Archive for the ‘books’ Category

This week on social media, a friend posted a great quote:

“The true purpose of arts education is not necessarily to create more professional dancers or artists. [It’s] to create more complete human beings who are critical thinkers, who have curious minds, who can lead productive lives.’ Kelly Pollock

While I agree with everything written here, I wish more had been said. I used to work for an arts education organization and there was one thing that bothered me. It seemed there was an unwritten pressure from schools to prove that studying the arts would make students better at things deemed “more important,” like math. What a shame! You see, I believe the arts bring beauty and meaning to our world. Further, it is in creating that human beings manifest part of the image of God we are here to bear. The arts also help us to express the complex things that are going on inside us and helps us to get those things out. My friends who teach in the arts, are not just making kids good at math, they are making the world a better, more beautiful place by virtue of teaching kids to make art. The arts for art’s sake do a lot of good in our world and they should not be reduced in importance to how good they make us at other things.

As I was thinking about this, though, I hit a struggle. You see, I use art in my ministry and if you asked me, I would freely tell you that the arts are a tool I use to communicate the Gospel. Is that really any different from what others might say about the arts? I’ve decided it is and to really help you understand, I’m going to tell you a story.

Once when my son Chris was little, we had a family birthday party for him. Someone in our family got him one of those toys that requires a lot of batteries. This relative decided to have mercy on my son and us, and also bought him the king sized pack of batteries and they gift wrapped them as well. Normally we would give the gift first, and then the batteries, but somehow the packages got shifted and he opened the batteries first. He was such a kind and grateful child, that upon seeing what was in the package, he said with all the glee a small child can muster, “BATTERIEEEEEES!” I was so happy to see him react in such a way. To him batteries were a big deal, even before he had something to put them in.

As I was thinking of this story (which Chris has never lived down), it all came together. Batteries are not a great gift on their own, but the “real gift” was powerless without them. With my ministry, for some people the art is the battery that empowers the story. For others the story empowers the art, but both the art and the story are the gift. Likewise in your creative pursuits, for some people, your God-given gift will be the big thing and for others it will empower the big thing to do it’s work on their hearts. I think that’s why the Bible says, “Each one should use whatever gifts…”  The role your gift plays is in the hand of the Father and the heart of the recipient. Our job is to give the gift, whether it’s the gift, or “just” the BATTERIEEEEEES.

Assignment: What are your batteries and how do you charge them? How can your gift “charge” someone else?


There’s a verse in the Bible that says “you have not, because you ask not…” Now there is more to the verse, and the context is a little different, but for people in the church who want to serve, especially if your gift or talent is somewhat different from the usual “offerings,” asking is a huge part of the equation.

Think about it. There are some things every church knows they’re going to need, and filling those roles will always be first and foremost on the minds of the leadership. If you have something different to offer, it might not even be on their radar, especially if your gift would be something completely new. If you wait to be asked, barring divine intervention, the invite is not likely to come. Instead, you’re going to have to be the one to walk up to your church leadership and say, “Hey, what if we tried…?”

Now if this is the case, and it is, how you ask is going to be critical. The leadership person in question is not likely to know what to do with your idea. For this reason, you can’t give them a half-formed, half-baked idea. The more you have worked out in advance of the ask, the better. Going to the leadership with a complete, well thought out idea will make things a lot easier on both of you. Do your homework.

How much will it cost? This is going to be a question in nearly every church, because we all have budgets to deal with. The more inexpensive initially, the better. In the ideal world, low risk, high reward projects are the most likely to get the “green light.” Build your idea for growth where possible, realizing that success brings investment. How can you get the best bang for your buck.

Be humble. The leader in question may have a lot of questions. This should be understandable. Their credibility is on the line and in ministry credibility is huge. They may suggest changes. They may give you reasons why your idea won’t fit at the present time. They may have a similar but smaller way to try your idea. Accept these and go back to the drawing board. One of the things that is crucial in using our gifts to serve is coming under authority. Many people don’t do that well, but we all answer to someone.

Be faithful. When you get the go ahead, bring your best work to the table, deliver on time. Demonstrating faithfulness is a big part of this that cannot be overlooked. There was a reason Jesus, in the parable of the talents said “you have been faithful in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things.”

Be flexible. Very rarely in life do we get everything we asked for all the time. Be grateful for what you get and move forward, even if you didn’t get everything you wanted.

One day, hopefully your dream and your vision will be fully realized, but it usually, it all starts with “the ask.”

Don’t worry this has nothing to do with assisted suicide and dying on one’s own terms. No today I am talking about the things we allow, or should allow, to die in our churches and ministry. There is a great equalizer in our lives. It’s called time. The richest person in the world and the poorest have the 24 hour day in common. No one gets more and no one gets less. To give time to one thing is to take that precious time from something else and this is urgent for churches to understand.

You see, virtually no one can give the church 24 hours a day. It’s an impossibility. Needless to say we want more than one hour a week, and a tithe of time would be ideal, but that’s basically two and a half hours a day and we rarely get that from any but the most dedicated. The reality is people have a limited time to give to the church, so we who lead churches, need to do our best to help them invest their time wisely. For example, I once heard a mega-church pastor say if a person only has an hour a week to give the church, in addition to worship, the last thing he would do is have them use that hour sit in a meeting, and for the most part, unless that person has a true leadership gift, I would agree. T   here’s something of even greater concern however.

It’s when churches have too many things, especially programs, on life-support. Think about it. There’s great lamentation over “x’ program that once had half the congregation involved and now no one supports it. It’s a fight for the leadership team to get someone to lead it, and when they finally do, no one attends, leaving the leader who was arm twisted into taking it on feeling like a failure, like they’re wasting their time or both. There’s a name for that kind of program. It’s called “DEAD.” Oh at one time it was great, and many people were excited about it and passionate about it and we have fond memories of it, but it’s time has passed. Here’s the rule. If no one has the passion to lead something it is better to let it die with dignity so that something else can grow. No sense pushing and prodding people to help it to linger, rather it’s time to help people to find what meets the spiritual needs of people today.

Now I can almost feel the pushback on this one even as I punch the keys. “What if it’s something important like Bible Study, or Sunday School or even Worship?” you might be thinking. No I’m not suggesting we jettison things of spiritual importance, but I am suggesting you look at the way you’re doing those things. The Bible doesn’t change, but methods can change and frankly, they must. This is where prayerful creativity comes into play. “That’s the way we have always done it…” is not a God-given mandate to keep doing things the way you have always done them. Look for the passionate ones and empower them to lead, whether that be to resurrect something or birth something new. Either of those is fine, the only thing that’s not okay is to let dead things keep taking up space and time.

Assignment: Is there anything in your church that is dead? Is it “resurrect-able” or could the energy and resources it takes be used to birth something new?

When it comes to serving in the church, I think this is a very common fear. “What if they won’t let me serve?” or maybe “What if they don’t like what I do?” or “What if I’m not good enough?” The first thing I’m always tempted to ask is, “yes, but what if you are? or “What if they do?” The point is, you’ll never know if you don’t ask. The Bible even says “You have not, because you ask not.” and while some may question whether I used that in content, the point is true. If you “self-reject” by never trying, you’ll never know.

In offering your gifts, there are a few things to be considered. The first is to remember there is a trust level here. When a church leader puts someone before his congregation, or the public at large, he or she is trusting that you will bring your best and represent him and the church well. For this reason, we must come under authority and serve faithfully. That means you do what was asked of you, and you deliver the best you can, when you said you were going to have it done. Faithfulness demands this.

Secondly, you need to trust and sometimes work your way up. When you offer your gift and are given an opportunity, take it, even if it feels beneath you. We serve a God who washed His disciples feet. There is humility involved in serving the Lord. In most churches, there is a lack of people willing to serve. Be one of those people, and there is a likelihood that more and better opportunities will open. With any opportunity, bring your best to it.


Further, be open to constructive criticism. You may not yet be at the level where you need to be and we’re often not quite as good as we think we are. Wise counsel can build us and make us better. Also sometimes people can see an area of greater gifting in us, so be willing to try new things.

Keep developing your gift. Keep working at and work hard to keep improving. The Bible says, “Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank.” (Proverbs 22:29) We can always improve and gain new skills, so keep at it.

Finally remember who you are serving. Ultimately your service is about the glory of God. So serve humbly, faithfully and often. God knows what you have because He gave it to you. Live and serve in a way that honors Him. If God has given you a gift, He has a way for you to use it. Put yourself and your gift out there, and then trust, one and give it all you’ve got.

Assignment: Make a list of all the ways you could possibly serve with your gift. Then begin to explore possibilities in your church and community.

Let’s face it, creative people are not always the best at fitting in, and sometimes (most of the time) that’s okay. Standing out is often better, with in the creative world and the Christian life. There is a time though when fitting in is really, really, urgent. (Don’t worry you can still stand out, while fitting in.)

Here’s what I mean. I had been speaking to a young man, who had started to use his gift for his church. He was a comic artist, and the church had agreed to run his comic in the church newsletter. At first, he was elated, but before long, his elation turned to pain. The church decided to stop running the comic. His statement to me, was his church had rejected his gift. Now as an artist, I wanted to sympathize, but something else was also coming to bear. You see by that point, I was already in church leadership, and as a church leader, you learn pretty quickly there are two sides to every story. Rather than immediately sympathizing, I asked him to show me the comic. I understood the church’s position immediately.

The comic was biblical, so no issues there. The comic was well drawn and written, no issues there either. Here was the issue. He had chosen to tell the crucifixion story, which again is not an issue. The problem was stylistic. He went for extreme realism, which meant the piece was quite gory. It simply didn’t fit. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the work, but it did not fit the venue. When you get an opportunity to serve the church, you have to make sure that your contribution fits the environment in which it will be presented. Were his piece placed in a comic in a comic book store, it would have been an excellent evangelistic piece. It certainly would have fit in with the rest of the work there.

When we get the opportunity to serve with our work we have to make sure it fits the venue. Remember, when we do work, especially for the church, the people who call upon us to do that work are taking a risk. We need to honor their faith in us, by giving them something they can use. Sometimes it’s important to fit in.

Assignment: Look at the project or projects to which you are feeling led. Then consider what venues might be a fit for them. Look into how you might serve that venue with your work.

This year, I am going to post creative challenges from God’s Word, the idea is simple, read the passage and create something based on it.

Let’s carry this collaboration thing further.

1 Corinthians 12:12-31

Paul speaks of the church as the body of Christ. In this scenario, each person is a member of the body and every member has a part to play. How would you express this to someone else?

If you’re interested, I’ve created a resource in three different group sizes, that illustrates this point for churches, youth groups, etc.

Check it out.

No person is an island and that goes double for creatives. One of the things we always end up thinking was, “If only I was better at this, or better at that.” It’s frankly a little maddening and I am just as guilty as any other creative, but let’s go broader. I’ve joked a time or two with people complimenting my work, that you have no idea how many times I would have traded my art ability for the ability to fix my own car. And there have been moments of frustration, when that may have been the case, but that’s not really what I mean. I probably could spend the time and learn to be somewhat mechanical, but time is always in limited supply. For me to learn to fix my car, I would need to take time away from my areas of greater gifting. Far better for me to find the gifted mechanic, and pay him to do what he does best. That way I can spend my time doing what I do best, which will be infinitely more productive.

It’s the same in any area where we lack skill. You could probably learn to do what you want done, but at what expense. There’s got to be a better way, and there is. It’s called collaboration. Yes I know this is nothing new, so why do so few people do it? Basically what happens is a group of people come together and bring their best gifts to the table to do together what none of them could do alone. Think about it, this is how most great projects happen. No one is truly a one-man show, even one-man shows.

Collaboration helps to remove a lot of our limitations and allows us to break through to bigger and better things and by the way, it’s God’s design. If you look at 1 Corinthians 12, you will see the Bible comparing the church to a body in which each member has a part to play for the good of the whole. Our creative pursuits can work the same way.

Assignment: Look at your creative projects, dreams and/or ambitions. What are you lacking to finish them and bring them to reality? Write those things down. Then think about who you know who might be able to do the things you need done. Consider how you might set up a mutually beneficial collaboration.