Thursday, March 21, 2013

Creativity, Limitations and the Gospel


As you know, I'm on staff with Cru, a non-profit Christian organization and a caring community passionate about connecting people to Jesus Christ. I recently wrote an article for the Cru staff web, which you can't read because it's behind a password protected wall. I thought you might enjoy it so I'm republishing it here. I've written a follow up article about failure and the Gospel and have one more coming about criticism and the Gospel, which will eventually make their way here. You will likely also be able to find them on CruPress Green. Obviously, this was written for Cru staff so there's some in-house jargon. If you have questions, leave a comment and I'll explain.
Paintings have edges, stories have endings, plays have a final curtain. Limits define creativity and make it more vibrant. Our limitations are the first and possibly greatest allies to our creativity, whether in life, in the arts, or in sharing the gospel. As T.S. Eliot said, "When forced to work within a strict framework the imagination is taxed to its utmost – and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl."
Designer John Maeda says, "With more constraints, better solutions are revealed."
If we’re honest with ourselves, sometimes we need greater creativity as we present the gospel. It could be we are working with a new population or with a culture that has shifted beyond the idea of a “presentation” at all. While we should not too quickly abandon those expressions of the gospel which the Holy Spirit continues to use, likewise, we shouldn't limit new attempts at creative expression of the gospel.
There are practical and logistical limitations as well – time frames, organizational policies, our target audience's availability or emotional capacity, legal issues or a hundred other things you experience each day in your ministry.Our first and greatest limitation on our creativity is the gospel itself. As we embrace new techniques and attempt innovative outreaches, we cannot sacrifice orthodoxy. The truths of the gospel remain the same regardless of how we choose to communicate them.
The trick in creativity is to allow these barriers to invigorate and empower our creativity rather than backing away from them.
Imagine, for instance, that you come across a man who is blind and illiterate, lives in another state from you and comes from a Buddhist background. You met on an airplane and he wants you to interact with him about the gospel. The solution you come up with will be unique and creative, driven by the particular limitations of how to share the gospel with this individual.
Many of the innovations in Cru's history have been driven by limitations. Whether it's Dr. Bright moving "God loves you" to the beginning of his gospel presentation (limitation: people were turned off starting a conversation by hearing they were going to Hell), or the advent of the JESUS film (limitation: Hollywood wasn't taking the Biblical text seriously), or Josh McDowell first translating his materials (limitation: it turns out many Russians spoke Russian).
Here are a few exercises that may help you try something new and creative with the gospel:
  1. Whatever is your favorite gospel tool (whether the Romans Road or the Knowing God Personally booklet or something else), "retire" it for a few weeks and try something different.
  2. Create your own "gospel tool." Remember, we're going for creativity, not necessarily transferability. Don't be afraid to try something crazy.
  3. Have everyone on your team sit in a circle and deal out 4 cards each from the Soularium tool. In the order you received your cards, go through and show how you could connect each picture to the 4 points of "Knowing God Personally."
  4. Pick the most difficult to reach subculture you can think of. Spend some time with someone from that group and try to come up with a way to share the gospel that is specific to that person and their subculture.
  5. Create a gospel presentation that uses no words. Then one that only uses questions.
  6. Write out a gospel presentation that never uses any of these words: grace, sin, redemption, resurrection, propitiation, sacrifice, crucifixion, wage, separated, decision, gift.
Don't be afraid of failure, that's part of creativity (and something we'll talk about in another article).