Updated: Feb 7
Gen Z loves making things. Many of today’s youth have grown up with easy access to iPhones and tablets, and, as a result, photography, video editing, and stop-motion animation have become skills as easy for them as talking (and perhaps easier). In light of that, churches and youth ministries need to ask themselves what they are doing to create space for students to exercise creativity. With that question in mind, here are a few suggestions:
1) Creative Worship/Spirituality Nights
There’s so much that we’d like to teach our students that we can feel pressure to make all of our events center around either content or fun. But, for many students, the arts are an important way to experience a sense of intimacy with God and express their affection and desire to serve him. A night centered around creative worship/spiritual practices could include activities like:
Painting or drawing in response to a passage
Listening to a worship song and reflecting on the lyrics
Writing a memory verse on a stone, bookmark, or some other small object
Contributing to a large mural painting
Crafting a collage out of pictures, etc. and Bible verses
2) Invite Christians Artists to Share
Many churches have artists, professional or amateur, who would like to find more ways to share their gifts but don’t know how. It’s easy to fall into the trap of limiting what artists have to offer to just their artwork, but such an approach can end up making an artist feel like they’re being used. By contrast, inviting Christian artists to talk or invest in others relationally is a way to show value for them as people and not just as producers. A few ways to do this:
Ask artists to give a testimony about what it looks like to be a Christian in their field.
Ask artists to share some of their work with youth and explain how to interpret/enjoy it
Do a Q&A interview with artists about some topic of interest like creativity, the intersection of faith and arts, culture, etc.
Invite artists to provide mentoring, career counseling, or discipleship to a few students in their respective field.
Hire some artists to facilitate a session involving creative spiritual practices.
Note: if you yourself are an artist, you could engage in one of the ideas above yourself and show your students another side of who you are.
3) Form a Creative Arts Club/Small Group
There’s something valuable about knowing who the other artists are in a church and being able to share with them what you’re creating or imagining. If you can find time in students’ busy schedules, consider creating a space for them to meet up with other creatives in order to share or discuss matters related to creativity. Alternatively, if you have small groups, you could filter all of the creatives/artists into a single group and work with the leader of the group to incorporate creativity/the arts into their Bible study/ discussion.
4) Teach Students to Doodle
Sitting through the entire church service can be hard for students, particularly if your church has long expository sermons. Nevertheless, many churches value intergenerational worship and don’t want youth always to be sent off on their own. So, how do we help students combat boredom? Doodling. Although some students will naturally turn to drawing when they get bored, others feel a need for official approval in order to draw during the service. I think I’ll probably do a longer post on the value of doodling during sermons (or Bible Study) down the road, but for now, here are a few ways that students could engage in art to help fight boredom and even remember more clearly:
Random doodles of shapes, lettering, etc.
Word art involving a verse or key word.
Drawings depicting a sermon illustration or concept
Illustrations of the biblical story, characters, or setting
5) Exposing Youth to Historic Bible Art
The more post-Christian our culture becomes, the less exposure our kids get to the rich cultural heritage of the West, and, in particular, the vast influence that the Bible has had on the arts and humanities. Much of the art and literature that our students are exposed to is relatively recent and either fairly shallow (e.g. YA lit) or decidedly secular (i.e. what kids are forced to engage with in upper level classes). This is all a contributing factor to the growing biblical illiteracy in our current culture.. Now, I’m not against enjoying shallow but fun books or engaging with secular culture, nor am I speaking against the curriculum of public schools. Rather, I see the current situation as an opportunity for youth ministries to move beyond their fixation with what’s cool and trending in pop culture in order to become curators and proponents of the treasures of the Christian past. A few simple ways to do that:
Use historic Bible Art to illustrate a story that you’re preaching about. Don’t just put it up on your slideshow, but actually draw attention to details in the painting in order to help students read it & to help them visualize the story.
Quote or make references to historic Christian literature in your preaching.
For Senior Gifts, hand out either literature (e.g. Paradise Lost), a book with a collection of paintings, etc.
Schedule a field trip to a local art museum with historic Bible Art. Help students identify the biblical stories standing behind each piece of art and encourage them to spend time contemplating them.
If you know a student is taking a vacation to a place with important Bible Art, encourage them to see it and maybe even provide them with resources to help interpret it.
Include images of historic Bible Art in the packets that you create for retreats, etc. and encourage students to contemplate it during quiet time.
6) Encouraging Students to Create Bible Art
I’ve already written about how Bible Adaptation Projects can help students exercise their creative gifts and develop a biblical imagination, so I won’t repeat all that material here. But even if your Youth Ministry isn’t ready to launch a full fledged project, that doesn’t mean you can’t still encourage them to adapt the Bible on their own time. If you have students who like to write, draw, or make videos in their spare time, they might consider adapting a biblical story an interesting challenge to undertake in their free time. Some questions you could ask them to spark such an idea include:
What stories in the Bible do you feel like would make a good movie/novel/painting?
If you were to adapt that story, how would you do it?
Are there any stories in the Bible that you can visualize really clearly in your head? What does it look like in your imagination?
Are there any characters in the Bible that you connect with? What do you think a movie/novel/painting of that character would look like?
[When you come upon a confusing scene in a story or a scene that leaves questions unanswered]: If you were to tell this story, what would you do with this scene? How would you clarify what happened/answer those questions?
Got any other suggestions? I’d love to hear them in the comments below.
A New Resource for Engaging Scripture Creatively
Have you ever felt inspired to create your own work of Bible Art or biblical adaptation? Read Scripture Like an Artist is a Bible journal that will help you engage with Scripture through your imagination and respond to what you are reading through art and/or creative writing. For each passage that you read, you will still take notes on important literary features like plot and theme, but you will also have space to respond by sketching, doodling, or writing something inspired by the passage. There's also a separate area for you to draw and take notes on your favorite biblical characters. By engaging with Scripture creatively, you'll allow your imagination to be unconsciously shaped and formed by the images, metaphors, and patterns of the biblical story. And, who knows? Perhaps your quiet time will generate an idea that you can turn into something beautiful!
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If you liked this post, you might want to check out some of my other posts on Bible art and adaptation.
More Posts on Youth Ministry and the Arts
Posts on the Nature of Adaptation
The Chosen Season 3
Adapting Biblical Characters Series
Little James in The Chosen & Scripture ***Season 3***
Pontius Pilate & his Wife in The Chosen ***Season 3***
Judas in The Chosen ***Season 3 Update***
Matthew in The Chosen ***Season 3 Update***
Simon and Andrew in The Chosen ***Season 3 Update***
Exploring The Chosen with Youth or Small Group [Discussion Guides]
Episode 1 Guide: Homecoming
Episode 2 Guide: Two by Two
Episode 3 Guide: Physician, Heal Thyself
Episode 4 Guide: Clean Part 1
Episode 5 Guide: Clean Part 2
Episode 6 Guide: Intensity in Tent City
Episode 7 Guide: ???
Episode 8 Guide: The Feeding of the 5,000
Season 2 Reflection P1: What is The Chosen Season 2 about?
Season 2 Reflection P2: What was The Chosen Season 2 about? (Plots & Theme)
Episode 1 Guide: The Beloved Disciple
Episode 2 Guide: Philip, Nathanael, & Matthew
Episode 3 Guide: Life Among the Disciples of Jesus
Episode 4 Guide: Simon the Zealot & the Man at the Bethesda Pool
Episode 5 Guide: Mary's Demons & the Destiny of John the Baptist
Episode 6 Guide: Mercy and Not Sacrifice
Episode 7 Guide: Quintus Returns
Episode 8 Guide: Judas, Matthew, & the Sermon on the Mount
Episode 1 Guide: Mary Magdalene, Lilith, and the Redeemer
Episode 2 Guide: Mary Magdalene, Nicodemus, and Shabbat
Episode 3 Guide: Depicting Jesus in Art, Film, and TV
Episode 4 Guide: When Jesus Met Simon (Peter)
Episode 5 Guide: Mary, Mother of Jesus
Episode 6 Guide: Jesus, Shmuel, & the Pharisees
Episode 7 Guide: Did Nicodemus Follow Jesus?
Episode 8 Guide: The Woman at the Well, Eden, & Zohara