It feels as though there is a cloud of hesitation that hangs over the issue of creativity in church culture. We fear that if we fail to clearly define our meaning and our intentions, our work and art could be misunderstood. Within my own heart to create, there is also a desire to communicate. So protecting the message makes perfect sense and there must be safeguards. It provokes me to ask a few questions, “Are we sometimes losing part of the real grit within our creativity by compartmentalizing it before it’s completed?” for example, and “Can we invite our fellow believers to bring their own perspectives and interpretations to our creations, instead of fearing that others will misunderstand the work?”
For me, it can be hard to shut off my own critical thought process when I’m writing songs. I often try to imagine every angle from which they could be perceived. Even after I’ve combed over the lyrics, I find myself convinced that some people are going to get thrown off or confused by the words or phrases I’ve decided to use. It is exciting to think of a new analogy or phrase that helps express my love for Jesus. Part of my passion in songwriting is to experience that moment when the light bulb goes on and I feel the excitement of a fresh idea. So when I find myself trying to shave back those moments to make a song go down easier for the listener, I feel as though I’ve taken away or watered down some of the best parts.
I could say to my wife, “I love you,” and that does express some of how I feel about her. I could also say to my wife, “I love you because…” and begin to explore, through language, the different ways I feel about her. Sometimes the simple, “I love you,” says it all. Other times I actually need to further explore the reasons why I feel those things and in doing so, I find there was more to say and express. In the same way, I think I want to continually challenge myself to keep exploring new depths of creativity. In expanding the words and phrases we use to express love to Jesus, I think we open ourselves up to experience more of God. We find ourselves going deeper in our own love and devotion to Jesus. It may not mean that every phrase has never been written or said before, that’s an unlikely goal to attain, but it could be new to you or new to your congregation? What if, through your desire to expand and grow creatively, you open the door to an even deeper relationship with Jesus for yourself and those around you?
I reference songwriting when I talk about creativity because it’s the expression I am most familiar with. The concept of feeling freedom creatively applies to any area of our lives. We each have a role in this family of believers. We need to feel that freedom to create and inspire because in that, we are being who we are created to be, as well as serving the body of Christ.
Keeping all that in mind, I still have a personal hierarchy of my priorities on matters like this. My need to serve those that the Lord has entrusted me trumps my need to feel creative. If a song I write doesn’t feel like the most groundbreaking anthem I’ve ever written, I am still okay in knowing that the simplicity of its message could serve the church well. I personally would never want my desire to feel more creative overshadow the core value of servanthood. I believe with those two ideas working in tandem, we can find a way to meet people where they are and take them somewhere they have never been in new and creative ways.
I worked to marry this concept of creativity and servanthood in my album, Real Love. I wanted to express myself in a creative way and write songs that I’d actually want to sing and want to listen to. Still, the vision was bigger than just my own personal needs as an artist. I also wanted to write songs that others would want to sing and listen to, as well as songs that would serve the church. For me that has been one of the most rewarding aspects of the creative process for this album. I wrote from my own experiences and passion for Jesus, while maintaining the awareness that these songs could bring someone into a moment with Jesus that marks their lives forever.
I believe that if we anchor our hearts to servanthood as creatives, we will create with greater compassion and authenticity. I want what I create to feel honest, heartfelt, and authentic. That is the journey I’m on, and that’s the journey I’d want to invite for others. Take your talents and gifts and use them to serve the Lord while impacting people with fresh ideas and creations. I think this is how creatives in the church can love and serve others well. I believe that as we anchor our hearts in the concept of servanthood, there is a greater level of freedom in our creativity with endless possibilities.