Does your church’s energy and enthusiasm feel as frozen as the ground outside? Anyone can suffer from a winter of creative thinking. As a church leader and creative, I have a few strategies to help warm up my coworkers in the Kingdom to more creative thinking.
We tell each other our origin story.
Every person and every place—every organization—has an origin story, or a story of its beginnings. What happened “in the beginning” of the community you serve? The players may change, but things that were true in the beginning remain true now. The origin story of a community never departs.
The church I serve was founded when a couple returned from burying their young son and, seeing neighborhood children playing in the street, decided to start a Sunday School. The values of that moment, established in 1910, continue today: a missional heart for the community, a concern for teaching the next generation, and a love for the faith life of the mind. Remembering and repeating this story helps establish values, which become clarifying decision-making tools.
What’s in your story?
We use what moves us.
The word in some creative circles is “input.” As a part of our weekly routine, we find things we love and share them with one another. Some people call this “best practices” but I eschew this term because it suggests copying what “industry leaders” do wholesale. One thing I’ve learned in both church work and in creative work is that creativity is unique; it happens in a specific time and space . . . and is rarely repeatable.
In fact, the desire to “capture lightning in a bottle” (as one pastor once described his innovation envy to me) is not only a waste of time, it’s destructive, because it’s convergent. It suggests that there’s one right way to do things. What we need is less convergence and more divergence. We need multiple ideas, not single ideas.
We capture ideas.
My primary life change from writing Think Like a 5 Year Old, my book on creativity, is that I have learned the value and discipline of recognizing and capturing good ideas. Most of us look for ideas to come on our terms, for example in a committee meeting at ten o’clock on a Tuesday. I have wasted more time in meetings trying to be creative than I can remember.
The catch is that we don’t suffer from a lack of ideas; we receive more than we can ever use. They just come on their own schedule. Shortly after we think to ourselves, “oh, that’s good, I need to write that down,” it leaves for a more affable host.
The solution is to get it when it comes. Pull it out of the ether and put it on your phone, in your journal, across your white board. Make capturing good ideas an ongoing part of your daily routine.
We look for the core.
In most organizations, function dictates form, which is backwards. To be more creative, find the core. Why does your thing—sermon, ministry, etc.—exist? Why was it made? What problem / angst / issue led to its creation? Everything begins with dissatisfaction of the status quo, a vision for how to change something for the better. The why reveals the story of the thing.
Consider for example a message series. Why does the preacher want to preach it? What’s the story? Knowing how to answer these questions well takes a high degree of self-awareness and reflection.
We focus on the creative process.
In Think Like a 5 Year Old, I write about the reasons our creative energy freezes up, including fatigue, self-defeat, self-glory, and unease with a lack of control. All of these situations rise from focusing on results. Worrying about outcomes reflects a concern for the approval of others, and a budding worry about the approval of others is at the heart of a documented phenomenon called the “Fourth Grade Slump,” in which children in late elementary school years recognize the influence of social power and voluntary inhibit their creative energy.
The way past this is to focus on the work itself, not what happens in the end. Waiting for end glory is a lie; real joy is to be found in the work itself, in the heart of the creative process. The red carpet is a destructive lie.
Len Wilson is the author of Think Like a 5 Year Old: Reclaim Your Wonder and Create Great Things, a speaker, and advocate for creativity in faith and life. He is known for his pioneering work in visual storytelling and has consulted with organizations and ministries across the country. Len is the author or co-author of ten books, has been featured in dozens of articles for major religious periodicals, and has acquired leadership books for Abingdon Press, a division of the United Methodist Publishing House. He currently serves as Creative Director at Peachtree, a large church in Atlanta. Visit him online at http://lenwilson.us or on Twitter at @Len_Wilson.