Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev said God created the world by imagination. We see it in the creativity of kids and artists, but in the church, few of us are encouraged to maintain our creative imaginations. Yet, to become the people God intends us to be, it is necessary. So here are some tips for stirring creativity and imagination in your congregations.
1. Invite people to be creative without interfering.
Parents are encouraged to provide kids with unstructured imaginative play unencumbered by adult direction, but adults need this kind of stimulation to foster creativity too. Making a mess, getting dirty, colouring, and playing sports, are all rejuvenating practices that free us from inflexible thought patterns and routines.
The trick, John Cleese says, is making space to engage in childlike play without relying on childish spontaneity. He recommends scheduling time to be creative, giving people a “starting time and a finish time.” This serves to set “boundaries of space, boundaries of time.”
2. Give people permission to fail — and reward failure.
Most activity is designed for success; failure is something we teach (consciously or unconsciously) people to be afraid of.
“There is no such thing as failure — failure is just life trying to move us in another direction,” Oprah counseled, addressing Harvard graduates. Creativity often flows out of so-called failure. Jesus’ seeming failure — death on the Cross — was actually his greatest success.
[Tweet “Creativity often flows out of so-called failure.”] Over the next few weeks, encourage your congregation to end the day by asking: What mistakes did you make today? Then, share your own failures. Laugh about them together. Have some fun. Now look back over the “failures” of your life. What creative impulses did they stir? What new directions or new ministries did they give birth to? Plan a party to celebrate these.
3. Give people freedom and space to make a mess — and get messy with them.
Maybe tidiness is something we need to let go of for a season so that we can find the freedom of expression God desires for us. Evidently, sitting in a messy room makes us more creative. Perhaps playing paintball, making mud pies and preparing a very messy meal are creative acts that have an important purpose that we have not yet recognized.
4. Let your congregation imagine their own story.
Read one of Jesus parables and let your congregation write or draw whatever inspires them rather than telling them what someone else found important in the text. Consider taking the season of Lent next year to go through several stories about Jesus, ending during Holy week with the stories of Jesus’ walk to Jerusalem and the crucifixion. Ask your congregation to imagine games and activities to go with each of the stories. It will give new life to their faith and new understanding of who Jesus is.
5. Encourage people to create sacred spaces at home.
I love to create contemplative gardens that focus my attention throughout the day and invite me to pause and reenter the presence of God. They have become wonderful nourishment for my soul, and their themes remind me of the work God is doing in my life.
We all benefit from sacred spaces created out of the issues we are grappling with. Sit for a few minutes and imagine what your own scared space could look like. What music would you include? What fragrances – maybe some incense or other aromas? What visual cues? I think you will be amazed at the creativity that emerges and the strengthening of your faith it encourages.
6. Answer questions with questions.
Emphasize process rather than product. One way you can do this is by asking questions about the process – Did you have fun? Are you finished? What did you like about that activity?
[Tweet “Emphasize process rather than product.”] Jesus often asked questions rather than giving answers. Questions invite active responses. They give us permission to think, imagine and come up with our own creative solutions.
7. Celebrate innovation and creativity.
Cover your church walls with art and other evidence of creative expression. Have artists paint during the service and post the pictures around the church. Encourage the sharing of stories, music and other creative expressions.
Doing these things stirs all of us to think more creatively and imaginatively about our faith. Embracing new technologies, new forms of artistic expression and new possibilities for spiritual practices enables us to grow in our faith to find change exciting, not overwhelming or intimidating.
8. Give people the opportunity and permission to express “divergent thought.”
Encourage congregants to disagree with you, to engage in constructive arguments. Invite them to find more than one route to a solution, and more than one solution to a problem. When we think there is only one way to pray, to read the Bible or to express our faith, we become rigid. Eventually, our faith stagnates, and we cease to grow.
9. Teach people skills.
Teach people skills like cooking, gardening or woodcarving. I love to cook and have done so since I was very young, but my mother was a stick-to-the-recipe type of person. It was only when I married Tom and watched him take a recipe and depart from it with his own unique, creative flair that I started to branch out and experiment myself. Some of my favourite recipes have sprung from the creative expression.
We love to watch others create, but it is even more inspiring to engage in these creative acts ourselves and then give them our own signature.
10. Never stop learning.
Natural curiosity, creativity and the purposes of God go hand-in-hand. Part of what the Internet has taught us is that the world is a big, complicated place and there’s always something new and exciting to explore. Maybe you want to pick up a new language, master a new skill or explore a new, creative prayer practice. The more things you know, the more you’ll have to draw on whenever you’re trying to solve a task or are grappling with your faith. The more research you do, the better you’ll understand the process of discovery.
Creativity is at the core of who God is and wants us to be. I hope that you will take some time to explore these tools for creativity and draw closer to God in the process.
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