As the death of David Bowie, the provocative entertainer, artist, actor and singer, continues to shock fans and the general public, his mark upon culture is undeniable. Bowie’s work spanned decades and touched millions of people. As musicians rise and fall with cultural tastes, Bowie was able to keep the attention of the masses. Bowie’s success is obvious. He sold over 140 million records.
Despite Bowie’s brand of suggestive visuals and content, churches have a lot to learn from this cultural icon. Though Bowie was mostly agnostic and didn’t really dive into religion, (some flashes of spiritual moments, though) his ability to stay relevant is unmistakable. As churches struggle to understand how to “be church” in the 21st century, Bowie’s life teaches pastor and church leaders how to thrive.
Don’t be afraid of failure. From Ziggy Stardust to his acting role in Labyrinth, Bowie was not afraid to try his creative genius. Many of his early acting roles were strange and his movies bombed, but he did not let his lack of acting success dictate his music career. Bowie continued on and did not listen to the critics. Many times, churches are afraid to try new ministries because they think their idea might fail. Failure is not defeat. Great thinkers and creators know that failure is a lesson in what does not work so that you know what can work.
Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. Did you know that David Bowie sang “The Little Drummer Boy” with Bing Crosby in 1977? Bing Crosby, who was like the grandfather who sang folk songs, with the King of Strange, David Bowie? Yes, it happened. Bowie’s collaboration had no bounds. Bowie’s work was a mixture of many genres of music and art and often worked with other singers. Churches often think of themselves as an island in a sea of shifting culture. However, there are other churches, groups, and people who are already doing ministry. Churches must partner with community outreach programs, governmental leaders, and even, God forbid, other denominations.
Focus on the future. Bowie once said in an interview, “My policy has been that as soon as a system or process works, it’s out of date. I move on to another area.” Bowie would not allow one period or decade to define his work. His ability to renew and innovate music and art was the key to his success. He did not rest on one successful song or album. Churches often think their greatest days are beyond them. The time of full sanctuaries and Sunday school classes defined success. Churches who think the past was great and the future can never be as bright are positioned for death. Churches that focus on building and investing in future leaders and ministries are churches that will thrive and reach new people for Jesus Christ.
David Bowie’s iconic sense of fashion, art and music is not everyone’s cup of tea. No matter if you are a David Bowie fan or not, you cannot ignore his ability to connect to an ever-changing world. Pastors and church leaders can examine Bowie’s legacy and learn from his acumen at success.