Worship Media Arts

Archive for Philosophy of Creative Arts in Worship

Save Some for Later: Continuing the Christmas Momentum


Christmas Momentum


There are only a few days left until the biggest day of the year in the church. Christmas Eve is here and with it comes a flurry of activity. Music is being rehearsed, messages are being written, candles are being pulled from the closet, and every little detail is being mulled over with a fine toothed comb.


It’s not news that Christmas presents our greatest opportunity to reach those who might not normally be with us in weekly worship. Many churches work hard to raise the bar on Christmas Eve. It’s one of the most joyous and exciting times of the year, so upping the ante on creativity, music, message and more only makes sense.


I love Christmas worship. It’s easy to go all out. It’s also easy to work so hard in preparation for Christmas that we have nothing left for the days that follow.


If Christmas Eve is one of the high points on the christian calendar, the Sunday after probably ranks as one of the lowest where creativity is concerned. We charge so hard toward December 24th, that we simply have nothing left for the Sunday following. Many of us even take the next weekend off to rest and be with our families. Of course that’s not all bad, but our best opportunity can easily be squandered if we’re not careful.


The potential to reach new people on Christmas is thrilling. With all of the extra effort we put into the big day, visitors are bound to get inspired at some level. If we’re done our due diligence, when our C&E crowd shows up for their yearly visit, if it all goes right, they may just be intrigued enough to come back the following week.


I can remember one Christmas Eve where a family member who didn’t regularly attend church said to me, “Wow, is this what it’s like here all the time? This isn’t what I expected to experience at a church.” Of course, I knew that if he returned just a few days later, the experience would be less than stellar, and not just because it’s not as polished.


When it comes to this season,  we rarely ever save anything for later. The weeks following Christmas Eve are as important if not more in hooking those who are curious about engaging (or re-engaging) church. When someone comes to our well-designed, well-thought out Christmas Eve experience, our under-designed, minimal effort weeks following can only serve to solidify the “oh never mind, this is what worship is really like” mentality.

It doesn’t have to be that way! With a little pre-planning and some extra attention to creativity, the weeks following Christmas can continue whatever momentum we’ve established with Christmas Eve.


A pastor friend and I have been meeting for several weeks to partner on post Christmas worship. While it won’t have all of the bells and whistles that Christmas Eve will, we have creative moments infused throughout the experience. From original animation, to tactical take-away objects;  interactive moments, to a very powerful metaphor;  the post worship experience will be one that should be memorable and meaningful. Best of all, it should keep the bar raised creatively, and will feed into the next series that has been given the usual branding and production efforts.


While there aren’t weeks left to develop and implement a grand plan, there is still time to create something worth coming back to. Assuming that your Christmas is planned (or mostly planned), what can you do make the most of weeks to come?


I’m always amazed at what a short brainstorming session with a few like minded creative folks can generate. I’d encourage you to huddle and see what can happen!


Have a blessed Christmas! And may the creativity continue to flow for weeks to come.











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Not a Fit! How to Transition People to Their Sweet Spot


Have you heard the story of history’s worst art restoration?

Recently, a 19th-centurty fresco painting of Jesus that was in desperate need of a facelift, underwent an unexpected and rather horrendous restoration by a completely unqualified elderly parishioner.

The painting that hangs in the Sanctuary of Mercy Church in Spain was first thought to be vandalized, but eventually Elias Garcia Martinez came forward admitting the touchups were her handiwork.

The “restored” painting resembles a mutant Ewok or some sort of alien/bear hybrid. It probably goes without saying, Elias is not an artist, has no formal training and is in no way qualified to restore paintings.

She claims that she had permission from the parish priest. While that claim turned out to be false, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility.

The truth is, we often allow and even encourage people to serve in areas outside their areas of giftedness. When you’re assembling a new team, it’s hard to not have an open casting call; accepting anyone and everyone who might want to join. In an effort to not hurt feelings and offend individuals, we end up putting people in positions that ultimately are bad for them and for our congregations.

As Mr. Spock said in Star Trek II, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” This is a pretty harsh statement, especially for ministry, but I think it’s applies.

We’ve all sat through excruciating specials where soloists can’t quite hit their notes; we’ve all been present for the testimony that was scheduled for 2 minutes that went 12; we’ve all seen graphics designed by the church secretary or other staff members who have no design training. All of these things can have a huge impact on how we experience God in worship. The collective discomfort experienced in these moments of worship are nearly impossible to overcome in the span of an hour.

It is hard to utter the words, “you may not be a good fit for this”, but those words are sometimes necessary. Just because someone isn’t right for one opportunity doesn’t mean they won’t be great for another. 1 Corinthians 12:12-30 lays out a pretty good rationalization for why we’re really called to do ministry in our highest area of giftedness. The body of Christ is described as many parts that form one unit.

Every person has a part to play in the body. Sometimes individuals are drawn to do the work of a part that they’re not. The most difficult part is that people regularly think they’re gifted in ways that they’re not.

This happens in many areas from singing to media production, dramatic arts to “on chancel” roles such as worship hosting/acting as liturgist and so on.

So how do you help shift someone to where they need to be? It starts with sensitivity, prayer and careful communication.

First and foremost, just because someone isn’t right for one type of ministry, doesn’t mean that they’re not good for any ministry at all. They may just be a hand, not a foot. Our elderly DIY art restorer from earlier is pretty good at the broad strokes. She might be perfect for painting the fellowship hall a new color. She likely has other talents that could be used in ways that would create successes for her and for the church.

For years at seminars I’ve told the story of working with an extremely talented intern while on staff at Ginghamsburg UMC. Of the 7 interns I worked with, he was among the most talented of my tenure. The thing is, while a great guy, he was not the best communicator. When trying to use him as an extension of our design team, I found that he couldn’t properly communicate the ideas we were trying to convey. He had a hard time communicating to me what he was thinking as when he’d try and offer a counter idea.

I didn’t send him home, I just found other ways to use him. One of them was to give him all of the info for announcements. I knew he was an excellent artist and that he was highly creative. I basically said, “Do something creative with this informartion”. He knocked it out of the park. He created what may have been the best announcement graphics to ever grace the screen. It wasn’t that our intern wasn’t good for ministry, it was just that he wasn’t right for the worship design team where clear communication was essential.

I’ve seen music directors do similar things with singers. Not every singer has the kind of voice that can/should be featured. While some singers may sing relatively well, it might be that they best fit in a larger ensemble such as a choir or as a group of backup singers.

Clear communication is an important part of ministry and relationships in general. Sometimes when the answer is no, or when we have to deliver hard news, we avoid the problem. We may not pick up the phone when we see who is calling. We also might not respond to emails or texts or other forms of communication because saying “no” or “you’re not right for this” is hard. The truth is, the more you avoid communication with those you have to share “tough love” with, the more frustration and hard feelings build. You can make a hard situation harder by avoiding conflict and communication. Without meaning to, you end up disrespecting the person by ignoring them and you may just hurt them in the process.

What does a hard conversation look like? It’s probably going to be different based on personalities – Some people can handle being frank and direct, others need a gentler touch. Here’s a quick roadmap to for having these conversations and what to do next:

  1. Start with sharing your appreciation for the work they’ve been doing. Help them see you appreciate their passion and desire to serve.
  2. Share with them your vision for ministry and what it is you’re trying to accomplish.
  3. Gently help them see that your goal for them and for the church is to create a win-win scenario, making sure that they are successful in the area they serve.
  4. Be honest about where you see shortcomings. If you think it’s possible that with more practice, training and experience that they can get to where they need to be, tell them that. If they’re “a hand”, and they want to be “a foot”, help them see (in a respectful way), that they may be reaching for something that is outside their area of giftedness. Above all, affirm that their gift is of value. Have a plan in place to transition them into whatever would be a better fit.
  5. Don’t stop communicating! Once you’ve moved them to a new area where they can succeed, continue to reach out. See how they’re doing. Don’t cut them off.


I’m a firm believer that we can only accomplish the mission if we act as a body – utilizing everyone’s gifts. We were designed to work together. When everyone is serving where they should be, and things are in alignment, the body functions better.



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Hollywood Writers’ Series – Part 6 with Eric Champnella


Eric Champnella is a man of many talents. While is probably best known for writing the film Mr. 3000, he has also been a standup comedian, actor, director, and producer.

In 2008 I got to know Eric during the writers’ strike. At the time he was hosting United Hollywood Live, an internet radio program that aimed to keep listeners abreast of the latest strike developments.

Eric and I have worked together on several projects, and I must say, he is passionate about story and is great at what he does.

Eric has agreed to answer a few questions for our series.

1. Eric, thanks for being a part of the series! Writing a story from scratch is a difficult task, but it seems to me that an even greater task is getting it sold. You’ve “practice-pitched” to me before in preparation for meetings with producers. Can you describe the importance of the pitch, and how you prepare for one?
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Hollywood Writers’ Series – Part 5 with Trey Callaway


Let me introduce you to my friend Trey Callaway. Trey is an immensely talented film and television writer who is currently a producer/writer for CSI: New York. He’s probably best know for writing the screenplay for I Still Know What you Did Last Summer. In addition to his work as a writer, Trey is also a professor at USC, where he teaches writing students how to perfect their craft and work in the entertainment industry.

I got to know Trey during the writers’ strike of 2007-08. He and another writer friend were co-hosts of United Hollywood Live, an online radio show that just happened to take callers. I became a bit of a regular, and the friendship lived beyond the show and the strike.

Trey is tremendously generous. In 2009 when I was speaking near Hollywood, I met him in person for breakfast. The conversation was inspiring. He answered every one of my silly questions. And amazingly enough, he’s agreed to let me ask a few more. I thought learning a bit about his process might help those of us who work in collaborative environments. I hope you agree.

1. What does your process look like when writing a new episode for CSI:NY, or any television show for that matter? Do you draw on your own life? Do you look at what’s happening in the news? How do you begin to make a blank screen into a story?
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The Tremendous Staying Power of Image

What was the most memorable experience you’ve ever had in worship? That’s one of my favorite questions to ask at a Creative Worship seminar. It’s fun to see people stop and think about it, then discuss it with their peers.

What I have encountered consistently over the past several years as I’ve asked that question, is that the most memorable worship experiences often revolve around images, metaphors or tangible objects. Being an advocate for such things for the past 15 years, that doesn’t come as a huge surprise, but I’m still learning how to better articulate the value of image in worship.

I’m convinced that using images in tandem with the spoken and written word is the single best way to create staying power for the messages we present in worship. While catchy titles and thematic slogans are good in the short term, they don’t have the same staying power as images. It should be stated that not all images are created equally – abstract “eye-candy” or what we call “holy blobs of color” can be pretty, but not carry a message long term.

Of course there is a danger in using images; they require require setup, are often ambiguous, contain multiple potential interpretations and must be deconstructed in order to properly convey deep truth. But when that work is done, and the gospel is properly conveyed through image, it has the power to last forever.

In the mid 90s, I served as part of the worship design team and media staff at a large Methodist church in Ohio called Ginghamsburg. Ten years after I left, I returned to work as an unpaid servant on their worship design team. Very quickly I was reminded again of the tremendous staying power of image.

In the first few weeks of “being back” I ran into people I’d done ministry with in paid and unpaid roles and a common pattern quickly developed. Nearly every person I talked to had a story from 10 years ago about their most memorable worship experience. Every single one of them without exception was tied to metaphor (which we were doing weekly at the time). What’s even more impressive to me is that key details and message ideas were also part of some of the conversations.

At Midnight Oil seminars, Len Wilson and I tell the story of designing worship with a pastor friend of ours named Adrian Cole. Adrian was a guest preacher one weekend at Ginghamsburg when we were on staff. Six years after that experience, Len and I were invited to speak at Adrian’s church. We hadn’t seen him since that worship design experience 6 years prior. When we greeted each other, we began reminiscing and our conversation shifted to the work we’d done together so many years ago.

When we began to describe in detail of the service and his sermon, which used the metaphor of a half finished sculpture, Adrian stopped us and said, “How on earth do you remember that? It was my sermon, and I don’t remember that.” We responded by saying, “That’s the power of image.” We’ll never forget the sermon about how our journey toward christian perfection is like the process of chipping away at a block of granite until the complete image emerges. I’ll also never forget the image of Adrian on the back of an elephant and the stories of his days in seminary and how God was chipping away at him even then. I’ll never look at a statue and not think of and reflect on the power of that message. Image has the ability to encapsulate ideas that can be carried to the grave.

Another favorite example I use when teaching is rooted in the description of a movie trailer. I ask, “Who can name the movie trailer that featured ripples timed to ‘booms’ within a cup of water sitting on the dashboard of an SUV?” Within seconds shouts from all over the room roar, “Jurassic Park!” You can see that trailer here.

I am regularly amazed that so many people get it right within seconds of the question being posed. I respond by saying, “I didn’t say anything about dinosaurs, DNA, Michael Crichton or anything that would tip you off and you instantly knew from that one image the story I was describing.”

Think about that for a minute. If that one image gets you to Jurassic Park, and you know the movie, that image carries with it the complete narrative of the story, the environments and scenes, the characters and other details that you likely could describe with very little effort.

That trailer came out in the fall of 1992. Without fail, every single group I speak to knows the clip instantly. Can you imagine what would happen in the church if every week in worship you had an image that could carry that much information (characters, story, settings etc) for 19 years and beyond? I can. I’ve seen it in action, and it is exciting.

In my book Digital Storytellers (co-authored with Len Wilson) I wrote, “Art is the discovery of discipleship.” I believe that with my whole heart. When worshipers have a powerful God encounter that is creative and tied to image, that moment lives on and drives worshipers toward deeper personal faith development and world changing mission. It sears truth into the hearts and minds of those who are engaged by it. Maybe that’s why Jesus used metaphor exclusively when teaching in public.

How are you using images to make the message stick around beyond Sunday?


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