About a month ago I went with some friends to see Sigur Ros frontman jonsi on his solo tour stop in Chicago at The Vic.
It was, without a doubt, one of the most awe-inspiring live performances I’ve ever been a part of. For over an hour-and-a-half I sat spellbound with a sold out audience watching live music synched with video, crazy instruments and costumes, dance, and one of the most intense encore sets I’ve ever seen [I recorded some video you can see here.] I was truly in awe, utterly speechless at the end of the performance.
When the lights came on at the conclusion of the show I turned to my friend Dave and said, “Why can’t the church do anything like this?”
That was a loaded statement so let me unpack it real quick.
I left that concert feeling something I hadn’t felt in a long time… a sense of awe and wonder.
Most leaders today look back to the book of Acts for a picture of what the church should be. We often site Acts 2:42-27 that depicts the community and life that thrived in the first church. It says,
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
Pretty awesome, huh?
I think in a lot of ways, churches are recovering what it means to be Church.
Today we have some of the most incredible communicators that are proclaiming and teaching the truth of God’s Word. With the click of a mouse we have access to hundreds of podcasts and messages from teachers, pastors and scholars around the globe. We can even read the Bible on our smartphones.
We’ve realized that the church isn’t a building or a place we go and it’s not something we do… it’s something we are actively a part of, finding our place and serving Christ together.
We understand the value of living life in community. We get that life is meant to be lived out with others, walking with one another through the difficult times and the good times.
We’re taking seriously the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves and are taking up the cause of those who are marginalized and rejected. We’re fighting against injustice, caring for orphans and widows, and providing for the physical and material needs of those in need.
If you really look and see what the Church is doing around the globe it’s pretty incredible, but there’s one thing in this passage that I think we’re missing.
While we have great teaching that engages the mind, value living in community with others and are caring for the needs of our neighbors locally and our brothers and sisters globally, I feel like we’re missing something… we’re missing the sense of awe, we are void of signs and wonders.
Some friends of mine recently took a trip to Italy where they toured the Vatican and other churches and cathedrals. The pictures they took [even though they weren’t technically allowed to] were stunning. All over the walls and domes of the cathedrals, the story of Gospel was captured through art… murals, stained glass, and statues. There’s something reverent about those old cathedrals. Something sacred. My friends weren’t even allowed to speak while they were inside. Some historians would say that in that time period those ancient cathedrals were constructed that the church saved the arts.
A lot has changed since then. The Church looks, feels, and sounds very different.
There’s a tension that many churches are dealing with these days when it comes to their services and it’s the battle between right and left brained thinking, or emotion over intellect.
Churches, well the progressive, innovative, edgy ones, get production. Some churches feel like a rock show or Broadway, and while I’m a bit indifferent to their methods, I feel like in looking, sounding and feeling like the world we’ve lost a true sense of wonder.
Today our churches look and feel more like conference centers or coffeeshops and instead of creating reverent, reflective space, they are cozy and casual. Gizmodo did an article about the STORY Conference which we hosted at Park a few months ago and said, “The Park Community Church in Chicago is a multi-story Christian center that more closely resembles a Starbucks than any cathedral—and in fact houses its own coffee shop.”
I’m not saying those things are bad, people obviously need to be in space that’s warm an inviting… but I guess I’m wrestling with if that’s the right way.
On the opposite side of all of this is the idea that the message is all that matters.
While I completely agree that the message is what matters most, the tension we live in is the fact that people hear messages on different wavelengths. Some can sit and listen to a 45 minute sermon and get it. Other people need to see a picture or hear a story, some need to hear a song. Some people need to be inspired by beauty while others simply need sacred space to reflect and remember. There’s multiple ways to hear the same message.
I think we’ve created and cultivated excellent communicators who can explain and teach God’s Word with great conviction that engages the mind but is void of the ability to really capture people’s heart or emotion. The Gospel is more than words, it’s power, and oftentimes we simply trust in the words and stifle what could make them truly powerful.
Today I believe, like so many others do, that the arts will save the church.
My good friend Blaine leads a team of artists at Willow Creek Community Church and he says that the artist is the new pastor and prophet. He says, “Every time you pick up a camera, a pen, a laptop, or a notebook, it is beauty-making at its most basic. And through your beauty-making, you are becoming the New Pastors of the 21st Century.”
So many churches have opted for either being completely focused on the message void of the arts or others shape a message around the arts, while some others wrestle what it means to live in the tension of both.
I firmly believe it’s both and, not either or. I believe that the artist and the pastor need to work together to communicate the message of the Gospel with more than words.
Today, flickering pixels are our stained glass and God has given us so many new ways to communicate His unchanging message… to do things that evoke our emotions and touch both our mind and our heart. To bring words to life through an image, a story, or a song. We have the ability to bring the light into darkness, to communicate the unseen and unknown and bring a glimpse of Heaven to earth.
I’m not saying we need to reproduce a jonsi concert, add more lights or more music, get bigger screens and better projectors… I just wholeheartedly believe we need to first be captured with the awe and wonder of who God is and let Him use the gifts He’s uniquely given to all of us to share the what we have seen and heard to a world that is desperate for a sign.
I don’t have any answers here, I’m just raising the questions I’ve been wrestling with lately…
When was the last time you left church in awe… not of the production, music, lights, or anything else… but truly left in awe of who God is and what He’s done?
When was the last time you sat in wonder of God’s love and grace?
When was the last time you felt and sensed God’s presence in a tangible way?
When was the last time your heart was truly moved?
Where is the sense of wonder?
Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare. - Psalm 40:5