I’ve been reading John C. O’Keefe’s excellent book The Church Creative: How to be a Creative Gathering in the 21st Century. What strikes me about this book is its numerous typographical and grammatical errors (just kidding!). No, what I find striking is the pointedness at which O’Keefe identifies the problem (lethargy) and presents a solution (creativity).
I must admit that I found the first section a bit sluggish to get through. Perhaps this is because of my experience in the middle of the gigantic mud puddle that is the Church Lethargic. Whilst O’Keefe goes to great lengths to demonstrate there is this lifeless spirit killing the Christian Church (generally speaking), I can see it around me and in my history. He’s preaching to the converted.
And his remarkable solution? Creativity. Unleashing the great ideas and those gifted with bringing these things to life: art, music, drama, prayer, liturgy, architecture, and so much more.
This is more than another program, he is adamant. This is about change–real, committed, dramatic, paradigmatic change.
I’ll let the author tell it like it is:
Like me you have tried every program placed before you to make the right changes to provide missional awareness, and they never really worked. Like me, you’re listening to the world, and not what the Divine was saying. We allowed the present hard time to define us, while not embracing the coming good time.
We’ve done the 40 days of… (fill in the blank) and found nothing truly worked. We’ve tried so many different programs that at this point we’re programmed out. Some of us are at the point where we doubt who we are, our call and even those around us – we’re so beaten down that we have become lethargic.
We’ve invested so much time, money and people into all different kinds of programs, conferences and books, all the time getting nowhere – or we’ve seen a slight bump, only to decline soon after the program ended, which just brought us down further.
No matter what Christian Bookstores tell you, no matter what the Christian Publishers tell you, programs never work all the time, for all our gatherings or for all the people. Programs, it seems, are designed to suck you in, chew you up and spit you out. But, because you want the program to do for us what you’ve heard it did for others, you’re quick to get the next latest and greatest program only to fail again. You’re like Kevin Bacon’s character in Animal House, as he’s being bent over and smacked by the paddle, screaming, “Thank you sir, may I have another” every time you get smacked with a program.
What is the last thing you need right now? Think in terms of your gathering; what is the last thing you need? If you’re thinking that the last thing you need is another program, you would be right. What I’ve found is that all programs are designed to fit a new idea into your old system – and that never works.
Knowing that a program is the last thing you need is a good thing, because creativity is not another program; a program is something that costs you money, time and people; something you do for a short period of time with the expectation of the promised magic results. What I’m talking about with creativity is not a program designed for some quick fix. Creativity is a refocusing in the way you think; a way of becoming, a way of moving from where you are now, and into the idea of becoming a missional gathering.
Think of it this way, it’s a new way (actually, a very old way) of defining your life and gathering, in a redirection; shifting you from where you are now, to where you should be in the future, while bring about a core change in your thinking. It opens you to a way of embracing your gathering where you invite those who are the Creatives to move about in a fluid nature with their natural energy and envelop the entire life where service, unconditional love, grace, forgiveness and acceptance are a way of life. The best way to address a lethargic gathering of followers is to invite creativity and its natural energy to the table.
Many gatherings of followers today have lost creativity, lost the desire to even try to bring it back – so they’re in what I call Maintenance Ministry. The curse of lethargy has taken root and they’re taking care of a dying, lethargic congregation, getting them ready to close their doors. Even worse, they’re ready to simply accept their current condition and walk in the status quo.
In my view, neither is a good place. We need to move past the lethargic nature we find ourselves in and open our eyes to the Church Creative. We need to embrace the energy that Christ gives to each of us…
“He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.”
When you focus on creativity it brings something amazing, something so wonderful, once you try it you will feel the shivers of excitement run down your spine and your toes will tingle. Something so life enhancing, so entrancing, so wonderful it will cause you to look at the world in a whole new way. Once you taste what creativity has to offer, you won’t settle for anything less.
What is this amazing thing creativity brings to the table?
No, it is not a 100% fat free ice cream with zero calories that actually tastes like ice cream — though that does come in a close second.
What is it? It’s called change.
That’s right, change.
This is a necessary step the gathering must take and O’Keefe has done a brilliant job in showing the way.
How to accomplish this may not be so cut-and-dry, black-and-white. But if what this book says is even partly true, then it must be all about creativity.