In his book Managing Ourselves, Ari Weinzweig describes three types of creativity:

  • Creativity that moves forward — new innovations
  • Creativity that shifts sideways — introducing something from one territory to another, or putting together two already well-accepted ideas
  • Creativity in reverse — rediscovering old ways

Speaking of the last type of creativity, Weinzweig writes:

This is what we do at Zingerman’s with so much of our food — we don’t “invent,” we just go back and find the old ways. Our cream cheese is crafted the way it was made back in the 1890s. My favorite Bakehouse bread — what we call Roadhouse bread — is a mix of wheat, corn, and rye … Old-school stuff stuck into a totally modern setting makes it into something special.

We see creativity in reverse all around us in the rediscovery of journals, fountain pens, vinyl records, old books, and classic foods. I see it in the church too, but we need more.

Creativity in Reverse and the Church

Twenty years ago, it seems like everyone was hurrying to get rid of the old and to embrace the new in church. I heard a lot about the first kind of creativity that Weinzweig describes: finding new ways of doing church, becoming a new kind of Christian. I’ve also seen a lot of the second kind of creativity: embracing ideas from other fields, like business and psychology, and importing them into the church.

I’m glad to see a renewed interest in the final category. Just as Weinzweig has rediscovered old bread recipes, we can rediscover the wealth that’s accumulated over the past two thousand years:

  • Read old books like Augustine’s Confessions, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, The Valley of Vision, and more. Take the advice of C.S. Lewis: “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.”
  • Rediscover old liturgies. I love hearing a Baptist like Mark Dever talk about using Cranmer, for instance. Use these old words in new ways.
  • Sing old songs. Yes, we need new songs, but we need the old ones two. Don’t always feel the need to add a new bridge or new music unless you have to.
  • Learn church history, not just recent church history but the broad sweep of church history over the past two thousand years.
  • Adopt an historical figure. Read them. Read about them. Visit where they lived. Make your heroes dead ones.

Pillage the past. I believe that some of the most creative ministries will not be ones that invent new ways of doing church, or that look to business and psychology for new insights, but that reintroduce the riches of the church’s past two thousand years to a new day.

To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, the new is still on trial, while the old has passed the test. “The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds” — and also through our churches. That’s the kind of creativity that our churches need.