June 12, 2015

By Phil Maynard

Like the title says, be creative.

Nobody who would actually take the time to read a “Powerful Worship Experiences” blog would disagree with that advice.  That is to say, nobody who has a hand in leading worship would advocate the alternative strategy: don’t be creative.

Everybody wants to honor God by being creatively energized in leading others in celebrating God’s presence and going deeper in living out God’s wisdom, but . . . HOW?  How do we develop practices that consistently result in our producing creative results?

There is a myth among non-creatives (think of your engineering friends) or wanna-be creatives (I used to see a lot of those in the Introduction to Creative Writing Class I taught) that the creative process happens when an angel of inspiration suddenly swoops in and hands you a creative project full-born and perfected.

Writers, musicians, and artists who earn their way in the world through the production of creative work know that the truth is that creativity is hard work, and that to be successful requires discipline, focus, and routine.  Especially when working in group settings, it is very much about process.

Here are some habits that you can develop to help develop fresh ideas.

Change it up.

If you have a certain route that you drive home, change it up.  Drive home a different way (even if it’s a little longer).  If you always put grape jelly on your toast, try strawberry.  If you always check your email first thing when you sit down at your desk and then check phone messages, do it the other way around.  It’s healthy for the brain to mix it up.  (And healthy for worship, too.)


Troll resources.

Develop a strong library of resources that you spend time with on a regular basis.  Figure out what publications, resources, and blogs inspire you and visit with them often.  Read good writers.  Scan a variety of blogs.  Steal great ideas from your creative friends (with their permission, of course).  Read up on the latest trends.  Some of my favorite resources include Mark Galli’s “The Galli Report” from Christianity TodayWeavings from The Upper Room, the poetry of Naomi Shihab Nye, the worship design work of Marcia McFee, and, of course, my Rend Collective channel on Pandora.  You will have your own favorites—never miss the opportunity to read more about what inspires THEM because those resources are likely to resonate with YOU.


Yak It Up.

Talk to other creative types.  Gather socially with people who share your creative passions.  Attend workshops.  Hang out with people who inspire you.  Participate in writers’ weekends and coffee house readings.  Find a way to spend time with people who inspire you, and don’t be afraid to ask questions about their inspirations and work process.  Chewing on ideas with other creative types is like breathing oxygen if you are a person who thrives on wild ideas.


Inspire yourself – be healthy in your own spiritual walk.

It is a cliché that those of us who lead worship are often distracted from worshiping ourselves.  The logistics of leading worship for others can absorb our attention so completely that we forget to sing our own praise to God and to delight in the scripture and the message of the Gospel in the very way we are trying to inspire others to do.  It is critical—and  a specific responsibility of Godly leadership—to develop strong spiritual growth habits of payer, study, and worship to provide nourishment to our own souls if we are to be truly open to the leading of the Holy Spirit.


Run Without Headphones.

Leave space in your routine for quiet time.  We have reached a technological point where it is possible to never be disconnected.  Disconnect on purpose.  If you run with music in your headphones (or Ted Talks), try running with only the natural sounds of the neighborhood or the woods or the surf.  It’s critical to the creative process to have silence in which ideas can percolate.


Draft a Dream Team.

Build a feedback loop of some of the smartest and most creative people you know who are willing to be a regular part of your process.  They should be readers and listeners who can give good feedback and understand the vision of where you are trying to go.  A strong sense of humor can be very helpful.  Solicit ideas from them.  Find out what they’re reading, thinking about, intrigued by, inspired by this week.


Ride With No Hands.

Give up control.  The young guys I bike ride with on weekends like to do this thing where they ride for half a mile without putting their hands on the handlebars.  I used to specialize in this when I was 12 years old, but my center of gravity has since shifted, and it seems much more scary now.  Sometimes, though, I still take a deep breath and give it a shot.  Likewise, we spend a lot of time trying to have complete control over element of worship.  Don’t be afraid to let someone else take the responsibility reigns; don’t be afraid to let the Spirit take things in a way you had not anticipated; and don’t be afraid to, once in a while, let something just flat-out fail.  These can be extraordinarily creative moments.

Visit the Competition.

Make it a point to worship in settings other than your own.  Visit the other churches in your neighborhood and take joy in how God is working through them.  Try out other denominations and congregations that are composed of cultures different than your own.  Be a part of different worship styles.  Look for the deep ways that people connect to each of these.  Be open to lessons about what is meaningful that is happening at the core of all worship.  Borrow the things that inspire you!


Get some sleep!

For most people, creativity declines precipitously when we are weary and overworked.  If you really want to be at your creative best, develop good sleep habits and get your rest.  And it turns out dreams can be really conducive to the creative process as well (your poet friends will tell you that for sure – many of them keep a dream journal on the nightstand, to write down those awesome creative leaps they make when they are dreaming – and if nothing else, once you are fully awake in the morning, they can be good for a hearty laugh).  We did mention the freeing power of humor to the creative process, didn’t we?


Make use of the COMMENTS section to share the secrets of what helps you be creative.  This is exactly the kind of collaboration that’s mentioned in the list above.