Sabbath and Creativity

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Published:
April 5, 2019

The Sabbath is much more than a memorial of Adam and Eve and Eden. First and foremost, Sabbath is a celebration of the creativity within the heart of God.[1] He is always the center of every doctrine. Creativity captures the heartbeat of the Trinity better than almost any other divine attribute besides love.

The denomination’s 20th Fundamental Belief ends with the following statement: “Joyful observance of this holy time from evening to evening, sunset to sunset, is a celebration of God’s creative and redemptive acts.”[2] That is certainly a valuable insight, but more important than celebrating God’s acts is celebrating God Himself. It is the Godhead’s inherent creativity that gave birth to everything good throughout the universe.

The truth about God’s creativity, that the Sabbath highlights, cannot be revealed to others by word alone. To have credibility, creativity must also be seen in the lives of both members and churches. Otherwise how we live will contradict our words as followers of Christ.

Sabbath can become compartmentalized where we treat it as a stand-alone event with no particular relationship to the rest of the week. But biblically, the other six days of the week are built upon the values contained within the seventh, one of the most prominent of which is creativity.

To use an analogy, Sabbath is not simply one story in a seven-story building. It is, instead, more like the foundation on which the rest of the building stands. Sabbath-keeping is not just about how to spend a day, it is about how to spend a life.

The first angel’s message of Revelation 14:7 states, “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water” (Revelation 14:7 NKJV). We honor and worship “Him who made” not only by keeping a day but also by very intentionally making creativity a core characteristic of our lives.     

When we become a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, we also become co-creators with God. People who keep Sabbath well say, “I am now going to approach life in innovative and unconventional ways in order to reflect the life of my Lord. I am going to put on new spiritual glasses and see myself now as an inventor, a discoverer, an explorer.”

Creativity is not a quality that only applies to artists. Because we are made in the image of God, we all contain the Holy Spirit inspired ability to create. Our paintings may look like the scrawlings of a monkey. Our attempt to play a musical instrument may sound like a bird call on steroids. Nonetheless, we can all be individually creative at things like spirituality, cooking, problem solving, child raising, interior decorating, cleaning, gardening, work, strategic planning, vacation planning, money management, conflict management, time management, service to the community, relationships, exercise, teaching, research, and on and on.

Sabbath-keeping churches are also committing themselves to highly valuing creativity as well. Congregations that are stuck in a rut, who resist Holy Spirit-inspired change, are not good Sabbath-keepers. A Sabbath-keeping church that is uncreative is an oxymoron.

Congregations need to hold firm to biblical beliefs and principles, but also eagerly embrace inventive change that allows them to remain relevant to member’s needs and the needs of their communities. Tragically, our young people, especially, are flocking away from churches they feel are out of touch, that are more like museums than paragons of cutting edge messaging, relationships, and service.

One of the main reasons so many Adventist members and churches do not welcome or seek out change and innovation is that creativity has largely been bred out of us by too many well-intentioned, one-size-fits-all, initiatives from denominational leadership. For decades the organization has mistaken uniformity for unity, which has robbed us of our God-given, creative destiny. Originality has been leached away by dictums from higher up the denominational food chain that specify, “You’re all going to do the same thing in the same way.” My focus here is on methods and procedures rather than beliefs and policies that are clearly in line with biblical principles.

I am old enough to remember the hallowed days of “Ingathering.” For decades it was handed down and mandated for all pastors and congregations across the country.

I pastored in the 1970s during the heyday of this national fundraising strategy. I apologize to anyone who loved Ingathering, but by the time it filtered down to my local congregations it had become an annual misery.

It is my understanding that the funds raised through Ingathering started out as a bonus to the denominational budget (extra). However, it later became part of the budget which dramatically ratcheted up the pressure. To make sure that every pastor complied, our conference published a weekly “List of Shame” that contained the names of the pastors whose churches got their goal and those who didn’t. Our particular conference even threatened to not approve any time off for the Christmas holidays until we raised every penny.

In those days, churches were given a goal of $25 for each church member to be raised in November and December. We were expected to get the money by organizing congregants into groups and territory. Some lucky people provided transportation while other members bundled up and went house to house.

I distinctly remember one frigid, blustery Sunday when a football game involving my favorite team was being televised at 3:00 p.m. With way too much Ingathering goal left to raise, I felt compelled to schedule another foray into the community that same afternoon at 2:00 p.m. If no one showed, I got to go home, guilt free, and tune in.

1:55 – no one.

2:00 – no one.

2:05 – no one.

2:20 – no one! I started to lock up.

2:25 – Two very senior citizens slowly maneuvered their dark colored Dodge into the church driveway. Resignedly, I trudged out to meet them. They rolled down the driver’s side window and said cheerily, “Hi pastor, we want to drive.” 

As the years went by, fewer and fewer members participated and the money got harder and harder to raise. I often mused, “Why does leadership seem to be far more concerned about us going into the community to get money than to serve.” Alas, that misery has now gone the way of the horse and buggy.

Uniformity was also too often imposed when it came to evangelism. I remember cringing when I heard one of our conference leaders say, “We want every church to hold evangelistic meetings this Fall.” It was like telling farmers, “I want every one of you to harvest tomatoes this Fall,” with no regard for whether or not there had been any seed sowing, watering, weeding, fertilizing, etc. With no regard for the kind of soil or weather conditions they were dealing with.

It took so much time and energy to comply with leadership’s mandate, that we had little vitality left for other outreach initiatives. We didn’t get brownie points for anything less than baptisms anyway. 

Uniformity also showed up in the prescribed services on Sabbath morning. I recall members who were outraged if we didn’t follow the denominational manual on what to do during the Sabbath School Preliminaries. I also remember one of our denominational leaders commenting to me, “Isn’t it wonderful that I can go to any Adventist church anywhere in the world and know exactly what the order of the worship service is going to be?” He was willing to sacrifice creativity on the altar of uniformity.

The suffocating effects of uniformity were also manifest in having every adult Sabbath School class around the world study the very same General Conference-generated lesson each week. It is certainly a useful resource. But what most likely developed from good motives and positive intentions, eventually became a bulwark against any other approach. Anytime I talked about studying something that was more relationally oriented, I was met with aghast stares and stern resistance. There should have been a thousand different creative ways of doing adult Sabbath School across the United States. Instead, leadership has put use of the Sabbath School Quarterly on a par with doctrine. 

Other examples of imposed uniformity could be sited. Such a strategy has done lasting damage because it robbed us of the local creativity that should be the very hallmark of a people who venerate the seventh day.

The Lord knew that the poison of uniformity can result in inflexibility, intolerance, and distrust. Therefore, He gave us the Sabbath as a clarion call to break free, shed our old constrictive thinking, and strive to become known, collectively, as some of the most creative people on the planet. Sabbath’s call to creativity reminds us of the need to provide an open, accepting atmosphere where people are encouraged to ask questions, make mistakes, and think outside the box.

During the past several years, the approach of mandating sameness in methods and processes appeared to substantially recede. Sparks of creativity started to glow. Flames of innovation were igniting in the church more widely than ever.

But then came the five Compliance Committees from the General Conference in 2018. In terms of creativity, they are like taking a fire hose to all those sparks and flames of innovation. They have a chilling effect that is sure to set congregational creativity back many years if they are allowed to continue.

The five Compliance Committees are, in fact, just the opposite of what true Sabbath-keeping is all about. Simply bringing them into existence promotes a culture of threat and public shaming which is the opposite of what creativity requires. The five Compliance Committees represent a God of domination and uniformity rather than a God of boundless innovation and empowerment. Their mere presence therefore represents a major hindrance to the proclamation of the Three Angels’ Messages, which include the Sabbath at the very core.

“In The Art of the Idea, John Hunt states, ‘Fear might be a strong catalyst for entrenching obedience, but it’s a lousy motivator for fresh thinking.’”[3] In her book, The Change Masters: Innovation & Entrepreneurship in the American Corporation, Rosabeth Moss Kanter lists “10 Rules for Stifling Innovation.” Rule #6 states, “Control everything, carefully.”[4]

The five Compliance Committees were clearly established to “control everything, carefully.” As such, they form a serious road block to the call to creativity that is at the heart of our denomination’s purpose.

To be faithful to the spirit of Sabbath, I urge members and churches to stand up and live out their high calling of reflecting the creative heart of God. I also urge leaders to push back against anything that hinders widespread creativity and embark on a strategy that fosters originality and innovation among members and congregations in every possible way.

 

Notes & References:

[1] Seventh-day Adventists Believe: A Biblical Exposition of 27 Fundamental Doctrines, (Washington, D.C., Ministerial Association, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1988) 248

[2] https://szu.adventist.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/28_Beliefs.pdf

[3] Tony Vengrave, “How to Stifle Innovation,” intrepidNOW, https://intrepidnow.com/business/how-to-stifle-innovation/

[4] Ibid.

 

Kim Johnson retired in 2014 as the Undertreasurer of the Florida Conference. He and his wife Ann live in Maitland, Florida. Kim has written a number of articles for SDA journals plus three books published by Pacific Press: The GiftThe Morning, and The Team. He has also written three sets of small group lessons for churches that can be viewed at www.transformyourchurch.com. He is also the author of eight "Life Guides" on CREATION Health.

Photo by Skye Studios on Unsplash

 

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