Friday, June 13, 2008

Willow Wrap-Up

This morning we attended the concluding 2 sessions of the Arts Conference. It was an awesome morning. Our whole team was a little sleepy throughout the day, but the 2 speakers today were some of the best of the conference (I think).

  • Kendall Payne did a short conference. I haven't heard much from her recently, but really enjoyed her songs. She did bust out "Supermodels" - which was fun. I think my favorite song was one called, "Prayer." I need to look up the lyrics/look for it on iTunes.

  • Dr. Richard Allen Farmer spoke and gave a tour inside the artist's brain. He quoted Harold Best's book "Unceasing Worship" twice - which is one of my favorite books on worship. He challenged artists to be craftsmen/women with words. As he concluded, he challenged us to let serious theological thought inform our art. Really great.

  • The final session had another worship set led by the Willow team. Then Francis Chan spoke. It was my personal highlight of the conference.

(Edit: I'm posting this even though I never really finished my thoughts.)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Willow Day #2

Another good day at Willow - this one started and finished strong (with some extreme randomness in the middle). It was breakout day - which is always a little scary. I try to go into it with low expectations - only because my experience at most conferences (including Willow) is that breakout sessions are hit and miss. That...was the case today.

Some notes from the "hits" -

Breakout #1: "A Biblical Model for Worship and the Arts" - Ross Parsley

Even though Daniel teased me about attending this class (something about already having a degree in that area) - I am glad I went to this one. I'd heard Ross Parsley at a conference last summer, and I really appreciated his approach to ministry. I think I'd also written something on previous arts conference evaluations about needing something like this; they made it a main breakout, so I felt like it would be a good one to support. I was not disappointed.

While it is not easy to cover such a big topic in one workshop, I thought his big ideas were really solid and challenging. His first big idea is that God is the initiator - and we respond. That overarching idea will shape the way we approach worship. It won't be something that we feel like we control - but rather, as worship leaders, we'll strive to be usable by God in the action that He is ultimately responsible for. (Sidenote to myself: I think that also affects the content of what we plan for corporate worship - if we present God's Word, God's action - people have something to respond to.)

He issued a challenge to evaluate how we spend our time preparing to lead worship with our teams. Rehearsal/developing skill is important, but without a biblical foundation of why we're doing what we're doing - it's not balanced.

He described a worship ministry pyramid - one that many ministries have upside down.

This was his suggested structure -




Musical Style

Organizational Structure

Ministry Philosophy

Biblical Principles

While I don't know about all the order of the middle of the pyramid, it's hard to argue with the foundation. His recommendation was to look at the team prep time for a worship service - and to spend half the time in rehearsal and half in training about biblical principles. "If we're not careful, we can communicate that skills, songs, etc. are the important thing."

He issued a challenge to teach people stories/Biblical examples of sacrificial praise.,,and to challenge ourselves and them to a sacrificial view of worship.

There was lots more here, but those were my highlights. Good stuff.

I'm going to skip the middle breakouts, and jump to...

Breakout #4: Creativity in Action - Willow Creek Community Church

This session involved viewing a handful of recent creative pieces from Willow. They had 2 programming people talk about their process. I really appreciated the combination of excellent creativity paired with spiritual content. It was refreshing.

They talked about how they have intentionally moved away from fictionalized drama to incorporate more real-life stories/testimonies. I believe their phrase was "the democratization of services." I have seen this to be really effective in our services. I appreciated someone in the class who asked them how they find stories in the congregation to tell. Their answer sounded a lot like what we've had to do: ask the people who naturally connect with people and are likely to have heard peoples' stories.

Another concept in their brainstorming process is "the third choice" (which came from improv comedy). Often the first idea that comes to your mind is the most obvious; the second will be slightly better; however, if you push yourself to pause and think a little bit more, often the next idea will be even better - and more unexpected.

One final tidbit - one of their writers shared how the more detail you put into a story, the more people resonate with it. She phrased it: "universality in specificity."

Tonight we stayed for the Film Festival - which showcased a variety of videos made by churches around the country. Hard to describe it all - but some really cool ideas. I was not surprised to see the humor videos from CCC win big. The grand prize was "Serving Back" - their spoof of a Justin Timberlake song about random acts of kindness. If you've never seen it, here's your chance.

Maybe later I'll have some time to articulate some of the other thoughts that have been brewing today.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Willow Arts Conference

I'm a person who gets excited by traditions. It helps me to have things to look foward to and gives a sense of rhythm to life.

Right now I'm in the middle of my mid-June tradition: attending the Willow Creek Arts Conference (it's #6 in a row for me - crazy). I look forward to being able to worship not up front, see new creative ideas, to be challenged, and to spend extra time with the people I serve alongside.

We just completed day 1 of the conference. It was my goal to blog while here; I think I'm going to do bullet points today (I am sick. again. and medicated.).

  • The first session opened with a drumline - loved their high energy.
  • The opening worship & teaching session was nourishing to my soul. The worship leaders led us really well - very authentic and just a great chance to focus on Who God is and what he's done for us. I loved how expressively Scripture was incorporated. Nancy Beach walked us through Psalm 40 devotionally. Most challenging quote: "If we're not careful, we will do ministry more from memory than from imagination." She also briefly addressed the changes Willow's making to their worship services (re-vamping Wednesday nights and then making Sunday morning seeker-friendly, but a worship service for all stages of believers/seekers). It made me want to hear more about that - because that? Is a pretty big deal.
  • I had my standard Willow conference snack break of Diet Pepsi and Cheez-its. Stellar.
  • Session 2 wins the random award. Opened with a 14-year-old violinist who was incredible. Then Eric Bramlett from CCC and another guy hosted a Rock Band competition. It was entertaining, though - random. Then Nancy Beach interviewed one of the founders of Cirque du Soleil. One of our team members mentioned that they would have liked to hear more from him; it was a rather short interview. The last question asked of him was, "why are the arts important?" He responded along the lines that humans are unique from other animals in their desire to create and imagine. I couldn't help but connect that to the idea that we're made in God's image - and God is the ultimate Creator.
  • The afternoon session featured the Robbie Seay Band leading worship. It was cool to hear them live - I have both albums of theirs. I enjoyed them, though I will confess, I closed my eyes and rested for part of it.
  • As soon as I heard Brian McLaren was speaking, I was anticipating that I would be challenged/stretched/etc. I expected some challenging of traditional theological concepts and models of church. He spoke mostly from his most recent book, "Everything Must Change" - about how the church needs to address the biggest needs in the world. It ended up being less controversial than I anticipated, but rather a good reminder of the concept of holistic spirituality. There were several cool stories/creative ideas woven into that session that I appreciated. This session probably had the most information to chew on/things that challenged me. They had a few people who are involved in fair trade speak - it's pretty challenging to think about the impact of our spending choices on people around the world.
  • Our team shared a lovely evening of PF Changs, a big mall (with a Cubs store that made Josh very excited), and causing a rucus playing the telephone story game at La Quinta.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Family Near & Far

It is unmistakeably summer - it's warm, muggy, and the summer events are officially underway! 2008 holds an exceptionally high number of significant events and cool opportunities for people in my family (immediate & extended).

My sister, Rebekah, is doing an internship in Manhattan with a church plant (aka "living the dream"). She's been there a couple weeks now, and she is blogging at She's an awesome woman with a big heart for God and what He's doing around the world, she's a talented artist, and I'm super proud of her.

Also, my cousin Tim and his wife, Alicia, are spending 2 months working with the urban poor in Nairobi, Kenya (with the organization that our church has been working with over the last year and a half). They're also blogging -

I'm amazed at how the internet allows us to keep up with what's happening all over the world!

Up next: my grandparent's 60th anniversary party next weekend. Sneak preview: some slideshows that the Sandels put together with pictures from their life together. It is humbling to see their example of faithfulness and love.