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

Pursue Excellence with Constant Evaluation

“CANEI is an acronym that stands for constant and never ending improvement. If you really want your services to soar, you have to commit to CANEI. You can never be satisfied with what you did last week, even if it was a great week. Always keep moving forward; always be working to reveal God’s excellence in a new, more powerful way.” 

– Nelson Searcy and Jason Hatley, Engage: A Guide to Creating Life-Transforming Worship Services.

To become better we need to evaluate. Everything we do can be improved through taking the time to reflect and evaluate when completed. An effective way to guide post-event evaluation it to use established systems and processes, whether these are adapted from other leaders or organizations, or created internally.

Recently I was reading Leading in a Culture of Change. Michael Fullan, in talking about evaluation, refers to Army After Action Reviews. These AARs have three key questions: What was supposed to happen? What happened? And what accounts for the difference?

I like that. While many evaluation systems include many questions about every aspect of the event, they really all come back to these three questions. All the questions on a long evaluation form probably come down to these three questions.

What was supposed to happen?

This question is effective because it assumes there was a clear plan from the beginning. Every person involved in making it happen knew what was expected. They likely talked through each aspect ahead of time, and maybe even rehearsed parts of it. Your evaluation needs to begin with a reminder of what you hoped to accomplish. In this way, everyone is reminded of what their goals were.

What happened?

This is where you work through the event in hindsight and remind yourself  what actually happened. Did those leading know what they were doing? Did the people involved enjoy the experience? Did it end up being close to the original goal and plan? Were you able to work the vision well, meaning did your effort move everyone toward the envisioned goal? This is the opportunity to consider each aspect and identify what went well and what did not.

What accounts for the difference?

Once you’ve identified the expectations and actual outcomes, it is time to look at how closely your event matched what you had dreamed and planned for. Focus in on what happened differently than expected. Point out any surprises or missteps, and then try to figure out why things did not go as planned. What are some reasons for what went wrong? And just as important: what are some reasons for what went right or better than you had planned?

With this in mind, brainstorm what needs to change to be better next time. There might be all kinds of actions to take to improve:

  • Better training
  • Clearer directions
  • More rehearsing
  • Better equipment
  • And on and on

An After Action Review (AAR) may take a few minutes or may last an hour. It depends on how complicated the event was or how many items were identified when answering the third question. I like these three questions because they really focus in on CANEI. You can zero in on what needs to improve for next time.

Evaluation always needs to lead to action. Everything that needs improvement must be worked on until a satisfactory change has been defined and developed.

Incorporate regular evaluation into your routines. Ask God to help you see where you may have fallen short of His hopes for the event, and the Holy Spirit to make it clear on how to continue to improve. As a follower of Jesus Christ, do your best for the Kingdom of God, no matter what you are doing.

Keep looking up,

Andy Wiebe

9 Reasons To Quit

In my last article I gave nine reasons not to quit your present role or position. I think those are important reasons to be aware of. On the other hand, sometimes it is the perfect time to quit. My daughter, who edits my blogs for me, reminded me of the times I have quit and suggested I approach this issue from the opposite side. Great idea! So here it is. Nine reasons to quit.

1. God has clearly called you somewhere else.

I believe that God has the authority to redirect me if he so chooses. You may have experienced that in your own life. Sometimes it is clear that God is asking you to take on a new role elsewhere. One pastor suggested that every time you quit to take on a new role, look for both the push and the pull. Look at the reasons you feel like quitting and the reasons the next role seems so appealing. It may be that God is pulling you to a new opportunity elsewhere.

2. You believe you have done all you can in your current role.

Sometimes we take on roles with great excitement. It seems like such a great fit. You work hard and do a good job, but then you come to the point where you feel you have done all you can. Church planters are a good example of this. They start a church and get it to a certain size or place of stability and then hand it off to another pastor so they can start another new church.

3. You have lost the confidence of your team.

There are times, whether it is your fault or not, where you know that you have lost the confidence of your team. Your board may no longer trust you or believe that you are capable of leading into the next chapter of your church or organization, and you realize that you will no longer be able to lead in your current role. I experienced this when someone misread my actions, and I knew that no matter what I did, I would not be able to change their opinion of me. It would be hard to gain the team’s trust back. It was time to move on.

4. Outside factors indicate a need to move.

Sometimes we need to leave a position because of external factors. These factors could be related to medical care, family care needs, or education. For example, one move my wife and I decided to make was influenced in a large part by the fact that both our daughters were entering High School and a move later would be much harder to manage.

5. You are pursuing further training.

You may recognize that in order to grow in areas you are called to and to continue to be effective, you need to pursue further education or training. That may be a meaningful reason to quit.

6. Your present role is taking too much of a toll on you.

There are times when we find ourselves in a role that is wearing on us to the point that we are emotionally and physically becoming ill. We need to recognize when we are no longer able to endure the pain or difficulty of our present role.

7. When your vision and the church’s vision are too different.

I left a pastoral role at a church after only being there a short time, when I finally realized that the church’s vision was too different from mine.

This had not been clarified before taking the position. It is impossible to maintain your integrity when you have to work in a role that does not align with your own values and goals. It is better for you, and the organization you are working for, to find a better fit elsewhere.

8. You are being asked to do more than you are capable of.

Sometimes our roles change. We may have been a great fit in the beginning, but things have changed to the point where you no longer fit. It could be that you have done a great job as a pastor so your church has grown, but you recognize that it is now bigger than you are capable of leading and someone else is needed. Alternatively, you may be in a situation where your job description is changed, and you need to evaluate the situation to see if you are still in the right role or need to move on.

9. If you can’t afford the role anymore.

Sometimes, you need to make a decision to quit and find a new role because you are not being paid well enough. Some churches are small, and are limited in what they can offer as a salary. If the wage is no longer enough to meet the climbing expenses of you and your family, there may come a time when you need to resign and look for a better paying role.

If you think it is time to quit, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons, and then do it with confidence.

Keep looking up,

Andy Wiebe

The Tortoise Change Leader

Many of us know the children’s story “The Tortoise and the Hare.” The two are having a race, and everyone knows the hare will win. After all, a hare is much faster than a turtle. The hare decides to take it easy and even rest for a while, but the tortoise keeps going, slow and steady. Who wins? The tortoise. The point is that sometimes the race goes to the slow and steady one.

If you are called to be a leader of change, you will need to learn the skill of slow and steady change. It is a rare situation in which a change leader can come in and make large scale changes to an organization quickly. Those who do attempt so often get their attempt cut short as they are removed from their leadership role.

Church leaders who attempt change also need to learn this concept of slow and steady change. I have realized my own shortcomings in this in a few situations I have been in. I tend to get impatient and want to change too much at once.

A good change leader understands how to lead slowly and steadily toward a desired goal. Here are ten actions to take to be a tortoise-like Change Leader. They may need to be worked on in a slightly different order than listed, depending on your situation. As you work through these actions, they will help you to feel you have some movement while keeping you to a slow and steady pace.

1. Evaluate Early: When you take on the role of change leader, evaluate early in your role. Evaluate the organization and team you are responsible for. Evaluate how they are doing in accomplishing stated purposes and goals, and whether those are even the appropriate goals and purposes to have. Leaders who wait to evaluate until they have been in the role for a while tend to become blind to things that need to be changed. It is amazing how quickly we get comfortable with how things are and then lose our ability to see critically. You will see things more clearly if you evaluate early, even though the change may be a while in coming.

Ask people to speak into your evaluation. As a pastor, you may want to do a congregational assessment so you can learn what the present reality is. In one church I got into trouble because I assumed too much. I was used to doing things a certain way and didn’t even consider that the church may have done things differently than I was used to. I ended up making more changes early without even knowing it, because of course, I was new to the church and had no idea how they did things in the past. Assessment may help prevent you from attempting to implement unnecessary and potentially harmful changes.

2. Pray First: Pray about the changes you believe need to be made. If you are trying to change things in a church, you want to make sure you are on track with what God has planned and that can only happen if you are listening carefully. Invite your leadership and other prayer warriors to join you in praying for wisdom and clear direction from God.

3. Love Deeply: Make your first priority to love the people experiencing the changes you will implement. Do anything and everything you can to show them you want to get to know them. Show them you want to get to know their history. Ask questions about who they are and what they care about. Celebrate together when things go well.

Loving people deeply can contribute to change being accepted because they have accepted you.  Show them that you want to put them first, but you want the best for them and that is why you are making changes.

4. Share Goals Carefully: Work with the leadership to get a sense of where changes should be made and even some of what the changes would look like. Have a goal in mind but don’t share it with too many people at first. If people hear about all you want to change at the beginning, they may be overwhelmed and not give you opportunity to change anything. This isn’t about deceiving people but about having time to build on small wins before sharing some of the bigger changes to come.

5. Build a Team: Work especially closely with those who want changes and will champion them for you. Help them introduce the changes so they don’t just come from the leader but from a larger team. Make sure you are all on the same page, having worked through the process of evaluating and planning for change together.

6. Begin Small: Start with a few small changes. Ask your team to help you figure out a few small things that could be changed. Invite them into the process of thinking through how that change would look. You might begin some of the changes by suggesting: “Let’s try this for a short period of time.” People are more willing to accept change if they know there is an end to it, or that it is not set in stone.

7. Evaluate Changes Honestly: Once you have changed something, evaluate it honestly. Evaluate how it went and decide if it should stay, and stay as is, or stay with some changes. Don’t assume it went well just because it was your idea. Invite the appropriate people into the evaluation so you can honestly determine if the change is good or not.

8. Communicate Clearly: Be very clear with all those affected. Inform them of what is being changed and why, as well as how the change will help improve things. If it is a change that will be noticed by all those in your organization then invite the whole organization into the evaluation. If it is only a certain department, then invite that department into the process. Once the evaluation process is complete, clearly communicate if it will stay, why, and what adjustments may be made.

9. Build on Wins: After a few smaller wins you will be able to make slightly larger changes. You can slowly build momentum on the changes that go well. If there is a change that is not adapted, don’t see it as a failure but as a means of developing credibility with your team as well as with those hesitant to make changes. If they realize you want the best and are not just forcing changes through, they may be quicker to accept the next “trial change”.

10. Develop Patience and Perseverance: Don’t give up if a few changes are not accepted. Be patient and persevere for the long term. The longer you are part of a church, the more likely you will be able to increase the rate of change. This will be because people get to know you and trust you. It will also be because over time there will be more people who started attending the church after you came, so they chose the church aware of who you are and how you lead and the changes you are making.

It is not easy to be a change leader. You will face opposition. Hopefully, if you move at a slow steady pace, you will face less of it and begin to build on your wins. Hang in there for the long haul. And trust God to give you wisdom and guide you as you look to Him.

Keep looking up,

Andy Wiebe