Creativity in Worship (v2010) + Collaborative Leadership

Twice — I think in 2000 and 2001 — I was privileged to teach a seminar at the Willow Creek Arts Conference called something like “Towards Spontaneity in Worship.” The seminar was designed to help worship leaders safely navigate being able to have some “unplanned creativity” in worship: extended outros, “Holy Spirit” moments where the worship leader can just open up some space to respond to something that God made may be doing.

In my estimation, the seminars weren’t all that good; I’m not that great at unpacking things that I do intuitively (just ask me to try and give you a guitar lesson!). But last night I was thinking about it, after a couple of “unplanned musical moments” in our worship set yesterday, and realized that I had something to add to the topic. So here you go:

In order to experience some kind of spontaneity in worship (or in any creative enterprise), a leader must be willing to acknowledge that what others might be offering — in terms of notes, ideas, or melodies — may be better than what that leader had in mind.

If you can’t start here, I’m not sure that it’s possible to experience much in the way of spontaneity. Why? Because you’ll control it. And as long as it’s only you controlling it, you won’t encounter much of anything that you haven’t already thought of or discovered. To use a metaphor, I think that most leaders look at a task (or a song) much like a musical equation that they have come up with: A + B = C. A collaborative leader is willing to introduce an unknown or two: A + B + __ = __. The end result might be “C”, but it also might be C*.

Adopt the mindset that everyone on your team — everyone in the room or at the table — has something potentially amazing to give to the experience, and the possibilities become endless! Release control that the song is supposed to end the way you wanted it to; that the chorus is supposed to be quiet rather than loud; that a ministry should have one strategy versus another.

You are still “the leader”; you still have the right to say, “No thanks.” But in the meantime, entertaining the idea that there is something better residing in the hearts and minds of your musicians and/or team makes introduces the concept that something new, unplanned and unexpected can be created out of your collective efforts.

… And that’s fun!

What can you release control of?

I Know Where She Is…

Meet my sister. She’s five years older than me, and mostly amazing.

She’s been inspiring and challenging me for decades now (I’m excluding the first 12 or so years, because then she mostly just picked on me…), and now she’s moving gently but firmly into a new arena of life and ministry.

Please take 30 minutes and listen to her teach. Her message is about what you do when you find out that you’re not where you think you are in life. When expectations aren’t matching up with reality.

I know where she is… she’s following close behind a rabbi.

Making a New Refrigerator

“…(E)ven if there is, strictly speaking, no such thing as private interpretation of scripture, the illusion of private interpretation leads to much mischief. It encourages individuals to forget that every text has an original, and so appropriate, context. To remove a refrigerator repair manual from its original context–the world of refrigerator selling and repair–is to render it useless.” – Rodney Clapp, A Peculiar People (emphasis added)

I am very much enjoying reading Rodney Clapp’s unpacking of the Kingdom and the Church. The writing is confrontational, informed, and thoughtful. To be blunt, I think he’s right on the money. But I think in this quote, he doesn’t go far enough. As I’ve seen it, his “refrigerator repair manual” metaphor is only partly true; I think the whole truth of the situation for the church is that as we’ve read the scriptures individualistically (narcissistically?) and out of their original context, we’ve done more that just render the “manual” useless.

I wonder if we’ve decided to just dream up a new refrigerator to match our remade manuals.

The refrigerator surely resembles the original–things like grace, sin, love, and Messiah are used with great passion and intensity–but when return the manual to its original intent (or as close as one can get to the mind of the original writer and audience), we find that machine was supposed to look and feel a bit different. The same terms are there, but somehow have different meanings.

I think this is troublesome trend in the Church: that we aren’t content just to puzzle over the difficulty of reading a 2,000 year old repair manual. Do we simply invent a new device that matches what we think the manual was telling us to build? That seems to fit our understanding of YHWH, our 21st century culture, and our own felt needs?

Centralia

For two summers, when I was 18 and 19, I worked for the steel company that employed my father. I did random sales and marketing stuff for them: customer satisfaction surveys and inventories with the various state and local transportation departments that used their products. Driving around — Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida, and California — by myself in a rental car with an expense account was pretty happening for a skinny college kid who wanted to spend as much money as he could on guitar gear.

One day I was riding around with some guys in central Pennsylvania when we came to a town called Centralia. It stank. Smelled like sulfur. When I asked, they just shook their heads and said, “wait.” When we got closer to the town, they told me to get out and put my hand on the pavement. Even though it was a cool day, the pavement was warm; really warm.

Sulfur; heat.

Was this hell?

They finally told me what was going on. You see, Centralia is in coal mining country, and one day a fire started burning in the mine at Centralia…

… that was in 1962, and it’s been burning ever since.

Once the fire got started, there was seemingly nothing anyone could do. All attempts to extinguish it had failed, and it essentially was smoldering for over 30 years.

You can smell the sulfur, and you can feel the heat. The slowly became toxic, houses slowly being evacuated before it got too risky, health-wise, to remain.

Eventually the fire killed the town, and Centralia doesn’t really exist anymore.

Sometimes I wonder about the stuff we carry around in our spirits, in our hearts. Are there things that gnaw at you? Things that you’ve done or seen? Things that were done to you? When there is significant pain in our lives it is tempting to “get on with it”, and try to shut things away, but when we do that we often find that those things are like the mine fire at Centralia: even though we see no destruction on the surface, deep down we are being destroyed, and eventually what’s going on underneath will be displayed on the surface of our lives.

When there is pain, we need to do our best to bring things into redemptive time — to allow them to see the light of day, to exist in the oxygen, so that we can deal with them.

Burying them won’t kill them. It only gives them places to smolder and burn.

The Song

Jonathan was born unable to hear. He was unable to hear the words of love from his parents. The comfort that they spoke, the songs that they would sing. No matter how they shouted, how they wept for him, how they sang him lullabies, he would not hear.

His world was an ocean of silence.

But then…

The moment when his face lights up, and he hears the voice — the overture of love — from his parent, is a priceless moment of grace, love and beauty.

It also teaches.

So many of us have either never heard the song and voice of Love. Others of us have heard it, but then have allowed it to fade into the background of clanging traffic, of playlists, of work and the corporate ladder.

But guess what: The Voice is still speaking. It’s still singing. There’s a song out there, singing all of our names, waiting for that moment when our ears and eyes are opened up and we recognize the Voice for ourselves.

What song(s) are you missing? Do you still hear the Voice? Do you still light up with the soft light of grace when you hear it?

Yes, yes, yes.

I get this, at a very deep level. This is how I approach music.

“Either you are the music or you’re not. There are a lot of people that want to do what I do, but what I do is about humility and righteousness and understanding, because music is precious. I know it’s just rock and roll, but there are moments in there. There really are and you can’t miss them. It’s got to be soulful, it’s got to speak to you, it’s got to twist your little heart, and you have to be turned on.” – Andy Johns, Producer, in September 2010 Guitar Player (see credits here)