I met a young artist who showed me some of his drawings. They were dark, cryptic images of demonic figures but executed with excellence. “Wow,” I thought, “this guys got talent”. I liked his personality too. He was confident, articulate and had a vast vocabulary. “Could I see more of your work?” I asked. We went to his house. The first thing to catch my eye was a tower of beer cans and signs of a live-in girlfriend. My heart beat faster. This was a new experience for me because I was a conservative church-boy and I was out of my element. Scattered throughout his home were interesting works of art. I knew that we were destined to become friends.
I was producing a large-scale play of “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.” The play was full of evil characters and I immediately asked my new friend if he would be interested in designing and applying the makeup for these creatures. He was intrigued and said yes. During the course of the production, we spent many long hours talking about God, salvation and debating the Bible. He eventually accepted Christ and lives a robust and creative life serving in the church.
It’s an amazing thing when the seeds of talent grow up into something beautiful. I stand back in awe and acknowledge that God truly is spectacular. He has gifted so many people in the most unusual and colorful fashions. To mesh these talents into the fabric of a church can have enormous benefits. This truly is the way of wonder.
Attracting Creative Talent
One of the best life lessons I have learned is that leadership is who I am, not what I do. If you want to attract creative people to your ministry, then you must begin by understanding that you are the fly paper. Who you are and who you become is the key to a successful ministry. All people, including creatives, want to be led. They want to follow someone who is confident, of good character, trustworthy and someone who will recognize and celebrate their abilities. They are attracted to excellence, a spirit of exploration and a leader who has a mission. Talented people want to make a difference. Demonstrate through your life, the endless possibilities that gifted people can make in local ministry.
There is a stereotype that artists are emotional, unpredictable, unstable, self-centered and disconnected from reality. This notion abounds in the church world. I reject this stereotype. Some of the most faithful and stable people I know are creatives. I think more often they are misunderstood. Creative people express themselves with their heart. Their ideas and imagination are intensely linked to their being. When church leaders posture themselves with a false stereotype, they immediately limit their leadership potential. My advice is to learn the language of the artist.
Not all talent is the same. Most people can take guitar lessons and learn to strum a chorus. Churches are full of people who are interested in singing, painting, creating graphics, etc. I refer to this group, as people who have developed a skill. As a leader, you can assist these people by helping them identify their ability and define how it fits into the overall ministry. For example, I tell our backup vocalists that they will not be soloists, but they can be fantastic backup singers. Their role is vital, and it helps to complete the music presentation. Being upfront with team members helps diffuse false expectations and casts vision for their specific role.
An artist is a different creature altogether. The artist is someone who is able to communicate their heart. When they sing or dance, you are moved beyond words. They are gifted at taking emotions and conveying them in some art form. Have you ever met someone that is great at everything? They can sing, write, take amazing pictures and paint beautiful paintings. This is an artist. Help them to nurture their ability to communicate. The term “frustrated artist” applies to this group. They are frustrated because they can do so many things. They don’t know which way to turn. One day they want to go to New York and the next day they are starting a fashion magazine. Help them stay focused and lead them towards ministry. There is nothing more rewarding.
There is another group of creative talent that is technical. They excel with ideas and technology. This group is just as creative, but in a different way. They can sit behind a computer for twelve hours straight, enjoying every minute. They rattle off data and information that sounds like another language. They are passionate about technology and facilitating artistic expressions. Often times they do not realize that they are creative. Help them discover their creative potential by including them in the production and design process.
Creating a Culture of Creativity
Generally, the church is successful at attracting people with skill and people with technical talent. The artistic group tends to get overlooked. Here are some ideas for attracting the artist to your ministry.
ONE Find the most gifted person in your community and invest in them. Partner with local colleges, design, music, media and art schools. Include them in your vision. Find one great artist and they will become a conduit for recruiting and attracting more talent.
TWO Create a laboratory. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new ideas. Invite your teams to bring their imagination and see what kinds of chemical reactions you can devise. Remember, it’s alright if something blows up, just don’t blow up the entire lab.
THREE Play second fiddle. Just because you are the leader does not mean that you have to be the best at everything. Don’t limit your talent pool by using yourself as the benchmark. Develop a collaborative environment where great talent is cherished. Step back and watch what happens.
FOUR Bring unbelievers into the house. They don’t bite.
Nurturing Creative Talent
Creative people flourish when they are challenged and encouraged to grow. Develop a culture that promotes momentum. A basic recipe for momentum is the following: Creative Challenge + Regular Routine = Momentum. The creative challenge could be a group project or an individual project. Tune in to your team members’ gifts and give them assignments that will push their knowledge and limits. Balance this with a regular and predictable routine. Our Thinking Team meets regularly to imagine new ideas for our services. As a part of those meetings, I ask individual members to tackle specific projects, often new and interesting explorations.
Maintain a low tolerance for sour attitudes. This is a hard and fast rule, if you want to be a part of a creative team at Daybreak you need to check your ego at the door. No self-centered, look-at-me, egocentric, prima donnas allowed. Let one in and your team will be on the fast track to implosion. If you currently have one in your ministry, let them go. I know from experience. When you make this move, God will multiply your teams with new and improved talent. You are called to lead people who want to be led not to fix everyone’s problems.
Develop a culture of team accountability. Encourage your teams to confront each other regarding relational issues, spiritual growth and character issues. There is no safer place to be than with people who care enough to tell the truth, even when it’s difficult. This requires trust and a solid set of shared values.
Translating the heart
Translating the heart is something that I think about with regularity. How can a combination of colors and graphics communicate what is deep in your heart? How can a musician communicate vulnerability with their stage presence? The answers are somewhat mysterious and I believe they are unique for each ministry. Take the time to explore issues of the heart and how your creative teams can make these connections. There are many times when I am working on a design or a video and I have a clear sense of the Holy Spirit’s presence and direction. There is a connection between the spirit and the visual art that is born in those moments.
We evaluate every service with this important question, “How did we touch the heart this week?” It’s an important question. Ask your volunteers to join you in this quest for heart connections. Analyze successes. Pay attention when people are moved by the Holy Spirit. Recently we had 150 people come forward to receive Christ or to affirm a spiritual decision. We were so overwhelmed with the response, and could only point to God. However, we could also identify a succession of heart-moments in previous services that moved people toward their decision.
The Creative Pool
Have you ever been in a swimming pool by yourself? Kind of boring. It’s certainly more fun when the pool is full of people, screaming, carrying on and having a blast, especially if they are good friends. The same holds true for the creative process. Develop a creative pool filled with people that can brew new and interesting ideas.
Gather a team
Look for people who are passionate about the church. They need to believe in the pastor and the staff and have a sparkle in their eye when they talk about the church leadership. Secondly, look for people from all walks of life. Potential thinkers include designers, artists, communicators, technicians, architects, engineers, music lovers, etc. Visual thinkers can be especially helpful.
Develop a creative brief
Defining the project direction by mapping out the goals and objectives. What do you hope to achieve? What is the central message? What singular point do you want your attenders to embrace? What are the limitations, including budgets, schedule and people? Is there a marketing plan?
Value the meeting
If a meeting is important to you, then it will be important to your team. They know your vibe. It is discouraging to be a part of a team where the leader is late, unprepared and disconnected. Increase the meeting value by creating unique invitations and by asking team members to come prepared with specific ideas. Ask them to bring research on specific topics, designs, language, etc. When preparing for our World Party show, I gave each member 20 blank circles. Their task was to come to the meeting with 20 round or circular shapes. Our video screen was a 30’ round shape and I needed good concepts. We started the meeting with 200 shapes to consider.
Every good creative session needs a facilitator. This is someone who understands the objectives and knows how to ask great questions. A good question is the most valuable tool in a creative session. Here are a few techniques for asking good questions.
1. THE MEMORY TECHNIQUE Relate questions to people’s memories. If you are planning a series on parenting, ask questions like…What was your favorite childhood food? What was your favorite song as a child? Write out the lyrics. How did your father feel about you? What was the first thing that went through your mind when your child was born? What was the first day of junior high like?
2. THE 5Y TECHNIQUE Ask five “why” questions in successive order. This will help you get to the heart of the matter.
Q: Why do you pray?
A: To talk to God.
Q: Why do you want to talk to God?
A: To seek guidance for my life.
Q: Why do you need guidance?
A: I can’t do it on my own.
Q: Why can’t you do it on your own?
A: Life is too complex.
Q: Why is life too complex?
A: I’m over-committed and have too many distractions.
3. THE SENSORY TECHNIQUE Relate questions to the five senses. Imagine that you are discussing the idea of pride. What does pride look like? Smell like? Taste like? If you had to personify pride as an object, what would it be and how would it feel?
Ask your team members to tackle various tasks during the meeting. Since they helped craft the ideas, they will be committed to helping with the process of execution. This is much more effective than simply delegating a project. Now team members have a support system, fellow members who will track their progress and a sense of community.
Our world is full of creative talents that are looking for meaning and a place to belong. Create an environment that embraces them and you will find that they are eager to give their heart. The church needs artists. This has always been God’s plan.