Creativity in ministry: Try to find some!

I see by my notes that TIME for May 20, 2013, devoted an entire page to “assessing the creative spark,” a rarity in newsmagazines.

Now, I’m no authority on creativity or anything else, but have long been fascinated by the subject and attuned to writings dealing with it.

Creativity is that ineffable match-strike, that flash in the dark that comes to you from, well, it’s hard to say where. You can’t summon it on demand, though inclining your mind to a task does help. –TIME. (Jeffrey Kluger, writer)

I know a little about this right-brain activity, being a preacher, a writer, a cartoonist, and a story-teller.

Here are a few things of what I have learned about creativity:

 

1) The creative act can be nurtured.

Some people seem to be born with that spark, while others have to start from scratch. Either way, everyone can be creative. It’s just harder for some than others.

I used to have a staff member who was so creative that, after he left and moved to another state, sometimes I would phone him with a situation and ask for anything and everything that came to his mind. On the other hand, most of my colleagues on the church staff seemed clueless when the same question was tossed their way.

2) Creativity can be energized by outside input.

 

You’ve racked your brain and come up empty. You’ve lain awake at night worrying about the issue and nothing comes. It’s time to call in outside help.

Let’s say you are a minister looking for a theme for your next year’s church program. You know what your church will be doing, so all you are looking for is a combination of words that will express it, will be catchy, and perhaps even memorable.  You can call in a few friends, you can go online and research it there, or you can drive down to the public library. The last is my choice.

At the library, you pull out a chair in the periodicals section. For the next hour, you peruse a dozen magazines you’ve never heard of before, or at least rarely ever read. You scan ads and articles in publications dealing with rock music, fashions, politics, and electronics. You jot down phrases that jump out at you, expressions that intrigue you, and statements you find puzzling.  As you leave, you carry with you a dozen or twenty pithy slogans and phrases, any one of which may be exactly what you are looking for.

Or not. (Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s still a favorite method of mine.)

3) To be creative takes time.

You’re driving to a meeting where you need a new idea in a hurry.  Your mind is abuzz with panic. “I need it now!”  Too bad. Unless you are the one person in a million who can do the impossible, you can forget about finding a great idea when panic has grabbed you by the throat and won’t let go.

A better way is to clear off a day on your calendar for quiet walks, relaxation, something light and refreshing to eat and drink, and some inspirational reading.  Do something fun, get some exercise, then sit at the table with pen in hand (or laptop) with the question du jour in mind. Jot down ideas that occur.  A half hour later, get up and do other things. Go for a walk, read something funny, take a nap, and then come back.

4) Creativity requires quiet.

“Creativity must be nurtured by a circumference of silence.”

When we are rushed, creativity is the first casualty. Only when the body is rested and our spirit is quiet will the mind venture into those uncharted regions where new ideas lie waiting to be discovered.

5) Creativity loves indirection.

You’re looking for the answer to B when the solution to A pops up.  You are trying to find a great outreach program that will work in your church and in the midst of your search, you come across something a church in Iowa is doing that suggests the ideal way of handling benevolence.

Sometimes the subconscious works on a problem long after the conscious has moved on.

6) Creativity is usually tied to the volume of output.

If your goal is to write the great American novel, you will want to write a dozen books in the hope that one may qualify.  With the remarkable exceptions of Harper Lee and Margaret Mitchell (To Kill a Mockingbird and Gone With the Wind), authors do not write one book and achieve instant legendary status and never write another.

The website for Baptist Press carries thousands of my cartoons. My hunch is that a hundred of them might be really good. The others had to be thought up and drawn in order to produce the hundred. (The frustrating thing is that no one will agree on which 100 are good.) Likewise, this blog contains thousands of my articles, of which the same thing can be said.

The obvious question–perhaps the one we should have raised at the beginning–is: Why does a minister need to be creative?

I hope the answer to this is obvious. But, stating the obvious is a spiritual gift of mine, so here goes:

–You would like to find new ways to present wonderful old truths to your congregation.

–You want to find new and fascinating ways to say the same things to your people.  (Each year you have a stewardship, evangelism, or other kind of campaign. Your sermons may be basically the same each year, but the dressing and forms are different. That “difference” is where the creativity comes in.)

–You will be faced with insoluble problems. There seems to be no way out of this situation. And then someone gets creative. Love it.

–You will be planning a revival, a banquet, a senior emphasis, or a party.  Put on your creative hat now, friend, because you need this big time.

–Your wife wants to know why you forgot the date you and she made for today.  You need a quick answer and it had better be good.  Creative spark, I need you! 🙂

That’s the idea, at any rate. Well, other than the last. I just stuck that in for those who have stayed with us to the end. You get a star by your name.

 

 

 

 

The pastor resigned because someone criticized him.

“Christ also suffered for us…when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him who judges righteously….” (I Peter 2:21-25).

Someone criticized me.  Whatever am I to do?

Well, for starters, you might grow up.

Quotes on enduring criticism can be found in the hundreds online.  Here are a few we found in a few minutes….

–The final proof of greatness lies in being able to endure criticism without resentment.(Elbert Hubbard)    -You can’t let praise or criticism get to you.  It’s a sign of weakness to get caught up in either one. (John Wooden)   –A critic is a legless man who teaches running. (Channing Pollock)    –You are a glorious shining sword and criticism is the whetstone.  Do not run from the whetstone or you will become dull and useless. Stay sharp.  (Duane Alan Hahn)

No one enjoys being criticized, but we often benefit from it immensely.

I say to pastors and other church leaders, you do not want to live and work where there is an absence of criticism.

You think you do. But you don’t.  Only in the harshest of dictatorships is there no criticism.  But in a free society–like ours–criticism abounds.  If the society is indeed free, much of the criticism is fair, just, and well deserved.  Likewise, much of it will be unfair, unjust and unmerited. A leader who survives has to develop discernment in order to know what to ignore and what to treasure and learn from.

A friend texted:  “Joe, write something about criticism!  Some good pastors are resigning because not everyone in the church likes them!”

He and I both find that incredulous.  As though someone could do a great work for Jesus Christ in a hostile society without stirring up resentment and incurring the wrath of  some people.

Advice columnist Dear Abby used to say, “You throw a rock in among a bunch of dogs. The one that hollers is the one that got hit.”

Continue reading

Church staff rules to live by

I once asked some minister friends their advice and lessons learned concerning church staff relationships. What follows are some of the best of the responses. In no particular order.

1. Jim says, “Be very careful whom you trust completely.”

In over three decades of ministry, Jim says he has been brutally betrayed at least 3 times. It has made him wary about trusting anyone with anything confidential.

I’m recalling a time when the personnel committee and I were dealing with a sensitive issue, long since forgotten. I said, “Can I say something in here and it not go any further?” The chairman said, “Pastor, I wouldn’t say anything in here you do not want to get out.”

That was a courageous thing for him to do. As subtly as he knew how, the chairman was cautioning me about trusting some of the people in that room. In time, I learned he knew whereof he was speaking.

2. Andy says, “First, pastor the staff. Be their shepherd.”

Something inside us wants to protest, that, well, the staff are all ministers and they don’t need pastoring. They do. In fact, preacher, so do you.

I have heard that the typical ministerial staff wants the pastor to be their friend and the congregation’s pastor; the congregation, however, wants him to be their friend and the staff’s pastor.

My answer is: be both. I’m capable of pastoring friends.

Continue reading

100 things I tell young pastors (the final 20)

81. Just as no one knows you better than your spouse, your co-workers on the church staff will see you as no one else does. Make sure they respect you as a person of integrity and compassion who keeps his word, has a sincere heart for God, and treasures each of them.

82. Watch for certain scriptures–a verse here, a verse there–that impress themselves upon you in a special way. This is a work of the Holy  Spirit, a personal gift even. He is inviting you to study this area more, to seek His insights and receive His teaching.

83. Humility. Do not hesitate to apologize. If you made a mistake and everyone knows it, to stonewall and refuse to admit it will end up enraging a few and disappointing everyone else. By humbling yourself and asking for forgiveness, you endear yourself to everyone who matters.  (I’ve known of pastors who gained so much love by publicly apologizing, they started looking for some other dumb mistake to make just so they could apologize.)

84. When you require the approval of a committee, if the chairperson tells you, “Oh, just go ahead and do that, pastor,” don’t do it.  Instead, you should respond, “Thank you, my friend. But I’d really like the entire committee’s input on this.” Never allow the chair to act as if he/she is the committee. (Just so subtly are church tyrants created.)

85. Always err on the side of conservativism in finances and of grace in relationships.

Continue reading

What the church staff owes the pastor

This is a followup to our recent article on “What pastors owe their church staff.”

A pastor has a right to expect that the ministerial staff working under him will carry out certain basic responsibilities, which include….

1) Doing their particular jobs well.  If you are called to work with the teenagers, that should be your focus.  If your area of responsibility is administering the children’s program or the work with seniors or discipleship, you will always be interested and supportive of the total work of the church, but you will be rated on how well you do your particular area.

2) Living a solidly Christian life at all times. This should go without saying, but after seeing the way some people compartmentalize their lives–“Hey, this is simply my job. What I do in my spare time is my business!”–we need to spell it out: If you are not living as a disciple of Jesus Christ, you have no business serving in any capacity whatsoever at a church.

Continue reading

Why the Lord has to call people into this work

The pastor said to me, “Pray for me. It’s hard out here. But we’re hanging in there, trying not to return evil for evil.”

I teased, “That’s why they pay you the big bucks, to put up with that stuff.”  And after a moment’s reflection, added, “It’s why God has to call people into this ministry.”

If it were easy, they’d be lining up to get in on it.

Called by God. Yes, it’s how He fills the ranks of shepherds.

“Now, the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country…to the land which I will show you; and I will make you….” (Genesis 12:1ff.)

“Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law…. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush…. (And God said) ‘I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring my people out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3)

“And God said (to Isaiah), ‘Go and tell this people…’” (Isaiah 6:8)

“Now the word of the Lord came to (Jeremiah) saying, ‘I have appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5).

“And walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon, called Peter, and Andrew…. And He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men’” (Matthew 4:18-19).

“And the Lord said (to Saul), ‘Arise, and go to the street called Straight….’  ‘(Saul) is a chosen instrument of mine, to bear my name before the Gentiles….” (Acts 9:1ff.)

Anyone see a trend here?

Continue reading

The two-faced church. Both sides are accurate.

“…a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27).

Anyone can criticize the church. It’s the most vulnerable institution in the world, the most victimized, and the most vilified.

Criticizing the church is like clubbing baby seals.  It has no way of fighting back, but just lays there and takes what you dish out. The difference is that, after the beating, the church stands to her feet and goes on about her business, while you the critic walk away beaming as though you have done something heroic.

You haven’t. You have picked on the easiest target in the world.

In this morning’s newspaper, some (ahem) rocket scientist wrote a letter to the editor taking on the church for the Spanish  Inquisition of the Middle Ages and before that the Crusades.  I assume he just discovered these.

No institution on earth has been so targeted for villainy as has the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

–Satan and his legions persecute it and when that doesn’t work, they imitate it in order to make people think the wickedness they’re perpetrating is actually done by the people of God.

Continue reading

Lack of integrity in the pastor: A deal-breaker

My longtime friend Will was telling me his story.

I was the student minister in a fine church many years ago,  We had a wonderful ministry. The single negative about the entire experience was the pastor. You never knew what he would do next.

Case in point. One night in a church business meeting, the pastor announced that some property the church owned, including the former pastorium, was being offered for sale. At the time, my wife and I were living in that house! And now we learn they’re selling it. This was the first we had heard of it.

That night, my wife was angry because she thought I had known about it and not told her. But that was the way this pastor worked.

Staff members were nothing to him. Just pawns to be manipulated.

Listening to my friend tell of that experience, I thought once again that the number one trait a staff member is looking for in a pastor–as employer, supervisor, mentor, and hopefully a Christian brother-–is integrity.

Without integrity, nothing matters.

Continue reading

Elevating boasting to an art form

He must increase, but I must decrease.  –John the Baptist.  (John 3:30) 

The speaker said, “As you know, I urge people to walk by the Spirit, to obey Him.  But I need you to know I am not anti-intellectual, not against education.  In fact, I am so much pro-education that I have my bachelor’s degree from a college, I have my master’s, and I also own a doctorate.  In fact, when I was working on my doctorate, the dean said to me that my dissertation was so profound that I should turn it into a book.  That book, you’ll want to know, is on the market right now and you can purchase it in the foyer at the end of this meeting.”

Another time, the visiting preacher, an older fellow, wanted our church to know that he was somebody, I suppose.  Early in the service he told how he had started a church many years ago and stayed with it through the years until his retirement, that during this time he had baptized so many, and had enjoyed seeing the membership climb to (whatever).  He showed a photo of the huge plant on the screen.  He must have talked about his former church for five minutes.  We never did know why.  We did not need to know of his successes to hear him.  In fact, his scars probably made him a better preacher than his awards.

Continue reading

Blindsided by opposition: Welcome to the ministry, pastor.

(In our experience, most of the Lord’s people are wonderful and most of His churches are filled with sincere and godly workers. But once in a while, pastors come upon sick churches led by difficult people who seem to delight in controlling their ministers. When they find themselves unable to do this, they attack. Pity the poor unsuspecting preacher and his family. What follows is written just for them.)

“But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to the courts, and scourge you in their synagogues….” (Matthew 10:17)

You and your wife–please adjust gender references herein as your situation demands–went into the ministry with heads high, hearts aglow, and eyes wide open, idealism firmly tucked under your arm, vision clear and focus solid.

As newly minted ambassadors for Christ, the two of you were ready to do battle with the world, eager to serve the saints, and glad to impart the joyful news of the gospel.

Ministry was going to be great and noble and even blessed.

That’s what you thought.

Continue reading