Monday, August 09, 2010

rant on creativity, or lack, in preaching and proclamation

This post has been bubbling for a while and should not be read as a reflection on recent sermons I’ve heard and worship I’ve been part of.

Back in May, someone pointed me to a few lines from Uniting in Worship 2. (See a fascinating ABC introduction here). This book is like the official worship book of the Uniting Church in Australia. It’s meant to be important in shaping Uniting worship.

On page 134, in a section titled “The Service of the Word/Receiving God’s Word”

“People are shaped by story, by narrative … When we hear stories again and again, we are shaped and re-shaped as the stories are told and re-told. Christian people are shaped by the story of Jesus …. The story is told through proclamation – which may include reading the Scriptures, preaching, reflection on Scripture, drama/movement, symbolic action, art, multimedia resources, and silence … ”

When I read that, I began to scratch my head. Which may include … stories and art and multi-media and movement.

Here is clear and written encouragement to be creative. Yet my experience is that in 99% of churches (all churches, not just Baptist and not just Uniting), proclamation is only every the first two, “reading the Scriptures, preaching”? Words, words, words. And rarely, if ever … stories or art, multi-media or movement.

Or to quote from Jonny Baker’s new book, Curating Worship, which I reviewed over the weekend …

“In many church circles the only gifts that are valued for worship are musical ones or the ability to speak well. This attitude needs shattering, and opening up so that poets, photographers, ideas people, geeks, theologians, liturgists, designers, writers, cooks, politicians, architects, movie-makers, storytellers, parents, campaigners, children, bloggers, DJs, VJs, craft-makers, or just about anybody who comes and is willing to bounce ideas around, can get involved.” (Baker, Curating Worship, 12)

What a gorgeous list. So with such encouragement and such potentially creative people sitting in our churches, what is it that so limits the church’s proclamation to spoken words?

Posted by steve at 10:42 AM


  1. You know, I as a congregand at my church would agree. There does seem to be a lot of words exclusively in delivering the message. And also from Baker’s quote re musical gifts, this point is poignantly highlighted when by and large churches synomonise “worship” and “music” or “worship” and “singing” (but I need not rerun that little chestnut).

    Dare I take this a step further for the Thinking Pot: If a church is wholyl dedicated to, in this example, just words, then how does this affect ministries that a church supports or endorses? Or even further, at what point does a ministry area become a mini-church community for those who utilise such a ministry, when they feel that this area is enriching their relationship with Christ in all facets moreso than the church itself?

    Sorry Steve, I’m thinking out loud again!

    Comment by Ryan — August 9, 2010 @ 4:53 pm

  2. Thanks Ryan. I really like where you went with the 2nd para – if the “medium is the message” then of course – if the Sunday message is words that will shape how we enact mission.

    Keep thinking – whether silent our out loud!


    Comment by steve — August 10, 2010 @ 8:15 pm

  3. Is it the structure and ‘image’ of our churches that prevents inclusion of so many gifts? The fear of men and something not appropriate in the eyes of the majority being said. We preach the priesthood of all believers but seldom let any but the staff or vetted lay people express their worship as an individual witness to all. What does Jesus mean to me, and how will I express my gratitude to him when we are gathered together as a congregation? Expression from the heart are awesome worship, that are used by the Holy Spirit to excite, inspire and convict.
    What will happen if we relax controls, seek God in prayer and expect His Spirit to lead, even in a big church?

    Comment by Phil — August 29, 2010 @ 3:21 pm

  4. Hi Phil,

    I think all the factors you name are important – church structure, people’s courage, twinned with lack of gift of encouragement, lack of imagination about how to be church in larger contexts, refusal to hear and values stories of all people. For some ways forward I recommend Jonny Bakers book (my review is here – plus Mark Pierson’s book, which is due out late 2010,

    Steve Taylor

    Comment by steve — August 29, 2010 @ 5:47 pm

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