1) View Creativity As Essential
We say that the Bible is our sole authority for faith and practice. Faith, yes. Practice, not so fast. We need to be honest about this. Most of the time the Bible tells us what to do without telling us exactly how to do it. We have to exercise some creativity to decide the best way to accomplish the Bible’s instruction. Some may say that the way they conduct their invitation is biblical, but that can only be true up to a certain point. The Bible doesn’t give the details for invitations. Receiving an offering is biblical, but the way you take it probably isn’t. That part is creative. Teaching and discipling are in the Bible, but Sunday School isn’t. Going out into the highways and hedges is biblical, but bus ministries aren’t. You’ve met a shallow thinker whose only reason for not doing something is because it is not found in the Bible. The Bible only gives the local church a few things to do. Our creativity is needed to accomplish those tasks as well as possible in the age and culture in which we live.
2) Avoid Both Ditches of Creativity
The opposite ditches of creativity are denial and dependence. Some churches are in denial of dual facts: first, their ministries demonstrate how badly they need the freshness that creativity can bring; second, while criticizing creativity as compromise, their own ministries are also a result of creativity, but a creativity born 30 or 60 years ago. These are often older pastors, although not exclusively. Their services are designed to appease a certain clientele and deny God the fresh, vibrant worship that He deserves. The other ditch finds many younger pastors who seem dependent on creativity to build their churches, almost to the point of worshiping at the feet of creative ideas. They are becoming seemingly dependent on creativity to make something happen. Both ditches likely are illustrative of the water boiling the frog in the kettle. The water in one is spiked with irrelevance, as the members are content to go through some spiritual routine and end up with absolute boredom masking the relevance of a timeless Book. The other kettle contains water spiked with a growing addiction to spiritual novelty. The people are coming from a culture where constant change provides constant distraction, but are repeatedly robbed of the depth that only comes with being steadfast and unmovable.
3) Don’t Expect Creativity To Produce Divine Power
No innovation has added power to the local church in 2,000 years. The church has had some powerful movements in history, beginning with the New Testament. Few serious students of the Bible and church history would try to argue that the church has more power now than ever before due to its creativity. Our power never came from innovation. The printing press was certainly helpful, but churches before Gutenberg had access to the same power as churches after Gutenberg. The Word of God existed 1,400 years before the printing press and men preached it with power. God’s power has been available through prayer to every generation of the church equally when they sought after it. Innovation might add efficiency and opportunities, but power will be obtained from God as it always has been. If we truly believe that to whom much is given, much shall be required, we’d better be prepared to produce more powerful revivals than churches centuries ago having 1/1000th of the technology we have. The value of creativity must be the extent to which it points us back to what has always produced power, such as preaching and prayer.
4) Practice Creativity Inside-The-Box Instead of Outside-The-Box
Creativity is typically linked with thinking considered “outside-the-box.” This idea is actually the product of a 1970s’ psychologist named J. P. Guildford with his nine-dot puzzle. It basically demands that you free the mind by discarding any traditional or conventional thinking in order to increase creativity. In contrast to this way of thinking is “inside-the-box,” which claims that true creativity is actually greater and more useful when it looks inward for its resources rather than outward (read The Ready Writer editorial for an interesting example). This second model carries much more promise in a church setting because believers have divine revelation that reveals the resources God empowered to build His church and make disciples. When He ascended, He left His disciples with a set of tools that would never be more complete than they were the day He gave them. He made them powerful enough that their power would transcend any culture or age and guaranteed their relevance until the end of time. Any form of creativity for God’s people will benefit from focusing on these tools, then applying them to the culture in which they exist. The preaching of God’s Word is a tool unsurpassed in the application of divine methods to human history. Instead of looking outside of preaching, focus on ways to use preaching to reach the most people most effectively. Anything that minimizes preaching will likely minimize power, regardless of creativity. (As an example, our Men’s Advance will draw over 1,500 men to Stillwater, Oklahoma. Our formula is “content drives everything” and focuses on the preaching points that are derived from the text months in advance. Those messages are not only preached, but also illustrated in a 7,000-foot, walk-through maze with every preaching point brought to life in a modern scene. It’s a form of creativity that serves preaching rather than distracts from it.) Whether it’s prayer, singing a hymn, developing men, presenting the Gospel, etc., you will never benefit as much from outside-the-box creativity as you will by limiting yourself to inside-the-box thinking that begins with the divine tools and builds around them.
5) Trust Inside-The-Box To Give Independent Baptists An Advantage
Outside-the-box thinking is all the rage. It is a distinguishing mark of American religion and churches today. Not only is it responsible for producing some of the most embarrassing abuses of liberty, but it has also resulted in a loss of distinguishing marks between churches and their doctrine. An outside-the-box independent Baptist church may have proper doctrine, but you’ll be hard-pressed to know it because you can’t tell any difference between it and evangelical churches until you get extremely close. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and evangelical church plants are being duly flattered. It is impossible to make any serious case for creativity among churches that are all starting to look alike and appear to be following the same playbook. Inside-the-box creativity, on the other hand, isn’t as inclined to borrowing because it isn’t looking outside. It’s looking inside the Divine Playbook in which are offered divine tools that have yet to stop working given two conditions: 1) that you trust them enough to apply them with diligence, and 2) that your goal is true disciples, as opposed to consumers. The world will end before the power of preaching has been exhausted. The independent Baptist church that starts with preaching, prayer, or biblical worship, just to name a few, and excels at creatively using these tools will always be the refreshing alternative to the assembly line of clichéd church practices.
6) Measure Creativity by Profit, Not Gain
Jesus said that a man can gain the whole world, yet lose his own soul, the result of which is unprofitable. Gaining the whole world is huge, so why did Jesus imply this was a net loss? Because you cannot determine profit by gain alone. Identify what you lose, subtract it from what you gain, then you have a better idea of whether there was any actual profit in the end. Creativity can shine such a bright spotlight on what is gained that it hides its losses in its shadows. Very few churches pursue creativity that doesn’t produce something. A young lady who strongly desires to be married can gain a husband if she really wants to. But, if she does it by lowering her standards (given that they were not impossible to begin with), she eventually feels the loss side of the equation. The ensuing marriage ultimately ends unprofitably. A pastor can be creative enough to gain a bigger crowd, but because he didn’t anticipate what he would lose in his efforts, he can end up with a large crowd and very little church (committed disciples). Once-solid churches have been reduced to shells of their former selves because the next pastor made unwise changes that seemed creative. The gain of a younger, mobile crowd did not offset the loss of the more loyal, older members and negated the benefit of the younger learning from the older. The ultimate end was a net loss. Gains can be seen easily. Losses are harder to calculate. They take longer to develop and are usually irreversible. Many seasoned pastors are not so much anti-creativity as they are experienced enough to see the ultimate difference between gain and profit. Creativity, in the hands of a pastor who carries it out only after he understands the loss as much as the gain, is extremely powerful.
7) Use Creativity To Feed Hungry Disciples Instead of Appease Bored Consumers
Our culture has several addictions that make our mandate of creating disciples more challenging. Three of these are novelty, distraction, and unlimited choice. Together, these three often treat boredom as chief of the deadly sins. Pastors begin to live according to consumer expectations to eliminate whatever is boring, replacing it with anything more exciting. The problem is that God’s expectations are for us to lead sinners to a life that values what is right over what is superficially exciting, a distinction with which consumers have little experience. Life’s richest and deepest rewards are those that take time to cultivate and that demand endurance of that which feels rather routine, but which is often growing at a level too deep to be felt by those used to superficial stimulation and virtual reality. The deepest marriages are those that grow through constant seasons involving both the freshness of spring and the bitterness of winter. The most valued friendships are those that use time and struggle to weave a stronger fabric than either thought possible. Raising mature, godly children demands a commitment to training through the teachable moments as well as the tedious repetitions. The most decorated athletes are those who play long enough and train routinely enough that they’ve learned how to use both failure and success to their advantage. No one should illustrate that point more than a church entrusted with a timeless message. Inside-the-box creativity constantly points to fresh uses of the same tools, which is more consistent with the church’s timeless message. Outside-the-box creativity has a way of reinforcing the consumers’ thirst for a regular stream of novelty. This often reinforces their behavior and leaves them unprepared for the realities of being a disciple. Paul told the Corinthians that always abounding in the work of the Lord was tied to being steadfast and unmovable, which demands working through boredom until you break through to the richness of something deeper. iTunes was extremely creative when it made it possible for the consumer to ignore the complete album the artist put together and buy only the songs that move them. Church attendees are coming from a culture that expects that same freedom of choice, declaring anything else unfair. God will never stoop to fit into that mold of creativity, and we do attendees no favors by reinforcing such a mindset. None of God’s attributes are optional, and ignoring the ones we don’t like is nothing short of idolatry. Novelty, distraction, and unlimited choice are unbecoming to an institution tasked with converting consumers to disciples.