning in the religion that made her convert.  This concept struck me as something creatives need to think on while creating. There wasn’t anything special about the guy, it was simply his delivery, and we as creatives can use the same principle: Use our talents to creatively portray the greatest story ever told to a collection of people with completely different learning styles, backgrounds, beliefs and interests. How do we do this? By creating a million ways to tell it. Trust me, it’s possible.

She also encounters this woman who has made the decision to remain silent for a period of time, and this amongst the rest of the movie was particularly striking to me– silence to speak volumes. By remaining silent, she allowed for those around her to communicate with her in an entirely different way, and showed a different side of her personality. No one could imagine that this woman was actually semi-obnoxious and wanted nothing more than to be a chatty-Cathy all day, but if she hadn’t made the decision to be silent, we wouldn’t have ever seen her calm, quiet personality that was portrayed for the majority of the movie. Yet again, we can use this principle as creatives in our art. Take our quarterly publication at Redeemer for example: As a relatively new graphic designer, my first big job at Redeemer was to create a quarterly publication displaying many different activities that Redeemer would be involved in during the Spring/Summer. In my excitement and desire to show off my skills, I created every graphic with as much detail as I possibly could and spared no expense on making every ad as beautiful and exciting as possible. After all, creating beautiful art for the children’s ministry and then lacking in the women’s ministry is bound to catch up with you somewhere. 🙂 Today, my boss and I had our creative meeting about this upcoming Messenger and we discussed how that played both to our favor and to a great disadvantage in our church congregation. The only thing that really stuck out among all the busy ads was actually the very plain logo that we’ve had since 2005 (and I’ve since redesigned). In hindsight, had I not been so worried about pleasing the ministers, the messages they gave me to communicate to not only our congregation, but to our surrounding community would have been expressed with the clarity they most likely would have wanted. I once heard, “You can say more with less”, and looking at this publication, while beautiful, would definitely have made more of an impact with less for the eye to look at. Essentially, with our silence, we can speak volumes in regards to art, and that’s our calling; not to create beautiful works of art that mean nothing, but to create art that tells the story that will bring salvation.

Learning How to Breathe in Creativity

I’ve come to learn that I’m impatient…. And, I’m sure God thinks that’s important somehow, but I happen to despise that particular trait about me. Take this quick story for example:

While teaching myself Photoshop one night, I became engrossed in a particular piece about Jim Morrison, from a tutorial where I was learning how to use layer masks. It was rather time consuming, and as the evening settled, my parents decided to have a family evening at Conan’s Pizza. I happen to not be a fan of Conan’s, and I wasn’t in the mood to deal with family issues, so I procrastinated pressing Ctrl+S because I’d much rather do graphic design than “hang” with my family. I finally decided to save my work and walk away from it, more or less because my parents knew where the off-switch was.

I realized much later that I had let my passion become priority in my life, instead of my family and the relationships I was learning to heal. I had become so consumed in my work that it had taken precedence over literally everything in my life. While I told myself that I was simply in a creative mode and wanted to express my creativity in the piece, I was secretly feeling like my life depended on my finishing this piece.

Until this point, I was consumed with quantity, rather than quality. I felt like because I was 16, I had to prove that I could learn as much as I could as fast as possible, and I became what most would call a replicator. I was turning out duplicates of the tutorials I was using to learn the program faster than most would fathom possible. I considered this an important quality, as in the workforce, at least what I knew about the workforce, was that quantity was the most important, and quality would eventually come with time and practice. With the benefit of hindsight, I noticed most of my work until this point is missing something, almost like it was missing talent.

I thought if I had to go to dinner with my family, the least I could do was still be productive, so I thought about my piece for the first 15 minutes or so. Eventually, my large and lively family got the better of me and we began to laugh and talk about life in general. My previously “stuck-up” attitude about life and productivity made me believe that I absolutely needed to think about work, and anything else was frivolous and unimportant. However, God didn’t make me to act like that, in fact, I’m pretty sure if Jesus was standing next to me for that period of time, he would have (politely and lovingly, I’m sure) dropkicked me to next week.  Instead, He used this time to give me a break from my thoughts and clear my head, which unbelievably, allowed for the most creative thoughts to come to my head. After a rather funny(but seemingly irrelevant joke which would be classified in the “you had to be there” category), I took a deep breath and suddenly, I realized how to make my piece unique. A completely irrelevant topic and in a completely new setting, I found creativity. When I arrived back home, I added what I needed and made the piece my most creative(and favorite) to that point.

Juvenile as it may seem, I learned that creativity cannot and will not be forced. We are not made to create on command, and my biggest fear in working in the creative world is still that need will take precedence over desire. We cannot be creative because someone needs our creativity, we can only be creative when we clear everything from our routines and take a step back. It’s not about demand, it’s about doing what we were created to do: create. There isn’t a secret formula to becoming creative, and it’s only when we surrender all of ourselves to God that we find ourselves doing things creatively. Creativity is the artistic problem-solving. We look beyond ourselves and focus on who we belong to, and then we discover the art in creativity.

I have found in order to be the most creative, you need to take breaks from your work, even if it’s multitasking to read Stephen Brewster’s blog for a few minutes and then returning. It’s an elementary idea, but turning your mind away from the task at hand makes the task at hand much simpler. Many will criticize the generation that multitasks, but I applaud it. If you can find a way to creatively focus on many things at once, it allows you to find creative solutions more easily. If Googling for 10 minutes makes your mind as active as being at a party, then use that activity to see others’ creative solutions. Doing this will allow you to piece together a creative solution for your current task, and thus productivity increases.