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Communicating Timeless Truths Using Creative Arts

We need to learn to communicate to our culture in a language they understand—media and the creative arts. The key is finding connection points with our culture.

"The crowds were amazed at this teaching, because He taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law" (Matthew 7:28-29). We know Jesus used word pictures, parables and creative stories to communicate His truth. Is it possible that He had a way of communicating timeless truth in a contemporary fashion that people could grasp?

Central Gospel Temple, St. Catharines, Ontario. "Definitely not your grandmother's church!"

Think of all the changes that had happened in Israel with the occupation of Roman rulers. There must have been customs, taxes, and social concerns that the law didn't directly address. Jesus applied Scripture into this tumultuous context, teaching His listeners how to respond to current issues—like paying taxes to Caesar and loving their enemies. We also know that Jesus' listeners, many of whom were living simple lives, seemed to gravitate towards stories about family, agriculture and shepherding. Jesus was the master of communicating God's truth by using visual, tangible, emotional and applicable methods. Have we lost this dynamic in today's church?

At Central Gospel Temple, in St. Catharines, Ontario, we are committed to applying timeless biblical principles to 21st-century issues in a manner that equips the believer and reaches the seeker (taken from our core values). For us this means that we need to learn to communicate to our culture in a language they understand—media and the creative arts. The key is finding connection points with our culture.

At Central, we have committed ourselves to use the tools—not the message—of our culture to communicate the truth. For example, the screen is never secondary, but rather seen as a primary tool of our communication:

• When people come into the auditorium we have worship music (videos with worship songs) playing while they are seated. This sets the tone and atmosphere for the morning.
• This gives way to a two-minute countdown signalling that the worship experience is about to begin.
• During the worship we use creative moving backgrounds that reflect the message of the song. We also use lighting to set the mood, e.g., bright colours for celebrative songs and darker colours for reflective songs.
• For dramas we us the screen as a backdrop or title screen.
• For announcements we use the screen to reinforce what is happening; we often make our own video announcements.
• During the message the screen reinforces everything that is being said. Often we will interject video clips, interviews with people in our church or on the street and music videos.

We use a variety of media, at least two per sermon, to launch truth:

Music (e.g., the song "Fix You" by Cold Play to communicate that God wants to fix broken hearts).
Movie clips (e.g., Bruce Almighty to communicate why God doesn't always answer our prayers with a "yes").
Music videos (e.g., Broken Home by Papa Roach to communicate the pain of divorce).
• We also generate our own videos to emphasize our points (e.g., conducting interviews on the street; interviewing people in our congregation-a very powerful way to have testimonies; and recording monologues in creative settings— was an inspiration for these).

We also use the creative arts to support our message:

Drama: scripts adapted from Willow Creek dramas (which can also be ordered in video format) or from our own original writing.
Lighting: for ambience and focus without spending much money.
Props: either existing (e.g., a wash basin and towel to represent servanthood) or built (e.g., a giant Styrofoam puzzle to illustrate the points for the sermon The Puzzle of the Resurrection).
Stage: decorated to reflect the message (e.g., we turned our baptismal tank into a giant grave to talk about eternity).
Creative Response: on special occasions we will give people something to take home as a reminder of what was said (e.g., glow sticks as a reminder that when we are broken before God we can really shine).

If we are really committed and passionate about reaching seekers—and I am not sure how we could read the great commission and miss this mandate—then we need to capture the language and attitude of our culture. This in no way means we compromise values or morals, but rather it means we communicate morals and values in a language that people understand. What good is an eloquent communicator if the hearers can't understand what is being said?

Bill Markham is the associate/creative pastor at Central Gospel Temple in St. Catharines, ON.

Originally published in Testimony, April 2006.




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