There is a creative renaissance emerging in the body of Christ. More than ever, I see sons and daughters of God finding their identity and fanning the flame of creativity that God has put inside of them.
We need leaders to steward this move. We need those that can relate to creatives and artists. We need those who can guide this young generation as they pursue Christ through their art.
Gary Molander is one of those leaders. He recently published a book called “Pursuing Christ. Creating Art.” I read it as soon as it came out and I was deeply moved, challenged and inspired.
Today I have the privilege of interviewing him about his book. It is just a glimpse of the wisdom he shares in his book. After the interview, I’ll give you more information on how you can order it. I HIGHLY recommend it.
Can you tell us a little about your background in creative arts?
I was a pastor for seventeen years. I was a creative arts pastor, leading creative initiatives every week in my local church. I served in an established turn-around church, as well as a start-up cafeteria church. After discovering how much I still had to learn, I enrolled in the Southern California Worship Institute, under the leadership of Monty Kelso and David Timms. In 2003, I received my MA in Creative Arts. After leaving local church ministry in 2004, I founded Floodgate Productions, where we create media that tells stories. During my days, I create inspirational short-films, and lead other artists who work alongside me.
What was it like using a creative process to write a book about creativity?
To be honest, I didn’t use any strict creative process to write my book. For me, the creative process always grows out of a need to push through a project. I think we can too easily serve the process, rather than allowing the process to serve our art. That being said, writing a creative book about creativity was weird! I’m so happy that my friends wrote the chapter introductions, created the cover art, and the internal hand-drawn images. It would have been awful to write a book about creativity with a bunch of text from one guy. Boring.
You contrast creatives vs artists in your book. Why is this distinction important?
I think artists can become their own arrogant community. Christian artists aren’t exempt from that. We can come to believe that we’re the only ones with creativity. We even call ourselves “creatives”. Without knowing it, we’re creating an “us and them” mentality – those with creativity, and those without creativity. The fact that we serve a creative God, and that we’re created in the image of that creative God, should serve as a wake-up call to us. Every person on the face of the earth has the ability to create – they see a void, then fill it with themselves. That’s what God did in Genesis 1-2. Are all artists creative? Yes. But are all creatives artists? Nope.
A key point you bring home in your book is that art is a response to God. What have you seen happen when Christian artists try to create art for God?
I think it’s easy for artists to fall into the trap of trying to impress God with their art. I can fall into this. When I try to impress God with anything I create, it’s a slippery slope into a works-based relationship. I worry about artists living for God, but not living with God. God gave His Son for the world (John 3:16), and I feel like it’s better for us to create our art from that perspective too. The most liberating thing a holy God can give artists is the freedom NOT to create art for Him.
As one who explores the subject of identity, I loved the section of the book titled “You Are Not Your Ministry”. What has been your journey in separating your identity from what you do?
When I stepped away from local church pastoral ministry, I quit the role of “pastor”. No one called me “Pastor Gary” anymore. Unknowingly, I had allowed the word “pastor” to become my identity. That word works great as a title, but not as a core identity. So when it was stripped away from me (by God, I believe), I had to rediscover my identity as a child of God. That journey was painful, and involved a lot of kicking and screaming on my part. It’s been almost seven years since then, but there’s not a day that goes by when I don’t forcefully remind myself, “You are not an artist or an author. You are a child of God who creates stuff.”
Many creatives experience extreme highs and lows. There is a line in your book that says “The best art is borne in the joy of heaven, or the pain of hell.” Why is it important to embrace these extremes?
When we’re depressed or going through a painful time, our tendency is to get out. We pray to get out. We craft our days to get out. For me, 2010 was the most painful period of my adult life. I lost both of my parents to weird diseases, I blew out my back, and Floodgate almost went under. But I forced myself to come to grips with the pain I was feeling (new pain I had never felt before), and to ask, “What is God asking me to create as a result?” The answer was my blog – the same blog that eventually become my book.
On the other side, there’s a real joy in living the abundant life Jesus has called us to. Many artists (and Christians) I know are actually scared of exhibiting any true excitement about their lives, because they’ve been taught to live a “balanced life” (which is crap, in my opinion). I wonder if the same people who criticized David for dancing in his underwear are the same people encouraging artists to become “a little more balanced”? No one wants to experience neutral art. The world isn’t changed with anything borne from safety.
A powerful section of the book explores the dichotomy you call “The Prison of Freedom”. What does this mean to you and what emotions were you feeling as you stepped away from formal pastoral ministry?
Artists want freedom. We all want freedom. But for most of us, we think real freedom means living with no constraints. But that’s just not how it works in Scripture, or in real life. We need to willingly place ourselves into daily prisons. By that, I mean we need to perform tasks that we’d rather not be doing, to gain some goal we want to achieve. When I stepped away from formal pastoral ministry, I didn’t understand that. I just wanted complete freedom, without the prison. I just wanted to create my days, doing whatever I wanted to from dawn until dusk. I wanted to collapse, have coffee, and get paid for it. I labeled it “freedom”, but I don’t think it was freedom. And as God was reforming my identity, He was also redefining a life of freedom for me.
As you discuss creative blocks, you mention one simple step for keeping yourself accountable. How does a deadline help you break through creative blocks?
I want people to be pleased with me. Sometimes that’s a good thing, and sometimes it’s psychotic. When I put a date on the calendar, if I don’t finish a creative project (or a phase of a creative project), then I answer to people who are paying me. And I don’t like those meetings at all! So putting a date on the calendar, then publicizing that date to people who are counting on me, works every time. It may be a little neurotic, but it really works for me.
In the book you say that artist and leaders are dreamers. What happens when an artist or leader stops dreaming?
When artists and leaders stop dreaming, they lose their uniqueness. They copy everything they hear at conferences. Honestly, that’s the first sign that someone has stopped dreaming. And in the process, they can lose their heart. I think it’s easier to look at what other artists and leaders are doing, then “modify” that for our own situations. And at an unhealthy extreme, we quit the hard work of constantly pushing into the Creative Source, and modify a template that’s working for someone else, somewhere else. Someone needs to create a shirt that says, “No Templates Allowed”, and give it away at the largest conferences in the world.
What has been the response so far to the book and what is next for you?
The response to the book has been overwhelming for me. I’m not concerned with getting the book into as many hands as possible. I’m concerned with getting it into the right hands. If that happens, then I don’t have to worry about anything. I’m not sure if there’s another book on the horizon for me, or not. The self-publishing process required that I basically take on a part-time job for a year – above and beyond leading a creative business. My blog continues to provide new thoughts and material, and the readership continues to grow.
If you enjoyed this interview, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of “Pursuing Christ. Creating Art.” I also encourage you to check out Gary’s blog. It is a great resource for creative leaders. You can also follow Gary on Twitter.
Do you consider yourself a “creative”? Why or why not?