One of the movies that I enjoy occasionally is “Housesitter,” a fun comedy starring Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn. There are more than a few themes that one can draw out of the movie, but one of the central premises comes when Goldie Hawn’s character says something like, “When things aren’t working out, I just reinvent myself.” We see this happen at various points in the movie, and her ability to do that is what gives her life elements of fun, excitement and fresh discoveries on an almost daily basis.
A conversation with a friend the other day brought the movie to mind, as he talked about the need for people and institutions to reinvent themselves in order to continue to grow and to move into who they might become.
It is difficult, as most of us know, to let go of the familiar, to infringe on the comfortable. Part of the challenge is to see that reinvention, exploring new things and new ways of being and doing, can be an exciting journey and not just a forced change. When we are young, we tend to reinvent ourselves almost daily. One day we decide to be a firefighter, the next we are going to be a gardener, then we switch again and want to be a sports star. We use our imagination, and we see the fun and joy of each new way of experiencing life. As we move along in years, we need to rediscover that imagination that we might also discover the power and joy of reinventing ourselves as adults.
The church too needs to reinvent itself, in order to remain relevant and vital. That is not to say that we need to change everything and start all over, although sometimes that may be true. But rather, for most churches it means examining, with open eyes, who we are and what we are doing, and asking ourselves, “How can we reinvent ourselves so that we continue to be all that God desires us to be?”
The arts are a resource for doing that examination, for helping us to envision what we might do next. Although, we need to explore art that is more than we are familiar with and comfortable with already. We need to spend time with visual art, or drama, or photography, or literature, or any form of art that challenges us to see differently and to imagine life differently. We may be tempted to dismiss such art for any variety of reasons, but we need to give ourselves time to examine and understand it, even if we don’t much appreciate it. For while our inclination is often to dismiss new ideas in our lives and in our churches, as well as in art forms, the very act of looking and exploring so as to give the newness a chance, is what allows us to at least consider the value of reinvention.
Reinventing our lives, and our churches, can be a journey of fun and joy. And who knows what God will help us to discover through it all?
Leader or manager, which role is more important? Most of the literature I have read would answer by choosing leader over manager. Of course, in a large corporation, or a large church, or any large entity, the leader can usually exist in that role because there are others who are doing the management tasks, others who are freeing up the leader to lead.
It is also true though that enabling those managers to lead in ways as well will likely make for a much stronger and productive organization. Giving people the opportunity to lead in their areas of influence and expertise will utilize their skills and provide for a more fulfilling environment for everyone.
In a smaller church, especially if there is only one pastor, the roles of manager and leader get intertwined. Of course, it makes a huge difference when there are strong leaders among the members of the congregation, and when there are those who attend to the daily and weekly management tasks, but the lone pastor in a small church still holds responsibility for many of the leadership and management elements of life in that church.
Leadership sometimes means ensuring that the management tasks are accomplished, from assuring that bills are paid and tax forms are filed, to communicating well the need for supplies to be purchased and for property issues to be dealt with in a timely way. Leadership of course also means taking an active role in the formulation and nurturing of the shared vision of the congregation. But if the management tasks are left undone, then the ability of the congregation to live out its vision is hindered.
But the vision, and the leaders who help the church to realize that vision, is critical as well. For without the vision in front of them, and the ability to see the ways in which the management tasks support that vision, those tasks just become drudgery. When, however, those tasks are seen as an integral part of making the vision flourish, then the management part of the picture can be undertaken with the same passion that we would equate with fulfilling the vision.
For a sole pastor in a small church, one of the challenges is to be sure that fulfilling the vision is an important part of every day, even if much of that days’ activities fall into the management category. Nurturing the vision feeds everything, and it helps maintain the passion of both the pastor and the members of the church.
Leader or manager? Both are essential and both help the church to realize its vision.
A few weeks ago I wrote about the car that hit the outside of my office at the church, causing a fair amount of damage, but thankfully not actually coming into the building. We will soon embark on the repair stage of this journey through insurance, estimates and packing. Because of the nature of the repairs, everything needs to be removed from the office. That means that I have been packing up books and papers, and more books and papers, and even more books. While I love books, I wonder if I really need all of those anymore.
And then there are the papers. Some can be discarded simply because I have digital copies of them, but others need to go just because the chances of my ever looking at them again are slim. I always have this idea that I might need something again, and I don’t want to waste time recreating something that I could have filed away. But unless I use something regularly, it probably has lost any freshness and actually needs to be recreated. I hope that thought will guide my discarding of a good number of papers.
When we think about art, we usually equate that term with something of permanence, whether it be visual art, music or literature. And yet, several times through the years I have heard artists speak of destroying their work, so that they are not attached to it, and thereby can produce something new, fresh and exciting. An artist would certainly need to make wise choices if they are trying to earn a living through their work, but the point is well taken about being so attached to something that it prevents new creativity from flowing forth.
The arts in a worship space are of both kinds, permanent and temporary. We would of course never think of destroying stained glass windows or other works intended to be permanent. But artists and worship planners also bring the arts to life in ways that are meant to touch us for only a season, or perhaps even only for a day. And while some of those artistic installations are quite beautiful, and we might be inclined to find a way to store them so as to use them again some day, such a move perhaps misses the point that the art is for that moment or season in which it is revealed, and to hold on to it is to miss its message.
In many ways, the temporary art reminds us of a central teaching of Jesus, that being the wisdom of letting go of our attachment to things, in order that we might celebrate our relationship with God. While some art reminds us of the permanence of God in our lives, other art guides us to that wisdom of letting go.
I hope to remember this lesson when I move back into my office.
I was reading a Los Angeles Times article from January 3rd of this new year, entitled, “Creativity 101.” It was describing a program at UC Berkeley where students conceive of courses, develop the curriculum and do the teaching, with the guidance of a faculty advisor. While the courses are not graded, they do offer one or two course credits. It is an unique educational approach that a few other universities are including as well.
The content of these courses ranges from one focused on the art of lion dancing (with students sharing out of their Vietnamese heritage), to ones exploring themes from “Game of Thrones” and the World of Harry Potter. The students spend quite a bit of time developing the courses, and they are well attended by other students at these universities.
It got me to thinking about the ways in which we in the church engage culture. Or perhaps, isolate our selves from culture. We remember that Jesus said something about being “in the world,” but not “of the world,” although he didn’t actually put it like that. In the Gospel of John there are references to such things, but they may reflect John’s view as much as Jesus’ thoughts. In any case, we do tend, at least many of us, to distance ourselves from the world as far as life in the church is concerned.
The arts provide a way to bridge that gap, to engage culture, and to enrich life in the church, all at the same time. If we think about our worship gatherings, how many songs are rooted only in the dominant culture of our particular church? People have their favorite hymns and songs, but there is so much more to explore. How often do we sing a song with a Caribbean beat, or enjoy the rhythms of African music, or even sing with depth of heart an African-American Spiritual? Most of our hymnals, and other songbooks as well, have these songs in their pages. Do we use them? This is a simple way to engage the cultures of the world.
Visual art and literature are certainly other ways to engage the culture around us, as well as from other parts of the world, and even other time periods. The youth in my church, for example, read a wide variety of novels, both the highly popular ones and others that they find to be interesting. I occasionally engage them in conversation about their reading, asking questions about the books, the themes, and their reactions to what they are reading. They are good conversations. But I realize that I could enrich those exchanges by reading a couple of the books that they are reading. I need to explore their interactions with culture in order to more fully share life with them. And there was the one time when one youth and I had just happened to read the same book, and the fun that there was in discussing it was amazing.
We all live in the world, in the culture that surrounds us, and that is impacted by the culture that people bring from other places in our vast world. As evidenced by the courses at UC Berkeley and other places, young people want to engage culture in enriching ways. The church needs to join them in those explorations, both to learn from them and to open doors of welcome into the church through those interactions. But if young people do walk through those doors, they need to find a church that didn’t just do a one-time interaction with culture, but rather a church that thrives on engaging culture in a wide variety of ways. And for those of us in the church, we will grow immeasurably through such interactions as well.
Welcome to my website. I hope you will discover a connection to the life of small churches, and the richness that the arts can bring to these churches.