Interview with Lisa Cole-Smith on VergeNow.

Tell us a little about yourself and your experience in leading a church for creatives?

I’m an actor/director by training who found myself in seminary about 15 years ago searching for the next steps on my journey and a way to integrate my faith and calling as an artist. While I never envisioned pastoring (let alone planting) a church, God opened the door to Convergence and I walked through with much fear and trepidation! This opportunity to develop a contextual form of ministry to creatives has been an incredible journey of growth and learning.

What do you find most rewarding in work with creatives?

I am constantly amazed by how open and close to the spirit of God so many artists and creatives are even though they may be fearful of church because they don’t want to be rejected for their doubts and questioning. It’s extremely rewarding to be invited into someone’s life and given a role of permission giving and support. So often it’s like water. A little bit of encouragement in the life of a creative goes so far. I’ve been very blessed to observe amazing people blossom. It goes hand in hand with helping them name the presence of God in their life and in their art. These two things; permission giving and naming are central to my ministry and that part brings me incredible joy.

What do you find most challenging working with artists?

I actually find it most difficult to help artists of faith believe that their work can truly be a calling. It is much easier to minister to artists new to church. They don’t have religious baggage about imagination, questioning and “appropriateness;” so they easily make connections between good theology and good art. Whereas, some artists raised in church struggle to overcome misguided messages about pride and have experienced deep rejection and misunderstanding. So, many are reticent to see themselves as leaders in either the church or the world. They are often confused about who they are allowed to be and have never been shown the real freedom for creation that the Bible gives them.

You just developed VergeNow, a website of resources for Creative Churches, can you tell us about your hopes for this new project?

The VergeNow site is designed to be a source of inspiration, encouragement and guidance to creative and innovative ministry leaders. Our desire is to see the Church reclaim a vibrant spiritual imagination and commit to renewing a broken culture by investing in forming culture creators as contemplative leaders in the world. We hope the site will be a way to encourage churches and ministry leaders to start “working out” their creative muscles and taking more risks. Over the years we’ve heard more and more discussion about the need for creativity and the importance of culture. But, often the conversation ends before we get to the “how.” “How?” is the question I’ve been hearing from ministry leaders since before Convergence started and our 12 year experiment has been an attempt to find some answers. We hope this will jumpstart the creative heartbeat of innovative ministry leaders to take our experiments much further and that our journey will be a source of permission and encouragement to all the amazing creatives out there who may be holding back.

What are some of the resources you have created?

The VergeNow site is made up of Case Studies of ways we’ve employed the arts in worship, outreach and building Christian community. In many cases we’ve looked to the field of Art as Social Practice to find ways artists are meaningfully engaging social and spiritual concerns across the world and adapted them for our context.

We’ve also created a podcast as a way to dive deeper into questions surrounding art, faith, culture creation and experimental church along with a blog which is a mixture of practical ideas about worship and outreach and conversation about church and culture.

What are some ways that you have used arts in outreach?

We’ve pulled some great ideas from artists like Kate Daughdrill and the Sunday Soup model to launch micro-granting dinners in our community in partnership with the Torpedo Factory, a local icon in Alexandria. We’ve also been inspired by Michael Rohd from Sojourn Theatre Company and the Center for Performance and Civic Practice. We do a lot with elaborate shared meals, contemplative and artistic experiences. Our work at Convergence has been to create conversations, environments and actions that lead people to life-altering experiences with God. Much of the VergeNow site is dedicated to case studies featuring these projects and the questions they were an attempt to address.

What are some ways that you have used the creative arts for worship and spiritual formation?

The arts and creativity are intertwined in every part of our worship and spiritual formation. In addition to actual art, music, poetry, dance, etc. we employ the process of art making and many of the training techniques we’ve learned as artists. Our worship is often an immersive Bible experience or a contemplative opportunity to hone our ability to see, hear and taste God in our world. In addition to the case studies on the website, subscribers will get weekly emails with ideas and outlines we’ve used over the years.

Do you have anything else you would like to share?

I believe that God is calling us to unleash our creativity and reclaim the vibrant spiritual imagination that is integral to being created in the image of the Divine One. There are a lot of us out there feeling this call; standing up and shaking loose. Artists and makers; ministers and lay people; women and men – all over the world. For the sake of the Church, now is a time for experimentation which means strengthening our creative muscles. 

About the Author
JR Woodward

JR Woodward

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JR Woodward has been passionately planting churches on the East and West Coast that value tight-knit community, life-forming discipleship, locally-rooted presence and boundary-crossing mission for over 25 years. He is the author of Creating a Missional Culture (IVP, 2012) and co-author of The Church as Movement (IVP, 2016). He co-founded the Missio Alliance and currently serves as the National Director for the V3 Church Planting Movement. He is the co-founder of the Praxis Gathering and writes for numerous websites and journals. He has a Masters of Arts in Global Leadership from Fuller Theological Seminary and is working on his PhD at the University of Manchester (UK). He loves to surf, travel, read, skateboard and meet new people. He enjoys photography and film and tries to attend the Sundance Film Festival whenever he can.

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