Gabe Lyons, founder of Q, author of “The Next Christians” and co-author of “unChristian,” discusses the relationship between culture and Christianity, encouraging creativity, and the importance of Christian community.
What can the local church do in practical ways to foster creativity—especially for those in the church who don’t view themselves as particularly creative?
By celebrating creative people in the congregation. By doing good things. By cultivating good things. By promoting true beauty. Not just the surface-level veneer, but imagining again what the world ought to look like. Then it becomes a lot more than, “What do we create that doesn’t yet exist?” That spurs on creativity in the church, and then the church becomes the center of support and enthusiasm for creativity. Soon our culture will look at what Christians are creating and say, “That’s cool!” or “That’s amazing!” Instead of always being creatively behind culture, we then are ahead.
In the middle of fashion week, my wife and I, with our pastor, hosted a roundtable at our home for 25 people—mostly Christians—in the New York fashion industry. We wanted it to be a space for them to talk and receive support. We had a conversation about thinking differently about how we treat people we work with, how materials are used and the source of those materials, about morality in our culture. We talked about how fashion brands empower women—but at the same time sexualize them. It was a different feeling—much more than a prayer group, and the group resonated with it.
Congregational support for creativity seems to relate strongly to the need for community among believers—another essential The Next Christians points out. But with our fractured and divided church, what can churches do to attract (and keep) believers in community?
The reason people feel part of a community in a neighborhood is because everybody—the barber, the grocer—works together to keep the neighborhood strong. But we’ve really dumbed down community and have taken away its roots. True community forms when we work together, not when we’re talking about community. It’s only when we’re on mission—when we stop talking about community as an abstract idea—that we experience community. It’s the result of an activity done together when we’re all going the same way.
We talk a lot about wanting community, but we don’t do enough to create it. It’s about proximity—people who live and work near you; it’s about permanence—that you have people in your life you’ve known not just for a few years but for decades. It’s about intimacy and honesty.
So churches should create more opportunities for their members to work together, whether that means service to the poor or fighting injustice or volunteering or creating new concepts together that allow people to experience serving others for the first time.
Community does get tough—but that happens, in part, when it’s only a place to vent about issues and what struggles we’re having. Instead, when we come together in groups for prayer, we should also be motivated to articulate our dreams to each other—what God is calling each of us to do. In fact, our communities should hold us accountable for pursuing our dreams.
I did this assignment five years ago that was meant to teach the concept of what community truly means. There were about 15 of us in a learning community I’d pulled together who were supposed to gather for a 9.a.m. meeting. But instead of everyone driving alone to the meeting, the assignment was to pick up each person before the meeting so we’d all arrive together in the same vehicle. Well, that meant a lot planning. We had to prearrange pick-up schedules. One couple had to get a baby sitter for, like, 6 a.m. I had to drive across town to pick up the next person. And after a while we were all getting grumpy because of all the things we had to do differently, but when it was over we were told, “Now you guys understand community.” We had to work harder and make some sacrifices together. Community isn’t just about showing up.