Created to worship
In the beginning, God, the Master Artist, created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths; the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the deep. Then God spoke, “Light,” and there was. He breathed, and stars hung in their place. In the first four days, God’s creativity exploded as he gave permission for time to start, commanding molecules to form and fall in line.
Color began, breath breathed, photosynthesis filled the atmosphere with oxygen. Birds traced the sky; worms turned the soil; roots dug down deep in cool dirt, looking for a drink. And God saw that all of it was good.
But on the sixth day, God made something and said, “Very good.” Nothing else on earth was like it because it was Imago Dei — formed in the image of God. We are made in the likeness of the One who is not only infinitely creative but who dreamed up creativity. And as we worship and adore the One who made us for relationship with him, our design is to discover God through creativity — his and ours.
In the Church, we are sometimes hesitant to be overly creative in worship, avoiding sensory expressions, unimaginative with the ways we engage people in corporate worship. We prioritize intellectual understanding and limit congregational worship engagement to music alone, forgetting that people are more than just aural creatures.
Music is creative, yes, and Scriptures show us the edification, joy, protection and strengthening that our song provides. Singing is an absolute must, and we have to be fully present in it. But beyond our singing, there are many more ways to encounter God together.
Traditions of worship
At the very beginning of the Church, the believers were a visual culture. They were a people of symbol and a people of story. Specific signs were used to connect one believer to another, often covertly. In the first two centuries, these symbols were tucked away in catacombs and hiding places. Subtlety was necessary as these believers met to worship in secret. But when Christianity became the official religion of Rome, there was no longer a need to hide their art.
As the Church developed, emphasis was placed on telling the grand story of God in such a way that multiple senses were captivated by its majesty. Art became recognized as an unparalleled language for communicating the truth, through sculpture, stained glass and magnificent paintings. Because of the way Christianity encapsulates all the color of life, from despair to hope, aching to healing, death to life, there is no end to the possibilities of what might be created and the ways people can connect to it.
In today’s culture, with the language of technology as one of the primary ways we communicate, art and design have moved front and center in the world of education, marketing and communication. Many churches are understanding this shift and are catching up with it with church and series branding, social media communication, video testimonies and announcements. And these are all good moves for helping people to connect to the heart of who we are. But branding and even video are things only to be observed. They are not things in which the general congregation gets to participate. And corporate worship must draw people in to participate, to actually create.
Invitation to participate in creative worship
When God created man and woman in his creative image, he didn’t then ask them to sit back and watch. He gave them animals to name, gardens to tend and beauty to get involved with. If we, as church leaders, make the decision to continue to keep our worship services such that the worship actions are performed by professionals while the congregation just looks on, we lose touch with a significant part of ourselves that was designed to connect us with our Maker.
When I was little, my favorite art activity was when my mom let me finger paint with chocolate pudding. My five senses were all in! Children naturally seem to love to imagine and create, to sift among the messy to find the jewel. Somewhere along the way as we grow up, many of us learn that the artwork we once proudly displayed on our refrigerators were not really masterpieces after all. And many people eventually absolve themselves of even trying to be artistic anymore, determined that they are simply not creative types. Our churches are filled with people who have lost their imagination, who leave art to the professionals and are happy to simply observe in worship.
But if the church is a hospital, intended to draw broken people in toward restoration, then the sick, broken, wounded and weary must not just be permitted to observe treatment being shown to them. The patient must be invited to participate in the healing.
In the worlds of psychology and psychotherapy, participation in the creative arts is seen as an incredible healing agent. Taking part in the tangible creation of art can help people to heal if they are open to transform difficulties into creative expression.
That is the Master Artist at work.
I believe a big part of our kingdom purpose is helping broken people to build a healthy attachment to God and his people.
Art goes beyond what is logical, bypassing rationality. The tensions of life are such a significant part of our spiritual formation as we journey with Christ that both the ugly and the beautiful ought to be elaborated in our corporate worship for believers to find true expression and identification. The creative arts, if used prayerfully, carefully and intentionally, can be a significant catalyst in helping us to be aware of God’s presence with us and to become who we were made to be — more like Christ.
As we lead God’s Church and endeavor to pick people up and dust them off, let’s not do the work of worship for them, let’s invite them into it. Let them sing, yes. But let them also speak, let them testify, paint and dramatize their story. Let them hear God’s Word on their own tongue, to feel the rough edge of the broken pottery, to taste the coolness of water, to pound that nail into the tree and hear the comforting hum of the potter’s wheel.
Let’s not just leave them quietly in their seats. Let’s invite them to move, journey, dance, posture themselves before the Lord. Let’s find ways to help them make beautiful things, to encounter the magnificence of color and symbol. Let’s be okay with an unpolished and messy environment. Let them know their creations are masterpieces because they will help connect them to the Master Artist.
There’s a significant case for our creativity as God recreates his people.
Rev. Elizabeth Rhyno is pastor of relational arts at Waterline Wesleyan Church.