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Ed Young Jr.: Mesh creativity with Bible truths in worship

LEXINGTON, Ky. (BP)–Creativity is the spark missing from many churches’ and Christians’ lives, according to a pastor whose sermon illustrations have included live sheep, interviews with baseball players and sugar and salt piled on a plate.
“God says create,” said Ed Young Jr., senior pastor of the Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas. “Every time we do, it’s an act of love and worship to God. A lot of us get creativity cramps. We trade in creativity for dogma.”
Young lamented pastors and laypeople who feel they are sleepwalking through life because of embracing the same daily rituals.
They mistakenly reason that a different marital relationship, better-paying occupation or new climate would change life for the better, he said. But their real problem, Young insisted in an address at Kentucky Baptists’ evangelism conference Feb. 23, is neglecting creativity.
He said his church goes to great lengths to put this gift into practice.
When it moved to a new home three miles from the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, the church painted a 150-by-45-foot logo atop its building. Not only does it attract the attention of flyers, Fellowship Church has been featured on “Good Morning America” and in publications like The New York Times and USA Today.
Stunts like bringing sheep on stage while preaching on the 23rd Psalm also attract attention. So do drama, multimedia shows and videotapes — a favorite element of Young’s sermons.
Thanks to connections in the baseball world, he once taped major leaguers talking about the designated hitter — an illustration of the roles played by members of blended families.
On another occasion, a crew filmed him ordering a meal at McDonald’s. He compared that to “drive-through Christians” who cruise through church for a quick serving of grace but who never commit to serve.
But Young said innovation doesn’t require the same resources as Fellowship, which attracts 7,300 people on Sundays.
In 1990, with 150 members meeting in rented space, he carried a blender on stage to illustrate blended families. For a message on the body as the Holy Spirit’s temple, he heaped up the sugar and salt in the average diet to demonstrate the harm of overeating.
“You don’t have to have cash to be creative,” he said, recalling the time he passed out Juicy Fruit gum after speaking on the fruit of the Spirit. “That’s an illusion.”
Young answered three questions about creativity:
— Why be creative? Because God invented it, he said, reading about the creation of the earth, while Ephesians 5:1 calls Christians to be imitators of God. Jesus modeled creativity, using illustrations and stories to drive home a point, he said.
People also need it, Young added, referring to a statistic that 74 percent of people are visual learners.
“They’re begging for it,” he said. “They want to hear (Bible truths) in compelling, authentic and creative ways. God used a piece of fruit with Adam and Eve, salt with Lot, a boat with Noah … and ultimately a cross with the world.”
— Where should Christians be creative? Wherever they are involved in relationships, he said, ranging from marriage to the local church. The Bible is exciting, so if people hear a boring message they should blame the messenger instead of God, he said.
Saying some might suspect his motives as the leader of a “seeker-sensitive” church targeting young people, Young admonished pastors to employ their unique talents in bringing new life to sermons.
“Don’t get off on this style stuff,” he said. “Preach and teach this message filtered through your creative style and let God do what he will with it.”
Many churchgoers have an incomplete picture of God, Young said. Some think he is like a grandfather; others see him rewarding his children with riches; and others as simply a sword carrier, Young said.
In an effort to round out these pictures, he recently preached a series on the nature and character of God. He showed how God also believes in work, purpose and value.
— How can Christians be creative? Ask God to enhance your creativity, Young said. He mentioned his surprise in reviewing his prayer journal and realizing how often he has made that request.
Pastors must also take action to become more creative, he said. Associate with creative people and take time during the day to do the hard work of thinking, Young advised.
Finally, he suggested using the “confusion principle.” He learned it from his personal trainer, who kept changing his workout routine every few weeks. When he asked why, the trainer said he wanted to confuse the muscles because they get used to the same workout and don’t grow.
“Boom! That’s churches!” Young said. “If you confuse them, they’ll grow.”

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  • Ken Walker