my favourite four-letter word…

When was the last time you did something different? I mean truly different? I’m not talking about a tweak on the status quo or a slight adjustment on a pre-existing thing, I mean a brand new idea that you dreamed up and then committed time to implement it.

I often ask leaders and teams that exact question, and you might be surprised to know that most of the time the answer to that question is ‘never’. Even more interesting is that many don’t actually see this as a problem. I hear leaders regularly tout the words of Solomon ‘there is nothing new under the sun…’ as if to find some kind of comfort or solace in the realisation they are void of the responsibility to dream the impossible and initiate a unique and alternative response to the myriad of issues people face today. It would appear that our culture’s ‘cookie cutter’ approach to living has informed the way we do ministry, that we have forgotten the place of innovation and creativity in our work. Personally I find this really disconcerting.

It leaves me pondering ‘what happened?’ When I consider the early church and the creativity and innovation they had to employ (for the sake of the gospel and the survival of the church), I can only wonder why we are so reticent to do the same. As I read through the gospels and the Acts of the Apostles I am constantly confronted with the incredible risks people were prepared to take in response to the Creator, His work through Jesus and those who would be brave enough to follow. There are countless stories in scripture of people pursuing the impossible, displaying incredible innovation and creativity for their time, and seeing extraordinary outcomes as a result. So again I ask… what has happened?

It would seem that our image conscious age has impacted our ability to innovate and take creative risks. For many people in today’s context and culture, RISK has simply become another four-letter word! The worth of an idea is measured by the maxim ‘will it work?’. An important question, granted. However such a question does not allow for the possibility that the dreams and desires that well up within us (on the rare occasion we allow them to) could actually have something more to offer than that which simply ‘works’. Unfortunately,

we have replaced our creative yearning with market research, popular opinion, and projections of estimated outcomes. Innovation is deemed too risky if this holy-trinity of marketing is not in alignment therefore willing us to continue.

Furthermore, feeding this image conscious psyche is our incessant pursuit of perfection. Creativity and innovation on the other hand are usually far from perfect. It can be a messy and sometimes un-measurable process. As a result the average person finds it very difficult to put themselves out-there and attempt something that might come off as less than perfect. And who can blame them? After all, we are constantly bombarded by high quality creativity. Think about it… The music aired on commercial radio has been designed rehearsed recorded edited produced market-tested and refined… TO PERFECTION. Only then is it shared with others. And so it goes for most creative endeavours in our society. The art on display, the fashion we buy, the movies on show, the technology we use – it is all manufactured to perfection long before it becomes available to the public.

The effects of this is that we have come to believe that something with humble, less than perfect beginnings, is simply not worth pursuing. Of course the flow on effect for those of us in leadership is obvious. We pick and choose from the seemingly perfect range of products and apply them to our situation at will. Do we consider the possibility that there might be a better way? An original response? One that serves the need and inspires others by its own merit?

The influence of the must-fit-in culture of our age demands we take on a persona that is tried, tested and current.  We may well desire the creative but in actual fact we have settled for conformity. This is a shame, because very few things in life begin as ‘perfect’. But who is to say that perfect is the goal anyway?

If we are looking for perfection in creativity (by the worlds standards) we are missing the point. Creativity is meant to be experienced first hand as much as it is observed. We are meant to create because within this process the creator is offering something truly original, and this is a reflection of the beauty and imagination of The Creator. This unique expression of the true self is in essence innovative. No one has done it before, it is inspired and it cannot be replicated as it is first experienced.

The ministry we are entrusted with invites us to enter the creative mind of God and partner to see The Kingdom come. It is important to learn to think this way because all ministries will be faced with future challenges that current forms of thinking are simply inadequate to address. The core values and ministry priorities may not change, but the method will change in response to our rapidly changing context and culture. Indeed one cannot solve a problem with the same mode of thinking that helped to create the problem in the first place! It will require a new set of eyes, a new way of thinking, and a different approach altogether.

One of the best ways to begin the process of creative expression is to spend time with fellow imagineers. As the adage goes ‘when the elements are right, a spark ignites into a flame’. It’s vitally important to have people who will dream with you and encourage you to take risks for His sake. There are many places this can happen. I am particularly thankful for the support and encouragement I receive through the Youth Vision network, and the inspiration shared as I spend time with like-minded people at events like The Road, AND festival, and The National Youth Ministry Convention. These are great places to connect with others on similar journeys and be inspired with creative thinking and innovative practice.

So… when was the last time you did something new? Maybe it is time you for you to put aside time and energy to explore some new possibilities? Maybe it’s time you tapped your creative well? Maybe it’s time you inserted this four-letter word into your vocabulary? Maybe it’s time to put your good (albeit risky) ideas into practice? It’s time to get started… This short clip might help you.

**This is a rework of an article I wrote for YV.Q published October 2011