The past few months, we’ve all experienced significant losses – graduations, gatherings, job security, vacations, and in many cases, a friend or loved one. With all this heartache, it’s good to stop and appreciate the one thing we have all gained during the shutdown.
Access to Hamilton!
Hamilton, the award-winning, mind-blowing, smile-inducing reinvention of our Founding Fathers was made available for all of us through the generosity of a $6.99 membership to Disney+.
I remember hearing about Hamilton a few years ago while watching 60 Minutes. I thought to myself, “That looks…interesting.” I don’t care much for hip-hop or rap, and historical musicals are not on my list of top five genres. I didn’t think much about it.
Until last month. After four months of relative boredom at home, I was ready for something different. Disney+ came with my phone contract. I’d already watched The Mandalorian. “Let’s watch Hamilton,” I said to my wife. She didn’t know anything about it either, but hey, it was free.
Ten minutes in, we were hooked. I haven’t stopped raving about it. The untethered creativity, the genre-crossing music, the symbolic stagecraft, the astounding choreography, the gifted storytelling – it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It was genius from start to finish.
I began to wonder, How did Lin-Manuel Miranda come up with an idea like this? How does someone conceive of a musical about the Founding Fathers featuring a mostly minority cast and rap music? How does someone create an entirely new thing from an old thing? What principles could I steal for my youth ministry, or for the church at large, to give the world something it has never seen before?
I think we can learn a great deal from Hamilton. Here are a four ideas for us to consider.
1. BREAK EVERY BOX
Hamilton is a genre-bending marvel. No formulas were followed, no preconceived boxes left unbroken. It is something completely new.
After leading the same youth ministry for 20 years, I have become the “Master of the Tweak.” I make small adjustments to something and call it “creativity.” That’s okay at times, but it also leads to becoming stale. Doing the same old thing, even if it’s slightly different, is still the same old thing.
Instead of tweaking things, what if we reexamined everything we do with no-holds-barred imagination and dreamed of what they could become? What if we examine the flow of our services, our small groups, our outreach, our preaching style, our use of art & media, our teams and roles? What if we threw all the pieces on the table and assembled something no one has ever seen before?
It’s frightening. I imagine that Miranda often thought, “I must be crazy!” He probably was, but he was also fearless. He never let boxes box him in. He threw them away, and the new thing that emerged was genius through and through.
2. MAKE THE OLD NEW
It’s remarkable how relevant Alexander Hamilton’s story is – issues like immigration, race, moral indiscretions, leadership, the power of words, family, political dueling. But it’s also 250 years old, which makes it a challenge to bring it into contemporary conversations. That’s where Hamilton shines. If the musical had been done in the style of, say – 1776 – it would never have gained a modern audience. The story needed a fresh coat of paint and a new soundtrack. When properly clothed, the relevance hit us like the bullet from Burr’s gun.
The same is true for Scripture. Are there themes of the Bible that we’ve missed? Has our storytelling grown old? Is our preaching simply calling on worn-out understandings and illustrations from a lifetime in evangelical subculture? Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun,” but he didn’t mean we can’t tell the stories in new ways. Imagine how innovative Jesus’ teaching must have seemed to the teachers of his day.
For those of us who are a bit older, it might be a good idea to invite fresh young eyes to give us feedback on our messages. It might be good to try new ways to tell stories, and find illustrations and forms of art that aren’t necessarily what we know and like.
3. BE INTENTIONAL ABOUT EVERYTHING
Nothing in Hamilton is wasted – the set, the choreography, the costumes. There is subtle meaning behind it all. (22 AMAZING DETAILS That Make HAMILTON Even Better!) When was the last time we looked at our worship space in this way? Our communication? Our strategies?
A few years ago we were sitting in a staff meeting discussing how to introduce our new members now that we have multiple services. We’d always had them come forward in a service to introduce them and pray over them. Of course, nobody wanted to do it three times. I casually asked, “Why do we do it? Why don’t we just list their names in the bulletin?” Next time, we might be asking, “Why do we have a bulletin?”
Value and meaning are communicated in a myriad of ways, and we would do ourselves a service to re-evaluate everything we do. Is there a better way, a multi-sensory way, a creative way, a new way? If we want people to have an encounter with God, who is creative through and through, why not be as creative as we can? If ever there was a time to reinvent ourselves, this is it.
4. DISCOVER UNTAPPED COLLABORATION
This month, we are going to let our student leadership team use these principles to dream their way into something new for our student ministry. I don’t know what they will come up with. I can’t even promise I will allow them to implement their ideas. But I’m sure their creativity will reveal something I could never have thought of on my own.
Hamilton was the passion project of Miranda, but he had incredible talent around him. He invited them into his process to make an incredible piece of art.
Who are the creatives who can help us make a new recipe for the future? What talent is sitting untapped in our congregation? Why do we go back to the same leaders time and time again? There are artists, dreamers, entrepreneurs, youth, and right-brained thinkers out there. We need to invite them into the process of reimagining what church can be.
Hamilton was a game-changer. I never knew I liked hip-hop infused, super-long historical musicals. Now the world has a new genre, and we have principles that can remake the way we do church. Watch Hamilton again. As you do, consider the creative possibilities it reveals. Let’s break the boxes and imagine what’s possible. I don’t know where it will lead, but I know this – I am not throwing away my shot!