God is a creative being. Indeed, he first introduces himself to readers of the Bible as the Creator.
One of God’s redemptive purposes is to restore mankind to the image of God — a creative image.
And yet the modern church is often about as uncreative as you can imagine. Even instrumental churches are bad to fill out the order of worship by rote — pick a couple of songs, fill in a topical sermon, go with it.
It’s not that routine is bad. Or that tradition is bad. It’s just that our attention — or inattention — shows the importance of the assembly to our tradition. And an absence of creativity evidences our theology.
Our theology could be that the assembly is unimportant. Or that it must be done in just this way or no other. Or that we don’t really have time to be thoughtful.
On the other hand, creativity can never be the purpose of the assembly. If all we’re doing is showing off the genius of our planners, then the service is about the planners, not the Creator.
And our creativity has to be bounded by a solid theology. There are countless clever and cool things that we might do, but only some will actually present the gospel in a way that communicates to those present.
Creative planning also has to be bounded by a refusal to be self-indulgent or inconsiderate of the audience. Mark Twain’s guidance on how to write apply equally well to planning the assembly:
You need not expect to get your book right the first time. Go to work and revamp or rewrite it. God only exhibits his thunder and lightning at intervals, and so they always command attention. These are God’s adjectives. You thunder and lightning too much; the reader ceases to get under the bed, by and by.
– Letter to Orion Clemens, 23 March 1878
The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is that you really want to say.
– Mark Twain’s Notebook, 1902-1903
To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement. To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself. … Anybody can have ideas — the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.
– Letter to Emeline Beach, 10 Feb 1868
Speaking as a writer — a somewhat creative pursuit in itself — some (and not nearly enough) of my favorite words have been cut and thrown on the floor in pursuit of brevity. Indeed, I especially love this quote from Twain —
I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.
With those boundaries in mind, imagine all the different ways an assembly might be arranged. Get with some friends and try to quickly list 50 different approaches. Read the Early Church Fathers (Robert E. Webber’s Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative will point you to some excellent examples). Study Calvin’s approach. Compare how other traditions have structured their worship over the centuries.
How well do these structures serve their purposes? Are they theologically sound? Do they tell the Story in a way the church can hear and understand?
Visit other churches in town. Which assemblies leave the membership in reverence and awe of God Almighty?
Take notes. Share ideas with friends.
And don’t dump every good idea into a single service. Rather, treat creative ideas like garlic or pepper. A little bit makes the meal much better. Too much, and you’ve ruined the meal. Let the church enjoy the entrée.