Worship Media Arts

Big Ideas, How-To, and Articles on Worship, Media and the Arts

Building Doorways to Truth Through Creativity and Metaphor

<p>Creativity is essential to design. We’re all created creative?Äîeven those who might claim that the creative gene skipped them. In Genesis 1, God models the creative process, demonstrating that good things take time. Although God could have made all of creation happen in an instant, He instead demonstrates meticulous intentionality and the importance of design. But how does that play out? There are many different forms that creativity can take, but we believe that one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, forms is through metaphor.</p>
<p>What exactly is a metaphor? Simply put, metaphor is a tangible way to express an abstract story, thought, or idea. Applying a metaphor to the message simply means communicating potentially abstract stories, principles and/or ideas with present day tangible equivalents. Substituting familiar objects, stories and situations can make archaic and hard to grasp texts easy to understand.</p>
<p>Metaphor is a doorway through which we can pass into a truth. Ronnie Ruiz at the Georgia Institute of Technology states that a metaphor is a comparison between two seemingly unrelated objects, where one’s characteristics are transferred onto another. This is for the purpose of giving us understanding. Ruiz says, “Metaphors act as shepherds to lead the audience onto the correct path of thought and mindset.”</p>
<p>What seems more abstract than a God somewhere “up there”? Maybe that’s why God repeatedly shows up through metaphor, from a burning bush to a pillar of cloud to, ultimately, a Body. Even after the God comes Incarnate in Jesus, God’s Spirit shows up as a dove or a rushing wind. Excepting Paul’s epistles that shaped church doctrine, most of the Bible is stories of faith in God told with and through metaphor.</p>
<p>This ancient wisdom wasn’t limited to God’s people, either. Aristotle wrote in 322 BC,  “The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor. It is the one thing that cannot be learned from others; it is also a sign of genius, since a good metaphor implies an eye for resemblance.”</p>
<p>In fact, it could be argued that the world has a much better handle on metaphor in our present time than the church. Metaphor is immersed throughout our increasingly digital culture, both as a form of expression but also more fundamentally as a way we understand truth.</p>
<p>As an experiment, one morning as Len left the house he decided to monitor his experience of metaphor. His wife had left the car radio on the adult contemporary station the previous day, so the first song he heard was called “White Flag,” by the artist Dido. In it, Dido laments the end of a relationship in which she still loves her significant other. She uses the white flag, and a distressed ship, as metaphors for her feelings. Next was the classic by Elton John, “Candle in the Wind.” In it the songwriter compares the life and death of the American celebrity Marilyn Monroe to a fragile candle, who was too easily blown out by destructive forces around her. After 2 melancholy love songs, Len was feeling a little nauseous so he switched to a rock station, The Edge, whose name itself is a metaphor. They were playing a popular song by Coldplay, “Clocks.” As you might imagine, the song was not literally about clocks. The first four experiences of his day were metaphorical.</p>
<p>Later that day as we worked on our ministry database, we were struck by the number of churches whose very identity is rooted in metaphor. There were records for churches called The River, The Journey, Crossroads, The Oasis, and more.</p>
<p>In addition to its ubiquity in our culture, there are three fundamental reasons why we believe focusing creativity on metaphor is important.</p>
<p>The first is that metaphor makes the message easier to understand. When there are elements of a biblical story that are hard to connect with, or there is language that doesn’t make sense in today’s culture, metaphor comes to the rescue. We’ve seen this work too many times to keep track.</p>
<p>A while back, we designed a worship service around the story of John the Baptist preparing for the coming of Christ as told in Luke 3:16-17. Our team expressed concern that many of the elements in this passage are foreign and confusing to today’s non-agricultural society. John uses language such as “thong,” (which means something completely different today than it did back in Jesus’ day), “winnowing fork,” “threshing floor,” and “chaff”?Äîall objects with which suburbians might not be familiar. Beyond the confusing language, the crux of John’s message is purity. We didn’t want that to get lost in translation.</p>
<p>So, we focused our creativity on designing a metaphor that would connect John’s message with this present culture, and settled on one of today’s most pervasive beverages: coffee. The filter plays the part of the winnowing fork that separates the wheat (or flavor of the coffee) from the chaff (or grinds). When the water passes through a filter full of ground coffee beans, the result is a pure cup of coffee. The grinds are tossed away. All of a sudden, John’s message connects in a way that most everyone can understand.</p>
<p>The best part of a metaphor like this is Monday morning and throughout the rest of the week, when in people’s daily routines coffee becomes a reminder of what it means to be pure.  We sometimes say that metaphor is the glue that makes the message stick. This glue, retention, is the second reason we like to use metaphor.</p>
<p>We have seen time and time again that when a metaphor is employed and the hard work of redeeming the metaphor is done, people will carry the message with them for much longer than they would have otherwise. Retention goes through the roof when the right metaphor is used.</p>

			<div id=

7 Comments so far »

  1. The MO Guys said,

    Wrote on March 28, 2006 @ 3:52 pm

    What do you think? Leave a message if you have something to say about this article. No registration is required to post a comment, but we will moderate for spam and obscene language, so your comment will be delayed in posting until we clear it.

  2. Esther said,

    Wrote on July 23, 2006 @ 7:23 pm

    This reminds me of a sermon I heard where the preacher said, “Jesus spoke about sheep and fish to shepherds and fishermen. We talk about sheep and fish to the Internet generation.” I completely agree with you — we need to use metaphor, and to use it in a relevant way.

  3. Karen Vannoy said,

    Wrote on September 6, 2006 @ 2:38 pm

    This is great and so true. In fact, I think it needs to become a downloadable media – Metaphor – most of what we do in worship is metaphor…

  4. Matthew said,

    Wrote on March 23, 2007 @ 12:15 pm

    Very nice article. Several good points I’ll keep in mind when updating the look and feel of our sermon archive for Madison Park Christian Church.

  5. Bob Shank said,

    Wrote on April 20, 2007 @ 12:44 pm

    I definitely agree that the use of metaphors is increasingly important as many mainline congregations are becoming mostly irrelevant these days. It is time for a fresh approach and I believe the use of metaphors is a huge step in the right direction for many reasons. The spoken Word can and does stand on its own, but how we attempt to understand and interpret it for our modern day requires a fresh and creative approach. Jesus showed us the way through the teaching of his parables. Today most of our congregations do not sow seeds or care for lambs any more. They do know about ipods, laptops, GPSs, and DVDs. The metaphors have changed, and they help us understand the message God wants us to hear.

    For those of us who are trying to move in new directions in the church, could there be at least some tentative ways for words to be presented at least minimally? As an example, and in an attempt to bring along some of our long-time church members, is it okay to share just a few announcements before the service begins? I struggle with this because I agree that it is far better to share a message using graphics, but there is just not enough time to be creative with each and every announcement that needs to be shared within our congregation at the present time. I am learning, albeit slowly, that graphics and video are far more successful, but sometimes I wonder if a few words on the screen to share a simple message might be appropriate, too. Perhaps I will spend some time critically watching ads on TV to see how many words are used there, but then again, if “the advertising industry is in a panic,” maybe this won’t be helpful at all!? What do you think?

  6. The MO Guys said,

    Wrote on April 23, 2007 @ 9:12 am


    We don’t mean to give the impression through our writings and seminars that we’re anti-text. We tend to emphasis the power of image and metaphor because of the need to pull the Church out of the dwindling, modern, textual world. But absolutely there’s a place for text on the screen, whether songs, sermon information, announcements, etc.

    When it comes to advertising, the “angle” or the “hook” – the creative way you present the information – is the important thing. Not that you don’t have text, or information, to present, but how you do it. The more you teach yourself to think this way the easier it gets. For better understanding on your screen announcements, you should read “Experiential Marketing.” The book’s typology is helpful in maying out different means to convey a message.

  7. FUMC Media and Technology » 19 Ways to use Media in Worship: #2 said,

    Wrote on July 29, 2007 @ 8:40 am

    […] Next you might give each week its own metaphor or unique theme but have an overall series graphic or icon that ties them together. […]

Comment RSS · TrackBack URI

Leave a Comment

Name: (Required)

E-mail: (Required)