Creativity: The Skin for New Wineskins (Jul 1992)

By Matt Dabbs

by David Wray
July, 1992

When Christians are asked about creativity, the often repeated responses include: “I don’t have any skills in fine arts and have no creativity.” “I would love to be creative, but I’m just an ordinary person.” “Creativity and imagination are for children. We are required to live in the ‘real world’ of facts and reality.” “Entrepreneurs, strategic planners, and divergent thinkers belong in corporate America, not in the church.” It was from Chuck Swindoll that I first heard the warning: “Choose your ruts carefully because you are going to be in them for the next 2,000 miles!”

In his book, Why Settle for More and Miss the Best?, futurist Tom Sine defines creativity as “the process of working in partnership with the Creator to generate new possibilities for our lives and world that are consistent with His redemptive purposes.” This definition emphatically reminds us that our creativity comes from our Creator whose inventiveness and imagination are astonishing. The one who created the heavens and the earth, has invited us to join him in “making all things new.” Since our creativity originates with God, we have the “option of using our God-given creativity to be collaborators in the inbreaking of God’s kingdom.”

Barriers to Creativity

If creativity is, as some claim, “the best thing since sliced bread,” what causes so many congregations to be constrained by convention? What are the fears behind the common refrain, “We have never done that here before,” and the hidden implication, “We are not about to start now”?

Fear of change seems to be the foundational basement of a metaphorical congregation constructed with we-have-never-done-that-here-before building materials. Walls in this house are often constructed with traditionalism and institutional rigidity. Ceilings consist of “fortress thinking” that causes Christians to huddle inside the confines of the building rather than courageously live daily in the marketplace with confused and desperate humanity. Covering for the congregation is a roof constructed of “concrete thinking” and non-imagination. When we reside in this type building we have a difficult time discovering creative new ways of seeing God’s purposes realized in our lives and his world.

A Creative Climate

When Christians break out of the fear of change, God often blesses the risk-taking spirit with a wide funnel of possibilities. As Christians develop their creative hearts and minds they realize that there are many more possibilities than simply expanding options and styles. A creative climate will take us off the beaten pathways. Our thinking will become more divergent and imaginative. Coloring outside the lines will become pervasive. We will celebrate our part of a magnificent story, a world-transforming history, and a community that focuses on kingdom issues.

The creative climate insists that we ask more “What if …” questions. “What if a congregation scheduled its assembly at 1:00 a.m. Sunday in the middle of a known drug district?” “What if every Christian were immersed in a cross-cultural experience such as an inner-city ministry at least once every year?” “What if we went about spiritual formation with an approach other than the Greek rational model?” “What if we give people difficult issues and dilemmas when we gather instead of providing answers?” “What if we were to break out of the safety of our fortress churches and go out and do ministry instead of constantly talking about it?” “What if congregations provided a safe environment that encouraged Christians to ask courageous questions about theology and philosophy?” “What if we tackled the challenges we most fear?”

A creative climate in which such questions can be asked starts with trust and community. In our “safe spiritual communities” we will realize that God is so much bigger than any questions with which we might wrestle. Our God is not threatened as we search struggle with hard questions. In the wrestling we will be able to separate biblical kingdom issues from conventional institutional issues. We will begin to envision prayerfully our God-directed future as we break out of traditional thinking into new ministry possibilities.

In this creative climate our roots are always respected and valued. It is on the shoulders of men and women in our heritage that we are able to stand and ask new and vibrant questions. It is in the spirit of restoration hearts that we take courage and confidence to ask the current penetrating questions of Christ and culture. Our roots not only encourage a creative climate, they require that every generation creatively individuate and probe the questions of the day.

With a firm grasp of our roots the creative climate then gives all Christians permission to test their wings of creativity. These wings allow individuals and congregations to live courageously the “Christ life” in a spiritually hungry world. Wings will allow us to prayerfully plan worship assemblies that lift our congregations to the throne room. Wings will grant us permission to read, discuss, and act on the kingdom issues of Jesus and his church. Wings will give us the “helicopter” perspective of how we are to address the “haves and have nots” economic issues oof our time. Wings will provide us with clarity as we design new and effective models to communicate the truths of Scripture to children, youth, and adults.

Liberated to be Creative

In congregations all over the world Christians are constructing new wineskins as they discover the joys of creating much broader ways to seek first the purposes of God in their lives and congregations. A congregation in Texas has “adopted” a public school in a poverty-striken neighborhood. Christians provide food an manpower for a pantry at the school to minister to the neighborhood. A physician provides a free “well baby” clinic at the school every Thursday afternoon. A pharmacist provides prescription drugs at cost for the parents who use the clinic. Every Christmas the entire congregation throws a party for the school complete with Christmas dinner, clothing, toys, and bedding.

In Tennessee a creative congregation is sewing new wineskins by using its facilities to help the homeless. Christians provide dinner and breakfast for the indigent men and women who come to spend the night. Most care-givers at the congregation minister side-by-side with their entire families as they prepare meals and then spend the night at the building. Children are experiencing first-hand what Matthew meant when he said to provide “cups of cold water.”

New wineskins are also being sewn in Oklahoma. In order to give greater focus to worship and Bible study, one congregation moved all their classes to Sunday evening. This allows first-hour worshippers to return home and reflect on the significance of the God they serve. Second-hour worshippers are encouraged to spend the time before worship preparing their hearts and minds to come before the great “I am.” Sunday evenings have the single purpose of intense Bible study. An elder for the congregation recently said, “We want our members to recapture a day of worship and rest. Instead of programming Sunday in the same was as the rest of our harried lives, we are pleading for our people to spend Sundays concentrating on worship, Bible study and fellowship.”

Many other examples could be cited of congregations that are creatively designing and filling new wineskins. As Tom Sine declares, “They are creating imaginative new approaches to whole-life discipleship – orchestrating their whole lives around the purposes of God. They are creating new ministries and new celebrations, and they are having the time of their lives.” Can we do anything less than unleash our creativity to express the joyful inbreaking of the kingdom of God?Wineskins Magazine

David Wray

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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