Carlos Whittaker (@loswhit) on Creativity & Divinity

This past Sunday, Carlos Whittaker (@loswhit) led us in worship.  Carlos is one of our regular worship leaders here at The Crossing and refers to us as his “Vegas Church.” It’s always an incredible weekend when Carlos is with us drawing people into worship and our church community truly looks forward to having him with us.

We asked him to take a moment and share some thoughts on Creativity in the church context. Here’s what he had to say… specifically about Creativity & Divinity.

Watch. Engage. Share.

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When Viral Meets Vivid: Weekend Recap (Messy Grace Wk. 3) Feb. 21

 

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Don’t be oblivious. Ever.

You’re church can’t afford it.

Over the last week a video of Monte Williams, basketball coach has caught fire / “gone viral” as he shared at the funeral of his wife. It’s a tragic story surrounding her passing leaving him with five children. But his strength, faith, and confidence in God provided a platform in the midst of this tragedy to demonstrate God on a huge platform. So huge in fact, that NBA on TNT played the entirety of his words without interruption, leaving even Charles Barkley speechless.

It came on our the radar Saturday afternoon. Based on our topic (Romans 8:28), within minutes and with a few phone calls it was added to the conclusion of the message this weekend. And it was such a powerful, unplanned and timely way to communicate the message of hope in the midst of real circumstances.

This reiterates the ongoing principle:

Be engaged with what it happening in your world
to give hope to those dealing with our world.

It was awesome to have Carlos Whitaker leading as well. We closed out the message with Monte’s video and King and Country’s “Shoulders” done by Carlos with our Music Director Michelle adding in some glockenspiel (nailed the spelling!) to put a period on the message.

Set List:

Only King Forever

Trust It All

Ever Be

Special: Shoulders

How He Loves

Weekend Run Sheet:

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Night of Worship Recap

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This past week our team tackled a Night of Worship for Ash Wednesday.  We generally plan a Night of Worship about 2-3 times per year, but we always make sure we have one for Ash Wednesday.  At The Crossing we have people from all kinds of faith backgrounds, and we’ve generally found that Ash Wednesday is a moment to lean into where people’s hearts are open to what God may have to say.

This year, our theme was “The Whisper of God.”  We were inspired by one of our teammates that shared a sales technique that draws people in to listen.  There’s something about a whisper that gets people interested in what one has to say… as if it were a secret or something extremely exclusive. All of this got us thinking about how God speaks to His people, and how when we pay attention to His voice… we lean in to listen. From this general idea, we planned the service in three movements:

STOP (Pause)

LISTEN (Whisper)

RESPOND (Reflect)

We opened the service with the following video from Igniter:

Then, we followed that with three up tempo songs.  But after the greeting and welcome, we transitioned into the second movement of “Listen.”

It’s at this point, that we shared the story of Elijah and the Cave in which God spoke to him in a still, small voice… we had someone share this story of what they had written live on stage with video of a cave behind them. Here’s what they shared:

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There are moments where we might find ourselves at our lowest… Desperate for the voice of God.  During those times it can feel like God is no where to be found… Completely silent in our time of need. 

The prophet Elijah once found himself in such a place.  He felt isolated and alone… As if he was the only person among his peers seeking God. And with a death threat looming over his head from queen Jezebel and the dread of another day making it alone … he found himself in a cave much like this…. Wishing death would find him.

During his isolation in the cave, Elijah heard three noisy and destructive things: 

1. Wind

2. Earthquake

3. Fire

Yet in all of these destructive forces, God was absent… Again, no where to be found.

Yet after the fire… there was something else. Something completely contrasting in volume:  A still… small… voice.  A whisper.

It was the whisper of God that drew Elijah out of the cave of isolation and into the next steps of his calling. 

Like Elijah, in our desperation to hear from God during confusing times, we might look deep into the noise around us only to find it void of God.  The distractions around us in daily life might draw our attention away from what we really need to pay attention to. 

It’s easy to experience the wind, earthquakes, and the fire around us. Hearing the whisper takes something else.

God beckons us to lean in…  listen… All it takes is the power of a whisper and the willingness to listen closely to draw us out of isolation and despair. 

The question is… Are we listening?

Following two more songs, we had an original spoken word.

Here’s the spoken word text:

You’ve heard of it right? That hole in your soul
You’ve felt it right? That longing for more
That insatiable thirst we can try to ignore
Or indulge in everything, anything
Trying so hard to quench it, but failing
Failing to be truly filled
Always one step from perfect
But our hopes always killed
You know, it’s been said hope deferred makes the heart sick
Still we continually give in to sin’s vicious little trick
lie after lie feeding the hope that sin will satisfy
Then we’re crushed when we realize we’re still empty inside
So God knocks on our hearts saying “I’m all that you need”
While we think our desires are what we need to feed
Because they scream and they pull at us forcing our attention
Why would we hear the whisper of grace filled affection
While we’re searching our world for answers, we find questions
While seeking fulfillment, we find ourselves restless
So right where you find yourself, pause now and listen
A voice whispers to you, a love beyond comprehension
The words He whispers to you won’t be whispered to me
Because He loves you uniquely, He knows what you need
He knows your desires, and the passions of your heart
When we don’t know what to do, He knows where to start
So put all your troubles and fears at His feet
Let’s listen awhile and invite Him to speak
With a desire to know Him, Let His presence fill the airz
Let’s welcome Him here as we pause and prepare

This transitioned into a time of communion.  In order to allow as many people as possible to simply enjoy the night and focus on God, we did not serve communion like we usually do utilizing our Guest Services Team.  We wanted those that normally serve to just come and participate like everyone else… so we purchased self-serve communion and encouraged everyone to pick it up on their way in, saving it for this moment in the service.

Our Senior Pastor took a moment near the close to give an Ash Wednesday Challenge… His specific challenge was to encourage everyone to create space in their lives for God to move and transform them this Lenten season.

Learnings:

1.  There are moments where people are more open than usual to listen to God. The obvious ones are Christmas or Easter, but Ash Wednesday is another.  Do not let the moment slip by, but rather help create a moment where God may intersect in people’s lives. They will respond. This is especially true for those who have a liturgical background in their lives and it allows them to return to those roots.

2.  Take people on a journey.  Do not just throw a service together; think the movements through.  They will respond. The emotional journey will connect and lead to a spiritual place.

3.  It’s important to remember those that faithfully serve others during worship services. Give them the opportunity to worship freely.

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Inspiration from Matthew McConaughey …Weekend Rundown (Messy Grace Wk. 2) Feb. 14th

As the creative process winds through the life of your church, there will be moments where you lean back into previous elements that have a “brand” of their own. This weekend we did just that with an element from last year’s summer series, “Wisdom”.  A spoof of the Matthew McConaughey Lincoln car commercials became an ongoing element of that series so we resurrected it as part of Valentines weekend.

Side Note: Humor is always a tricky element to add to any service. It’s a wildcard as to the response or effectiveness. So be warned…tread carefully.

Here’s our version:

This weekend we choose to put a “period” on the message by using the song “Captain” (Hillsongs) as our theme focused around being led of the Spirit. As a part of this closing special, we used some additional staging (blue lights surrounding our main vocalist) as well as the stock lyric loop from Hillsongs displayed on our center split screen which was also located behind the vocalist. The combined effect with additional blue lighting (ocean/waves feel) gave us the moment we desired.  We leaned into simple as the song itself packed the desired punch.

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Set List:

This Is Amazing Grace

Open Up Our Eyes

No Longer Slaves

Good Good Father

Special: Captain

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“2/4/6” and the Power of Consistent Creativity

Sunday is always coming.

The biggest challenge for any church wanting to lean more heavily into creative communication and art is the demand it places on the team and the level of planning required to be effective.  But a word of caution:

If your team is not prepared for the pain of disciplined planning,
don’t even think about embracing the creative.

So many creative cultures are built around the principles of sense and scramble. The team senses there is an idea somewhere percolating and then scrambles to execute the underdeveloped concept.

What is the biggest threat to preemptive planning?  Success.

Every idea that a team executes last minute with a any degree of success pushes the need for real contemplative, collaborative planning further down the strategic priority list. The team becomes a victim of its own giftings. The stronger the team, the more likely they will be to leave too much to the urgency of the last moment, which in the long run will potentially be that team’s demise.  When an idea crashes and burns, egos and personality differences will be to blame and not the lack of planning.

The opposite approach, one with systematic planning, is actually the more effective strategy in getting great ideas to come to life.  Assign owners with a real time frame for completion, and plan thoroughly and consistently.  And when that brilliant last-minute idea surfaces, there is adequate space for it to be pulled off.

Last minute moments:

  1. Should be the exception, not the rule.
  2. Should be so brilliant that you can’t help but do everything possible to make it happen would be.
  3. Should leave the team feeling inspired and accomplished, not sweaty and bitter.

One of our key disciplines to assist with disciplined planning and allow for last minute moments of inspiration is our 2-4-6 Programming Flow.

Very simple. Very powerful. Very productive.

Each week at our weekly creative programming gathering (note: weekly….) we produce a flow sheet that puts all the pertinent information in front of our team and a roadmap for our discussion. Yes, it is something that could be located online (evernote, google docs, etc) but we have found having the physical sheet allows for one glance interaction, and its a great place to doodle and jot down ideas on the fly.

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Sample 2-4-6 Programming Flow Sheet

Sample 2-4-6 Programming Flow Sheet

Within that flow we use green, yellow, and red color coding. These colors are mental barriers for us in our collaborative conversation.

Weeks 1-2 Green : We know that these weeks are staring us in the face. Creative elements can still be tweaked and adjusted, but they should be in full execution mode. Any challenges or changes that need to happen, any decisions that need to made are approached with a “green” mindset. Those calls must be made now.  These conversations are often brief and minimal in our programming meetings. Our production and music teams are usually deep into these elements and those detail conversations happen in another context.
**Our goal here is full execution in a way that makes the moment and creates adequate space for God to move while communicating clearly the message of the day.

Week 3-4 Yellow: These weeks usually receive the bulk of our focus and creative conversation. Within days they will be moving into the green (execution) category so these elements must begin to be locked in. There will be additional conversations in the coming weeks, but those conversations will happen as the weekend is moving up the flow and up the timeline. Ideas are laid in and details to these ideas are discussed from a yellow perspective.
**Our goal here is to start tightening up ideas and prepare for execution.

Week 5-6 Red: Five to six weeks off seems like an eternity in the programming world, but time moves at a light speed. However, the early creative conversations can bring relieve the stress sure to come. We realize that these weekends will be discussed 3-4 more times before they move fully into green. For this reason, we have wide conversations around this week and are more likely to quickly lay in placeholders (songs, potential video elements, takeaways) that may never actually come to full fruition. Many of the red ideas get flushed out during the yellow stage and take on a completely different form as they arrive at green. **Our goal here is to simply get ideas down on the page.

2-4-6 Learnings:

  • A disciplined, structured process will allow for the undisciplined, crazy, chaotic flow of ideas that birth the best ideas and elements.
  • A planning structure is only effective if it is INTENTIONAL and CONSISTENT. Only gathering when there is urgency will not produce any sustainable traction for your team.
  • Structure will bring to light new creative frontiers that will inspire your team to dig deeper into fresh thoughts.
  • Those responsible for the execution and creation of elements will be the biggest fans of clear process. What they produce will be substantially stronger as a result of these early conversations.
  • Ideas thrive in an environment that is facilitated by the time to incubate, develop, and grow.

Whatever structure or intentional format works best for you…initiate it.
Stick to it, and improve upon it.

A consistent, intentional process will bring about substantial, sustainable creativity.

What is your process?
What learnings has your team made in the pursuit of strong systems?

Weekend Rundown: Creative Crashing…and Recovery (Wk. 1 Messy Grace)

This weekend our team kicked off a new series called “Messy Grace,” which is a six week exposition and study of Romans 8. Emerging from our questions series in January, our teaching team felt this was a natural transition as many of those tough topics leaned into our need for and the presence of…grace.

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We started this series with a few changes, and each had a series of intended and unintended consequences:

1.  This past weekend was Super Bowl Sunday (our condolences to anyone that’s not a Broncos fan), so we moved our Sunday night service to Saturday night.  At The Crossing, we embrace the fact that many people are going to watch the Super Bowl so we adjusted our services accordingly. Historically we don’t do a huge “Super Bowl” event or lean into it as far as theme. Most of our folks, especially in Vegas, have big plans for the game and watching the game at church is not one of them. Instead, we encourage them to make the weekend worship experience part of their Super Weekend. Shifting our service times is a part of that strategy.

2.  One of our core values as a team is diversity. We lean into this consistently in the worship. One way we do that is to regularly switch things up and have an acoustic set of worship.  We made that choice for this weekend. Because of the Super Bowl, the weekend was already a bit different, so we took some time to make the feel of the service different as well. We cleared the risers and placed the whole worship team of six people towards the front of the stage for a more intimate feel. The idea was similar to a concert feel when the band breaks it down and goes small. On the risers behind the band, we made quick light fixtures of various heights by using mic stands, some gaff tape and Edison bulbs (Purchased at Lowes or Home Depot). The look and feel of the set was definitely intimate.

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3.  We decided to change up our set also by simply lowering our center screen to the floor and raising the mod scene set piece that was above. This would accomplish two things:  1. Change the look slightly as we shifted series without a major set overhaul.  2. Give us an environmental backdrop for both our acoustic set and for our speaker. We decided after making the shift to leave it for the duration of this next series before Easter.

4. We decided to tackle an art piece that would help capture the big idea of “messy grace.”

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The initial idea was to use a product called “Never Wet’ to prepaint the world GRACE onto canvases. The effect would be created when the paint was applied and repelled by the never wet surfaces leaving the letters revealed. We had seen the technique used and felt confident it would lead to a poignant moment and a bit of the “Ahhh” factor.  Here’s how it all went down and the challenges we faced (and mistakes along the way). Continue reading “Weekend Rundown: Creative Crashing…and Recovery (Wk. 1 Messy Grace)”

Reflect: Why We Do What We Do

Ever walked at night to pray?  The night sky in the desert is such a sight to see, especially when the moon is involved.  A full moon in the desert lights up everything with a mystical blue glow.

The moon has always been a fascinating part of the night sky.  It does not produce any light of it’s own, yet the moon rules the night sky in brilliance.  In the midst of millions of stars that do produce their own light, the moon shines brightest in the night sky.  It’s secret, of course, is that the moon reflects the light of our closest star – the sun.

Yet the moon holds another secret.  Ever noticed that the moon always looks the same?  Meaning… ever noticed that we can only see the same side of the moon at all times?  This is because the moon is in perfect synchronous rotation with the earth.  In other words, the moon is rotating about its axis in about the same time it takes to orbit the Earth.  Therefore we not only see the light of the sun reflected, we also see it in perfect synchronicity with the rotation of the earth.

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There is something here for us to learn from the moon concerning reflection and the creative process:

Reflect not Project

1.  We must understand the importance of our role as a creative team and not diminish it, yet at the same time we must not overstep our role.  “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).  We are not the light, but we can certainly reflect His light.  That’s our role… to simply reflect His character.  Light reveals what’s hidden in the dark.  The Spirit brings conviction; we do not.  If we were to try to bring conviction on our own, it would be manipulation. In fact, any time we try to do what only God can do, the result is manipulation.   Continue reading “Reflect: Why We Do What We Do”