by Alvin Reid
“A cook is not an artist,” Seth Godin observes. “A cook follows a recipe, and he’s a good cook if he follows the recipe correctly. A chef is an artist,” he adds. “She’s an artist when she invents a new way of cooking or a new type of dish that creates surprise or joy.”[i]
I’m afraid in the Church today we have turned a generation of chefs into cooks. What if we tapped into the creative, artistic, and unique abilities of believers for the sake of the gospel?
When a young person hits play on her iPod, she probably gives no thought to Thomas Edison. But Edison invented the phonograph, which led to a revolution in recorded music, which is today dominated by downloadable and streaming music services. However, Edison didn’t invent the phonograph to play music—his intent was to record the final words of the dying.
As Kevin Kelly observes in What Technology Wants, “With few exceptions technologies don’t know what they want to be when they grow up.”[ii] He observes how a year after inventing the phonograph, Edison made a list of its possible uses; playing music was little more than an afterthought. Kelly argues rightly that the inventor of a new technology hardly ever sees its full potential, in part because he or she sees it only as a means to improve something, making an old thing work better.
If you serve as a leader in ministry, this could offer a helpful lesson. The inventors of new technologies, or at least those who used these advancements later, had to apply the technologies in creative ways originally not clear to their inventors. Even Edison’s “directory,” the list of possible uses of the phonograph, missed its greatest potential of playing music, and Thomas Edison was one smart fellow!
What if we spent more time helping believers to understand that the gospel is more than a vertical means to heaven, as vital as that is, but is also a horizontal means to their life as part of God’s mission?
What if we encouraged Christians to seek unique and creative ways to communicate the good news of Jesus that fit who they are and their specific world?
What if we helped believers to have confidence in taking the initiative to influence their world as salt and light, and rather than cautioning them not to “rock the boat,” we pushed them to take risks for God’s kingdom?
This week, I’m having lunch with a young lady and her fiancé, both of whom are students at our college. I met Brianna when she was only 14. At that time she and some friends, girls aged 12-14, became burdened about the issue of human trafficking. They were in a great church with a healthy student ministry, but they wanted to do more than be active in the youth group and go to the mall like other teenaged girls.
So they tried to raise funds to build a safe house in Moldova. Five years later, a safe house is being finished in the second largest city in that nation because a few teenagers decided to do something different than be typical, churched youth. These ladies want to rescue trafficked girls to give them a safe place to hear the good news of Jesus.
I’ve spoken in a myriad of churches and events over the years. Too often, the look I see on people’s faces communicates this: Is this all there is? I’m active in church. I pray, I serve and give weekly. But there has to be something more.
There is! Each of us, created in the imago Dei, has the ability to step out of the ordinary and the mundane to live boldly for Christ. This includes not being afraid to step out of the status quo to live remarkably for Christ.
The group MuteMath wrote a song years ago called Typical. The song asks whether there is something more than doing the typical:
’cause I know there’s got to be another level
Somewhere closer to the other side
And I’m feelin’ like it’s now or never
Can I break the spell of the typical?
Let’s encourage those we lead to serve Christ both with doctrinal purity and practical creativity. In other words, while our theology is black and white, we should serve Jesus in living color!*
*Adapted from Alvin L. Reid, As You Go: Creating a Missional Culture of Gospel-Centered Students (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2009).
[i] Seth Godin, Linchpin (New York: Penguin, 2010), 84.
[ii] Kevin Kelly, What Technology Wants (New York: Penguin Group, 2010), 244.
Alvin L. Reid (@alvinreid) is senior professor of evangelism and student ministry and Bailey Smith chair of evangelism at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is author of As You Go: Creating a Missional Culture of Gospel-Centered Students. He loves encouraging the younger generation to live for Jesus. Learn more: www.alvinreid.com