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I’m at Willow Creek’s annual Arts Conference, which is entitled “ARISE” this year. The vision is that God uses arts and artists to help pull us out of the muck of our darkness and brokenness and into his light and healing. So, we’ve come together to be inspired and equipped to be artists who are more in tune with the heart of God and the work that he is doing in our world. I’ve been excited about attending this conference for a while and now it’s here. I’ve actually never been to Willow Creek before. The only thing I have to say is that it is nearly “too much for my eyes,” to quote a man from New Guinea after seeing another mega-church in the Chicagoland area. I’ll try and give a run down of the week’s events.

Day 1 – Session 1

The conference opened up with a fantastic drumline sequence. Already, I was blown away by the auditorium and stage that Willow has at their disposal. About 10 African-American guys and girls gave quite a mesmerizing drum performance on stage. It was fun to see a non-traditional art form (for the Church) kick things off. It got our hearts beating to a similar rhythm, that’s for sure.

Willow’s worship band transitioned smoothly in right at the tail end of the drum beats. They have a nice, inconspicuous three-tiered transient stage for their band. Very modest. J Seriously, though, this band was amazing. I loved that they had a diverse group of musicians and a diverse worship set to match. It was a very eclectic time of worship with many different instruments and vocal expressions. I deeply appreciate that. I am quite tired of the standard rock band worship set. My two favorite moments were when an African-American female started freestyling for a call to worship at the beginning of the song “Everyday” and the other moment was a very soulful, beautiful rendition of the Doxology (Praise God from whom all blessings flow) by an African-American man. I was quite impressed by this talented worship band. They did an incredible job. They were sharp, not showy and rooted in the awesomeness of God in their song selection (i.e. the songs were more about God than us).

Nancy Beach, arts director at Willow Creek, started things off after the drummers. We walked through Psalm 40 (the Message) together, particularly the first few verses – “He lifted me out of the ditch, pulled me from the deep mud”, “He stood me up on a solid rock to make sure I wouldn’t slip”, “I waited and waited and waited for God”, “He taught me how to sing the latest God-song, a praise song to our God.” She did a great job of ushering us into a time of interaction, reflection, silence, prayer, journaling, confession and rejoicing and it really laid the foundation for the theme of the conference – ARISE.

We also witnessed a fairly well-done drama during this session, during our reflection on “He lifted me out of the ditch.” The drama was based on Romans 7:18-19, where Paul reveals the everyman inside. The drama specifically highlighted the struggles of three people in job ethics, pornography and food/body image disorders. The lyrics of the drama’s closing song were:

“I do not want to do what I’m about to do, but I cannot stop. I’d gladly trade my nothing for your everything. I just get so scared that I might drown. I never saw my shadow until I saw the light. I need more light to drown it out…Hope casts me headlong into you.”

As Nancy was finishing, she stressed the importance of recording or transcribing new believers’ stories in our churches. She introduced a man from their church and a live video-drama performance that was really impressive. There was an interpretive/break-dance to match the video retelling of a man’s journey from success to prison to Christ. It was powerful.

A couple closing thoughts:

“If we aren’t careful, we will create (or "do ministry") more out of memory than out of imagination.”

“What are we doing to proclaim new songs to our assembly?”

“Are we painting the fullest picture of God (that we know of) through our worship and teaching? Don’t conceal anything.”


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