His post was called “A Plea for Originality”, and his argument is that our churches need to foster originality, that the world needs it, needs it from our churches, and that when we borrow/steal/grab from pop culture, or even other churches, to get our message across, we run the risk of becoming unoriginal, which can lead to becoming inauthentic, uninspired, or lazy.
If you would like, take a moment to read his entire post, because in my post, I would like to respectfully disagree with some of his assertions. I think he uses a killer example and makes an effective broad brush stroke, but I think there is something to be gained from taking a look at “the other side” of the argument.
Okay, here goes: Tim starts by showing some horrifying pictures of how the “Microsoft” store is copying the Apple Store with its look and feel, and how that reminded him of how unoriginal churches seem like the Microsoft in this scenario. He wrote, of the Microsoft store:
I wasn’t the only one who snapped a picture of the Microsoft Store and muttered words of displeasure over this blatant forgery. It’s hard to deny or hide, especially since the Apple Store was just a few storefronts down.
Then he connected that to the churches who are doing the same thing, in his mind. As he puts it, these churches
… take a great idea or concept and adapt their own cheapened version of it and claim it as their own.
Whether it’s taking cues from pop culture or “borrowing” an idea from another church, many churches are plagued with unoriginality. The end result is that to many people in the communities they are trying to reach, like the Microsoft Store, they can come across as unoriginal, inauthentic, uninspired, and lazy.
Okay, on one hand, I agree with the premise. I’m a creative guy. I like to think of creative ideas, and I like to express those creative ideas in the local church. I am grateful to Community Christian Church for giving me a platform to be able to do so with our very creative teams. And everyone who is responsible for creating in a church, should do exactly that. They should create.
But to put “cues from pop culture” or “borrowing ideas from other churches” exclusively in the category of being unoriginal, is not only throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but also coming close to excavating the entire tub.
A creative brainstorm can and should include source material from which you derive inspiration, and emulate content. There is no reason to be afraid of such things. Originality is not the same word as creative. There is a reason those are different words in the dictionary.
Let’s go back to Tim’s example. Let’s pretend for a minute that the Microsoft Store was not two doors down from the Apple Store, but rather, so far away and remote that literally, no one who walked by had any notion that there was such a thing as an Apple Store. What would that customer’s experience be? If Microsoft has learned by watching Apple and has emulated their shopping environment, and the customer is none the wiser, and has a great experience, then what is the harm to that customer? If they are satisfied with the product, it works well, and they have only good things to say about it, in what way is that particular use of these ideas damaging?
In many of the churches I’ve come across, I, as a practitioner, know that the song is by Chris Tomlin. I know that series title came from Andy Stanley. I am aware that Elevation church created that video. Or that the hilarious video I just watched (many currently available at www.bigidearesources.com) was from Community Christian. But does anyone else? Do they need to know? Is there a responsibility for a “full disclosure” statement in our programs with sources and links to the originals? I don’t think so. If it works, use it – God is not telling you to reinvent the wheel on principle.
But let’s stick with the example. Apple is creative, yes. And their products are killer. Typing on one now. But try going into the Apple Store to buy an Apple printer. You can’t. Don’t get me wrong, you can buy a printer there, it’s just not made by Apple. Cause they don’t make those anymore. I used to have an Apple laser printer back in the 90s (actually, it’s still in my house somewhere), but alas, Apple in a fit of un-creativity has “borrowed” printers from other churches and is selling them in their store. How unoriginal, right?
No, not right. Apple decided to unleash their creativity in one area of their core business by releasing another area to other experts. Printing? Sure, we could make awesome Apple printers. But if we let other people do that, then we can come up with the iPad.
Tim grants us that there are “no original ideas”, but then dismisses the possibility that God can use someone else’s original idea and repurpose it in a new environment. I agree with Tim that inspired design and creativity shouldn’t be rare in the church. But neither should sharing. And collaboration. And when we stick to our guns on one end of the spectrum, we miss out on the opportunities the other has to offer. Sometimes the best way to inspire new creativity is by celebrating (and using) the creativity of others.
It is possible to access and repurpose art in a church environment without being lazy or cheapening the image of Christ. It isn’t easy, and the traps that Tim describes are there, but it’s not a reason to dismiss it entirely.
So be original? Yes. But more importantly, be creative. And creativity must include using other sources. We make a lot of original content at our church, but we also purchase great video content from Worship House Media, we beg other churches to let us use their idea, or use their videos, we look to see what works and we use it. And I hope that others do the same with us. It turns out that when you work at a church, you must provide content 52 weeks of the year. No one has the wherewithal to remain completely authentically un-dilutedly original for fifty-two weeks in a row. It is literally impossible. Your brain would explode.
Except maybe this year. Since Christmas is on a Sunday, a lot of churches are taking that Sunday off. So, yeah, you could do it in 51. But not 52. That’s crazy.
Anyone wanna buy an Apple Printer antique?