When it comes to releasing genuine creativity in corporate worship, most of us play it safe. In my previous column (Higher Praises, May/June 1997), we looked at some of the issues local churches must wrestle with if they want to do more than scratch the surface of worship expression--if they want to touch a dynamic in creativity that not only changes the church but also draws a lost world into the power of the intimacy that worship reflects.
What will spark and release life in the varied liturgies of the church when some of the restraints we've placed on worship are lifted? Here are some things to consider:
1. The Prophetic
One cannot address the issue of the arts and worship without acknowledging its connection in the Scriptures to the prophetic. As David released musicians in the tabernacle, they were encouraged to prophesy in voice as well as on instruments (1 Chron. 15:22; 25:1). When Elisha was cornered into prophesying for Jehosaphat, he couldn't even begin without a musician present (2 Kings 3:15). In the New Testament, it was as prophets were gathered in Antioch that we find them worshiping the Lord and fasting (Acts 13:1-2).
However you define the prophetic, at the very least it speaks of the voice of God being heard in the present moment and striking the heart. This is what makes a dance more than some well-choreographed motion. It's what pulls a guitar solo beyond a great riff and into something that actually speaks to the heart of people. It's what moves a chant into something chilling and revealing of God.
A painting speaks, a flag releases praise, a tambourine sets people free: In the hands of the ultimate Creator, all creative expression can become a prophetic declaration of His presence and release worship to Him.
The courts of heaven fall to their faces and worship because He created! (see Rev. 4:9-11). Whatever our liturgy, whether our "presentation" has been crafted or is spontaneous, we must ask the Holy Spirit to release His prophetic oil on our creativity. Then we will see freedom and healing in our worship.
This side of heaven, our worship will always have a flavor of intercession about it. The Psalms--the Bible's worship book--is filled with intercession. In fact, the most general word used for prayer in the Old Testament, tepillah, appears 77 times in biblical Hebrew and is inseparable from the worship expression.
The intercessory cry inherent in worship must be allowed to flow. The elders are pictured falling before the throne in Revelation 5:8 with a harp (worship) in one hand and a bowl of incense (intercession) in the other. The two are inseparable--and powerful.
There is much talk about "evangelistic worship" these days. I believe this discussion is stirred by the Spirit. Many of our artists are frustrated in the confines of the church because their expression is built for the streets.
Whether or not a song speaks of Jesus or a painting portrays a "religious" subject or a dance "tells" a biblical story, these artistic expressions can be filled with the life of God and draw people to Him. We need those in the arts to express their crafts on the platforms of the world--not with some religious agenda, but as an act of sacrifice, giving their best to the Father no matter who is looking on. The arts are about life, and who better to craft its lyrics, discover its melodies, create its movements and paint its images than those who have met the giver of life and creativity Himself?
An increasing number of Christian artists are stepping out in these ways in the clubs and galleries of the world and are having incredible success as others, seeing beyond the craft, are touched by the presence of God in their creativity. The church must open its doors to these artists and be a place of refuge and comfort for them.
4. Passion and Reality
Whether on the streets or in the church, the passionate lead. We are designed for passion. Our highest passion should be Jesus, and only in Him are our passions met in their highest and purest form.
The arts are empty without passion. Our worship is empty without passion--and without a sense of reality. The Psalms are filled with a brutal honesty and angst that is almost frightening, yet they are indisputably worship. We must not be afraid of this as we touch the arts in the church. Those within and without the church walls are looking for something real.
To rob the creative expression in the church of passion and reality is to create empty motion and sound that will eventually dry up. Without true and godly passion, we are left with two options: emptiness--no life; or, in an attempt to manufacture passion, hype. Both will kill worship. Sadly, much of the church is filled with one or the other in the worship experience.
We must allow our art and our worship to touch the real issues of life--and to touch the real presence of God in the midst of our journey here on earth. My prayer as a pastor is: "Lord, let the church be a safe place. Let her walk in her call to be the patron and protector of the arts. And may our worship release true life to the church and the world."