Creativity and Faith
Pastors and leaders across the conference are enhancing ministries and messages with a creative twist designed to inspire -- in fresh ways.
What’s creativity got to do with faith? Creativity is biblical and consistent with the very nature of God. In fact, it is referenced as the fifth word in the Bible. Clergy and leaders across the Texas Annual Conference are consistently seeking new ways to present wonderful old truths. Some, such as Rev. DeAndre Johnson at Westbury UMC, Houston, have discovered that when they veer from the routine, the surprise sparks interest and a deeper sense of engagement.
“I wanted to facilitate an experience in worship that allowed people to acknowledge the things in their lives or in the world that they DO believe are too hard for the Lord (Genesis 18), but to also hear the Spirit speak a resounding and deafening ‘NO’ over all the hard things,” explains DeAndre. “So from there, hard things became rocks and resounding and deafening NO became hammers that break rocks. We provided sharpies for people to name the hard things in their lives and write them on the rocks. We then setup three stations to which they could bring these hard things and watch their destruction. To help facilitate the time, the band played and we sang the Tasha Cobbs' song Break Every Chain and celebrated afterward with André Crouch's The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power.”
That particular Sunday brought a very meaningful moment for Rev. Laralee DeHart, an ordained deacon in the Texas Conference, and her 8-year-old daughter.
“The message called us to reflect on the thing in our lives that we consider impossible, too big even for God to handle,” shares Laralee. “Then we were to write that thing on a rock and offer it at the altar where it would be smashed by a hammer, symbolizing that nothing is impossible with God.” When she asked her daughter if she wanted to participate, and share something in her life she thought was too big even for God to handle, she initially said no, because she knew it would never happen.
Adds Laralee, “After a few more moments of conversation, my daughter shared that it was her desire to see her birth mother again, whom she hasn’t seen since the very day she was born. I sat there for a minute not sure what to say. Of course, her birth mother is and has always been an incredibly important person in my child’s life, but she hadn’t talked about her in a while, and she hadn’t shown how strong her feelings are about the situation in this same way before. As I sat there, I thought about my sweet child and her struggles, and then thought about my own. Like a gift from God, an idea came to me. I asked her if we could do a rock together. I shared that I too had broken relationships, people that I’d hurt and people who had hurt me, and I wasn’t sure that those relationships would ever be healed. But I told her that I wanted to trust God that healing was possible, and she agreed. I wrote “Broken Relationships” on our rock and my daughter carried it forward to Pastor DeAndre at the altar. We watched as he smashed it and I held my daughter close. The tears began to fall.”
This biblical concept came to life for Laralee and her daughter in a sensory-driven, spiritual way. She adds, “I thank God daily for my church, and for unique experiences like this one to connect with God and with each other. I am so thankful for the opportunity that day for my child to share her burden, and for both of us to tangibly demonstrate our trust in God.”
The Team Approach to Worship Planning
Westbury UMC’s worship committee has undergone several shifts over the last couple of years from a mostly task oriented group (ushers, greeters, communion stewards) to a design model they've dubbed the Creative Arts Team. This group of about 12 individuals meets as a group about once or twice a quarter to provide shape to upcoming series/seasons in worship. Shares DeAndre, “In our two-hour meetings, we fully unpack the scriptures and theme for the series/season, then in the time remaining we write down preliminary thoughts on how the scriptures call us to both receive and respond to God's message. As we close our time, each member is given the responsibility to work with me on 1-2 of the services in adding the fine details of music, ritual actions and writing liturgy with the emphasis not on adding but on allowing creativity.”
He believes this type of planning brings impact in several ways. Adds DeAndre, “Congregants resonate with the thematic cohesiveness of the worship services –noticing the ‘thread’ they can easily follow throughout the service and happily surprised by the new ‘revelations’ they discover as they follow that thread.”
Another impact is in how the process affects the members of the Creative Arts Team that functions like a small group. “Together, we challenge each other in how we understand and interpret scripture, and we are made to grow deeper in our love of God and neighbor,” he says. Team member, high school sophomore, Megan Farr says, “We started meeting in March for the summer series. We start with an idea or a topic and toss around ideas for ways to make worship more active and participatory.” Adds Megan, “One time I helped write the liturgy. It's been really cool to see our ideas come to fruition during worship! The congregation participates readily in the activities, and it really seems to help people engage with the scripture and the pastor’s message.”
Team member Linda Tollefson agrees. “We’ve had a couple of worship team meetings and each one has been more exciting. It’s challenging and humbling at the same time, to see how the Spirit moves us from a discussion of a question to an inspiring worship experience that touches so many of us in many different ways. It’s definitely a challenge to worship in a manner that encourages a congregation of diverse cultures, languages, ages and worship backgrounds, to feel that they have brought something of themselves to the experience, shared with others, and left, having been touched by the Spirit, at some level, to carry that experience back out into the world — a world that is hurting and needs that joy and “good news!”
Rocks Used in Other Ways
Rev. Richard Heyduck, Wiley College, likes using low-tech multi-media when possible. “When I preach on the parable of the talents I give everyone a rock. In the message, the rock represents the safety and security under which we hide the Talent. For the invitation, I ask people to come forward and place their rocks on the altar as a sign of moving beyond safety and security.”
At the Release, part of the Upper Room at Chapelwood UMC Houston’s ministry of praise and prayer, Amy Vogel shares ways leaders use very creative elements almost every month. Notes Amy, “In February, we used Release Rocks that people carry until they are led by the Spirit to "release" them - and not pick them up again. Last month, we used a video element similar to what has been done at the Passion Conference where a series of questions was proposed on screen and people held up their lit cell phones in response. This month, we are using blacklights to light up what struggles people have written on black butcher paper, to represent those hidden sins coming into the light. We are looking at many other options too, for future services.”
God in my iPod Sermon Series
Rev. John Black, Angleton FUMC, has built a summer sermon series inspired by some of his favorite tunes. The Gospel According to Paul (Simon), for example is based in Romans 8:31-39. As he introduced the topic to his congregation one Sunday, he said, “I’m going to share with you another song from my eclectical mix of music that reminds me of us and God.” He shared the song Loves me like a rock, saying “This one talks about when I was a little boy, and then when I was a man. There is a parallel in that we know God loves us like a rock, and therefore we are then tempted to be comfortable where we are. But God calls us to grow.”
Adds John, “If I had stayed a little boy, I would have missed out on some amazing things like driving and getting married and having a family. We want to be more intentional in the next few weeks about sharing our lives and what we are struggling with, so we can go from child to teen to adult and not miss out on what God has in store for us.”
John’s other titles include:
- The Gospel According to George, Paul, Ringo and John
- The Gospel According to Billie Joe
- The Gospel According to Josh
- The Gospel According to Pete
Goats in Church?
Rev. Eric Huffman, pastor of the fast-growing, new church start called The Story Houston, a campus of St. Lukes’ UMC, adds this perspective, “We believe creativity in worship isn't just about drawing a crowd; it's about being biblical. Over time, Christians somehow adopted the idea that biblical worship should never be entertaining or fun, and I couldn't disagree more. When I look at worship in the Bible, I see the high priest on the Day of Atonement dressed in bright-colored linens, leading worship with fire, smoke, animals, aromas, theatrics, blood, and rich symbolism.”
In the six months since The Story Houston launched, sermons have been brought to life in many different ways. Notes Eric, “We have torched a large sheet of flash paper where our people had written their deepest confessions. We've talked about real-life, modern issues such as distraction addiction, dating, modern masculinity, sex, marriage, and science, and yes --- we even welcomed live animals into worship. In July, as part of our series called Reopening Leviticus: Making Sense of the Bible's Most Difficult Book, we re-enacted the Day of Atonement ritual from Leviticus 16 with the help of two local goats named Sugar and Dumptruck.” Adds Eric, “No goats were harmed in the making of this illustration, but what we are seeing is people who were raised in church, but got bored or burned before leaving, coming back and giving church another chance. Most of them never stopped believing in Jesus; they simply grew disinterested in the way Christians communicate life's most sacred story, especially in worship. They were just over church. Like many churches that value creative, thought-provoking worship, we're beginning to see eyes opened, imaginations piqued, and I believe it's just the tip of the iceberg.”