summer I got in touch with my feminine side and took a day trip with my wife,
Lisa, to the world’s largest flea market in a little town called Canton, Texas.
That day, I watched in amazement as thousands of shopping fanatics, in triple
degree Texas heat with perspiration dripping off their noses, pushed their shopping
carts from shop to shop in hopes of finding the deal of a lifetime. It was like
sitting on the front row at an obscure Olympic competition. If you’ve never
been to Canton, there are truly not enough descriptive words in the English
language to paint a picture for you of what it is like.
two or three long hours on the quest for the ultimate flea market find, Lisa
was kind enough to say, “Honey, let’s break for some lunch.” Grateful
for the reprieve, I accepted her offer and we made our way to the food area,
which consisted of a group of rickety, wooden picnic tables strategically huddled
around several food stands.
bought a couple of chicken sandwiches at one of the restaurants and proceeded
to one of the tables to eat. After a few minutes, Lisa looked over my shoulder
and said, “Honey, check that out.” As I turned, I noticed an employee
of the restaurant carrying a tray of samples. Normally, a restaurant would hand
out samples to potential customers. But this girl was weaving in and out of
the picnic tables handing out samples to those of us who were already stuffing
our faces with her restaurant’s chicken sandwiches!
said, “Ed, that’s hilarious. I mean, all she has to do is walk about fifteen
paces, go out to all the hundreds of people who obviously haven’t eaten yet
and offer the food to them. Yet, she’s content to feed the already fed.”
that’s when it hit me like an all-pro NFL linebacker. I said, “Lisa, that’s
it! That is the local church in a nutshell.”
see, our problem is that we’ve been so content weaving in and out of the church
aisles and handing out samples to the already fed that we have missed the countless
opportunities to offer the food, the very bread of life, to a lost and dying
might be thinking, “Ed, that’s a great analogy – but how do we do
that in today’s changing culture?”
believe the answer is found in one powerful word: creativity.
this article, I’m going to specifically talk about how we as pastors and church
leaders can creatively communicate the unchanging word of God in our contemporary
world of MP3 players, HD televisions, online shopping, and hybrid cars.
the Weekend, Stupid
any worthwhile endeavor, creative communication begins with preparation – I’m
talking about roll-up-your-sleeves, sweat-on-your-brow, grit-under-your-fingernails
type work. I believe that seventy to eighty percent of a senior pastor’s schedule
should be the preparation and delivery of the weekend message. After all, if
we’re going to say in the church that it’s all about the weekend, then our priorities
need to reflect that reality. And our commitment to work hard to creatively
communicate biblical truth in our weekend messages will pay off with huge returns
now and forever.
think it’s important to state at this point that I do not claim to have the
corner on the creative market. Like anyone, I’m a perpetual student of creativity.
But over the years, I have learned some very valuable principles that have helped
develop my own creativity in ministry. These may seem like very basic principles
to you, but my intent is present the bottom-line of communicating age-old truth
for a modern audience.
love the slogan in the Dr. Pepper soft drink ads, “Be you, do what you
do, Dr. Pepper.” That could also be an ad campaign for creativity in the
church, “Be you, do what you do, creativity.” The first and most basic
rule of creative communication is to be you. I know that seems like such a simple
statement, but it’s one that I have to repeat every time I address this subject.
are all creative; God has gifted us each with our own unique brand of creativity.
So don’t try to be someone or something you’re not. Work on developing and sharpening
the personality and skill set that God has given you and only you.
many pastors and leaders try to change who or what they are when they speak.
But I don’t believe you should go through some kind of metamorphosis or transformation
when you hit the stage or stand up before a group of people. People can best
respond and connect with you when you present the genuine you. So just be the
person God designed you to be.
yourself does not mean that you can’t learn from others. You can always find
new ways to communicate. Studying other speakers, listening to different techniques,
and adopting new styles from others are effective ways to ramp up your creative
quotient. But the key is, as you are learning from other speakers, to build
your own identity and style.
don’t care how hard I try, I cannot speak like Andy Stanley. I’m not Andy. I
can’t be Erwin McManus or Rob Bell. You cannot be me, and I cannot be you. I
do, however, think that we can all learn from each other about how to best communicate
the truth in creative and compelling ways.
have asked me over the years, “Who do you study, where do you study, who
do you read, where do you get your stuff from, etc?” And I’ll tell them
that the first several years, especially, in my ministry, I relied heavily on
material from other communicators. I don’t do that as much now as I used to
– I have come to trust my own voice and style more – but I continue to get input
and ideas from other speakers around the country.
fact, because I believe so strongly in the power of shared ideas, Fellowship
Church has brought together a strong community of pastors called Fellowship
Connection. Through Fellowship Connection and its companion Web site creativepastors.com,
we are able to share what we have learned with a new generation of pastors and
is truth. But the delivery, the creative packaging, differs from church to church
and speaker to speaker. So study what others do and use what you can, what works
with your own skill set. Never stop finding new ways to communicate; because
when we never stop learning, we stop being innovative. Creativity counters complacency.
It is a fluid exercise that should continue to grow and change over time.
next suggestion may seem like a foreign concept to you – it is to most pastors
today. For too many years, pastors have bought into a lone ranger mentality
of sermon preparation. But I have found that creativity is not a ten letter
word – it’s a four letter word. It is spelled T-E-A-M. For a long time, I didn’t
get that. I spent hours and hours by myself creating and developing messages
week in and week out. And if I did elicit someone else’s input, I had one go-to
guy on my staff who helped me with creative visuals, videos and illustrations.
I put too much stock in myself and that one staff member, and it caused me to
miss out on a lot of other supersonic, creative people on our church staff.
I ultimately learned, through trial and error, that creativity must be a team
exercise for the simple reason that everyone is creative. One of the
most powerful and popular ministry tools we have is a highlight video of our
creative team planning the weekend message. It’s so popular, I believe, because
the concept is so revolutionary and freeing for senior pastors who have labored
alone on their messages week after week.
be able to effectively and creatively communicate, you have to be able to recognize
the creative genius of the people surrounding you and be willing to use their
ideas. Leave your ego at the door and stop trying to do it all alone. Pull other
staff members into on your message development and preparation and watch your
creativity soar to new heights.
a Balanced Diet
I use a creative team to develop and prepare every message I give. And every
year, when our creative team maps out a menu of messages, we try to serve up
a balanced diet. We will have some series, for example, that will be heavy on
videos and illustrations. Then we might do a series that relies more on music.
Or maybe we will do a series that utilizes more drama or story-telling. We may
also do an entire series of real-life interviews with people in our church highlighting
their dramatic stories of life change.
communicate creatively, you need to have a variety of techniques to reach a
variety of people. If you’re not changing things up – using the same creative
elements every week – you will end up in a creative rut. What you thought was
creative at one time will become stale and boring.
I also plan different series to reach different groups of people, but not exclusively
so. In other words, I believe every message I do should communicate something
to everyone in the audience. Whether we’re doing a series on decision-making,
the church’s mission, dating or parenting, there should be something for everyone
in those messages. Singles can benefit from messages on marriage and parenting,
parents can benefits from messages on dating, new believers need to hear about
spiritual maturity and the mature need to be reminded of the basics.
I try to do is what I call “speaking to the chairs.” Let’s extend
the analogy of serving the bread of life to the hungry and think about the different
guests who might be sitting around your church’s dinner table, so to speak,
on any given weekend – the new believer, the person investigating Christianity,
the person going through marital trouble, the struggling single parent, and
so on. I do not believe in giving messages just for seekers or just for believers,
because in today’s post-modern climate, everyone is seeking at some level. So
I am a seeker-targeted person in the sense that I speak to everyone. When you
proclaim the truth creatively, it can feed everyone, no matter what their spiritual
level or place in life.
Creativity a Constant
the end, the question should not be, “How can I become creative?”
The question you ask should be, “What’s keeping me from unleashing my creativity?”
Because if we’re going to get the chicken sandwiches beyond the mouths of the
already fed, if we’re going to take the bread of life to the starving people
as they pass by, then we must unleash a life-style and ministry marked by creativity.
other words, creativity must remain a constant in the local church. After all,
the Father invented creativity, the Son modeled it, and the Holy Spirit empowers
it. And people desperately need it.
offers some examples of “Communicating with Creativity”
“1000 RPMs” “2000 RPMs” “3000 RPMs”
this series, we borrowed a 2004 Ferrari Spider 355 convertible sports car that
I actually drove onto the stage during each message:
“1000 RPMs”] “This is a Ferrari – the dream car of most human beings . . . Ferraris
are special cars. They kick out some serious RPM’s.
And we’re beginning a brand new series today called RPM’s, Recognizing
Potential Mates . . .
It’s what we don’t do before we say, “I do,” that gives our “I do’s”
some great octane and allows us to hit on all cylinders.”
the series, I related different aspects of dating and relationships to aspects
of the car that was parked on stage:
“1000 RPMs” and “2000 RPMs”] “The first dumb decision that defective daters
make has to do with . . . who is behind the wheel of the person’s life that we’re
dating . . . Defective daters fail
to pop the trunk and check the baggage . . . Once again, I’ve got to talk about
dumb decisions that defective daters make. The dumb decision that defective
daters make with the Ferrari, with their sexuality is, they take it off road . . . ”
“Satan’s R-A-P Sheet”; “Armor All”
visual was one of the more radical ones I have used during my ministry. During
this series, we parked a full-size British Scorpion tank on stage to illustrate
the idea that in our daily fight against Satan, we must equip ourselves with
the full armor of God (note: if you do this, have your stage inspected to make
sure it can support that kind of weight):
“Satan’s R-A-P Sheet”] “You might not believe this, but right now I am sitting
inside a tank. This is a British Scorpion, one of the tanks used in Desert
Storm. It has all this armor around it and I kind of feel protected right
now . . . we need a tank in our
lives. We need armor . . . Why? Because we are involved in a war . . . ”
over the next few weeks, I discussed the different aspects of God’s armor for
us and related them to the tank on stage:
“Armor All – Part I”] “This whole military theme is the most used analogy
in the Bible regarding the Christian life . . .
Remember, when you do battle, when you do warfare, you can’t fight
outside the tank. You have got to fight inside the tank . . .
Satan is going to come after you. But if you don’t have Armor All,
you will run into some serious problems.”
the Ferrari and tank illustrations definitely drove home the point, they may
be a little over the top for your taste. Of course, you don’t have to go to
that extreme in order to be effective in your use of visuals. Here are a few
of the simpler visuals I have used that turned out to be just as practical and
powerful as the car and the tank . . .
The Real F-Word
this message, we had a park bench on stage. And when I came out to speak, I
brought with me a dog leash. I began the message by telling a story about something
I had recently witnessed concerning a large Doberman tied to a bench outside
a convenience store:
“Collateral Damage”] “ . . . He [the dog’s owner] took a leash, sort of like this
one, and tied it to a bench . . . For some reason, this dog got startled . . . and he
took off with such force . . . that he ripped the bench out of its supports! He
ran into the street towards this SUV . . . and the bench swung into the SUV. BAM!
Parts were flying . . . ”
I related that event to the message and series’ central theme:
“Collateral Damage”] “ . . . A lot of us are a lot like that Doberman. A lot of
us are leashed up to anger, resentment, and unforgiveness. We don’t really
realize it, but we are dragging this bench of unforgiveness around through
life and it’s . . . smashing up the potential that God wants us to live out in this
one and only life.”
Title: Multiple Choice
this series, we divided the stage in two with a huge white line that went from
the ceiling, down the back wall, and all the way to the front of the stage.
The line represented the separation between good decisions and bad decisions:
“In Tense”] “You might be wondering why we have the giant line down the middle
of the stage . . . This line on stage represents (the difference between) a good
decision or a bad decision; ethical behavior or unethical behavior; morality
then talked about the reality that most of us make “dumb, what-was-I-thinking
decisions” because we walk the edge and ledge of this line of compromise.
“In Tense”] “We walk right on the edge of righteousness and sin, right on
the edge of good decisions and bad decisions, right on the edge of morality
and immorality, right on the edge of what is ethical and unethical, and we
rob ourselves of the amazing life that Jesus wants us to live. Christ wants
us to live over here (the righteous side of the line). He doesn’t want us
to walk on the ragged edge of compromise.”
Title: Espresso Yourself
“Is It In You?”
is one of my favorite drinks. During this message, I related enthusiasm to a
cup of espresso. I brought my own espresso maker on stage and made a cup of
espresso while speaking:
“Is It In You?”] “We are going to make a double shot of espresso. Are you
ready? Just stay with me. I am going somewhere . . .
As this espresso pours into the cup, you are going to see . . . three parts
formulating right before your eyes. The bottom part is the heart. The
middle part is the body and the top part is the crème . . . Espresso – it’s concentrated coffee . . . It’s
small, but it’s powerful.”
I equated the three parts of a cup of espresso to the enthusiasm that Christians
should have throughout life:
“Is It In You?”] “Enthusiasm is the same way. It’s small. It’s concentrated.
A little bit goes a long way. It will caffeinate your Christianity. Enthusiasm
starts in the heart . . . It flows into the body . . . And we have the crème that comes
to us from the person of Christ . . . Enthusiasm is not something we do on our own.
It comes only from the cross of Christ . . . Once we understand that, own that and
let that flow . . . then people want a piece of it.”
Title: The Best of FC – Part 1
“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”
this pre-Christmas message, we handed out candy canes to every single person
in the auditorium. It was a tangible object that they could take home to remind
them to bring someone to one of the upcoming Christmas services:
“I Still Haven’t Found . . . ”] “Check this candy cane out . . . it is shaped like a
shepherd’s staff . . . You can be used, you can be that candy cane in the hands
of the Good Shepherd . . . to bring [someone] to Jesus . . . Invite the person. Because
together, we can win this Dallas/Ft. Worth area to Christ.”
this message, I engaged in my all-time favorite activity – fly fishing. I brought
on stage all the necessary equipment to fly fish. And as I spoke, I tied a fly:
“Fish, Baby”] “I love to tie flies, so I’ll just tie one up right now. Let
me see . . . Take a couple of yellow feathers out. Tarpon love yellow. This fires
me up just thinking about tarpon fishing! You have got to get some feathers
that, as they are pulled through the water, kind of pulsate like fins on a
fish. I’ll just take my scissors here and cut them off . . . There.”
used the fly that I made to illustrate the point that Satan, in coming after
us, customizes our temptations:
“Fish, Baby”] Now, while I am doing this, I want to tell you something. The
evil one is tying a fly right now just for you and me. He knows where we are
most vulnerable . . . See, a great fly disguises the hook. You barely even see the
hook . . . What kind of fly is he tying? Where are you most vulnerable? . . . Temptation
is customized to our weaknesses.”
I took the illustration one step further. I attached the fly, minus a hook of
course, to my fly rod, and began casting into the audience as I spoke:
“Fish, Baby”] “Now, the evil one attaches the fly to the fly rod. He just
waits. Then he begins to cast . . . Satan waits and waits and then he presents the
fly . . . We don’t see the hook. We don’t see the consequences. We don’t see the
problems . . . But we have got to recognize that.”
reinforce the power of team creativity, many of the creative ideas above came
from other staff members during our creative planning sessions.
Young is the founding, senior pastor of Fellowship Church in Grapevine, TX.