This spring I’ll be sharing some thoughts about creativity and the church at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures. In advance of my time there, I’ve been thinking and praying a good deal about creativity and it’s use – or lack thereof – in the local church.
Truthfully, churches aren’t all that creative. We don’t do creative things. When we do, we mostly copy popular-culture (Anyone remember this slogan? “Jesus: He’s The Real Thing”). When we’re not ripping off pop-culture, we are stealing from one another. We’re glad to do what other churches have already done. The bottom-line remains the same: Churches are not known as centers of creativity.
Have you ever wondered why? Do you want your congregation to be more creative? Why do people who claim to worship the Creator lack creativity? I think I have some ideas. Reason #1: BECKY!
Unless you spend time with folks in Christian radio, you might not have heard of Becky. Becky is fictional – kinda. She is the target for Christian radio marketing. I was first introduced to Becky 7 years ago during a meeting with a community rep from KSBJ radio in Houston. I was astonished to discover such a thing existed. I didn’t make her up. The KSBJ representative told me, as if it were a good thing; “We don’t do anything Becky wouldn’t like.”
This is what Becky looks like: She is a married (possibly twice) mother of three kids, and attends church twice a month. She is 42, an evangelical but doesn’t watch Christian television. Becky is a soccer mom who wants safe, positive, and uplifting music to play while she carts her kids to events in her minivan. Becky doesn’t want to have to explain anything to her kids and doesn’t want to hear anything that raises questions. She represent the 0.1% of the earth’s population that buys Christian music. It’s a small market, so the music industry desperately needs to keep Becky happy.
Becky is the reason lyrics get changed from “screwed up” to “messed up.” She’s the reason some artists record radio versions which are “softer” musically than the album cut. It’s the reason you never hear Derek Webb or even “secular” artists who hold Christian commitments like U2 or Mumford & Sons on Christian radio – that is unless Chris Tomlin or Big Daddy Weave covers them.
So What’s Wrong With That?
Honestly, not much! I have two young children and because of Becky I can turn on the radio and drive them to school with the assurance that *most* of what they hear will ultimately be good for them. I want to hear my daughters sing, “One Thing Remains” and “You Make Beautiful Things.” Those are messages I pray remain with them for a lifetime. But it’s foolish to believe Becky and the Christian music aimed at her is anywhere near the neighborhood of a holistic Christian experience. And that’s the problem!
Problems arise when the “Becky experience” becomes synonymous with the “Christian experience.”
Very little of life with God is safe. Think I’m wrong? Read your Bible. The women and men in scripture question never go unscathed. They bleed. They get angry with God. Some die brutal deaths. They pray into silence and beg God for a response. A few are mercilessly crucified. The Bible tells tales of contrite hearts born of sexual peccadilloes exposed. In standing up for his own experience with Jesus, Stephen is stoned in cold-blood. This is the way of the cross. In the words of Hebrews 11, “Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection.”
Not only are the stories of scripture centered in darkness, we also know from the annuals of human history that the church has always been an affront to the powers of politics. From the Prophets to Jesus to Paul to Luther to Martin Luther King, Jr. people of faith have challenged the human longing for political influence and domination and called the church back to its center. You’ll hear NONE of that on Christian radio!
And that’s okay…until the expectation of Christian radio becomes normative expression for the local church.
Because Becky can’t handle questions, churches – her artists, musicians, pastors, and leaders – quit asking them. Because Becky has bought into the satanic mathematics that equates faith with safety, anything which challenges the status quo becomes heretical. Church then defaults into a position of defining itself as “family friendly” – a non-biblical descriptor for the church if there ever was one – because all of the church’s expressions must be palatable for parents waiting in the after-school pick-up line and those who possess a child’s level faith.
Since Becky likes to tap her toes, churches infrequently discuss the characters of scripture who are angry with YHWH. Because Becky seeks something “uplifting” churches can create little space for lament. This, for instance, is the reason such theological pabulum and cruelty is thoughtlessly blurted when a child dies or a leader’s faith collapses. We deal poorly with actual events because Becky inoculated us against reality.
Our yielding to Becky is costing us dearly. We have lost both our theological and creative muscles and exchanged it for mini-van-pop-theo-politcal-cheerleading.
So, what does all this have to do with creativity?
The simple fact is that the Becky-mindset means one thing for creativity: We can’t do much. Or we won’t do much.
Every element in a church worship service; each program or each new area of ministry has to pass the Becky-test. This means milquetoast, predictable, and less engaging worship experiences. The depths and riches of Christian experience go ignored because Becky has no framework to understand them and Christian sub-culture is happy to allow her her illusions of faith provided those illusions are accompanied by her patronage.
But the price of her patronage, in my view, is too costly. Many of the people created by God to join God as co-creators on earth, go their entire lives without touching a big part of what God created them for. Instead, we play it safe.