Since I came to know and experience Jesus over 10 years ago now, it has become my passion to help people experience Jesus in profound and powerful ways. People need and want a real and authentic encounter with God. It’s actually a longing God has placed in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11), and from the day I first encountered Holy Spirit in a real and tangible way, I’ve wanted everyone to know Him this way. It’s no coincidence that my role for the last 4 years has been the weekend experience pastor, where I oversee the experience in our church services and events. It’s been such a privilege and honor to serve our people in this way and I’m always excited to explore the depths of what this looks like.
One of the creative areas we’ve been exploring in recent years is lighting. Of course, when you explore something new, it comes with unique challenges and questions about why. I want to address some of these challenges with using lights and other creative elements in church environments. My hope and prayer is that this will give people some helpful context as we continue to explore creative ideas that will ultimately help people encounter Jesus in fresh and relevant ways.
When it comes to creativity in the church, it is simply challenging. And just like the words simply and challenging don’t seem to go together, creativity and church sometimes clash. In many other venues that have speakers and music (like concerts, conferences, ceremonies, and expos), most creativity is welcomed and even celebrated. However, when we enter into the church world, creative expression can sometimes be misunderstood.
Now don’t get me wrong, some limits are healthy when it comes to church. We’re not being creative just to do something new or “cutting edge.” Our focus is Jesus, lifting his name up and creating an environment that lets him transform us more into who we were made to be. And it’s in this place where creativity comes in and can open us up to that amazing grace-filled process.
But first, we must understand that God loves creative expression
We have to start here. He’s the original creator and if ever we needed to find the starting point, well, it’s Him. We obviously see the creation of the world and man as completely unique and amazing. What a visual that must’ve been! Come on! The sea, land, mountains, stars, animals, humans…wow! But even looking at Jesus’ life, who is the perfect reflection of the Father, we see God’s creative expression throughout his life.
To build some context, I want to look at two accounts in the New Testament regarding Jesus. The first is the birth of Jesus, which is quite fitting considering we just finished the Christmas season. The second account is what scholars call, The Transfiguration.
The Announcement of Jesus
While Jesus was being born in obscurity and humility, in a manger outside the city, God, the Father must’ve been overcome with so much joy, that he orchestrated an amazing announcement. In Luke 2, we read,
“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (ESV)
Now, we’re not exactly sure what it looked like for the glory of the Lord to shine around them, but we can imagine someone also called the “Father of Lights” must have a pretty amazing light display. Other translations say the radiance of the Lord (NLT) or the glory blazed around them (MSG). It must’ve been a spectacular sight and then the Father clicked it up a notch with the a multitude of angels praising God. Now, can you imagine what that looked like and what an experience they had? The awe and wonder and excitement must’ve been palpable.
Another example is in Matthew 17:
2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. 5 He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
Again, we see another example of the Father creatively highlighting His son, Jesus. His clothes became white as light and then a bright cloud overshadowed them. They were totally surrounded and consumed by the light. Why? For this statement, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” Now, I’m sure God could’ve not done all of that to communicate this message, but he did and did it in such a memorable way that they (and we) will never forget it.
Now, let me clarify why I’m highlighting these examples.
What I’m not saying is that our messages, worship, and other communication is at the same level as what God was communicating in these examples. I mean, let’s be real. These were life and world changing announcements! However, we are made in His image, in His likeness. And as image-bearers we are destined to boldly announce, declare, praise, exalt, and proclaim Jesus and His goodness with every creative fiber in our being. In other words, we can’t help but be creative like our Father in heaven, who made us like Him.
I’m also not saying that our goal is to wow people and make them fall face down so that we can say, “Do not be afraid!” It’s in these examples 😉 so I want to be clear.
Here’s what we’re discovering.
Lighting has an amazing ability to create mood, evoke emotion, and help people experience a message in ways that words and music cannot. I believe this is why God chose to punctuate his announcements with light. This is similar to communications studies that show that only 20-30% of communication comes through the words themselves. You actually need vocal inflection and body language to really understand what the other person is saying. This is why email is not good for conflict. 🙂 In the same way, creative elements, like lighting, can help communicate more than words or even music can and help people experience the message at a much deeper level.
On a more technical note, the reason we use haze is that it enables the light to fill the in-between space, to give it a fuller, more encompassing look and depth.
One example is in the song, This Is Amazing Grace. We did this song last Easter and to proclaim and really emphasize the impact of His grace in our lives, our creative director chose to give a huge crescendo of light during the word grace. Here’s what it looked like: https://youtu.be/10_3jAsZWzU?t=8m20s
From my perspective, this was an amazing exclamation point to His amazing grace. When I think of the amazing grace of Jesus, who saved me, freed me from addictions, gave me a new way to live and an amazing cause to live for, I get really excited; maybe even ecstatic. I think it’s very similar to the excitement of when Jesus’ birth was announced to the shepherds. For me, this addition was a win and wonderful exclamation to the message of the song.
There’s so much more to say, but I will conclude Part 1 here. In Part 2 I will address some of the questions and concerns we’ve received and wrestled with, as well as some guidelines we’ve used as we’ve continued to explore creative encounters with Jesus.