Pursue Excellence: Develop Useful Templates

When you drive to work in the morning, do you always go the same way? Do you go the way that you know is the quickest, or takes you past the best coffee shop, or has the least traffic? Or do you change up your route each day? I always take the same route. In fact, over time it becomes so automatic that I find myself turn toward work when I’m driving those roads on my day off.

Taking the same route is like using templates in the office. Templates are the well-worn tracks that help work become more automatic and less stressful. Templates can be used in many different situations and for varying purposes.

Templates create efficiency:

As a leader, you are probably quite busy. You don’t want to have to re-learn how to do something every time you do it. When you find a good way of doing something, keep track of that method or format, and use that to create a template to follow. When you create a new document or work on a new project, pull out this template and follow the plan you have learned to trust. This saves you from trying to figure out how to put it all together.

In the same way that a familiar route to work ensures you get there on time, templates become familiar paths to work through quickly and save time.

Templates ensure uniformity:

In addition to ensuring you follow the same method, templates help you produce similar-looking documents. For example, I use templates when I am writing job descriptions. In this way it easy to compare one document to another. It also ensures that I include all the pertinent information in the order I want in the job description.

There are times when various team members may independently prepare documents for a shared project. Without a template you may end up with very different looking pieces making it difficult to combine efforts or compare results. A template helps everyone follow the same format. In this way, you can easily compare information across various documents because you know exactly where to look to find the information you need.

Templates provide consistent processes:

I use a template in my sermon preparation. Using a templated provides me with a format and process to follow. My sermons don’t always look the same, but the research and preparation process often does. I know what steps I have benefited from in the past and want to make sure I don’t forget them. For example, I like to ask myself certain questions as I work on the application of the sermon, such as: How does this sermon speak to a twelve-year-old boy?

In addition to sermon preparation, I use templates when working with planning teams for church events. I this way I make sure that we talk about costs, budgets, available resources, plans for prayer, and various other essential steps in planning.

Templates are also effective for more administrative work. For example, when working on Terms of Reference, a template can make sure you have the important details listed. For instance, I want to make sure that if people are working on an agreement for working together, I want there to be no question as to who has the final say. A template reminds me to include a statement about that.

Useful templates:

Pursuing excellence requires a plan and a template can get you there. As you begin to use templates you will adjust and refine them to become the most helpful tool they can be. If a template makes you do more work than you want, if it is not actually useful, then redo it or find a better one. You could start by finding a template someone else has used and adapting it to make it your own.

Templates and creativity:

I have found that adapting and implementing templates to my work has been incredibly helpful. While I would always advise using a template when possible, there are times when using a simplified template – more of a checklist – is a better option. If your goal is creativity, rigid templates may be a hinderance. As a pastor, I have created hundreds of Sunday morning worship services. I love to create each service in a unique way, meaning the different parts in the service can be moved around to accomplish the best result for each service. I joined one church that had exactly the same order of service every Sunday for the last seven years! In this instance, using a service template may restrict some creativity. Instead, a template that focuses on the planning process, or even using a checklist, provides guidance while allowing room for more freedom. As I mentioned earlier, I use a template for sermon preparation, but I have developed it to aid my creativity. While the final sermon is different each week, I use a template to guide each step of the process, which includes adding creative elements. On the other hand, a template makes each order of service exactly the same, but a checklist could be an effective way to ensure all the items to include are included, while still allowing you to be creative. (More on checklists: The Incredible Value of Checklists)

You have probably already figured out that I place a high value on creativity. At the same time, I want to be efficient in my work. Templates save time, and if used in the right circumstances still allow for creativity in the efficiency.

Templates can be very useful if you find ones that fit your situation. Use them well and save time.

Keep looking up,

Andy Wiebe

The Church Needs More Creativity

Our Bible begins with the Creator at work, creating our world. When He makes people, they are created in the “image” of God, as creators themselves. While different animals are incredibly industrious and clever, humans are set apart from the animal world by our ability to think through problems and find new solutions and create new things.

Merriam-Webster online defines “create” like this:

  • To bring into existence
  • To invest with a new form, office, or rank
  • To produce or bring about by a course of action or behavior
  • To produce through imaginative skill

Create with a twist on what already exists

God brings into existence something out of nothing. We, as humans, have to use what is already available to create something new or different. Even the creativity of thought or speech builds on the thoughts and words of others.

Creativity uses and builds on what others have created. Of course, we need to acknowledge other’s works and do not want to claim something as ours when it isn’t, but we usually create out of what already exists.

As a church, too often, we buy curriculum and programs that others have found to be useful. We run programs and events that have been effective elsewhere. These can be great options for times when we do not need to “re-invent the wheel” and use materials that others have invested in developing.

Even when we purchase a complete program, we often realize there are aspects that don’t quite fit. In order for the program to work well in our own situation, we need to implement frequent evaluations of our programs and events, and be open and flexible to make changes. These changes require a sense of creativity to consider what we could take out and add to improve the pre-made materials for our situation. We may also find that there are times when we are better off creating our own completely new program that more appropriately contributes to our ministry as a church. Just because a club program works well in large urban centers in the United States does not mean it will transfer to rural northern Alberta. While the teaching may still transfer, the application part may have to be adapted to connect with rural northern kids.

Stretch yourself to think creatively

We need to learn how to be creative. Many of us had all our creativity schooled out of us. We were forced to colour within the lines for too long. We no longer know how to think outside of what already exists. We need to stretch our creative muscles and limber them up so that we can think of things that do not exist yet, building something new on something old. This could be through reading and listening on a variety of subjects. It could be dreaming and brainstorming as a team. It could be learning how to take aspects from many different places to put together something that is new and different, and perfect for what we are hoping to accomplish.

Being creative is not an individual task. Instead, seek creative input from people in your community. Talk to people in different fields to learn how their knowledge and experience could be adapted to work in the church. For example, what might we learn from someone’s expertise in trees about how to structure small groups? Or how might talking to an electrician spark ideas for discipleship?

Areas for creativity in the church

As we focus in on church ministry, creativity can add some new life in almost every area!

The Worship Service – Our worship services have not changed much in decades. We may sing less hymns and more worship songs and we may use versions of the Bible with up-to-date language, but the service as a whole still consists of singing, prayer, scripture reading, and preaching much as it did years ago. Even if we don’t get creative with the outline and contents of the service, we could benefit from creative ways of doing these essential pieces of our worship traditions.

What if we celebrated communion with different stations spread around the room where we could physically enter into confession, repentance, and celebrating the forgiveness Christ offers? We could write sins on paper and run them through a shredder or nail them to a cross.

What if we built on the message of the sermon by inviting people to discuss the application of the lesson and promise to hold each other accountable to follow through on our commitments? Not only would this invite more participation in the service, but encourage engagement with one another throughout the week.

Discipleship – This has been one of the most talked about topic in my church circles over the last decade or two. How do we best disciple others? How do we grow as disciples of Jesus ourselves? Often the process is built on information. We teach people scriptural truths and encourage them to memorize verses. Could we borrow ideas from the trades where people progress through stages of practical learning along with class time? Maybe we could apprentice new believers through stages of learning and development. What if we “walked” through life together? An apprentice disciple could be in touch with their mentor throughout the day, perhaps checking in at certain times, and being available for advice and prayer? We need to creatively find ways of doing this better.

Children’s Ministry – Every church has some type of ministry for their children, and often they are very similar. Could we be creative in how we help our children get to know Jesus and grow in their faith in Him? Yes, use all kinds of media, and creatively insert “old-school” ideas that we enjoyed as children that our youngsters have never experienced. Sometimes creativity may mean re-creating something old with a new twist. You could use puppets, play a video, or have them record their own video on a topic. Find ways to engage them physically through games or dance or hands on interactive learnings stations.

Creativity is the means, not the end goal.

While our desire is to be creative, that is not our goal! While it may be nice to be known as a creative church, the creativity is only meant to help us reach our other goals and to engage more people in the process. As a church, God has called us to reach and teach people; to come to faith in Jesus and to grow as a disciple. Creativity can help us get people’s attention and keep them interested. Creativity can be the container that carries our goals forward. The colour and shape and size of the container helps draw attention. Who wants to watch black and white movies when you can watch them in High Definition colour?

Let’s learn to stretch our creative muscles prayerfully and creatively to be the best church offering the best programs you can!

Keep looking up,

Andy Wiebe

Develop an Active Imagination

I remember watching two preschoolers, a brother and sister, playing next to me as I was watching a floor hockey game in college. I was fascinated at their imagination. They had no toys, no digital devices, just the bleachers and their imagination. They played for a long time, together imagining all that was happening around them.

Too many of us have lost our ability to imagine. We are so caught up in the moment and in what is right in front of us that we no longer know how to use our imagination. There could be a number of reasons for that. Maybe our imagination was stifled as a child when a parent or teacher told us to quit daydreaming. Daydreaming is the fertile ground imagination grows in! Some of us had an active imagination until someone made fun of our ideas. For whatever reason, we have stopped imagining.

Have you ever wondered why some people are so good at coming up with ideas? It’s because they have an active imagination. They are not afraid to dream up something new. And they are not afraid to try out their ideas. We don’t know how many ideas these people imagined that went nowhere, before they found the ones that were great.

We can develop an active imagination. For instance, give yourself freedom to daydream. Find some time when you have no other distractions and no requirements of yourself and just imagine things. Find your time you can claim as your own. Dream. Make up a story in your mind. It could be that you have a problem at work. Whatever your work is, whether dealing with people or machines, if there is a problem, your imagination can help you solve it. So start imagining all kinds of possibilities.

In your daydreaming, don’t put up fences. Don’t start evaluating and discarding an idea too quickly. Sometimes good ideas need time to work their way to a solution. Some of us are quick to say: “That won’t work.” We even think that way in our daydreaming and discard ideas before they are fully developed. Remove that fence. Remove any fence that puts limitations on your imagining. Don’t discard an idea too soon because it takes more money than you have, or more volunteers than your organization has, or whatever it is that tempts you to short-circuit your dreaming.

Imagination is enhanced by other ideas. Sometimes as you read and watch and listen, ideas come to you through other people or situations around you.  A while back my one of my daughters gave me a book on trees. I would not have chosen to read a book like that, but it was amazing to read the insights of someone who had spent years working with trees and understanding them. There were points in the book that got me thinking about how to work with small groups and how people interact.

Another book I recently read outside of my normal reading selections was Atomic Habits, by James Clear. While the book was about habits, it sparked all kinds of ideas that made me want to apply the teaching to the process of discipleship. As we read and learn from others, we add fertilizer to the fertile ground of our imagination.

Someone once said that we should “beg, borrow, and steal” as we look for good ideas. There have been many times that my good ideas came out of ideas that others had worked on. I was able to build on and adapt those ideas to programs I was working on or ministries I was running.

I have been part of churches that planned wonderful Easter Celebrations complete with a breakfast, fun and games, a worship service, and an Easter Egg hunt. One of the aspects of the morning that went over really well was to bring in a professional photographer to take family photos. Many people dress up for Easter so it was a great time to offer people a free family photo. I don’t know where I got the idea, but I know it came from someone else’s ideas and I was able to adapt it to my setting.

One author who wrote about planning creative worship services suggested always having some children’s toys at hand. The idea was, if you have fun thing near you, in your environment and in your hand, your creativity will be enhanced. So, surround yourself with weird and wonderful objects, collect fun sayings and give yourself an environment that will be conducive to good imagining.

I don’t know if you have found this to be true, but some people think they imagine and think creatively better by being in a certain place, or a certain chair, or taking time to daydream at a certain time of day. If you want to be intentional about improving your creativity and your imagination, this might be an idea to try. Find a comfortable spot and see if the creativity ideas start flowing. It may take a bit of trial and error to find the right spot, but sometimes the habit of that certain spot or certain time can help unlock creative ideas.

Then, at a certain point, you have to look to putting your ideas into action. When you have ideas, start writing them down. Writing down ideas requires you to express the idea in a concrete way. The imagination has to become reality at some point. Writing it down helps you put that idea together.

If the written idea still seems like a good one, try it out. Share it with someone. You might want to make sure you share it with someone you trust, or someone who won’t shut you down too quickly. If you can verbalize it in a way that makes sense to the person listening, you are heading in the direction of your ideas becoming reality.

When you think you are ready, try out your idea. See if it solves the problem you were working on. If it does, great! Your imagination helped you. If it does not work, then keep looking for another idea.

Continue to cultivate an active imagination. Just think of how many good ideas you will have if you allow yourself to stop and daydream!

Keep looking up,

Andy Wiebe

Book Reviews: Andy’s 2022 Reading Experience

I will be sharing a brief review of every book I read this year. Hope you enjoy and hope it encourages you to keep reading.


AN HOUR ON SUNDAY – By Nancy Beach

In An Hour On Sunday: Creating Moments of Transformation and Wonder, Nancy Beach draws on her years of experience creating great worship services. She covers many aspects of how to create meaningful experiences for church congregations, focusing on the arts and artists involved in making these experiences moments of “transcendence”. She writes, “Our aim should be to create services so compelling, so meaningful, and so unexpected, that the time sails by and attenders leave with an enthusiastic desire to talk about their experience as well as the content of the service.” Her chapter on creativity is one of the best. This book is a great encouragement to do our best to create services that impact people in meaningful ways.

13 Ways to Make Prayer a Priority

I hope I don’t have to convince you that prayer needs to be a priority in your church. If I do, just take some time to skim through the gospels and notice how many times and circumstances you see Jesus praying. He gives thanks for a lunch, teaches the disciples the “Lord’s Prayer”, prays for future believers, and on and on. If the Son of God felt the need to talk with his Father that much, then we should follow that example. If that is not enough, then search “prayer” on your Bible app and you will see the many times Paul taught about it. We know prayer is important, so, I am going to focus on the many ways you can make prayer a priority in your church, teaching it and practicing it.

1. Pray During Church Services

I visited a church, where the sermon was teaching on prayer and I could not recall them praying even once in the service. Open in prayer, pray for missions, offer a Pastoral Prayer, give a prayer of thanksgiving for the offering, and close with a benediction prayer.

2. Offer Prayer Following the service

Many churches give opportunity for people to come to the front or to a side room for prayer following the service. They may have heard God speak and need to spend some time in prayer or have a leader pray with them.

3. Preservice Prayer

I like the idea of people praying before the service, sometimes with all who are involved in the service. I have a caution though; I think it is very valuable for the pastor to be greeting members and newcomers before the service, so do your preservice prayer early enough that you are done in time to be available to greet people as they arrive.

4. Prayer Night

It might be good to have an occasional or regular night of prayer. You could teach a little on prayer, and then focus the rest of the time on actually praying.

5. Prayer Trios

Ask people to commit to pray with two others weekly for a certain extended period of time. They could meet at any time that is good for them for fifteen minutes or more, praying for a specific concern.

6. Small Group Prayer

If your church has small groups, encourage them to regularly have a time of prayer for and with each other.

7. Elders/ Leadership Team Prayer

Make prayer a regular part of each meeting you have with the leadership team, elders, deacons or board. Pray about your agenda, pray for specific programs and people each time you meet. Or have a monthly meeting dedicated to praying for the church.

8. Plan a Prayer Emphasis

There have been a few times where I led our church in a three-week prayer emphasis with preaching on prayer on the Sundays around it. I prepared special prayer guides for each person prepared to give direction as they prayed.

9. Teach on Prayer

Teach your congregation how to pray. You could even preach through the Lord’s Prayer which Jesus used to teach his disciples to pray!

10. Prayer Chain

The Prayer Chain was a staple in some of the churches I pastored. One person received the prayer request and then passed it on down the line, phoning the next person who phoned the next person. Today we can just email or phone everyone at once, but find a way to quickly inform your congregation of prayer needs. Use this often and regularly.

11. Pray with People

When you visit with Christian friends, take time to pray together. When someone asks you to pray for them, do it. Do it right then with them, and then commit to praying for them.

12. Pray Prayers of Dedication and Commission

There are many occasions of celebration, dedication, and commission in a church and each of these events are great opportunities to pray and ask God’s blessing, direction, and presence be involved.

  • Every September I invited all who were going to serve in the church in the next year to stand, or even come to the front, and we prayed a prayer of commissioning for them for the role they were taking on for the next year.
  • When we had missionaries come speak at the church, who were heading overseas shortly, we would pray for them as well.
  • I love Child Dedications and enjoy praying a blessing on the child incorporating the meanings of the child’s name.
  • It’s important to pray for those who have just been baptized to protect them from Satan’s attacks, like the ones Jesus faced after his baptism.

13. Pray for Healing

This is sometimes a scary thing to do, but pray for those who are sick. They may be healed, and they may not be healed. But scripture makes it clear, Jesus healed people in the Bible. James teaches that prayer should be part of the church, specifically calling on the elders of the church to pray. Go to those who call you to pray for them, or have times where you specifically invite people to come forward for prayer for healing after a service. Sometimes we would connect this to a Communion Service.

There are many creative ways to pray, teach prayer, and lead in prayer.. Make prayer a priority by doing it.

Keep looking up!

Andy