We have too many maps.
In general, maps do a great job of (a) telling you where you are, and (b) telling you where you need to go. Some of them even tell you the fastest route to get there. Maps are efficient and effective.
But what maps can not do, almost by definition, is how to discover something unexpected. They cannot tell you how to find that beautiful accident: a scenic highway, the fruit stand with amazing peaches, the funky old barn right beyond the turn of the road.
It’s the job of maps to be accurate and efficient; that’s their nature.
But sometimes, I think we need to acknowledge that we need something “beyond” (or “short of”) a map.
As human beings, disciples, and ministers in the 21st century, I think we live in a time where “Gospel Maps” abound all around us. Books and conferences, CDs and Podcasts abound, all sharing the best ideas from around the world. We are inundated with information about how to find out what God is doing in the world, and then how to translate that into gospel activities.
But they are all maps. And maps inhibit discovery; they inhibit serendipity; they give us the easy way to get from Point A to Point B.
And I’m not sure that “efficiency”, and even “accuracy” is the point of living the Gospel Life.
What if the point is “creativity”, “innovation”, and “love”.
Maps can’t really tell you how to ultimately do that.
In Linchpins, Seth Godin writes, “The reason that art is valuable is precisely why I can’t tell you how to do it. If there were a map, there’d be no art, because art is the act of navigating without a map.”
From 1997–2001, I was a part of a ministry that was attempting to connect with a new generation of believers that saw the world slightly differently than their parents and grandparents. In the early years of Axis, finding any other “partners” in ministry was difficult. In fact, we only knew of two other ministries in the entire U.S. that seemed to be speaking our language.
In other words, there were no maps.
There were no conferences to go to.
There were no minor ministry celebrities to follow on Twitter.
There were only three widely-released CDs of worship music that sounded like “us”.
Let me say that again: there were only three widely-released worship CDs that resonated with what we were doing.
We had no choice, but to try and innovate. We looked at each other, and called out the best of our creativity and imagination and will. We experimented, we implemented, we corrected, focused and re-focused.
I think that our history as believers is chock full of innovators, people who found themselves in places where there either were no maps, or the maps they thought they had were incorrect:
Thomas á Kempis…
Paul of Tarsus…
John The Beloved Disciple…
James the Just…
… and, of course, Jesus Christ.
All of these artists innovated fearlessly and creatively. Their imaginations were fully engaged, and though (save Jesus) they made mistakes (yup, they made mistakes) they kept forging ahead rather than retreat to the map.
Today, maps surround us. You can follow any number of ministry blue prints and worship styles. Hundreds of “new” ideas/maps are thrown at us—daily—through Amazon, Lifeway, Catalyst, Passion, Willow, Hillsong, Twitter, etc. etc.
But is this your best? Is this the best imagination that you can bring to the table?
Understandably, sometimes we need a map. Sometimes we need to get from Chicago to Richmond quickly and efficiently. But if we never got off the major interstates, would we ever discover the farmer’s market outside of Winchester? (The most amazing apple pie, ever, btw.)
I think our Gospel—our Good News—deserves more than a map. It deserves all of our imagination and effort.
Where are you relying too much on Gospel Maps?
Where do you need to learn—or what do you need to throw away—in order to become a Gospel Artist?
6 thoughts on ““Gospel Artists”, pt 1”
Eric, these are very powerful words and something I really needed to hear today. I can’t wait to read Part 2.
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Great words! I was just talking with a friend about how rare it is to find a church that is truly being innovate, rather than simply copying the latest “successful” church marketing plan.
Good words Eric. I agree wholeheartedly that the Church needs to re-orient in the direction of imagination and freedom. We have been marginalized into parroting christianized versions of existing culture rather than creating true art that reflects our creator.
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Having read this I thought it was really informative.
I appreciate you spending some time and effort to put this article together.
I once again find myself spending a lot of time both reading and commenting.
But so what, it was still worthwhile!