By Eddie Pipkin

April 8, 2016

I am not much on fashion or decorating, or for that matter much of anything that requires a sense of style (except, mercifully, occasionally where words are concerned).  My sense of personal fashion style comes in the varieties of “tuck and untucked,” and my sense of home design is also woefully inept (I recently created a crisis by putting fuchsia dishwashing liquid into the cute clear glass dispenser by the sink instead of the clear dishwashing liquid obviously required for that scenario).  I am, however, totally fascinated by those like my long-time friends, Sally and Chiny, who have a 6th sense for those details, who can see in their mind’s eye what is going to look good.

Paralleling that fascination for me is an interest in the process of how trends and styles develop, evolve, spread in popularity, and eventually fall from favor.  That curiosity is how I end up reading articles like this one about the hottest new trend in furniture fabric designs.  Understanding the creative process more deeply is always instructive for any artist or trendsetter—particularly anyone charged with generating new ideas and shepherding them successfully to fruition.  I am always particularly eager to hear how the creative process works for non-writers; I feel like I get the writer’s process and its variations, but other artists and thinkers (particularly non-verbal practitioners), not so much.  And this article on how professional shopper and style arbiter Jen Derry and colleagues kick-started a revival of the ‘kilim’ design, does not disappoint.

The thing that stands out for me—since I know absolutely nothing about their given field—is the Kilim Chairprocess.  And the point they stress that is applicable to all of us in ministry, worship arts, and communication is that creativity does not spring from a vacuum.  If there is one mantra that I always stress when teaching creative writing classes—and which I will always stress to any group of leaders who have a mandate to refresh old ideas and birth new ones—is that creativity is work, just like any other endeavor.  Sure, we sometimes have bouts of pure creative insight, but day-to-day creative output is based on good habits and faithful disciplines which prepare the soil for harvest and give us maximum opportunity to make unexpected connections.

Reporter Marni Jameson (author of the article linked above) identifies the following habits that can be useful to any of us:

  • Travel – As ministry leaders, it is absolutely imperative that we get out and see what other people are doing. Sure, we need to read articles and books (just like you are doing right now), trade ideas among our own teams, and surf YouTube.  But there is no substitute for getting out there and visiting other local ministries.  I write LOCAL intentionally, because one of the benefits of such visits are that they are exclusive to your local community (its peculiar strengths and needs) in a way that a national or mega-church ministry can’t be.
  • Break Things Out Into Their Components: Jameson writes about the skill of designers to deconstruct items and thus think about them more creatively. For ministry leaders, we actually usually do this better than we connect disparate components together (this is especially true in worship, where “The Big Idea” push has been to meaningfully connect diverse worship elements around a central theme in any given week).  But it can be empowering (and more manageable) to work on individual pieces and imagine how changing one thing can impact the other things to which it is connected.  For instance, what if we have a dedicated time for congregational prayer in our normal worship service format?  What if we spend a whole creative meeting rethinking just that one aspect of worship?  How could it be refreshed?  How would that refreshment impact other aspects of worship?  And mixing things up—order, sequence, etc.—can be very powerful in bringing an extra spark to people numbed by routine.
  • Try Out Multiple Solutions: Creative people in the fashion and design industries seem much more at ease with there being multiple potential solutions to a given challenge than we as regular ministry leaders frequently are. We are more often fixated on coming up with “the” solution to a particular problem or challenge.  Perhaps it is the perceived stakes involved or our theological focus on “God’s plan” that make us feel like there is one perfect solution for every situation, and we just have to discern what the perfect option is.  Imagine if we instead were more willing to try out different things for a given period of time, the way we would temporarily move furniture around in a room just to see what felt right as we lived with it for a bit.  What if we were more experimental in our approach?  If, blessed with three potential options, we were willing to figure out a way to give all three a shot and see what stuck?
  • Pay Attention: We should watch what is trending, make what we are doing familiar and relevant to what is happening in the greater world around us. And we should always, of course, be in tune to what other leaders are doing in ministry.
  • Reimagining the Familiar: Jameson writes about thinking up fresh uses for everyday objects, and this is a particular gift that designers have. Actually, this insight feels so in line with the biblical model—redeeming what is forgotten and discarded and being good stewards with the resources at hand.  Think about the physical elements of our worship space—the objects we employ and the accoutrements of our worship time—how might we give them a fresh focus that would help people engage with them in a new way?  And think about the physical spaces in which we do ministry (whatever that ministry might be)—how we might approach those spaces with a fresh perspective—doing so helps people experience the familiar with fresh eyes and ears.

Have you already been practicing these disciplines of engaging the creative spirit, either as an individual or as a team leader?  Are there other favorite creative-juice-enhancing disciplines that you employ and would be willing to share?  Don’t be shy about offering your own insights in the comments section.