Archive for the ‘Thoughts on art ministry and life’ Category

One of the things that has been great about having an itinerant (traveling) ministry is meeting all the different churches and especially (for the sake of this discussion) the church leaders. As we would sit down, there seemed to be a recurring theme, the church is aging and the next generation is disappearing from our ranks. Person after person stated the same thing, “It’s happening everywhere.” I doubt that’s true, but it is, nonetheless, a growing trend, but what we can’t afford, at least in my estimation is accepting this as “just the way things are.” Losing a generation is not something we can just accept. It’s something we need to pray about and it’s something we need to fight to change.

I think Reinhold Niebuhr said it best,

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.

Brothers and sisters, if Jesus is the only way to the Father, and He is, losing a generation is something that should burden our hearts like virtually nothing else. These are our children and grandchildren. These are the people to whom we are supposed to pass the baton. They are the church of today and they are the future of the church. Losing them is not one of those things Niebuhr (or for that matter Christ) says we should accept, it’s one of the things we need the courage to change. If we can’t see the difference, we need more wisdom. Eternity is at stake.

The answer is what it has always been, prayer and spreading the Gospel. The answer is going to where the people are. The answer is bringing them in. The answer is taking the unchanging message of the Gospel to an ever changing world. We have to jettison the fear we have of a judging world because the world is not our judge, Christ is. We have to be unashamedly about church growth. You might say it’s not all about numbers. Yes it is, because numbers are people! We need to be unashamedly evangelistic. Our Lord is the best “thing” going and He is the only way—our world’s only hope. You might think “But Dave, that’s not how the world works anymore.” I know and have you seen the results? Like our Master, we are not in this world to judge it, we’re in the world to save it, in the sense that we point our world to it’s Savior. Jesus came into this world on a rescue mission and when He ascended, He put that mission in our hands. That mission doesn’t change with the times. To think it does is to imagine a lifeguard who sees a drowning person and thinks, “Who am I to intervene? Maybe he likes drowning.”

The world needs the Gospel like never before. I’ve heard so often that the old methods don’t work anymore. I’m not always convinced that’s true, but if it is, then we better get creative church. We better fall to our knees and seek the Lord for what’s next, because the Gospel is still “…the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” Losing a generation is not one of those things to be accepted. It is something that can be changed. It’s time we knew the difference.

If you’ve been following along, you know that I wrote a few posts on failure recently. What you don’t know is those posts on failure triggered something in me that has caused me to do a lot of writing over the last few weeks, exploring a lot of areas of importance for the creative Christian life, predominantly around the areas of failure, fear and faith. Here is a little sample of my writings on faith.

“Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God.” Leo Buscaglia

So how does faith apply to the creative life? I think Dr. Buscaglia really hit the nail on the head with the above quote. Our gifts, our talents, our abilities, experiences and a host of other things are given to us by God. Further, in a very real way, they are His investment in us. He gives them to us, knowing how He made us, and the way He “wired” us, in anticipation that we who love Him will faithfully use these gifts for His purposes in our world. I love this. We call these gifts “talents” which is interesting. A talent in Jesus’ day was a unit of measure, specifically it was a way to measure precious metals like gold, and so it could be said, maybe a little facetiously, that our talents are worth their weight in gold. They have value and if they are gifts from God, and I believe they are, then talents are something of great value that God entrusts to us. As a minister of the Gospel, I believe a big part of my calling is to help people to come to believe in God, or at least to work to that end, but our talents say something different to us. Oh, we still need to believe in God, but our talents tells us God believes in us. And so those of us who have a creative bent should be investing at least some of those creative gifts into accomplishing God’s purposes on earth. One might imagine that there are two primary applications of this principle, serving others and sharing the Gospel.

I know I’ve shared this before, but from time to time, I feel like you might need a reminder. This is from an episode of Dr. Who, where the Dr. goes back in time to get van Gogh, and show him what his people say about his art today. Now of course this is a work of science fiction and yet, so many of us have a hard time seeing their own value, let alone the value of their work. van Gogh died at the age of 37, many people believe by his own hand, and I cannot help but wonder what would have happened had he been able to see what we think of his work today. It’s too late for him, but not for you. You’re worth more than you know.

I’ve been pending a fair amount of time thinking about fear and failure for an upcoming project. Here’re some things that occurred to me recently.

What is failure? I’m sure we could find a definition in the dictionary that would suffice. I’m sure, if we were together in person, you could give me a definition in your own words. The problem is, it’s a sliding scale and everyone defines it differently. You might think of the teacher handing you back a paper with a lot of red ink, and maybe even a big red F in the corner, likely with a circle around it for emphasis, as if the failure was entirely your own. Maybe the F was on your report card. By the way, have you ever noticed most schools skipped right over “E.” A, B, C, and D represent nothing but a level. They are not initials for some word, like “lofty” or “proficient” or “mediocre” which is essentially what they mean, yet we don’t get L’s or P’s or M’s, so there is no earthly reason, why the grade below D is F, except that F means failure and the grading system wants to make sure you didn’t miss the fact that you failed and are therefore a failure. Maybe you’d equate failure with not reaching a certain level in your career or a time when you let someone, maybe even yourself, down. It might reflect a time when you just couldn’t reach the goal. It might even be something your rational mind knows was not your fault, but still you take the blame.

For some failure becomes their name, as in “I’m a failure.” Others will adopt it’s cousins, like “Loser” or “Waste” or “Idiot.” It manifests in questions, like “How could I be so stupid?” Sometimes we think we’re failures because someone labeled us as such. Other times we just see the evidence on the faces of those around us. For me it was all of the above. Sometimes I’d hear statements like “If brains were dynamite, you wouldn’t have enough to blow your nose.” Other times it was the C on the report card in a field of A’s and B’s. Ironically, that C was for something most people don’t even teach anymore, Cursive. This brings me to another point. A grade of C, is essentially translated as average. For most people C is okay, you’re not the best but neither are you the worst. Most people would see it as maybe needing improvement, but nothing to lose sleep over. For others, a C might as well be an F. In their minds, average, being on par with everyone else equates with failure. Further, why was it so easy to miss the A’s and B’s and the lower grade of C becomes the focus. Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this. I can get a hundred positive comments and one negative and that one negative becomes my entire focus. I’m almost positive I’m not the only one and that needs to change.

Yesterday we looked at failing like a scientist and today I need to reiterate it. A scientist who fears failure is doomed. Scientists’ lives depend on failure. One of the great minds of science, Albert Einstein once said, “A problem will never be solved using the same level of thinking it took to create it.” Further he said the more famous, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” The essence of both sayings is the same, to solve our problems, we have to try new and different things, otherwise a new old saying will come to bear, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.” Problems are almost exclusively solved by trying something new.

Of course, as we venture into uncharted territory, the risk of failure looms even larger than usual. The scientist is okay with this, because failure is a mighty tool in his arsenal. He tries something knowing the odds of failure in the first attempt, and sometimes the second and third, and occasionally the thousandth, are probably quite high. Rather than fearing the failure, he takes notes of what worked and what didn’t and then changes the variables until he arrives at success. Even if success never comes, much has been learned that will guide him to another idea and a better solution. That’s the power of failure. It allows us to learn from our mistakes, and move toward solving the problem before us. I call it failing forward and I believe it is essential not just for scientists, but for all of us, especially those with a creative bent.

Consider a baby. He doesn’t try walking once and then give up. Nor do we who love him say, “Oh well, you tried.” Unless that child has a physiological reason why walking is impossible, we pick them up, dry their tears (if there are any) and set them back on the path until walking becomes second nature. That is called growth, and growth almost never comes from instantaneous success. Rather it comes from trial and error, learning from the error until success is imminent.

My first drawing, at least the first one my mom kept, is quite good for a three year old (and yes, I was three when I did it!). That being said, it pales in comparison to what I can do now 53 years later. The reason for that is the hundreds and thousands of drawings and other art pieces I have done in the interim. Some of those pieces made me very happy, others I would consider failures, but each of those pieces led to me being able to do the best work of my life, and yet I know, if I live and my physical capacities remain as they are, I will be doing much better work in twenty years than I can today.

The reason is simple. I have determined to risk creative failure every day to that end. That’s the power of failure. If you want to be truly successful, fail and fail often, but whatever you do, fail forward.

One of the reasons creatives withhold their work, is because of fear of failure. As stated previously, art withheld is a gift un-given, a waste of your time, and a lost opportunity, but so many people will look at their work and convince themselves that their work is unworthy. They think they’ve failed.

Creatives need to learn to fail like our creative brethren, the scientists. Oh there are few people more creative than scientists, and there are no people more susceptible to failure than scientists. The thing is, scientists know how to fail. Here’s what happens. One day a scientist comes up with an idea. An idea is nothing more than a creative solution to a problem, something every creative/artist also does every day. Once the scientist has an idea, he or she begins to do experiments to test whether or not their idea will work. That experiment has really only two options. It will either succeed or fail. If it succeeds, the problem is solved. This is similar to the work we do that works the first time. If on the other hand the piece doesn’t work out, we creatives will generally consider it a failure and walk away. Scientists don’t do that and neither should we.

You see, if the experiment fails, the scientist notes what was done, and the results, why it failed etc. From there the creative process continues. The scientist learns what he can from his failure and determines what it will take for his creation to succeed. From there he or she designs another experiment and starts again. Each success, and each failure moves the scientist closer and closer to success. Basically creatives often fail and quit. Scientists experiment, fail, and experiment again as often as possible, until something works. Scientists fail forward.

We creatives need to do the same.