This past weekend I had the privilege of presenting a workshop at Crowder’s Fantastical Church Music Conference in Waco, TX. Through a series of email discussions, David and I came up with the title, “The Functional Limits of Creativity: How Innovative Can We Be with the Gospel?”
When Crowder first contacted me about participating in the conference I wanted to make sure he knew where I was coming from in the area of creativity. I love creativity, but think God has placed limits on its use in congregational meetings. He told me that’s why he wanted me to come to the conference. Well, that made my day.
I divided my workshop message into three sections, which I’ve listed and filled out below.
Thoughts on Creativity
The Bible is filled with examples of creative individuals and examples, including Bezalel (Ex. 35:30-35), the liturgical and musical revolution David brought to temple worship, and the Psalms. But God isn’t always impressed with our creativity (Ex. 32; Num. 3; 2 Sam. 6; 1 Sam. 10).
It can be helpful to think of creativity like water. When water is confined by household pipes, river banks, and ocean shorelines, it’s a blessing. When it moves beyond those limits, it can wreak havoc.
In the church, creativity is not something we do, but a way we do something. To pursue creativity without concern for its function in the church confines us to always pursuing originality and newness, oblivious to the observation of Eccles. 1:9 that there is nothing new under the sun.
Three Purposes of Music in the Church and their Corresponding Limits
1. To build up others – Edification Limiter. (Eph. 5:18-19; 1 Cor. 12:4; 1 Cor. 14:12)
The standard for the music we sing is not what benefits us, but others. This requires a knowledge of the people we’re leading and an awareness of our tendency to favor our own preferences.
2. To demonstrate our oneness in Christ – Unity Limiter (Rom. 15:5-7)
God has always intended singing to be a demonstration of the church’s unity, not a cause for its division.We should be asking what kind of music best enables the people of God – from different generations, backgrounds, and socio-economic classes – to sing together, so that we might demonstrate in our singing how the gospel has reconciled us not only to God, but to each other.
3. To enable the word of Christ to dwell in us richly – Gospel Limiter (Col. 3:16)
Music is one of the primary ways God means to deepen the effect of this gospel in our lives. Music helps us remember the gospel. It can stir up our passions for the gospel. It provides a means for us to express emotion about the gospel. It is meant to help us let the word of Christ, or the gospel, dwell in us richly.
It is too easy to assume the gospel. We have to fight to keep the gospel central and prominent in the midst of our creativity. Without the gospel, we have no relationship with God and our worship remains unacceptable (1 Cor. 2:2; 1 Cor. 15:3; Gal. 6:14; Eph. 2:18; 1 Pet. 2:4-5).
Creativity can distract from the gospel, affecting its value.
Creativity can distort the gospel, affecting its content.
Creativity can demean the gospel, affecting its power.
The success of our meetings is not ultimately dependent on something creative we do (new lighting, layout, arrangements) but something God has already done. Creativity must not usurp the gospel of grace. God can use our creativity, but He doesn’t need it.
Pursuing Creativity in a Way that Magnifies Christ.
Know and treasure the immeasurable riches of grace found in Christ.
Value truth over tunes and Christ over creativity.
Trust the power of the proclaimed gospel.
Recognize that creative sometimes means old, simple, and familiar.
Cultivate and expose yourself to creative thinking communities.
Value the sound of the congregation over the sound of any instruments.
Regularly examine the short and long term fruit of your music.
Never stop asking questions.
I ended by praying that God would give each of us wisdom to establish the proper pipes, banks, and shorelines to our creativity, so that after we have done our best to serve the church with our creative gifts, both believers and unbelievers would leave our meetings saying not, “What great creativity,” but, “What a great Savior!”
You can download a full copy of my notes here.
For a brief video where I talk about creativity with CJ Mahaney, check out this post from WorshipGod09.