Reflections from 10 years ago

Posted on June 9, 2009



It was the summer of 1998. After a 36 hour van trip, I arrived at Willow Creek Church with 7 other arts volunteers from my church in Dallas, Texas. It was Willow’s 1st arts conference and my first to ever step on the enormous campus. At that time, no one else was doing arts conferences, so I had no idea what to expect. A simple road trip, with 7 of my friends, would turn into one of the most powerful experiences of my life.

I had been a volunteer for several years and just accepted the staff role of Creative Arts Director. I had to make up this role because I didn’t know of anyone else doing this at any other church. My years of developing the arts can only be described as trial and error. So often I wished someone could provide resources to help me build the arts community in my church. For the short three days at the conference, I was exposed to a lot and experienced a broad range of emotions, many of which I have forgotten. However, there were a few principles I would take with me that would irrevocably change my life forever.

Arts Director Nancy Beach and the other speakers did a masterful job at communicating God’s truths, inspiring through the arts, and challenging us to believe in our place in the church. Like many artist, I have always felt like a misfit and misunderstood in my community. Sitting up front, I vividly remember for the first time feeling like I belonged in the church. I felt empowered to not just survive but to lead. I finally had a vision to not only inspire those that would sit in the seats of my church but to inspire the leadership as well. What I was doing was a noble cause and worth living for. The realization would set me on a compelling trajectory for the next 10 years of ministry. You never know the impact and potential of one experience or one moment in time. However, not all of my experiences that week were positive.

As I worked through all the main sessions and multiple workshops, I slowly started to feel the anxiety of what I was really getting myself into. I was flooded with all I needed to work on and all of the deficiencies of my arts team. It was almost paralyzing. Self doubt soon pursued as I asked myself, ‘how can I possibly champion the arts with my lack of gifting, lack of money, and lack of time. Was I being set up to fail? The empowerment and paralysis led to fearful turmoil in my leadership.  I was overwhelmed.

About the same time, my wife and I purchased our first home. It was a small, quaint little dwelling that would be the starting point for our marriage. I then began the hobby of gardening. Having no idea what I was doing, I spent many hours in the hot sun planting, watering, and pruning. There were many plant casualties as a result of my amateur hands. Often times, I was frustrated, sun burnt, and discouraged. Cultivating was hard and took time. Despite many failures, a few plants did survive. And to my surprise, some thrived into a magnificent spectrum of color and foliage. Even with my inadequacies and inexperience, I would have never had imagined something so beautiful could emerge from so much failure.

The arts movement at your church also takes a lot of cultivating. The Willow Arts Conference is a place to gain practical training to learn how to plant seeds, how to fertilize, and how to prune your arts ministry and movement at your church. I came to a point in my arts career when I realized that I couldn’t force the growth. I could only create the right conditions for it to happen. Many attempts failed, but by God’s grace, some bloomed into unbelievable artistic fruits within my ministry. Cultivating means there are no short cuts and no easy way out. You have to plant seed by seed and be faithful day by day.

So you may leave the arts conference feeling inadequate and overwhelmed. That’s okay. Here is the next step and the key to success for the future;

Creative leadership focuses more on movement than destination.

You have no idea what you and your ministry are capable of. Don’t limit yourself with a predetermined path for the future and the steps of getting there. With some movement and some time, God will reveal the destination of your ministry. What you need to focus on right now is the getting out in the sun, planting seeds, and you must believe nature will take its course. You will be surprised by the fruits of your labor.

 Today, I can say that by the grace of God, I am living in a lush artistic garden despite my mistakes, selfishness, and failures. I couldn’t grow it but I could start it. It all started 10 years ago at my first Willow Arts conference. My prayer for you is that you will be able to write a story similar as mine 10 years from now. If you cultivate, you surely will.