Communicating With Creativity Ed Young, Jr. May 1, 2005 Last 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. After 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. We 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! Lisa 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.” And 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.” You 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 world. You might be thinking, “Ed, that’s a great analogy – but how do we do that in today’s changing culture?” I believe the answer is found in one powerful word: creativity. In 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. It’s the Weekend, Stupid Like 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. I 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. Be You I 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. We 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. Too 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. Study Others Being 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. I 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. People 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. In 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 leaders. Truth 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. Utilize Team Creativity This 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. But 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. To 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. Serve a Balanced Diet Today, 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. To 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. Something 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. Make Creativity a Constant In 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. In 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. ______________________ Ed offers some examples of “Communicating with Creativity” Series: RPMs Message Titles: “1000 RPMs” “2000 RPMs” “3000 RPMs” In this series, we borrowed a 2004 Ferrari Spider 355 convertible sports car that I actually drove onto the stage during each message: [excerpt from “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.” Throughout the series, I related different aspects of dating and relationships to aspects of the car that was parked on stage: [excerpts from “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 . . . ” Series: Tank U Message Title: “Satan’s R-A-P Sheet”; “Armor All” This 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): [excerpt from “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 . . . ” And over the next few weeks, I discussed the different aspects of God’s armor for us and related them to the tank on stage: [excerpt from “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.” While 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 . . . Series: The Real F-Word Message Title: “Collateral Damage” For 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: [excerpt from “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 . . . ” Then I related that event to the message and series’ central theme: [excerpt from “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.” Series Title: Multiple Choice Message Title: “In-Tense” For 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: [excerpt from “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 or immorality.” I 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. [excerpt from “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.” Series Title: Espresso Yourself Message Title: “Is It In You?” Espresso 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: [excerpt from “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.” Then, I equated the three parts of a cup of espresso to the enthusiasm that Christians should have throughout life: [excerpt from “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.” Series Title: The Best of FC – Part 1 Message Title: “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” In 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: [excerpt from “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.” Series Title: X-Trials Message Title: “Fish, Baby” During 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: [excerpt from “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.” I used the fly that I made to illustrate the point that Satan, in coming after us, customizes our temptations: [excerpt from “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.” Then, 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: [excerpt from “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.” To reinforce the power of team creativity, many of the creative ideas above came from other staff members during our creative planning sessions. ______________________ Ed Young is the founding, senior pastor of Fellowship Church in Grapevine, TX. Leave a Reply Cancel Reply Your email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. 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