When Creativity Kills Relevance
Relevance and creativity. These are two words thrown around frequently in modern Christianity. “The church needs to be relevant.” “The church needs more creativity.” The church does.
The church needs to relevant. And the church needs creativity. Jesus spoke using creative stories that the farmers and craftsmen in His generation could relate to.
We need to craft stories in new and relatable ways to reach the farmers and craftsmen of our generations. To teach the life changing Parables of Jesus to a generation of lawyers, accountants, waiters and retail sales people.
Unfortunately, creativity and relevance seem to conflict at times.
Relevance deals in the simple and straight forward. Creativity deals in the abstract and unexpected.
Relevance is: “God is love.” It’s so simple—so straight forward. We need love and God is the love we need. The world needs to hear that. Unfortunately, western culture has heard that so many times that we’re numb to it. “God is love” has become part of the background noise. It’s the muzak in the crowded restaurant that nobody really hears.
Creativity is: “In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.” It’s abstract—so unexpected. What a beautiful way to express the deity and supremacy of Jesus Christ! But this is a complicated expression of truth. It requires dissection and contemplation—two arts that are largely unappreciated in Western culture. So the creative message evokes a nice emotion, but it easily bypasses the head.
Both of these expressions are truth – the relevant and the creative. The simple and the abstract. They are both necessary. But they are both so different.
Where do these two extremes meet? Are creativity and relevance reconcilable?
They are. But humanity is prone to swing like a pendulum. We start swinging to the relevant extreme and neglect creativity. Then we swing to the opposite extreme and neglect relevance.
The beautiful, perfect balance must happen between the two. We can’t pursue creativity and neglect relevance. Nor vice versa.
For most churches, creativity kills relevance in the area of cleverness.
It’s exciting to be clever. People laugh. People are amazed. We feel good.
But cleverness is not creativity.
A joke is clever. A magic trick is clever. Cleverness is entertaining. Cleverness is cool. There’s nothing wrong with being clever.
Cleverness is a great way to grab attention. But cleverness is a lousy way to tell a story.
Do you ever remember stories from comedians or magicians? No. They aren’t story tellers. They’re entertainers.
The church is not an entertainment venue. The church is a story venue.
Cleverness can’t change lives.
That newly divorced, single mom will not find hope in your church marquee – “Get off Facebook and get into the Good Book.” Your clever sermon title, “Defeating the Giant Robots Within”, doesn’t offer her hope or help.
And when our cleverness takes center stage, it is easy for the life changing elements to get lost.
It’s a fine balance.
Creativity is necessary to reach through the crowd of messages screaming for your audience’s attention. There are distractions from life circumstances, from the person next to them, and from the thoughts in their heads. Creativity helps us break through those distracting walls to reach into the heart.
But when the creativity takes center stage, it becomes simple cleverness. It no longer reaches into their heart. It just makes them laugh. Makes them say “wow”. But, save the grace of God, nothing will change inside of them.
Cleverness exalts itself. Creativity exalts the message.
Cleverness distracts from the message. Creativity transforms the message.
We need creativity, not cleverness.
It ultimately comes down to communication. Are you clearly communicating the relevant message of Christ? Are people hungry for more of the story?
Or does “creativity” define your church? Some churches feel pressured to push the envelope each week. Since they define themselves by the creativity they produce, they force themselves to maintain a constant level.
If, in your meetings, you’re asking what you can do to outdo yourself, you’ve defined your ministry by creativity. But if you’re asking what you can do to translate this message to the congregation, you’ve defined your ministry by communication.
Our ministries need to be defined by communication, because that’s our role. We are to be messengers, not magicians.
We must be creative, not clever.
And we must approach every action through the lens of relatability and creativity. Relevance and creativity don’t have to battle each other.