One of my first responsibilities as a missionary in Europe was to create an innovative worship service for post-Christian young people. For some reason it was really important to our team leader that my wife and I make videos that would play in the background on a screen as we sang and played guitar. I was completely overwhelmed with the thought of using a video camera and editing software, so I did the next best thing. I checked out a nature documentary at the library, which after a quick preview looked like exactly what our team wanted. At the service, I pressed play on the video in the back and walked up front to help lead worship. After a few songs things were going so well that I forgot about the video altogether. Then someone started laughing. Several others joined in. I kept playing, slightly nervous. Within seconds the whole group, now entirely fixated on the screen, erupted in a fit of uncontrollable laughter. I looked up as two thoughts flashed. One, I was now playing longer than I had previewed the video. Two, I had forgotten that all nature documentaries, without fail, include scenes of animals both taking lives and (cough) creating new lives... It was definitely the latter.
Thankfully our team found the whole thing quite funny. But personally I began to doubt that I was a creative person at all. My thoughts ran something like, “If anyone can come up with innovative ideas for the Kingdom, it probably won’t be me.” It took quite some time to rewrite this narrative and discover the truth.
Turns out I am creative. We all are. Each one of us is born to live with a kind of creative artistry which comes from being made in the image of our creative God.
There were two important ideas I needed to discover in order to embrace my own Kingdom creativity. I’d like to share these learnings with you.
1. Kingdom innovation ideas come from (how we engage with) the stuff of our everyday lives.
Recently I’ve found myself drawn to Genesis 2:19:
“So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name” (NRSV).
This brief interlude in Genesis 2 is part of a larger context—God’s first command to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28a). There’s a real sense of excitement here as, for the for the first time, God’s desire for the flourishing of all creation and humanity’s vocation come together. Adam partnered with God in creating (with words) something fresh and exciting that was not there before. Each new name reflected something of the goodness that was innate in the creature, bringing a new way of seeing and relating to what was already there.
We all are called to partner with God in being creative for the sake of the Kingdom, so that life can flourish. Like Adam receiving each new animal, we also are given a steady stream of raw materials in our daily lives. I think God is eagerly waiting to see how we will use the stuff of our lives, even things like making meals or sending texts, to advance the Kingdom in fresh ways. So it’s not the case that we’re not creative, it’s more that we tend to overlook the opportunities for Kingdom innovation he’s giving us. Which brings me to my second lesson...
2. Sustainable Kingdom innovation requires cultivating space in our lives—so that the seeds of ideas that will allow life to flourish around us can be planted in us first.
I resonate with Joan Chittister’s insights on just how uncreative we tend to become when we’re not intentionally making space in our lives for the things that bring creative energy back:
“The fact is that it is our souls, not our bodies, that are tired. The fact is that we are so overstimulated and so under-energized that the same old things stay simply the same old things, always. The sense of excitement that comes with newness and freshness is gone. Only contemplation, the recognition of meaning in life, can possibly bring that kind of energy back.” (Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today)
Tired souls can’t be sustainably creative for the sake of the Kingdom. I know that I struggle to think innovatively when I get overly busy and forget to rest in God’s love. I can’t offer others what brings life if I haven’t created space to receive what’s life-giving myself.
Contemplation, the loving gaze of the soul toward God, changes that. As we become more attentive to God’s loving presence, we become suitable soil for innovative ideas which can then be planted and grown in us through faith.
This brings us back to Adam in Genesis 2. In his book, The Story of Monasticism, Greg Peters speaks about the connection we see between communion and Adam’s call to Kingdom innovation: “we must bear in mind that prior to sin and the fall, caring for creation did not so much involve toil as it involved communion with God and with all of his creation in its perfection.” Humanity’s first creative act to foster the flourishing of all life arose out of loving communion with God. Kingdom innovation arose from contemplation.
We may not all feel like artists, but still we are called to live creatively, to envision and follow through with bringing things into the world that are life-giving to ourselves and those around us. So much depends on us cultivating our lives, looking expectantly for those seeds, and holding them in hopeful expectation.
REFLECT AND RESPOND
If you feel it would be helpful, spend a few minutes prayerfully reflecting on the following questions:
1. Have you ever sensed God’s delight in your ability to live creatively with the opportunities and resources you’ve been given? If so, respond to God with thankfulness for those times. If you have not, speak honestly with God about that. Ask if there is any view of yourself or God you have been holding onto that God may want to change.
2. If you were to use a word or image to describe the cultivated state of your soul, what would it be? Speak with God about that word or image.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Mettler is part of the ChurchNEXT ReNew team and has a M.A. in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. David spent over 13 years in cross-cultural ministry in Germany, where he developed a conviction that Christ-centered ministry springs from cultivating a Christ-centered life. He and his wife Melissa now live in the Pacific Northwest with their two children.