Creativity In Worship: Where's The Threshold?

It's around here somewhere...

Recently I was asked in the comments section about the role of creativity in church.  As with most issues in the worship leading world, I have quite a history with this topic.  I believe that beauty in the world points to the One who created beauty and creative expression is worship to the Creator.  So why does honest and worshipful creativity often fall flat in church?

It’s all about context

I believe it’s because art needs context to have the greatest impact.  The graffiti artist Banksy decided to play a prank on New York and put his art for sale on the street for $60 a pop.  The video is hilarious.  Pieces worth tens of thousands at auction are bargained down to 2 for $60.  Wrong context.  So how do we know if a Sunday service is the right place for what we want to express?

A simple question

There are no hard and fast rules on this because every community is different.  What is totally appropriate in one may be completely inappropriate in another.  Therefore, the question we must always ask ourselves is “Does this expression draw this body of believers closer to Jesus Christ?”  When the answer is a resounding “Yes!” offer it with passion and humility.  If the answer doesn’t present itself so easily, seek God and the counsel of others.  Your work may just need some slight changes to make it more accessible or you may need to teach into what you are wanting to share.

Conclusion

Art is powerful and when expressed in the proper context, can help us understand our Creator in a transformative way.  Still, the song I wrote this week may not be for my whole congregation.  That poem may just be meant for a close friend.  That 10 minute musical interlude may be more appropriate for a prayer meeting than a Sunday service.  God gave us the ability to make beautiful things, but as with everything He’s given, it’s at it's best when given back.  If you're looking for some creative tunes, give these a try.

Jason Houtsma serves as Worship Pastor for Mosaic Church in Bellingham, WA, Husband to Alli, Father to Bjorn and Asher, and guitar instructor for WorshipArtistry.com

Creativity In Worship: Where's The Threshold?

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Comments

Good answer

Thanks, Jason. That was along the same lines as what I've found in my own experiences. I belong to a small house church group, but I have a fairly large network of fellow believers in the area - and even across the country - from very diverse backgrounds and denominational leanings. Most of my worship leading is conducted with my "home base" group, the people that I spend most of my time around in life.

We recently hosted a 12-hour prayer and worship session where each hour had a slot available for a prayer leader and a worship leader to sign up to lead, regardless of personal style or song choice. The only rule of thumb was to gauge both by the prayer topic of that hour and the Spirit's leading. It all went very well, actually, and was a very positive time for all of us.

As for myself I used some guitar pad loops from Karl Verkade (very kindly provided free-of-charge or pay-as-you-will for worship use at his Bandcamp site) that I played back via my handheld recorder through my amp's external stereo input. Each 35-minute(!) loop is in a specific musical key, so after I wrangled all my songs into approximately the same key (including capo changes, thanks, Jason) I just played over the background pads as my accompaniment. It sounded awesome! But more importantly the atmosphere of reflection and worship was very rich the entire day. I had some much more ambitious creative plans in mind, but God's nudging for me was to scale back some, and I'm glad I did.

But the beautiful thing is that He is letting me slowly bring in some very diverse, and even more abstract, influences from my own musical background, and it's working. The key is indeed passion and HUMILITY, like Jason said. To that I would only add that the sensitivity that you have toward the Spirit of God should be cultivated and guarded at all cost, because that will be your lifeline.

That sounds beautiful

As long as your group responds well I give the thumbs up! As a leader I'm always trying to get "under" everyone, to support and lift them up. If we keep this attitude we can't go wrong.

Creativity and quality

I can appreciate an artist who creates an expression specifically for a particular audience. I see where that plays very effectively into context (like you mentioned above), in which a worship leader knows and can minister to that specific body of Christ. When you write a song to share in worship, is it always appropriate to run it by others before sharing it, seek input and welcome feedback? I have seen original songs in a worship service before that were simply not quality songs and I wonder if the leader actually sought feedback before sharing them with everyone. However, I have heard new, quality songs that I may not have known were original, but because they were excellent and contextual, I didn't question the author.

When I think about creativity in worship, I also think about flexibility in the worship set moment (do you sing that chorus one more time? do you plan out what you say between songs, if anything?) How do you follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit while still keeping your team on the same page (literally, the bulletin or set list)? This planner struggles with being open to on-the-fly changes!

Feedback should always be welcome

I know it was truly life changing for me to receive honest critical feedback and it made me a much better writer. The caveat is that you have to get feedback from those you trust to be honest and whose opinion you respect and those can people can at times be hard to find.
I think one of the most important part of being a worship leader is the "leader" aspect. It's knowing how to shepherd your congregation through new material while being humble enough to recognize when your art isn't connecting.

This speaks to the flexibility question as well. If you are aware of what's happening around you, not just singing with your eyes closed, you can respond to the Holy Spirit's prompting and communicate with your team with either visual or musical cues. My team knows I will probably not stick with the exact song order we practiced but I'm always sure to make it very clear where we are going. It takes practice but it usually turns out okay :)