The Creative Church

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“Oh, those poor conservative independent Baptists! I feel so sorry for them. They are really limiting themselves by being against everything, especially creativity. It’s obvious they don’t get out much to see what all is available to them. If only we can change their mindset and get them to embrace some new ideas, they could become relevant once again.”

May I ask a couple of favors? First, please don’t pity me as one of those “conservative independent Baptists.” Our sanctuary was near capacity Sunday morning. In fact, it was full Sunday night. Oh, and full Wednesday night, too. Every week. You would have seen suits, jeans, tattoos, whites, blacks, Mexican, Asian, married, divorced, and many others in between. It’s been only a week since the last baptism. It is rare that we get someone transfering from another independent Baptist church.

We are currently getting ready for our Men’s Advance, in which we will draw about 1,500–1,600 men to Stillwater, Oklahoma. We’re told it might be the largest independent Baptist men’s meeting in America. These men are going to listen to six messages while sitting the entire time in the same chairs, with no opportunity to choose a breakout session. I don’t mention this information to boast. I simply want you to know that the demise of those wrongly titled “stuck-in-the-mud, anti-creativity” churches has been greatly exaggerated. No need to pity us.

My second favor is to ask you to humor me for a moment as I promote an alternative view of creativity among independent Baptists. This is necessary because some would have you believe the choice is between fresh creative ideas or no creativity. That simply isn’t the case and is nothing more than the straw man fallacy. Some of the up-and-coming young men are falling for this faux philosophy without realizing it. Theodore Dalrymple makes a compelling argument in In Praise of Prejudice for “why we prefer the history of disaster to that of achievement.” If we can point out enough faults in the status quo or the past, we are free from any obligation to emulate it.

You’ll find such efforts in America’s public schools as they disparage our founding fathers, but also in Bible College coffee shops and church planting workshops, as they paint the churches that pay their support as too weighed down by tired methodologies to reach Millenials and Nones. If you can make others look out of touch and against any new thing coming along, you become the hero of a new generation by freeing the future from any weight of the past.

I’m convinced there’s a better way: another approach to creativity that you might actually find more creative than those who claim to be so creative. Don’t look at the choice as between creativity or no creativity. Instead, learn the difference between creativity that is “outside-the-box” or “inside-the-box.” I will use an illustration from Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg in their excellent work on creativity similarly titled: Inside The Box. You end up with a flat tire on a rented car and you discover that the lug nuts are too rusted to get them off with the lug wrench. You don’t have a cell phone to call for help. You don’t have any foam spray to temporarily inflate the tire. You do not have a piece of pipe to extend the tire wrench. You can’t hitch a ride to the nearest service station. All of those are basically outside solutions—outside-the-box. What do you do? You are limited to what you have within the car itself. You’ll have to be creative. The solution the authors chose was to place the jack under the lug wrench, instead of the car, using it to apply enough pressure to loosen each nut. It worked perfectly. They used what they already had and called that inside-the-box. I would say that’s pretty creative.

They have helped many well-known firms take significant creative steps by promoting the Closed World principle. “We’re challenging today’s single biggest myth about creativity: that it requires outside-the-box thinking. The Closed World is based on the idea that you look inward rather than outward, and that this propels you toward the virgin territory of truly creative ideas—ideas that are both original and useful.” They have convincing evidence that the “further away the resource, the less creative the solution it generates.” They borrow the “limited scope principle” from cognitive psychology that asserts “by limiting the number of variables under consideration from infinity to a finite number, we amplify our potential to come up with a creative solution. Why? Such limits boost the creative process, allowing individuals to be more focused.”

If it hasn’t already occurred to you, we would do well to consider our “box” to be our Bible. If the Bible is our Closed World, we are hardly at a disadvantage, even in creativity. Within it are tools that God Himself created and prescribed. What’s more, He has empowered those tools with a divine power that no man will ever come close to emulating. I truly believe that no single innovation has added power to the New Testament Church in 2,000 years.

Yes, the printing press was helpful, but isn’t there evidence of just as much divine power before 1450? The Internet has been revolutionary, no doubt. But, are our churches demonstrating more power because of such advanced technology? Think of the Scripture as Boyd says, “The Closed World is not endless, but the resources inside it exceed our initial perceptions, and we should make it a habit to look inside…” They also found that outside-the-box thinking “tends to be clichéd rather than creative, as the test of truly innovative ideas comes when you implement them.”

They hit the nail on the head. Go to the websites of independent Baptist churches using outside-the-box thinking and you won’t see as much true creativity as you think. You will see something clichéd and mostly indistinguishable from evangelical churches, as if they’re all following a playbook.

I respect their sincerity and dedication for every advancement they make in the Kingdom, but I do not envy them simply because they appear to be on the cutting edge. America needs independent Baptist churches, but we lose some of our influence if our creativity leaves us looking like a clone. Focusing your creativity on the tools God gave you hardly leaves you at a disadvantage. Your box is timeless, and The Creator Himself gave it to you. Trust the tools. Master them. Use them as the foundation of your creative efforts and you’ll find freshness and effectiveness that transcend any age and any culture.