I’ve been reading different takes on “dealing with” creative people. It makes me laugh to see the advice people give. Usually it boils down to the equivalent of how to keep your pets entertained. “Dangle something shiny or give them treats hidden inside a toy so they don’t get bored.”
Or how to get children to go to sleep: “Keep them away from other creative people; otherwise they won’t be able to focus and be productive. They will keep each other distracted constantly coming up with new ideas.”
Others make us sound like horses that just need to broken in, once we grow up and realize we aren’t the boss it will make every one’s life easier.
If I weren’t laughing these articles would make me sad. They imply that a pastor or worship leader’s job is to either wrangle or work around the “creative types” in their congregation rather than nurture and disciple them. What is even more disturbing is that many creative Christians buy into the stereotype that being creative is something other people have to put up with in order to receive the benefits of their gifting.
I think it is inaccurate and destructive to talk about creative people as if they are undisciplined children with emotional issues or just plain “difficult” as a rule. I think it would be helpful to make a distinction between being “creative” and being “difficult.” In my experience, most people are difficult at some point or another, creative or not. (Most people are also creative to greater and lesser degrees). I find that accountants, engineers and administrators can also be difficult at times (no offence to the accountants, engineers and administrators in my church).
What I mean to say is that we are all just people and we are all called to be mature in Christ. For some of us this means learning to control our tongues and for others it means learning how to let go a little in order to really trust God. Whichever side of the spectrum you are on it is only natural that sometimes it will be difficult to “deal” with each other.
The problem with linking “creative” and “difficult” together is that we perpetuate unhelpful stereotypes. These stereotypes (1) damage the creative people in our lives, keeping them from reaching their full potential as discipled and disciplined believers with creative gifts; (2) keep people from developing their own creativity because they don’t want to be seen as crazy, lazy, unreliable, overly emotional, promiscuous or difficult; and (3) keep us as churches from developing helpful strategies for “dealing” with each other when things do get difficult.
When we focus on personality or categories as the reasons for someone being difficult we get distracted from our responsibility for discipleship and growing in maturity.
So I would like to propose a different kind of advice for working with creatives and fostering the creativity of all people in our congregations.
1. Make us feel welcome and valued just as we are with all of our questions, doubts and idiosyncrasies by making time for us and listening to who we really are.
2. Be a permission giver. Sometimes all we really need to get creative is a little supportive nudge from someone willing to stand beside us no matter the result.
3. Mentor and disciple with the unwavering commitment to the idea that God created individuals who see and experience the world in millions of unique ways — by design.
4. Set clear boundaries and high expectations. Creativity flourishes within clear structure. Its easier to think “outside the box” when there is some sort of box to start with.
5. Help creatives think bigger. Yes, bigger! Often we are shy about our creativity and talk small and contained in order to make our thoughts seem more reasonable. It is usually worth it to dig deeper and ask us what we are really thinking.
6. Help us think theologically and connect our faith to our vision.
7. Teach us to embrace conflict as part of healthy relationships and help us develop tools for this.
8. Encourage us to develop friendships and community — even if it’s only with two or three people. Too much isolation is deadly.
9. But leave us alone — allow us to be an example for contemplative living.
10. Encourage us to lead.
What I would like Christian leaders to recognize is that by moving from an attitude of “dealing with” to one of nurturing the creatives in our midst, we are creating an atmosphere that cultivates the creative, intuitive, contemplative part of our entire congregation. Like most people, creatives thrive when they are treated as the smart, capable people they are. You would be surprised what these supposedly “flighty, erratic, disorganized” people can do when they are expected to succeed.
Lisa Cole Smith ([email protected]) is pastor of Convergence: A Creative Community of Faith, in Alexandria, Va.