If you have read Edith Schaeffer’s book What Is A Family? 1 you will probably agree that it belongs among the masterpieces, and is certainly one of the most inspiring and useful books about the concept of family that you can find. A new reading of chapter three, however, can provide an extremely interesting twist about creativity. It can speak to us as leaders in the body of Christ in a refreshing and eye-opening way.
In this chapter, Schaeffer makes a compelling point. It is about the need for the family to be, as the title states, a “birthplace of creativity”. But what Schaeffer communicates in these few pages goes far beyond what she might have intended or expected. It is a reading I would recommend to every couple contemplating marriage or revitalizing their relationship. But I would also recommend it to every pastor and leader in the body of Christ. It has been particularly revealing to me. In fact, it helped me understand and appreciate the way the church is also a family and a “birthplace of creativity”. It is in the church, after all, that God once again manifests Himself, through the Holy Spirit, as a creative Being.
A Different Perspective About Creativity
Reading this chapter again with this twist made me think about our church family. It provided me with a wonderful and wise answer to many questions I had gathered through my years of ministry. Answers that I have gladly passed on to help other people understand their experiences in the church.
Just like a family, we should regard the church also as the “birthplace of creativity”. It is, after all, the product of a Creator God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, who binds us together as His children. The church is one large family where God has placed many diverse people. We all have different backgrounds, passions, and gifts. And we all express our call to be creative in different ways, as we serve the Lord. Unfortunately, though, it is also the place where much of what God’s Spirit moves His little ones to do can be squelched and discouraged.
Some of Schaeffer’s words have spoken directly to me. They helped me both in my moments of discouragement as well as in my human frailty. They also speak about many people I have known who have left the body of Christ in frustration. Schaeffer writes, “A person, even a five-year-old, gets discouraged in setting forth an idea if it is immediately ruled out, and if the ideas continue, they will be taken to somebody else outside the family!” (p. 53). How true, not only for our households, but also for the greater family of the church. How many ideas (even ones not yet perfected) have come to creative people in the church family, only to be ignored, rejected, unduly or excessively criticized, discouraged or (even worse) ridiculed!
What Schaeffer writes in this chapter should help us all to be less “sensitive” about our authority and control. We need to be be more open to the need for God’s creativity in the church. If we were indeed, what a wonderful change would occur in many congregations!
Freedom to Respond to the Holy Spirit
What a breath of fresh air could they become, instead of being perceived, as Schaeffer describes, “like cement prisons or boxed-in places without air, as far as creativity is concerned.” We would be able to see more churches where “the austere, barren atmosphere of hard benches, ready [emotional] whips, dominant, crushing [or squelching] authority, bare tables, lack of pleasant food and an attitude of harshness [or suspicion] toward creativity” is replaced by the joy of spiritual growth as each member is encouraged to contribute creatively as God leads him or her.
The church, then, would be the place where the Holy Spirit and the creativity He inspires can truly blossom. Each part would be contributing much more than what the leadership has made room for in their ready-made “programs”. They would freely express whatever God, in His infinite creativity, has gifted them to contribute to His body and family.
I imagine some readers may imagine scenarios in which something like I have just described would run amuck. They would probably fear that it could turn into some form of religious anarchy. I confess that I’ve had that thought, too. It is true, as Schaeffer points out, that creativity can be destructive (Cain’s creativity certainly was). However, that is a creative expression that denies God, not the creativity that expresses His love, even though imperfectly.
Who is the father, the mother, the pastor or the teacher who has waited for perfection before reaching out and taking the light of Jesus to the world? We would all still be waiting in darkness!
It Takes Work, but It’s Worth it!
If we read Schaeffer in terms of our church families, then what she points out is that for the church to become the “birthplace of creativity” there is first of all the need for “a dignity of attitude toward the [church] family” — a dignity that is willing to accept “the seriousness and excitement of having your own home [or church] be a very specific creativity center.”
Creativity takes work! It calls for an atmosphere of unhindered communication, of taking interest in other persons’ ideas and thoughts. To encourage it we need mutual trust and a freedom to make some mistakes along the way. It takes “an expectation that the most wonderful thing is just about to come forth” (p. 54). It takes for us to create a special environment, where we balance our priorities.
We need to give people the attention they need to express themselves. We need to be willing to take some time, and extend patience when their attempts become a bit messy. It takes for us to understand that criticism and discussion of “better ways” should follow later, and not immediately after someone expresses some creativity. It takes little gestures of thoughtfulness and an appreciation for the beauty that God has placed in each of us. After all, it is His work, not ours.
The reward is great and wonderful. It is the development of a unit, a church family as “an amazing co-op” of creativity. In this environment, the Spirit of God will bless the members with His many and varied gifts. He will encourage creativity and will develop it into always more mature forms that witness to His glory and majesty.