Assigning me the task of writing on creativity in youth ministry is akin to asking a grizzly to go vegan…it just ain’t in my nature. You may not know me very well, so allow me to paint a portrait of who I am as an introduction to the journey we are about to take together. If you were to graft Hank Hill, Mike Baxter and Ron Swanson into a single being, you have Adam Greenwell. In truth, when it comes to creativity, I am a pit of debauchery. Art for me is sensing in the spirit when a steak becomes medium rare on the grill. I can’t sing, dance, or draw and I can’t paint more than a tool shed. It is easy to follow this narrative and conclude that I am not creative.
I also feed this ridiculous narrative by creating a false dichotomy between creativity and art, especially when applied to worship. I am intimidated by the trend to rename worship programs “worship arts” because my lack of artistic talent allows me to exclude myself (please notice the my, me and myself in this sentence). So, in a fit of immaturity, I am able to draw a line between the artist community that doesn’t have a medium I can work with (and wears jeans so skinny that Ron, Hank and Mike would take exception) and me, someone that wants to worship but is not a member of the creative community.
So, how can I get past myself and write about creativity, let alone worship with creativity and lead others with creativity? How can I help those around me tap into their creativity and use it to bring glory to the Living God and fulfill the great commission? I think the answer is found in one of the most important milestones of discipleship and leadership development: the realization that it is not about me. None of this, not even my relationship with Jesus, is about me. With this in mind, creativity came to me when I was able to surrender to the Holy Spirit while responding in worship.
In 2011, I had the opportunity to join our international Vineyard family by attending the Vineyard DACH’s annual conference in Berlin. This experience pushed me out of several comfort zones. For the first time, I was traveling to a foreign country while not on a Marine Corps deployment. I don’t speak German and am not savvy to cultural norms. Hearing familiar worship songs in a different language was beautiful, but since I was not focused on singing, I was able to sense what was happening around me in a new way. I watched as people began responding to the Holy Spirit’s presence in their own way, and I saw creativity flow from their openness and vulnerability. I watched as a young lady created a water color painting in an area set aside for creative response as the music flowed. This led to creativity breaking through in this very uncreative person.
The breakthrough came in an attempt to take my experience in Berlin and provide opportunities for the students in our youth group to respond during worship. Much like the painting area at the conference, I set up areas around our room with different media to use to express worship and to respond to what God was doing. With journals, paints, and chalk, our students stepped into a new openness and connectedness with the Holy Spirit. As I watched them flow with a new awareness and sensitivity, I was drawn to responding in these ways myself. I saw colors in a different light, and lines came into focus in the pictures in my mind. I was able to create as I helped others create.
Now don’t mistake this for me claiming that I found out I am an artist; I still suck at painting, I still can’t carry a tune to save my life, and I still think those jeans are too skinny. My point is simply this: Some of us are not aware of natural creativity in our skill set, and this can lead to avoiding the issue altogether in life and ministry. We are all created in the image of the Living God, the Mastery of Creativity. Therefore it is fair to assume that some of His creative character might have rubbed off on every one of us (including those of us that don’t fit our culture’s definition of a creative). When we foster, develop and equip creativity in those we lead, we might find it in ourselves. It is amazing what can be unlocked in us when we look to serve.