An unschooled church


On a recent airing of the TED Radio Hour Sir Ken Robinson, an author and brilliant thinker on all things related to creativity and education, had this to say:

"Well, creativity is probably the most fundamental set of capacities that distinguishes us as human beings. And from it flows a whole range of practical capacities that we call creativity.

"… in schools … the whole emphasis is on the one right answer; where imaginative thinking is actively discouraged … conformity affectively stifles creative thinking in every field.

"… if you're promoting an education where there's only one right answer … that's hardly a good climate for cultivating the powers of creativity and innovation."

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Robinson's comments are striking, salient, and not just because they pin the American education style to the wall. They are striking because they reflect so much truth about God and His church. (See the video clip below for Robinson's complete talk titled "Do schools kill creativity.")

Much has been written about the church imitating culture. Some of that focuses on morality or ethics and some points to a business-style management of churches. Let me add this to the list: The church imitates the education system. We do this in our calendars, our pulpits, and the teaching of our children (and occasionally in the church kitchen, too, sadly.)

The traditional American church, of which I am a product, smacks of the very thing Robinson pinpoints: We squelch creativity by our insistence on form and right answers. So much of the teaching is a one-way, one-lane road from authority figure to congregant consisting solely of spoken propositional truths. The burden of absorption lies heavy on the listener, no matter his learning style.

But why should this be? We are a body of people who have that very quality Robinson refers to as that which "distinguishes us as human beings." That is to say, we are made in the image of a creator God. We acknowledge unique human giftedness as a concept, but where is it expressed in the church? When the pastor preaches and the Sunday school teacher teaches, what is the visual or tactile learner to do? Just as the school system ought to revolutionize its methods to de-emphasize fact-hording and answer-mongering, so must the church.

We must develop a style that is conducive to various gifts by including expressions and exemplifications of God beyond simply lessons and songs. Even more importantly, we must create an atmosphere where "wrong answers" are accepted, not as truth, but in order to initiate a process that leads to the embracing of truth. We cannot give the figurative red "X." Being graded in people's minds for "right answers, participation, or attendance must go.

We are created as creatives, each of us in our own way. And the church should reflect this. God made us varied, so the church must create varied opportunities for people to both lead and learn. Let us not remain a standardized, answer-driven institution that squelches our innate creativity.

Barnabas Piper
Barnabas Piper

Barnabas works for Lifeway Christian Resources and is the author of The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity and Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not the Enemy of Faith. He and his wife live in the Nashville area with their two daughters. Follow Barnabas on Twitter @BarnabasPiper.


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