The Room

On Christmas day, I sat with my family in the church that I was raised in and experienced a rush of memories and emotions. As a young child, I remember my father being baptized in that room….years later, I was baptized in that room…I remembered sitting in the front row for the funeral of both my grandmother and grandfather….and none of my family will ever forget the year we were ushered to the front row on Christmas morning ten minutes after the service had begun. That was an embarrassing moment for us all.

With less of us than in previous years, our family gathered in that room to hear the story of Jesus birth, and the importance of Him in our lives today. We ended the service singing Silent Night, a cappella. It was beautiful! It dawned on me that the day before, I was in a room at Willow Creek, and we too ended our service singing Silent Night. Both experiences were quite different. At Willow, the story of Jesus birth was told with an amazing band, flying angels, compelling video images and falling snow.

The week before that, our team sat in a room at the First Baptist Church of Geneva where we experienced A Christmas Tale performed as an outreach for their community. In addition to A Christmas Tale, we know that many of you performed your own version of Imagine Christmas. It has been weeks and months of preparations and amazing commitment from artists and volunteers that all culminated this week. Teams giving their very best, knowing that this is a great opportunity for God to work. All over the world, people have gathered in rooms large and small and in between over the last month to see and experience one of the greatest stories ever told. God used you to communicate His story in fresh and creative ways and even very simple ways. Thank you for giving your best for the sake of the Kingdom!

Tell us how God showed up in your room this month. We’d love to hear about it!

If you have any pictures or video post those, we would love to see them!
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A Reflection on Eggnog

My wife loves eggnog at Christmastime. At night after the kids go to bed, she likes to curl up under a blanket with some eggnog and a good book while the snow gently falls outside and the fireplace softly crackles. (OK. I exaggerated a bit just to set the mood.) One night recently she was making yummy noises as she sipped her eggnog and I asked, “Why is eggnog the only nog? Shouldn’t there be other nogs?”

Why should the egg get the exclusive rights to being a nog? Surely we could expand a bit in the nog realm? Which leads me to the next question. If eggnog is the only nog, why is there the need to use the descriptor “egg”? Shouldn’t we just call it “nog”? When you go into Starbucks (if you do that sort of thing) and you order your Eggnog Latte (if you happen to like those), you should be able to simply order a Nog Latte. Seriously. If you did that, would the barista ask, “What kind of nog?” No! There are no other nogs…only egg.

So what’s the point? I’m glad you asked. Apparently, there is something so eggish about a nog that they always go together. You can’t have a nog without the egg. It’s the same with Christmas and hope. The story of Christmas is the ultimate story that tells us why hope exists in the world. God saw how this world that He created was in need of saving, of restoring, of redeeming and He stepped in to give us hope.

Without the story of Christmas, hope would have died. Without the Creator entering the story in a new way—in the form of a little baby of all things—despair would have taken over forever. But because of Christmas, hope burgeons. When we look at our world today full of broken people and broken systems, we must remember that the story of Christmas is still happening today.

When God seems absent and we begin to wonder if He has forgotten us, that is when He shows up. When it seems like God is silent and we wonder if He will ever speak again, that is when He speaks. And when we begin to feel that there is no hope for forgiveness, no hope for restoration or healing, no hope for a better future, God sends hope to us in ways that we never expect.

Hope and Christmas are connected just like egg and nog. Without Christmas, we wouldn’t have a real, deep, and lasting hope. So as you sip your eggnog this Christmas season, think about hope. Think about how the story of Christmas and the message of hope for the world are inseparably tied together. Think about the people you know that need to be reminded of the hope that we have because of Christmas. You might just want to pour them a cup of eggnog and as you sip it together, you could tell them about this crazy blog post you read about eggnog…and hope.

If you want, tell us the first names of those friends and family who you are hoping to have a cup of eggnog with and as a community we can pray for opportunities.

And by the way, don’t forget the nutmeg.
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Planning Ahead for 2008

In my role in the past as an arts leader, December was such a crazy time because not only were we dealing with the staggering responsibility of Christmas services, but we were also finalizing the budget for the upcoming year. Not all churches follow the January-December calendar as their fiscal year, but ours does, requiring us to make decisions about our future needs at a huge crunch time. For any of you currently dealing with budget questions, I want to urge you to be an advocate for as much training and development as you can get approved for the sake of your staff and volunteer artists. Often, those are the areas where the budget most gets trimmed, because we can’t seem to make everything work. This is so unfortunate, because we end up not building into the very people who can be so much more effective and inspired if we give them the gift of further training and transforming experiences.

Without apology, I ask you to consider budgeting for our June Arts Conference to be held June 11-13. We are in the stage of finalizing our plans for this event, to be called Arise. For two and a half days, church artists and teachers/communicators will gather to sharpen our vision, renew our resolve, undergird our values, and develop our skills. And to me, the very best part, is the sense of building a community of men and women who truly understand one another and can help one another soar.

If you live anywhere near Southern California or Seattle, I also want to urge you to consider coming to one of the regional events we are hosting. These highly affordable events include two parts (you can choose to attend one or two days):

The Leaders Table – this event is designed for worship and arts leaders who have overall responsibility for the arts ministry at your church. I will be leading a coaching day where twenty or less leaders come together around a table and talk about our challenges. This day will be highly interactive, and we promise to wrestle with the issues that each leader most needs to address.

The Green Room – This event is intentionally scheduled on a Saturday to make it easier for volunteers in your arts ministry to attend. We will be exploring the overall vision and core values of what we are trying to accomplish on Sunday mornings in our churches. This day will offer you the chance to bring as many people from your music, technical, drama, dance, video, and visual arts teams as you possibly can. Our goal is to provide a day when you can be refreshed and unified as a team.

February 1 and 2: in Seattle at Timberlake Christian Fellowship
February 8 and 9: in Costa Mesa, California at Rock Harbor

The new year is just around the corner. I hope you will make plans now to build into the artists and leaders on your team, and find creative ways to help them reach their fullest potential. Do whatever you can to carve out budget money or raise funds another way. Training is a huge language of love for your staff and volunteers! I hope to see you either in Seattle or Costa Mesa in February - or Chicago in June.
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Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

We know that for many this can be a challenging season. While we are working hard to bring a message of hope to our communities, we are often frazzled and frustrated trying to juggle the details of our home and work life. In the December issue of EQ[U]IP we asked you how we could pray for you during this season. We are praying for all who responded, and thought we would share with you the privilege of praying for our brothers and sisters.

Here are some of the requests that came in, along with response scriptures we are praying for them. Please feel free to add your requests & prayers.

Pray for our team’s good health & safety. Pray that our message rings loud & clear & that people are impacted & move toward Jesus.

"Our Great God, let us be diligent in all we do & bold in telling others about You. Father, work in us & through us, we are Your vessels. Lord, sustain our strength and protect us from harm & distractions."
(2 Chronicles 19:11, I Thessalonians 3: 12, Acts 4:29, Psalm 5:11, 3 John 2)

Please pray for me to take my time & to be humble enough to always ask for help.

"Father, we know that you have created a time for everything. Help us to rest in You and trust that you will accomplish through us what You planned.
Father, we pray that You would give us the courage to be humble, for we desire to please You & see You exalted."
(Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8, Proverbs 3: 5-6, I Peter 5:6)

Pray for me as we approach 2008. I believe it will be a good and prosperous year. I feel there will be changes for me, some of which I never dreamed. Frankly, that scares me a bit. Even though I am not sure what to expect, I know that God will guide me through. Pray that I will keep my eyes on the right Prize.

"Good Shepherd, there is no reason to fear for we belong to You. You give us strength and sustain us through all that is ahead. You provide for all we need and bless us richly, exceeding what we imagined."
(Isaiah 41:10, Philippians 4: 19-20, 2 Samuel 7:28-29, 2 Thessalonians 3:5)

Please feel free to add your responses, requests, and prayers. ...
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It's All About The Writing

The writers’ strike which has stalled the creation of new film and television scripts for an indefinite amount of time has caused me to reflect on the fact that when it comes to music, theatre, and film, it’s truly all about the writing! The best actors and most skilled musicians simply can’t do much with mediocre material. Everything begins with that vision of the writer, with the craftsmanship of finely chosen words based on terrific ideas and stories.
I tested out the power of good writing when I served for a time at another church, and built a team of untrained actors to contribute dramatically to the weekly services. When I found outstanding scripts, and worked hard with the actors who possessed potential as well as fortitude, most often the moment would work and impact the congregation. On the flip side of that experience, I have observed our very best actors give everything they’ve got to a not-so-great script, and unfortunately the piece simply did not work or connect. I believe that good writers, and certainly great writers, are rare and remarkably gifted individuals who need to be highly valued, encouraged, and well-compensated to the best of our ability.

In over 30 years of ministry at Willow Creek, we have been graced with the high-level gifts of only about three or four “go-to” writers of dramatic material and probably 5 or 6 outstanding music writers. We also contract with some terrific writers who live out-of-state, because they make such an enormous contribution to our ministry. If you’ve got a gifted writer, a person who listens to God and crafts stories or songs that touch people, treasure that individual. I’m not suggesting we give these folks a pass on accountability or spiritual formation or any other standard we look for on our teams. But I am advocating that we need to create a culture where good writers can flourish, where they can be freed up to do their best work, and where they will know for certain that we recognize their need for refreshment of their souls and rest for their creative minds.

Whenever I personally face the blank sheet of paper (or more accurately, the empty computer screen) to craft a message for church or work on a chapter for a book, I remember all over again how terrifying it is to actually envision the end result, choose the right word for clarity and inspiration, and end up with something that has the potential to be used by God to impact a reader or a listener. I don’t consider myself a gifted writer. My respect for good writers goes very deep, and I challenge all church leaders to more highly value any of them who grace your community.
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Well, while sugar plums are dancing in your heads, mine is swimming with details for ARISE – Our Arts Conference, June 11, 12 & 13. Soon we will be launching the official website but in the mean time let me give you a few of the particulars. We are excited to welcome back teachers like Brian McLaren, Ross Parsley, Mindy Caliguire, Tim Carson and Rory Noland. We are also thrilled that Francis Chan has accepted our invitation to be one of our main speakers. All of these presenters, and the 100 others that have committed to come promise to stretch us as artists, leaders, teachers and Christ followers.

While we are still planning it would be a good time to shoot me any ideas you might have. Hope to see you in June!...
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World Aids Day

This past weekend we focused our services on World Aids Day, and the work our congregation is already doing and wants to do in the future to contribute our time and resources toward addressing this global pandemic. Most of Willow’s work connected to HIV/AIDS is focused in sub-Saharan Africa, where 74% of those suffering from this disease currently live. Our service included a powerful 23-minute video captured last week featuring our lead pastor Gene Appel exploring our work in one of the remotest, northern-most regions of Malawi. I hosted the service, and was so thrilled with how our video team captured the stories, the devastation, the deep needs of our partners in a village so isolated that the nearest paved road is 5 hours away. Then Lynne Hybels, whose personal passion about the AIDS crisis awakened our congregation about 4 years ago, interviewed one of our partners who pastors a church in South Africa.

Our church has been outrageously generous toward funding these projects and praying for our partners in the last few years, and it was obvious this past weekend, that they want to do so much more. I feel proud of our people and even prouder of my husband Warren, who volunteers full-time leading our Global Connections ministry. Compared to the staggering need, we are only making a small difference. But if the big “C” church all over the resourced world continues to awaken and mobilize, together we can actually make a huge dent in reducing poverty and reversing the spread of this horrific disease.

Finally, I’m ruminating more and more these days on the role Christian artists can and should play in addressing global issues of justice, equality, poverty, and disease. I couldn’t agree more with Brian McClaren, who calls Christian songwriters to invest a portion of their creativity to write songs that call believers to action, to being the hands and feet of Jesus to those who have no voice. We also need story tellers including writers, videographers, and filmmakers to capture the real-life challenges of those who live so far outside of the average person’s reality in the developed world. Our service would have been nowhere near as impactful without the work of such artists. I am hearing more and more from church artists all over the world who are beginning to make a difference with their art in addressing these kinds of needs.

Please let me know what you are seeing in your churches and among your artists related to justice issues and the awakening of believers to break out of our comfort zones and holy huddles. We all have a long way to go and a lot to learn – but I’m increasingly hopeful!
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December For Church Artists and Leaders

It is officially December, and for those who are planning special Christmas celebrations in your church, I understand the knot in your stomach and stress of the remaining days until your services take place. For over twenty years I was intimately involved with putting together our celebrations. I vividly recall going to the grocery store early in the month of December, and starting to panic when I read the date on a milk carton and it was closer and closer to December 24! There were never enough hours to put the celebrations together, to rehearse and tweak and prepare the gift we wanted to serve our community. But on top of that, there was always the little detail of personal Christmas stuff! I could never figure out how to manage the shopping, wrapping, cookie baking, parties, and family commitments on top of the load at church.

To all of you soldiers who give up such an enormous part of your holiday season crafting experiences for others to gather and worship the Christ child, I want to say thank you on behalf of the people who may never say it but who surely appreciate your sacrifice. You pay a huge price as you fulfill your calling, especially this month. I know how hard it is to breathe, to find any solitude to reflect on the wonder of the Christ child, and to be as fully present as you long to be with family and friends. More importantly, God knows all that and more about you. He sees your struggle, and He is delighted with your faithfulness. So in the next 25 days, don’t expect more of yourself than is realistic. There will be moments after Christmas when you can fully exhale, and be the friend, mom, or dad you want to be. God has called you to manage as best you can the competing demands of churchwork and personal life during this month, and He wants you to take it one challenge, one moment at a time. He is with you and He is for you.

And just so you know…when I was responsible for our services, I always thought that church was the reason I was so behind on the personal side of Christmas. Now that my role has changed and I’m freed up…I’m just as behind as ever. So the truth is, I can’t blame the church. I just happen to be a hopeless procrastinator!
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