Friday, December 5, 2008

THoughts on Biblical Creative process

The way I see it the Biblical process for creativity in preaching is developed when the text, the culture, and the application of the text come together in an imaginative fashion.

In a diagram in might look like this:

(Culture)= (Creative Moment)

Each of the three areas have their particular constraints. The text as it was originally written is limited by the original intent of the author towards those who read it. We are limited by the culture the same way a fish is limited by water. Then the application presents constrints by remaining concrete is it's delivery.

These three constraints is what gives us the ability to be creative in our preaching. Text with application is dull and boring. Text and Culture is fun but like cotton candy, fun to eat but full of hot air. Culture with Application has no foundation to build on. You need all three to create an effective creative moment or message.


How does this work with creative techniques?
What role does the human imagination have in this diagram?
What role does the Holy Spirit have?
How is creativity defined in this diagram?

Doctrine and Creativity, Part 2

Robert Smith illustrates in his book how we need to use modern metaphors for traditional theological words.

original Sin = addiction or sinner = hostage.

Jesus took the ancient text of the OT and used common terminology of his day to re-explain it.

Sheep, managers, housewife, rich people, poor people, religous people, and many more. Perhaps a creative exercise would be to compare theological words to common objects and see what we get. Compare these two lists.

Scantification Car
Justification Sears Tower
Sotierology (sp?) Child rearing
Pneumatology Internet

Perhaps if we allow our doctrine inform our metaphors and analogies we might explain God's word more effectively.

Creativity and Doctrinal Preaching, Part 1

These next few blogs will be comparing the creativity with Robert Smith's book, Doctrine That Dances.

One of the ideas in the book is that doctrine enforces and informs the truth boundaries to waht we preach. We can't just preach anything. We must preach truth. This can seem restraining to creativity at first becasue tobe creative you must think outside the box. At least tht's how the conventional thinking goes.

Actually, constraints play a large role in creativity. For example, Cirque de Soliel would not seem all that creative without the constraint of gravity during their performance. Another example would be sports. Sports haas all kinds of rules and regulations, and yet we see all kinds of creativity and expression during a sports event.

Doctrine works in the same manner with creativity. it's very existience it what helps us be creative. It gives us the truth to communicate and provides the constraints so creativity can exist. After all, it's hard to think outside the box without the box!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Creative Words, Part 3

Again, I will be sharing some thought from Darius Slater's book, "Preaching as Art," then I will give some practical applications based on his material.

The word "relevant" comes fromthe latin word, "relevare" and it means "to lift up again." This would imply that we would lift up again something that is familiar to us. For most Americans theology is not familiar to them unless it is attached to something familiar like Starbucks. Don't you love Len Sweet's book, "The Gospel According to Starbucks." THis is exactly what he is attempting to do.

What is familiar to all people is not the latest hip trend but the very details of life. Life is worked out in details and routines and preaching must intersect those details and routines to be effective. You can be all creative, but if it doesn't connect where people live in everyday life then it's just a fancy painting on a wall.

Good preaching takes life as is and leads the auditor how life could be and should be.

Many times our words are just fancy and not relevant. Paul said I did not come to you with fancy words but with the plain Gospel of Christ. Too many times we mistake creativity with fancy word smithing, and that simply isn't the case.

Your words must be relevant. You can't have the fire without wood. They must have substance, movement, and grace. Without substance our words will be wash over people and not quench their thirst. In a sense you can call it spiritual water boarding, and that's torture.

How can our words be more relevant?

I use a tool I came up with called an identification grid. It is a conglomeration of many different ideas being smashed together. I cannot recall where they all came from. The more I work with it the more I edit it. It has proved helpful in making my words more relevant.

How do people handle the issue emotionally?
What does our culture teach/react to this topic?

Questions people in each stage of life tend to be asking themselves or working through. How does your scriptural intersect with each life stage? What relevant words could you put into that intersection?

> People in 20’s
What makes me different from my family and the people around me?
In what direction am I going to point my life in order to pay for my life?
Am I loveable and am I capable of loving?
Around what will I center my life?
> People in 30's
How can I get done for all these I am responsible?
Why do I have so many self-doubts?
Why is my spiritual center so confused?
Why haven’t I resolved my sin problems?
Why is there so little time for friendships?
> People in 40’s
Why are some of my peers doing better than me?
Why am I so often disappointed in myself and others?
Why isn’t my faith deeper?
Why is my marriage less than dazzling?
Why do I learn to go back to the carefree days of youth?
Should I scale back some of my dreams?
Why do I no longer feel attractive?
> People in 50’s
Do these young people think I’m obsolete?
Why is my body becoming increasingly unreliable?
What do my spouse and I have in common now that the children are leaving?
Does this marriage of mine offer any intimacy at all?
Are the best years of my life over?
Do I have anything of value to give anymore?
> People in 60’s
How long can I keep doing the things that define me?
Why do my peers look so much older than me?
What does it mean to grow old?
How do I deal with angers and resentments that I’ve never resolved?
Why do my friends and I talk so much about death and dying?
> People in 70’s
Does anybody around here once know who I was?
How do I cope with all this increasing weakness around me?
How many years do I have left?
How long can I keep my independence and dignity?
When I die, how will it happen?
What about all of those things I intended to do and be and never got around to it?

What I have found as I have moved through my thirties and twenties and as I enter my forties is I am accutley aware of my own life stage and I can easily forget where other people's life stages. This grid helps my sermon's consider applications and concerns outside of my age range. It helps make my sermons more relevant after meditating my scriptural point of the messsage through this grid.

Excellent Article on Creativity

I just read an excellent article on creativity. Catch it at this address:


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Creative Words, Part 2: Empathy

A second way our language can be creative is by using empathetic speech. we are created in God's image, and that image includes emotions. The Bible displays God rejoicing, dancing, feircly angry, and sad. As Darius Slater says, "God's character remains unchanging, but his emotions don't!" He also notes that one of the primary characteristics of the prophets is they displayed a divine empathy with God. Their emotions in delivery, and even in life, mirrored that of God's. Hence Jeremiah is the weeping prophet, and so on.

Empathetic words travel with feeling. They have passion, sadness, excitement, and fear. Words produced in preaching are not to be the stale words of the university lecture hall. Does not God ask, "Is not my word like fire?" Is it not like a hammer that shatters a rock?

So, how do you preach with more empathy?

1. Put yourself in the text. This can be dangerous because you do not want to go out of context with your empathy. Nevertheless, ask yourself how you might feel if you were Peter after Jesus called you Satan. How did Matthew feel when Jesus called him to be a disciple? What feelings went through John when he saw Jesus in Revelation 4?

2. Immerse yourself into the text. What I mean is you need to allow God to move you through the text. your point of the sermon needs to speak you. You need to be excited about what you are talking about. Let the message and burn into your soul until there is a fire in you. Allow that passion from studying the text show through in your presentation.

3. Become immensly familiar with the text. Study it. Know it inside and out. Get in between the lines, the words, the very sylables of the words. Let it breathe into your psyche. This takes time and determination. I mean a study beyond the exegesis. Study the arc of the passage. Know the narrative. Know the emotions and back story of each of the characters. What do they look ike? How do they dress? Was the day sunny or cloudy? What time of year did the text take place? Was it harvest time? All these details breathe life into the story the author is telling you.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Creative Words, Part 1

Let's talk about the obvious in preaching- spoken words. How can the words you use be more creative?

Darius Salter notes preachers need to use graphic speech. The Bible uses real life situations rather than give you how-to manuals. The Bible does not give propositions (per se) to listeners. It shocks, scares, awakens, and scares them with real life. God uses images of fire, smoke, stones, swords, brides, prostitutes, gardens, gates, snakes, and bones. It has illicit affairs, battles, scars, and heated bloody battles that would get an easy R rating.

A sermon should not just be heard, but be felt in the stomachs of the psyche of your audience. Moralisms like "Do not lust" and "Don't be jealous" fall flat without David and Bathsheba and Jacob and Esau. In short we need to stay away from sanitized words that whitewash the rawness of emotion. Don't be shy to shock and awe your audience with the battles of Joshua or he wrath of God. David's lust was just as much with his eyes as it was with his groin. Granted, this is not about offending for the sake of offending. But we must offer up God's word graphically, as it presents itself, to the world. Don't let God's word run through the censor of your church culture. let it stand for what it is; God's Word!

How can you use more graphic speech in your messages?

1. Don't settle for generalities, be specific in your descriptions of the scene and of people. You can use too much detail. Give just enough detail to make the scene or person come alive.
2. Every passage of the Bible has a story with people. Be sure to involve their story into the preaching of your passage. I'm thinking particularly in the texts of Paul.
3. Know your text. Many times the Greek language is much stronger or weaker in tone than the english text suggests. Bring out the graphic description of these texts in your message.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Preaching as Art

Darius Slater, is the Senior Paster of the Richardson Church of the Nazarene. He has written an excellent book on bringing art into our preaching. Over the next few blogs I thought I would share some of his insights with you.

He states, "The Bible abounds in repitition, alliteration, symbols, images, puns, allegories, analogies, metaphors, and parallels." These forms are often lost in translation (Our preaching?).

We live in a culture where icons, imagography, and screens are used more to communicate information then abstrct scrawlings on a page. We forget that the Bible was written far before any printing press came around and thus is filled with images and techniques that can stay in the mind and not on the page.

It is my assertion that in our zeal for form criticism and rationalism we have left out the beautiful presentation of God's message for mankind. biblical preachers spoke using visual icons. They didn't make three point sermons. They wrote in the context of relationships, not in scientific abstract theses. They were concreate and not etheral. They were raw expositions and not etheral reasoning.

Dr. Richardson notes how the messages of the scripture move people with artful proclamation. here are the methods Biblical writers and preachers used to communicate God's truth.

1. Unseen into the Seen
2. Ordinary into the Extraordinary
3. Profane to the Sacred
4. Redemption Out of Tragedy
5. Order out of Chaos
6. Dissonance to Relevance
7. Abstract to Concrete

Read some of the messages of the prophets and you'll see an abundance of examples.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

When are you creative?

When do creative ideas come to you?

I am a minister, and I am intrigued about how Christians view a creative moment versus a non-Christian. Often I will hear a non-Christian artist talk about how creative ideas come to them. For example, Kid Rock's said his hit song, All Summer Long, came to him in the middle of the night. I've heard various artists in different genre's say similar scenarios. The creative moment came at odd times. The moment came while talking on the phone, in the shower, in the middle of the night, a dream, driving in the car. In a sense the creativity came in the margins of life.

When I hear Christians talk about creative moments in the margins of time I hear the phenomenon described as a coming from God. God talked to them. God gave them a word and the like. To me it sounds like a creative spark that many non-Christians describe happens to them.

While I believe creativity is from God (that's another post), I don't believe God has limited creativity to us Christians. I think it is a gift he has given to all mankind. He has given all of us the ability to be creative. The point I'm making is the sun shines down on all of us.

I digress.

You need to keep track of when your creative thoughts come to you. If they come to you in the shower then get some soap crayons and write in on the wall. if they come to you in the car get a voice recorder to record your thoughts. If they come to you in the middle of the night then have some index cards on the nightstand.

Pay attention to when you are creative and have a method of recording your thoughts. You will find out that you might be more creative than you thought. Plus, in order for you to be more creative youneed to create margins in your life where you can have unprocessed thought. Creativity seems to come in moments of non-productivity, loose concentration, and pondering. In fact, research has shown that the greatest leaders carved out time to just think about things. This carved out time is what gave them opportunity to solve problems and catch visions.

Friday, September 12, 2008

When Creativity Goes Bad

Have you seen the 80's movie "DUNE?" It is a horrendous movie. Based on the book of the same title (which is a masterpeice), the movie does a horrible job of managing the delcacies of the plot. Lots of work into the set to have a creative design but it looked pitiful on screen. It started out to be a very creative work, and it didn't work.

The problem is every time it's on I watch it. It's like trying to look away from an accident on the freeway. I can't help myself!

Sometimes creative ideas don't work. It will look good on paper. It will look good while you set it up and prepare for it, but when you actully put it out there, it falls flat on it's face. I've had many a message that never got off the runway.

This is the underbelly of creativity. If it works you are brilliant. If it doesn't you can feel like a failure.

I was watching that "America's Got Talent" show last night and there is some truly creative acts on the show. I think of the violinist group in particular. They combine hip-hop and classical music in a brilliant manner. In the same regard I've seen people mix genres to their horror, like Pat Boone's heavy metal remake album. Eww!

That's the nature of creativity. Sometimes you fail. Sometime you win. The problem is you don't know until you try. My advice, try and keep trying. Learn from your failures. Let them influence your successes.

Creative ideas don't just come once in a while. They come in a flood of bad ones and a person that doesn't give up.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Visuals, Part 3: Visuals in the Bible

In my first two blogs I gave examples of being visual from our culture. In this blog I'd like to build in some Biblical thought into why we need to be more visual images in our preaching.We would be preaching more Biblically is we preached visually. I'm just hypothesizing but it seems the preaching in the enlightenment/modern age followed the track of Paul and Hellinism. Ideas and proposals are what was highlighted and preaching thus followed this model. Three points and a poem please.

It's not that this model is wrong, it's in the Bible, but it isn't the dominant model in the Bible. When you look at the preaching of the prophets and of Jesus you see God speaking through a wide range of visuals. Isaiah speaks of the stump of Jesse's tree. Ezekiel talks about bones coming to life. Darius Slater in his excellent book, Preaching as Art, points out the Bible is overflowing in visual truth. We need to take advantage of this treasure.

In 1 Kings 14 King Rehoboam replaced the stolen gold sheilds with sheilds of brass. This was an image used to convey the idea of settling for less. Haddon Robinson uses the snake in the wilderness that was raised as a symbol for whatever is used as idolatry in our day. Hosea says Israel is a harlot. Joel's message is urgency but never uses the word. Instead he he says to blow a trumpet and sound the alarm. Amos does not say it's time for a test. Instead he says God is going to set a plumb line against his people. Jesus said "I am the bread of life," and constantly spoke in parabolic pictures.

Slater notes, "Imaginative speech moves an idea from tacit understanding to tactile comprehension." Creative sermons should give people something to hold. Visuals are what give people something to hold.

Bible preachers used everyday common pictures to convey truth. What everyday visuals might we use to convey the truth of what we preach?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Creativity in Non-Creative Places

I have discovered that the most creative places in the world most people the most uncreative places in the world.

If I were to ask you what were some of the most creative places in the world are you might mention Walt Disney World, some movie studio, or a record label. You might mention an arts school of some kind. Those are all great creative places, but they are not where you can be the most creative. In those places you just see the results of creativity. You do not see the work of creativity. You might even mention a church or two if you are a minister of some kind.

The work of creaivity is in the humdrum places, the ordinary places that you visit on a weekly, if not daily basis.

For example, one of the best places for me to get a creative spark is the grocery store, especially one that has a wide variety of products. All you do is take a stroll through the store, slowly. As you stroll through the store you take the topic or problem and start comparing and contrasting with the products on the shelves. What insights could you get from the butcher concerning the sacrifacial system in the Old Testament? How is Jesus, the bread of life, like the different kinds of breads in the store? What character traits of Jesus do they reveal? How is ice cream like heaven? How do the spices relate to the beattitudes in Matthew 5?

You can do this at different stores as well. I have found Lowes, Home Depot, Peebles, and even the library to be useful. Check out the magazines. Not Time or Rolling Stone but the niche ones, Quilters Today, Hunting, and the like. You would be amazed at the fresh insights that can come from paging through some unfamiliar territory.

So take a stroll through the grocery store. Just be sure you're not hungry!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ideas from the Olympics

This post could actually be called "Visuals, pt 2." In a very imaginative way way the Chinese told the history of their nation through iconocography, showmanship, and even a speech. If you haven't seen it go to to watch it. It is fantastic. I was wondering how we could use some of thier methods and ideas in a weekly sermons. here are some thoughts that I came up with.

1. The use of icons. They used icons from the three major streams of philosophy in China (Daoism, Confuscianism, and buddhism) to convey the foundations of thier culture. How could we use the icons of our faith to inspire and to help people know the fear of the Lord?

2. Anticipation. They used a simple countdown in an effective way to provide anticipation into the ceremony. They used clored drum sets in sychrinization to build the drama. This made think of the pregnant moment just before we speak to our congregation. How could we use that moment to heighten interest so that when we speak people's ears are truly ready to hear the word?

3. Part of Chinese narrative is using light and dark, loud and soft, opposites used in contrast to bring a rythym to their presentation. How can this narrative technique be used in preaching? How can we take the opposites in the Bible, light and dark for instance, and use that to enhance our message?

I'm just aksing questions today but that is part of creativity. You ask questions. you bring odd ideas together and see how they might play out. The lesson... take the time to play with ideas and techniques. Swish them around and see what flavors you get. You might be surprised by the insights you gain!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Creative Ways to Understand Our Culture

Creative thinker, Roger von Oech, teaches you can use four roles to help you be more creative. In his book A Kick in the Seat of the Pants he writes that the hallmark of creative people is thier mental flexibility. Creative people are able to shift in out of different mental gears to examine an issue effectively. To help you gain this mental skill Roger advocates looking at a problem, or a scripture, a lesson, or whatever with four unique roles. The roles he describes are explorer, artist, judge, and warrior. I'll let you read the book to know more about what he's talking about.

What if we plussed his idea? What if, if we are looking at a scripture, we took the time to write a short paragrapgh how the different Bible characters would look at the text? Issuing the little details we discover into the message can enliven your presentation. Take, for example, the story of the feeding of the 5000. How would the spontaneous Peter react? Or the thunderous James and John? How would the redeemed Matthew react to such a feat?

In order to be successful at this method you will need to take some time to understand a Bible character's personality, or you'll just interject your personality. So you'll have to do some homework to make this method work. This method could help you exegete the scripture with fresh insight.

What about cultural exegesis? If you preach you probably do this to some extent already when you think about pray about the people you are preaching too. To plus what you are already doing take some of the people you know well in your congregation and place them in the story. How would John, the chairmen of the elders, react when Noah said he needs to build a boat? How would the frenzied single Dad react to Jesus when Jesus let the children come unto him? This could help you bridge the gap between the Bible's culture and our culture and make the Bible real to your audience.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Creativity is Hard Work

Once in a sermon series I painted these huge banners based on the 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter. Each banner was a persona demonstrating each act of love mentioned in the chapter. I had a total 8 banners that I was putting up all over the church hall.

It was a creative idea and the simple paintings really helped cement the sermon series visually, but they were a lot of work! Each banner was about 4-5 feet tall and took several hours to complete. It was also very tedious work. That doesn't include the research and time it took to design each banner. I spent just about as much time doing the exegesis as I did the creative part.

And that's the rub. Creativity can seem like a whole lot of work for a small amount of concrete material or effect. Most of the time people do not realize how much time and energy goes into creating a creative experience. It seems time could be better spent doing more productive activities, like studying the Bible, and then doling out the information.

Simply put, creativity is hard work. It's not easy. Most messages are boring becasuse the speaker is not willing to put the hard work into being creative with their message. It's easier just to pass out the information in a simple form each week.

Last thought. One reason creativity is hard work is your message's purpose is not to be creative. The purpose of your message is to persuade your audience to do something. Creativity wrongly applied can get in the way of that purpose. It takes hard work to tweak the creativity just right so the purpose of your message is enhanced, and not covered in bunch of fluff.

Creativity is hard work.

Monday, July 28, 2008


You have heard it said that we live in a visual society. We do. Just look at a magazine, or a billboard, TV, movies, marketing, the internet, and so on. Most of our communication these days is done visually. No one can argue that point.

It seems to me that in the church we have equated visual with video. We think we're being creative if we have a video clip thrown up on the wall from a recent movie or a skit of some kind. While that may wake a few people up to what we're talking about I see that as more of a band-aid over a oral medium. I'm not criticizing you if you use video, but don't think that's all there is to being visual with your sermon.

There is so much more! Ponder on these thoughts.

How could our medium be more visual if we included some Broadway play techniques in our presentation? What if we picked up some ideas from the Blue Man group or from the traveling percussion show, Stomp! What if we sought to communicate the Jesus' message using some of their techniques?

What about Las Vegas? What are some of the methodologies (barring the sex and gambling stuff, of course) they use to commuicate their message? What could we learn from them? They're communicating a message too. It just isn't our message. It's important to realize that most methdologies are morally neutral. It's how those methods are used that makes them immoral or moral. Example: Magazines are neutral, but you know there are good magazines and bad ones.

Here is another group we could learn from, Cirque Du Soliel. While I'm not recommending that we do a sermon series themed out to a circus (wonder what that would look like?) but the show, if you have seen it, does seek to communicate a message visually. What could we learn from them?

As with any brain storming idea some of the connections you'll make will be silly and others might be true gems. How do you seek to commiunicate visually? Have you done anything beyond a video clip or an object lesson?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Creativity and the Church

On vacation I was speaking to a fellow minister and he said to me, "I want to be more creative."

What does that mean? More creative?

First of all, is he creative already? Yes he is.

We are all creative. Everyone is creative just as much as all of us can kick a ball.

Then how do you "be more creative?"

The answer is the difference between you kicking a ball and a professional soccer player kicking a ball. The answer is one word: discipline. The professional soccer player has worked really hard at kicking a ball for a long time and your career at kicking a ball might have ended in little league soccer.

Creativity is a discipline. As we develop the discipline we can have better...
... messages.
... meetings.
... ways to solve the myriad of ministry challenges.
... ways of connecting to our culture.

Inscape means seeing something new in something familiar. In a manner of speaking ministers are challenged to take something that is familiar to them, the Bible, and discover new insights that will apply to living in our culture and world.

That's what this blog will be about. It will look at the discipline of creativity and the ministry. This blog will not give you creative products, but strategies on how you can be creative yourself.

God created you. You were created in his image. It's time we reflected our creator in the culture.