‘In the beginning God created…’ (Genesis 1:1)
How did the church become so bland?
Look at historic church buildings and they are incredibly intricate, ornate and beautiful. People will travel for miles simply to visit a church building because the architecture and the art are incredible. Over the years the church has influenced music, not just producing an enjoyable song or tune occasionally but entire genres and styles including choral, gospel and soul. The church was once known for its art – just think of Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel or the stained glass at Chartres Cathedral.
Of course these references are to the grand cathedrals and today such grandeur can still be found as is still being creative. On a local church level however we fallen into a modern trap of becoming beige. Like the factory produced pop sounds emerging through TV shows, there can be a lot of hype and lights, be extremely well produced, but ultimately become instantly forgettable.
There are plenty of wannabees and churches trying to mimic what appears to work else, and I don’t mean just musically but with styles of teaching, discipleship, mission and worship. There are a myriad of books and resources all saying the same thing, telling us how to think, how to worship, how to grow. They are safe. They don’t draw us in, like a good book, film or TV boxset that causes us to lose ourselves for a moment. They don’t challenge us to think differently or to look at God and the world through fresh eyes. All to often the church is comfortable and strives to attract new people by offering more comfort, more safety, more beige. As David Wells wrote back in 1994,
The church has adopted a sort of cocktail party atmosphere, serving up pleasantries and trying to avoid unpleasantness… The church has become adept at distributing Band-Aids for a lot of little cuts and scrapes. It fills harmless little prescriptions for the anxious, the lonely, the disconnected. It offers bright techniques for better self-management. And in the midst of the bonhomie, the raised hands and fun in the sanctuary, the church pays scant attention to the gaunt figure of Death stalking the post-modern world.David F. Wells, God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1994), p.224.
It’s ironic, because as Christian’s we worship the God who created the world – everything from the daffodil to the volcano, the stars to the pebble, the worm, butterfly, elephant and giraffe – so much imagination, so much creativity. Jesus life and ministry were far from bland; he challenged political and religious structures, gave the mute their voice and silenced his critics. For fear of losing the faithful who turn up week after week or perhaps because we absorbed in our own little bubble we have lost sight of the wonder or creation, the joy of imagination and the exhilaration of letting go, hoping and trusting in God’s faithfulness.
The church must become creative in worship, mission and discipleship, we must celebrate and encourage creativity. With creativity we take risks and when we take risks at times we will fail. Yet, when take risks, when we become imaginative and creative we stop simply managing or surviving and start to live. This is not about just the ‘artistic’ individuals but the whole community of God being creative in our hospitality, pastoral care, mission, prayer life, discipleship, meditation and study of the scripture. When the church is creative it speaks with a prophetic voice.
We must equip, enhance and empower creativity. We must enable the church to think, to creatively process what we believe and how the realities and challenges of life, suffering and death relate to our espoused beliefs. It’s right to hear different interpretations, to wrestle with different ideas and work things out for ourselves and with one another. I learn and grow both when I agreed with someone but even more so when I hear something I disagree with but need to education myself to understand why I might be thinking that. The church does not need bland, insipid theology but creative theology that awakens God’s Spirit within us.
When God created there was bearing, yielding, producing, teeming, swarming, multiplication, fruitfulness… Genesis 1 isn’t static it is littered with verbs describing activity. Genesis 2 tells us that God breathed life – creation is awake – to be creative is liberating, it makes us alive, it causes our imaginations to run wild. There is nothing wrong with being safe – but it should be a place of safety that gives us the freedom to take risks not the kind of safety that means nothing happens. The church must be creative if the church is to be alive and to be a giver of life.