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Meeting the Holy Spirit through Preaching and the Arts

Learn how one congregation used sermons and group creativity to help all ages become alive to the Spirit and more fully celebrate Pentecost.

Go figure. Sarah Hendriksen found out she had nursery duty—and was disappointed to miss Sunday worship.

Sarah was 12. Her church, Neland Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was doing a second sermon series on the work of the Holy Spirit. It revisited biblical Holy Spirit images that worshipers had learned about mere months earlier.

Neland Church planned a sequence of events and sermons to help worshipers picture who Scripture says the Holy Spirit is and how the Spirit works. These experiences helped them see and testify to the Spirit’s work in their lives. Like Neland, your church can combine sermons and group creativity so that God’s promises captivate all ages.

Spirit sequence unleashes creativity

Neland’s “Alive to the Spirit!” project lasted eight months, long enough to involve everyone in studying Scripture and seeking the Holy Spirit in worship and life.

“We had a kickoff meeting in October after a Sunday evening service. We served pizza and did brainstorming on big sheets of paper. This generated a huge list of ideas to draw on for dance, drama, music, visual arts, worship, and writing,” says Dawn Hendriksen, Neland’s music and worship coordinator.

Pastor Leonard Kuyvenhoven preached in January and February about six scriptural images for the Holy Spirit. “We had paper and colored pencils at the doors so people could respond to sermons. Some took their work home to finish up. Many put their names on their drawings,” Hendriksen says.

The first series ended with a studio day so groups could creatively express what they’d learned. Their work got used in the second sermon series, which began in April and ended on Pentecost Sunday.

Neland already had an active music program, and lay people regularly read Scripture and led prayers in worship. But Hendriksen says that “Alive to the Spirit!” opened more opportunities to more people and in new ways.

The options inspired young Sarah Hendriksen. “My daughter loves to draw and was seeing her stuff up on the screen during April and May—because I’d project almost everything the congregation drew, unless it was total scribbles. At Neland we do short choirs, usually just for adults or for children through fifth grade. During this project we had a choir for anyone from sixth grade up, so Sarah got to sing,” Dawn Hendriksen says.

Six scriptural images for Holy Spirit

Kuyvenhoven preached on passages that describe the Holy Spirit as seal, breath, dove, down payment, wind, and fire. “God’s word accommodates our weakness by expressing the ineffable presence of the Spirit through word pictures,” he explained. The first sermon series whetted worshipers’ appetites to experience for themselves what Scripture teaches about the Holy Spirit.

Neland usually draws 400 to 500 people for morning worship, and 150 stayed for a studio day during what’s normally the church school hour. “We had food and 15 sectionals on art, music, writing, praying, and storytelling. The schedule was very fluid. Some sectionals had start and stop times. Others were more like a big work station,” Hendriksen says.

Thanks to the October brainstorming, first series sermon drawings, and studio Sunday, the second sermon series included more art:

  • Worship banners paired each Spirit image with a color—red for seal, green for breath, white for dove, gold for down payment, blue for wind, and orange for fire.
  • Two artists in the congregation helped youth group members create a pulpit painting for each image.
  • Neland artists (of all ages) drew bulletin covers.
  • Each bulletin named the day’s image, color, and artists and included the pulpit painting artist’s statement.
  • A potter created seals as a tactile reminder for worshipers.
  • Other congregation-created visuals went up throughout the building to reinforce learning.
  • The congregation produced a booklet with art, poems, and devotionals about the six images.

“When we revisited the images in the second series, the sermons didn’t feel repetitive. They drew on an underlying body of experience but were shorter, more applicable, and included more art and testimonies,” Hendriksen says.

Holy Spirit inspires testimonies

Hendriksen serves on the worship planning team with two ministers and two congregation members. She says they often talk about how it would be good to include testimonies, but the team rarely knows what the sermon will be on till the Tuesday before.

“Most people want more lead time to prepare a testimony,” she explains. People had a month to prepare testimonies for the second sermon series. Some volunteered, and the worship planning team asked others to testify.

One man told how his dad, a retired professor, felt angry at God after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. On a necessary cross-country drive dogged by pain, confusion, illness, and storms, the man heard his father pray, “God, thank you for protecting me on this trip.” The son saw his dad’s prayer as the Spirit’s revelation that despite “the anger, doubt, and fear of the past, my dad never let go of God—and God never abandoned him.”

Including testimonies, visuals, and other arts sparked what Hendriksen calls “an overwhelming response, especially from kids.” She adds, “Len noticed that the people who came to talk with him were different than ever before. They wanted to talk about how the sermons affected them and how they were experiencing worship.”

Learn More

Learn more about the “Alive to the Spirit!” project at Neland Avenue CRC. At the October brainstorming event, people generated a huge list of ideas. They filled out an interest survey so project leaders could identify “go to” people for arts, food, and set up tasks.

You can check check Neland’s archives to see orders of worship and listen to sermons or whole services. “Alive to the Spirit!” took place in 2010: January and February (first series); April and May (second series).

The March 2011 issue of Reformed Worship is devoted to Pentecost and Ascension ideas, including Len Kuyvenhoven’s article on the final “Alive to the Spirit!” celebratory worship service.

Read how other congregations build community by using photography in worship , especially local images.

Browse related stories on how congregations create worship visuals, Simon Chan on how churches make room for the Spirit , and Trinitarian worship .

Start a Discussion

Feel free to print and distribute these stories at your staff, worship, music, or arts ministry meeting. These questions will help you talk about how you can use the arts to engage your congregation more deeply in a sermon series:

  • Paying more attention to visuals and congregational creativity helped Neland Avenue CRC worshipers remember and connect sermons to their lives. Which of their ideas might work in your church?
  • When God is named in your worship, what portion is for a specific person of the Trinity? What imbalances do you see in divine names or images used in your church?
  • How do your sermons or worship services make room for people to express how God is working in their lives? What first step might you take to help worshipers share how they picture their stories within God’s story?