Dr. Johannah Myers, Reprinted with permission, Originally printed at Plain Account August 16. 2022
Do you get tired of convincing others the ‘why’ of Messy Church?
It’s hard to believe that I’ve been involved with Messy Church for nine years now. We’re already starting to plan our 10-year anniversary celebration for next year. It seems a no brainer that after all this time having so much Messy fun that folks would happily join the mess. And yet…
I guess – even after all this time – the name still throws people (read, adults) off. What do we mean by Messy? Is it simply about making a mess…glitter and paint and all that stuff? The fact is, we do make a mess at Messy Church, though we rarely break out the glitter. We haven’t ruined the floors (despite the trustees’ greatest fears) and as far as I know, none of us have permanent markings on our bodies from paint or markers. Our messes are never more than what a little soap and water can handle. Within an hour, there’s rarely evidence a Mess was even made (except maybe a forgotten piece of artwork left behind).
Why is Messy Church messy?
So why is Messy Church messy? And why do we keep having to convince people the Messy is worth the effort?
Have you ever watched a child creating something? Handed them a blank piece of paper and a pencil and watched the creative process flow? It’s something special to behold. Blank paper soon becomes a masterpiece of art or a story comes to life. Most children don’t hold back while they are creating something new. They aren’t afraid to make a mistake. They aren’t worried about what color clashes with another color or about staying in the lines. Their stories can often lean into the fantastical rather than the real world. That space between blank page and finished piece is not linear, it’s not neat and tidy. They create with wild abandon. And in this messy space, there is beauty and imagination and wonder and mystery. It’s gloriously messy and beautiful.
Messy Church creates a space to meet God in the messiness of our lives, to rediscover the wonder of Jesus.
Imagination comes alive in the ‘in-between’ messy space
Somewhere within the crafts and the games, the paint, the scissors, and the occasional bursts of glitter, Messy Church offers this kind of space – the space between blank page and masterpiece – where we can all explore and create, getting our hands into God’s great story. Imagination can run free, we can wonder aloud together about what God might be up to. This is the mess of Messy Church – that in-between space where imagination can come alive again.
At some point in our lives, we adults move away from the messy, free creativity of children. We start worrying about clashing colors, about staying in the lines, about how the glitter is going everywhere, about how the story doesn’t make sense. We start worrying about being right and we start being afraid of the messiness.
Why adults need Messy Church
Maybe that’s why Messy Church is as important for adults as it is for kids. We adults might actually need our kids to remind us how to embrace wonder and imagination and mess. Because the story of God is about creativity and wonder and if you’ve actual read your Bible, you’ll see, the story of God is never neat and tidy. God is far more likely to be found in the messiness of life.
We need to find our love of the mess again. Because us adults? We’ve been working too hard lately at keeping the world neat and tidy – everything black or white, A or B, Red or Blue, this or that. We can put people into neat boxes. (And boxes are too often like cages, and when we put people into cages it’s easy to stop thinking about them as people, as those created in the image of a loving God.)
Without the mess, everyone gets stuck in a place and there’s little place for imaginative solutions, creative problem-solving, critical thinking. This kind of thinking isn’t helpful – and it isn’t truthful. Because nothing is really that neat and tidy. There’s a whole lot more gray, more purple, more mess in the real world. When there’s no room for wonder and mess, suddenly there’s no room for a creative, messy God who likes to play in the dirt, throw impromptu picnics, and have dinner parties with sinners.
Messy Church is an invitation to come hang out in the messy middle – the space between blank page and masterpiece. It’s a space to meet God in the messiness of our lives, to rediscover the wonder of Jesus.
Dr. Johannah Myers is the Associate Director of Messy Church USA. She also serves as the Director of Disciple Formation at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Greenville, SC, where she’s been since 2009. In 2013, she led Aldersgate in starting a Messy Church and the rest is a very Messy history.
You can read more blogs by Johannah here