Wednesday, November 14, 2007

When nougat is more meaningful than God.

When nougat is more meaningful than God.

I read a lot of advertising magazines right now. Part of the reason I do is that I work in that industry, but I also read because I think advertising is an interesting mirror on our society.

Nothing is accidental anymore when it comes to creating messages. It’s all calculated with research and focus groups and persona studies and traffic reports and ROI. Knowing that, when you see an ad it’s fairly safe to assume that something in our culture has created a need for that ad. That is, an ad that talks about how easy it is to get carpet installed was created because a lot of consumers told the advertisers that getting carpet installed was difficult. So that need was met with a new message.

This is why a recent quote in the magazine Communication Arts, frustrated me a little. It wasn’t necessarily the words they used. It was more that their words reflected back on the church and in some ways, me. Here is what they said:

“As traditional institutions, such as government, the church and the schools, fail to provide meaning, consumers will increasingly turn to products and services to find meaning in their lives. Savvy companies that can align themselves with the core values their customers find meaningful, and do so authentically, will prosper in an economy that’s increasingly based on meaning.”

It’s not surprising that advertisers try to create meaning with their customers. Meaning or as the CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi calls it, a “lovemark,” with a customer means they won’t leave your brand. Even if you mess up, as Apple did with their recent iPhone price drop, people will feel too attached to your brand to go somewhere else.

The difficult part of that quote is the idea that the church is failing to provide meaning. As a result, consumers are looking to other products and services for meaning. Like the Luna candy bar. Instead of saying, “Hey, come eat some nougat,” Luna’s website says, “Food feeds our souls …” which is a bit of a stretch. I love Willy’s burritos in Atlanta (don’t mention Moe’s in the same breath) but rarely has a meal there fed my soul.

So then, if the church is failing to provide meaning, what does that mean? What does that look like, why does it matter that millions of dollars is spent every year telling people nougat is more meaningful than God?

The answer to those questions and many others is longer than this post could ever be, but I will say this –sometimes the creative work we develop for the Lord is horrible. The easy example of this is all the milk rip offs, “Got God?, Got Destiny?, Got Jesus?” Imagine if in the Old Testament Solomon had said to God, “Hey, the new temple is about to open and there’s this really popular local advertising campaign called ‘Got Camel Juice?’ I was thinking about changing that to ‘Got Temple?’ Nice right?”

That is such a dumb example but it does reflect a bigger problem. The creator of the universe deserves to be represented creatively. He deserves a web site better than the one the son of a staff member at a church can create. He deserves postcards that don’t have typos and bumper stickers that herald his splendor instead of amplifying our own shame, e.g. “Real Men Love Jesus.”

This might be a pet peeve of mine, but in Malachi I felt like God called into question the creativity I offer him. Forget for a minute your monetary tithe. How are you, as a Christian, tithing of your time and your talent? Lots of people get treasure right, but time and talent are a challenge.

I confess that often, God gets my scraps. He gets my leftovers. My creative throw aways that I would be embarrassed to give to my boss at work. He gets my 15 minutes in the morning and maybe a few minutes of prayer in the car on the ride home. How does that make him feel? Here is what Malachi 1:13 says,

“When you bring injured, crippled or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?” says the Lord.

I confess that my time and talent are often injured, crippled and diseased.

Why does that matter? Because creatively speaking, God designed me for so much more.

In Exodus, we get a pretty detailed picture of how important creative people are to God. In fact, the artists and craftsmen were the second group of people God consecrated. After Aaron and the priests, God focused on the designers. Imagine if churches did that? Imagine if the second person hired after the senior minister was the senior designer? Would that shift in focus change the way the church and God are represented in this country?

And in Exodus 36:2 we see an even more direct description of how the tabernacle and ark were built:

“Then Moses summoned Bezalel and Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the LORD had given ability and who was willing to come and do the work.”

When I first read that, I thought about what an amazing opportunity it must have been to be able to build the ark, the very temple of God. And in a heartbeat, God convicted me that I have that same opportunity to build his temple every day. When I expressed confusion he reminded me of 1 Corinthians 6:19 which says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit,”

Foof. That was like a punch in my creative face and is why I honestly try to make these posts as insightful and creative as possible. (Minus that horrible camel juice reference above.)

I hate when people treat the church like a piƱata. It’s such an easy thing to do, to pick on the cheesy stuff we do, or the bad materials we create with budgets that are admittedly microscopic compared to the Luna bar folks. But it can be better. I have friends that are using their creativity to the fullest. They are giving God the firstfruits of their artistry. Carlos Whitaker at, Tim Challies at, Julie at North Point Community Church, Gabe with Catalyst, Donald Miller and countless others. God has blessed me with friends that sharpen how I reflect His glory.

Today, I want to challenge you to look at your creative offering to the Lord. Is it crippled and damaged, like mine all too often is? Or is it choice and pure and beautiful, deserving of the father of the world?

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