Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Oklahoma State Experiment

Written by: on September 15, 2016

At Oklahoma State University in the Student Union Amphitheater every month there was a night of worship that drew students from across the campus and around the state.   At these monthly meeting there was a melting pot of musicians that would collaborate to create an atmosphere of freedom and creativity to express feelings toward God.  The worship night experience drew students from every walk of life and it was an open night of expression to God.  What started simply as a night of singing and sharing about God had transformed into an awe inspiring night of so many different platforms for encountering God.   At the front of the stage on both sides there were easels arranged with paints and paint brushes to create unto God.  In the middle there was space for students to write out their thoughts to God at small tables draped carefully with fabric and lit by a simple candle.  For those who wanted to dance unto the Lord there was an aisle around the second level.  Randomly there would be those who would bring their flags to engage in a colorful demonstration to God.   This might sound like chaos but in the heart of all this activity was a desire for everyone to be able to engage with God through whatever format they felt drawn to participate in.  Simply put this was a night of “visual faith.”

It happened every month for about ten years.  So many students were engaged into this incredible eclectic time and those who has never experience anything like it were so overwhelmed that they invited their friends to come and “see” worship happen right in front of them.     The paintings and drawings were sometime collaborations of multiple artists and then some nights it would just be a simple word painted on the the canvas.  People took home this art to hang in their dorm room.   The words and expressions that were written down even turned into worship songs.

It was not for everyone though.   Some people could not wrap their head and heart around this being “true” worship to God.   Their definition of worship and their definition of chaos would be radically different then ours or even mine.  I played the keyboard and sang for this gathering for all this time and I can tell you that this influenced my perspective of how creative a God we serve and how when it all flows together the encounter is lasting and impactful.    So when I started to dive into William Dyrness’s book, Visual Faith, his thoughts resonated with my experiences.  “

Here the story is meant to inform, even inspire and to recount and recall the biblical narrative, rather than evoke a spiritual reality.  The spiritual intent is mediated to the viewer by the vocabulary of image that serve as abbreviated representations—a kind of short hand for the full story of salvation. 31


The story of salvation is what we celebrated but it was not in a typical or theological environment instead it was to bring to life the celebration of Christ.  Serving a risen savior who brought life and wanted to engage in a personal way with each individual.


The Christian who is concerned about making a convincing, rational presentation of the gospel will complain that “standards” are gone and there is no way to communicate universal truths.  But the other side of this is that both artists and viewers are now open to new experiences in a way they have not been previously.  They are prepared to see new combinations of things that may spark insight or even fresh revelation of God’s claim on their lives. (122)


This is what I saw happen with my own eyes.  The depth of the fresh revelation for some was to experience Christ for the first time and then take Him with them back to the country they had come from.  For others it was to take them from a position of agnostic to a person open to faith.  It was truly an amazing journey.


Dyrness takes the journey to look at the interaction of art, worship and theology.  He builds a strong foundation for these individually and powerful expressions having a relationship that needs to intertwine.   Dyrness describes his objectives as to—extend and enrich a Christian conversation on the visual arts—and he immediately relates this conversation to the dialog on worship (9). Dyrness observes that people are drawn to God through affliction, religious practices, and the experience of beauty. He then goes on to argue that because modern life has banished these first two draws, the church is limited to the third draw—beauty—in attracting people to God (22). Dyrness concludes arguing for renewal in three areas: a new vision for the arts, renewal in worship, and a restoration of the Christian art tradition (155).


The final thoughts that I have gleaned from this very interesting book has to do with today.  The modern church has embraced or borrowed from a lot of sources to become culturally relevant for this generation.  Dyrness observed this new trend in his writing, “Since pop artists opened the way, artist have borrowed elements from popular or commercial culture to make ironic references to contemporary life.” (127)  One of the things that the church has gotten better at is integrating the message from the popular or secular culture and has applied it to the gospel salvation story.   This impacts the effectiveness of the message and the messenger.


Finally, postmodern art, with all its collaboration and interaction, often reaches for an experience that is deeply spiritual.(133)  We are grateful for these growing sensitivities; indeed, we may even find in their work insights into a spirituality that will challenge our own spiritual perceptions.  (133)


We live in a day when just like our worship nights, there are multiple layers of what worship looks, sounds and feels like.  The ability of more and more people to interact with worship outside the box and to embrace art, theology and worship all in the same setting is a trend that I see happening.  A majority of churches has trended toward images to create their culture and to define who and what they will be.   I believe this is the era of Dyrness.




William Dyrness, Visual Faith: Engaging Culture, Art, Theology and Worship in Dialogue. Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Academic, 2001.

About the Author


Kevin Norwood

My name is Kevin Norwood and I have been in youth ministry for the past 34 years. On February 14th, 1994, 27 years ago, we moved to Owasso OK and wow what a ride. My wife, Ann, is an RN and specializes in Clinical Documentation working from home. Maci is a my 21 year old daughter and she loves and shows horses. Her horse's name is Charlie. She is currently working with animals and loves to go on trail rides with her horse. London is my 10 year old son and he keeps me young. He absolutely loves life!! Golfing, baseball and Hawaii is his latest adventures. He skied for the first time in Colorado this year. I have started a coaching business for pastors at www.kevinnorwood.com and it is exciting the doors that God is opening. I earned my Doctorate in Leadership and Global Perspectives from George Fox on Feb 10, 2018.

13 responses to “Oklahoma State Experiment”

  1. Claire Appiah says:

    What an incredible, unique, and awe-inspiring experience of “visual faith” at Oklahoma State University. AMAZING GRACE! The Spirit of God was moving mightily in that place—so transformative—the participants will never be the same. Vicariously, I am even blessed and overwhelmed with joy. Those visual displays of encounters with God debunk the myth subscribed by many that God is dead in the lives and hearts of our contemporary youth.
    I like your perceptiveness and forecast of the direction worship is taking in your statement, “We live in a day when just like our worship nights, there are multiple layers of what worship looks like, sounds and feels like. The ability of more and more people to interact with worship outside the box and to embrace art, theology and worship all in the same setting is a trend I see happening.”
    Blessings Brother.

    • Claire,
      Thank you. I believe we must continue to move forward to engage this new generation as well as incorporate the past generations. There is a way to do it but it takes planning and hard work. Theology comes into our building when people come into our building and how to synthesise that all together is always the incredible job of the minister. We have a huge challenge but I say challenge accepted.


  2. Hi Kevin. I agree with you. Nice blog. How do you incorporate images when working with youth? If this really is the age of Dyrness (and I agree with you that it is), I would guess the youth are more “in tune” with the use of images than us old geezers. What do you think?

    • Aaron,

      I have a “twenty something” helping me create my messages and our worship time through the visual arts. Their ideas of picture that communicate and my pictures that communicate are usually different. So I create the “drama” stories on the stage and they create the “three D” graphics that go behind what I do. We always want to create more than one layer for our worship and for our illustrations. I tell them I want everything to be in 3D. Kids can relate to that.


  3. Marc Andresen says:


    You wrote, “The story of salvation is what we celebrated but it was not in a typical or theological environment instead it was to bring to life the celebration of Christ.”

    You said that this worship night lasted about ten years. Did it cease abruptly or slowly? If it no longer takes place, can you identify why? What difference might it have made if there had been more overt ‘theological’ input? In other words – ala Dyrness – could there have been more ‘dialogue?’

    I have no preconceived notions here – it’s pure curiosity.

    • Marc,
      The band broke up…. How many times have you heard of that happening? The main leaders went to the University of Colorado, one went to be a worship pastor in Detroit and ministry took another direction. Always intriguing what happens when people follow God’s plan. I have introduced part of this with our own youth group but that also lasted for a season. I think some things have to do with the personality of the congregation that you are leading. I have a studio for producing music in our building that was a hotbed of activity until all of those students went off to Belmont and to Full Sail. It sets empty waiting for the next student that has that same interest. The ones who went of to study that are now leading some major ministries creative arts ministries. (Jenson Franklin comes to mind) So seasons happen even with in this creative thought and I do believe Dyrness expressed that.


  4. Aaron Cole says:


    Great connection of the book to OSU worship night, Good times! You stated: “One of the things that the church has gotten better at is integrating the message from the popular or secular culture and has applied it to the gospel salvation story.” I completely agree. Why do you think the church has become better in this area?

    • Social Media has so become a mainstream for of communication that even the 60 and above crowd in our church uses that every day to communicate. Pastors receive communication in the format of pictures. Social media has so embraced pictures that snapchat has launched a complete business based on seconds of communication. Platforms that could have simply come and gone have stayed and because they have it has brought change even to the church.


  5. Phil Goldsberry says:


    I also love the new expressions that are arising within our culture. As Solomon said, “there is nothing new under the sun”. What we are seeing is a “renewal” or is it a rekindling of expression?

    Where, and can it, the expression cross the line from sacred to “??????”


    • Imagery is something that God spoke into being. He they described his works to an author who attempted to write it down for us to “see”. God is creative and he has wired us to be creative. So where does it cross the line?

      I would say at pornographic (nude) but that has been used in the church for ages….

      Maybe it would be at the point where Christ is removed from the narrative and man is put into his place…


  6. Garfield Harvey says:

    This was a great blog because it reminded me of earlier days as a student at Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. It’s so long ago I can’t remember the pianist’s name but her vision was unique. Her concert appealed to many and was called Jazz-Arts-Sign. The pianist was blind, there was a dancer, a sign language specialist and a narrator who created the visual of what the artist was painting through his interpretation of the music on stage. All these facets were on stage at the same time with the jazz band. Just like worship, different people need different expressions to engage God. For some it might be the music but others might need the special lighting, etc. You stated that “We live in a day when just like our worship nights, there are multiple layers of what worship looks, sounds and feels like.” You are correct because Jesus showed a model where some people needed to hear a parable while others received a healing.

    While caution is needed in how we engage God. We can’t ignore the need for intentionality to be diverse in presenting the message of God through worship.

    Thanks for the reminder,

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