So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
The young student was lonely, frustrated, and homesick. A thousand miles from home, he found himself drowning in the fast and furious tide of college life. Sex, drinking, and drug binges were the norm. He thought he knew a lot about the world, but in reality, he had grown up in a sheltered environment. The girls, the parties, and the Mardi-Gras lifestyle provided many temptations and distractions, but by the grace of God, he remained faithful to Christ and resisted the pressure to roll with the college tide.
Nonetheless, he felt like his relationship with God was on pause. He wasn't doing anything bad, but he wasn't doing much good either. His spiritual passion was flaming out.
One lonely night, he knelt in his dorm room, rested his elbows on his rackety air-conditioning unit, looked out over the darkened parking lot, and began to pray. But for some strange reason, he didn't pray for himself. Instead, he found himself praying for a friend named Scott.
The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift. —Albert Einstein
Scott was handsome, tall, and athletic—full of natural ability and potential. Unfortunately, he also carried around a lot of baggage from his past. His parents' marriage was shaky at best. His relationship with his dad was distant, partially due to his father's heavy travel schedule as a college basketball coach. At an early age, Scott began his downward spiral, experimenting with drugs and shoplifting. His experimentation inevitably led to harder drugs. His rebellion continued to escalate when the high he received from shoplifting was replaced with the rush of burglarizing homes. He didn't need the money; it was just something to do. Because of his influential family and his status as a star athlete, he was never arrested or made to pay for his crimes.
One afternoon, Scott was walking to class with this college friend who had been praying for him. Scott suddenly turned and said, "Something is different about you. You have something that I don't have. What is it?"
Scott's statement stopped this young man in his tracks because he had been praying for just such an opportunity. That evening in Scott's dorm room, Scott's friend led him in a prayer to enter into a new relationship with Christ.
I was that college student. More than two decades ago, I prayed with Scott in his dorm room—an event that has changed both our lives. Scott began his journey as a Christian that day, but my own journey into the pastorate also began that very same day. Through my interaction with Scott, I sensed God leading my life into the pastorate. My call to ministry and my vision for the local church began thanks to my interaction with Scott and others like him in college.
Trying to influence my friends for Christ helped me see the need for doing church in a radically different way. Scores and scores of Scotts out there need not only a radical Savior but a radical church to meet them where they are.
After Scott bowed the knee to Christ, I invited him to the church I was attending. And for the first time, I began to see the church through someone else's eyes. The terminology was confusing. The music was tired. The overall feeling was lifeless and just plain boring. If I ever go into church work, I thought, I will do whatever it takes to provide a biblically driven, compelling, and creative experience that someone like my friend Scott could understand.
I wish I could tell you that Scott is doing well, but the last time I heard from him, he was still floundering. Though he isn't struggling quite as much as when I first met him in college, he remains disconnected from the local church. That breaks my heart.
What if a creative and compelling church had been there for Scott when he first came to know Christ? What if there had been a place where Scott could have connected with others like himself and developed a relationship with his Creator? I'm convinced he would be a different man today.
I am fortunate to pastor a church like that—to put into practice the vision God gave me years ago. Our vision for Fellowship is simple. We bring people into the church by reaching out (that's evangelism) in creative ways that relate to real life and contemporary culture. Then we work hard to provide an exciting and God-honoring environment for reaching up (that's worship) to connect with God. Finally, we teach our people to grow up into full-court followers of Christ by reaching in (that's discipleship) and moving our people from spectators in the stands to the game of active service.
If we want to reach the Scotts out there, we have to get involved up to our elbows in the subject of this book: creative leadership. This requires a tag-team effort. I'm a team member and you're a team member. Together, we must work tirelessly in cooperation with the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish Christ's bold mission for the church. We cannot let the Scotts of this world fall by the wayside, because of laziness, apathy, or an affinity for the status quo.
The status quo should never, ever describe the dynamic reality that is the Bride of Christ. If the local church is not the most creative, innovative, and alive place on the planet, we are failing as its leaders. My prayer is to avoid this failure by realizing the incredible potential of creative leadership within ourselves and our churches to help unleash the power of the gospel to a needy world.
I love the local church. I cut my teeth on the pews of Southern Baptist churches where my father served as pastor (across the South and now in Texas). The first time I remember spelling my name was with stale macaroni in vacation Bible school. As a pastor's kid, I really never did anything wild or crazy growing up—except maybe getting drunk on Kool-Aid and smoking a couple of crayons. That was the extent of my rebellious lifestyle. After attending Florida State for a couple of years, I graduated from a Christian college in Texas and headed off to seminary. After seminary, I served on my father's church staff in Houston then came to Dallas to start Fellowship Church.
Throughout that time, I rubbed shoulders with a lot of Christian leaders and saw the collective creative potential in the Body of Christ. Unfortunately, I also watched far too many leaders falter with their creative potential. Too many churches get stuck in a rut, doing the same routine, day after day, week after week, month after month. In the name of tradition and old-time religion, these churches are content to follow the same well-worn path, unaware that the reason the path is so worn is because it is a vast but predictable circle.
One of the reasons we ignore our creative potential is a gnawing sense of inadequacy in the creative realm. Rather than giving God our best creative efforts within the church, we often give Him excuses. We compare ourselves to others, convinced that we can't possibly do it as well as this or that person. We say to God, "I'm not creative. I can't sing, dance, or act. I don't have an original bone in my body." Creativity, we think, is reserved for those extraordinary speakers, actors, writers, and artists who have captured international attention because of their talents and abilities. You know, people like Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, T. D. Jakes, John Maxwell, Thomas Kinkade, Michael W. Smith, the Newsboys, Max Lucado, and John Grisham. Surely, God cannot expect that output from us.
But these excuses ring hollow in the ears of our creative Creator. We are made in His image and, because of that, He desires and expects our participation in the creative process. He wants us to make His nature and character known through our lives by impacting those in our sphere of influence. Intuitively, we are all aware of this basic truth. We understand, as Christians, that God created us and that we are made in His image. We also understand the concept of stewardship. Unfortunately, we often neglect to live out this reality when it comes to realizing our creative potential.
Our creativity is linked to our uniqueness. Our external uniqueness is evident in each person's voice, fingerprints, retinas, and so on. Let's not stop with physical distinctions. Consider the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual distinctions of each individual. No two people have the same intellectual capacity, emotional makeup, prior experiences, gifts, passions, or interests. Because God has endowed each of us with a unique combination of attributes and talents, our creative response will also be unique.
Most people have trouble realizing their creative potential, because at some point along life's journey their creativity was beaten out of them. Most of us suffer from a creative cramp somewhere during the course of our lives. Early on in life, creativity is natural and even encouraged as we develop. In our childhood years, our lives are filled with creative thought and potential. Studies reveal that children in the one-to-six-year-old age group score in the ninetieth percentile of creative ability. Those same studies also show that once these children hit age seven, they experience creative cramping that drastically lowers their creative score. Sadly, these creative cramps continue to squeeze the creative potential of these children as they move into adulthood.
Let's process this hard data to understand why so many of us have lost the unique creative edge God intended for us. What happens to children between the ages of six and seven that causes them to plummet in creative potential? One word: school. Don't get me wrong; I'm all for education. However, there is something about the educational system that beats creativity out of us.
Somewhere along life's journey, at about seven, eight, and nine years of age—when the rigors of education start to heat up—we begin to trade our creative thought for other things we are told are more important for our development as productive people in society. At a crucial time in our creative development, we trade the artistic for the analytical. We trade our imaginations for memorization. And we trade laughter for logic. Pretty soon we find ourselves in prison cells of predictability. We want our life to have meaning and purpose and power. We want things to happen. We want to have adventure and excitement. But when we take a long look at our lives, they seem mundane and boring. After creativity is driven out of us, we realize how stale life can be without the Technicolor excitement that creativity affords.
Obviously, I'm not saying that we need to go back to preschool or kindergarten and start playing with finger paints and Play-Doh. What I am saying is that we need to rediscover something that we lost in childhood. We need to rediscover the joy of trying new things simply to shake up the status quo. We need courage to push the boundaries of tradition from time to time. We need to spend time in reflection and imagination to awaken our dormant creativity.
Reviving creativity may be as simple as savoring the excitement of seeing something for the first time or in experiencing something we've seen a thousand times before in a completely different way. We need to find new pleasure in the beauty and diversity of creation, the arts and the worship of God. Regular time each day in creative activities will help us rekindle our creative flare and rediscover an aspect of our humanity that has been severed since childhood. I'm not talking about going back to crayons and finger paints (necessarily), but I am suggesting that you find those things that get your creative juices flowing. Perhaps it's journaling or listening to music. Maybe it's simply staring at a tree for an hour. It might just be finger painting for you. I don't know. But whatever they are for you, these exercises will not only enhance your personal and spiritual life; they will enhance your ability to lead others more effectively.
At this point in the discussion, it's important to delve into a theology of creativity within the framework of something I call the "creative trinity." When we observe how creativity flows directly from the character of God, we are compelled to mimic God's creative character in our own lives. God alone—not cultural expectations, the educational system, or even church tradition—then becomes the benchmark for creative thought and action. I love J. B. Phillips's paraphrase of Romans 12:2—"Don't let the world squeeze you into its own mould." When you get squeezed into the world's "mould," something inevitably gets squeezed out. For many of us, that is our God-given and God-driven creativity
The first part of the creative trinity is that you and I should be creative because God invented creativity. God thought it up; it was His idea. Creativity is woven into the very fabric and framework of who God is. Look at the fifth word in the Bible in Genesis 1:1—"created," as in "In the beginning God created." God started the creative ball rolling, and it has been rolling ever since.
If creativity is so central to the character of God, how can we claim to be connected to the God of the universe and still be so boring? Ephesians 5:1 tells us to be imitators of God. We are to mimic God by being people of love, compassion, hope, vision, and, yes, creativity.
Consider the diversity and innovation all around us. When was the last time you took a good, hard look at the beauty, wonder, and diversity of God's creation? Does the natural world wow you like it did when you were a child? When was the last time a thunderstorm made you feel helpless? Have you ever stood at the mouth of an endless body of water and felt really small? Let me challenge you to allow experiences like these to drive you to worship God and to stimulate your creative potential. Sadly, our man-made homes of bricks and mortar, mechanical engines, miles of asphalt, and offices of concrete and steel can tend to distract us from appreciating the sheer brilliance and wonder of God's creation.
Think for a moment about human beings. God didn't make one human and then clone him six billion times. Wouldn't it be boring if everyone else looked exactly like you, talked exactly like you, and thought exactly like you? For some of us in the ministry, we may think we want more clones (especially on our leadership staff), but such a world would be unthinkably predictable and dull.
What about other aspects of creation? He didn't create one type of flower and spread that same seed all over the earth. He didn't stop creating animals with one species of mammal, reptile, or bird. God's creation is unique and unpredictable; just when we think we have it all figured out, we are confounded again.
If God wasn't content to make a bland, predictable world, why are we content to make church that way? Why do we come up with one way of doing things and become content to do that same thing over and over again? Why do we not challenge our thinking and move to greater heights of innovation?
The second part of the creative trinity is Jesus modeled creativity. Matthew records that Christ "did not say anything to them without using a parable" (Matt. 13:34). Jesus was the most creative leader and teacher that ever walked the planet. He spoke from hillsides, boat bows, and beaches. He drew in the sand, used a Roman coin, cursed a fig tree, and picked up a piece of bread. He divided fish, turned over tables, and put a child on His knee—all to illustrate important lessons. Jesus was all about delivering His life-changing message in dynamic and creative ways to meet to His listeners' needs and backgrounds.
When we analyze all of the words of Christ recorded in the Gospels, we find that 72 percent of them were based on application. They were words of cultural relevancy that answered the "so what?" question (that is, "What difference does this teaching make in my life?"). If we communicate biblical truth without addressing the specific difference it should make in the lives of our audience, we are not modeling the ministry of Jesus Christ.
Jesus understood something 2,000 years ago that we are just coming to realize—we are visual and even multisensory learners. He constantly used visuals and never used the same approach twice. Everything He did was unique. Every approach was different, based on the type of people and circumstances around Him at the time. It is not hard to make the connection between Jesus, the master communicator, and Jesus, the master of creativity. Being a good teacher and a creative person go hand-in-hand. As church leaders, we need to continually look to Him as a practical model to emulate in creative leadership.
The third part of the creative trinity is that the Spirit of God empowers creativity. He is the One who gives supernatural abilities to the church (and its leaders) to truly be the magnetic bride of Christ. He empowers creativity in the life of the believer because people have been designed to respond to this creative element. People are wired for and yearn for creativity. Why do you think the entertainment industry is so successful and popular? Actors, musicians, and entertainers of all varieties capture the imaginations of all ages with their creative gifts. Hollywood, Nashville, and New York are meeting the deep-seated need that people have for creativity, adventure, and excitement in their lives—a need the church should be filling through the creative power of the Holy Spirit.
Spend some time reflecting on the way God creatively communicated truth through the men and women of Scripture. For example, God used a piece of fruit to communicate through Adam and Eve. He used an ark to communicate through Noah. He used a ram to communicate through Abraham, a rod with Moses, the carcass of a lion with Sampson, five smooth stones with David, a big fish with Jonah, and fire with the apostle Paul. Ultimately, He used a despised�