One of the best things I’ve ever heard in a creative meeting was, “Jesus wants us to get in and play with Him.” Let me back that up, we weren’t in a meeting, exactly, we were in a weekly prayer time that the creative director had implemented to keep our team bound in love and prayer. Before we prayed together that day, my friend and colleague shared a vision she had of Jesus standing in a blow-up pool and inviting us to get in and play with Him. This word picture would serve to remind us that Jesus is the one who invites us to join Him. In Him, we find the fun of ministry, the joy of hard work, the glory of sticky-faced, bounce-house crazed brand new Jesus-lovers.
I have had the privilege to serve on some spectacular creative teams. Sometimes I was able to carefully select the members of these teams. Then, other times God surprised me with people. If you have had the opportunity to build a creative team, then you know it can be very right or very wrong … very quickly. Here are the players you’ll need to consider—things to look for and things to guard against.
Who is on a creative team?
Creative Director – The creative director is responsible for programming the visual arts elements for all areas of your ministry. The creative director has the final say on the creative elements, but is also going to be held responsible for the outcome and management of the processes.
The creative director for your ministry might be called something else. In my case, my actual title is “Children’s TreeHouse Minister.” What that means here at Long Hollow is that I serve as the Creative Director for Children’s Ministry.
I once found a creative director on Facebook. This is not as sketchy as it sounds. First, I looked at the pages of all of my friends that are in ministry. There was a special group listed on one of their pages, so I checked out the group. I looked at the members and reviewed profile pages. I found a guy whose religious views said “Jesus freak” and his photos and status updates told a story of a full, godly, and fun creative life. I found links to his blogs, and read about his real life. His activities were video production and creative development-flavored. I sent a message. We met for lunch, and began to work together several months later. He would institute the aforementioned weekly prayer experience.
In another case, I contacted a college professor … who led me to a fellow alum … who led me to a professor at regent … who led me to a former student … who two years later came to work with me as a director of our K-3 large group experience … who told me Jesus wanted me to come play in a blow-up pool with Him.
Look far and wide for the right creative director. If you settle for mediocrity, you can expect mediocrity.
Writers – a group of people that have proven to be able to write according to the needs of the program, within the deadlines set for them by the creative director.
Writers can be found in the strangest places. I have worked with: a writer for Home Improvement, an award winning short film writer who was conveniently the parent of one of the kids in my class, the daughter of a colleague, and yet another is a salesman for Coca-Cola. You never know.
One easy mistake to make when meeting new writers is to assume they are going to understand the mission. Especially with volunteers, it can get dicey when you have to tell someone you no longer require their services. In one case, the uncomfortable exchange could’ve been avoided if the new writer had been given a trial assignment. He would’ve been hurt less by not being asked to write in the future, than by having his script torn apart and reduced to maybe 2 percent of its original self.
As a writer, I specialize in getting the intended point across, adhering to guidelines and being aware of biblical accuracy. As a result, I can miss opportunities to be funny. It has been said that I “outsource my funny”, which means that I send my scripts for review to the funniest writers in the team and ask them to add some funny. On the other hand, when we do a read-through, if something is not appropriate or biblical, I will make the call to edit. Someone else may excel at details and making sure that there are no inconsistencies in the messaging. For example, if a character is lactose intolerant, they don’t need to be in a show where they eat a lot of ice cream; it’s inconsistent with their character. It helps to have someone watching the details, like a script supervisor.
Make time to test writers before you trust writers with your message.
Graphic artist – A person who is knowledgeable in the entire Adobe Creative Suite is a huge benefit. This person will create graphics to support all programming and be crucial to branding your ministry and ministry events. Many times the creative director will also fill this role.
This person needs to be flexible, teachable and not already thinking that they created the “got milk?” campaign. You need to look for someone who wants to work with you to create the most poignant graphic each and every time, while understanding that they do not have the final word.
What you see is not always what you have to get. Trust your graphic artist, and make sure your graphic artist trusts you.
Video personnel – Ideally, you will have the ability to transform your content into video format. This will allow you to spread your message farther and will give you opportunities to equip others. You could use a shooter, editor, and tech specialist. The tech specialist is more important in large rooms where there are tech needs and systems that are specialized.
Currently, I work with a volunteer video team of three video people and about twenty tech people. The three video volunteers can all shoot and edit, and do so in their professional lives. They each have video cameras of their own (all different types) and Final Cut Pro editing software. If you have a staff person or intern available to you, it will free you up to be able to shoot during traditional working hours. I have worked with larger staff and volunteer teams, but the basics always remain the same. It is best to work with people who are entrenched in their love for video and media and have an eternal focus and awareness that the message is the most important thing.
The 20+ tech specialists are cross-trained on the audio/visual equipment in all of our large spaces. We have a tech-shadowing program, which allows tech enthusiasts to shadow current tech specialists. We also offer tech training with our church media team from time to time. Talk to student and college ministers to find out if any of their kids would meet your needs. Several universities are offering church media majors, and these graduates would be ideal candidates for your team.
Technically speaking, the message needs to be communicated and people need to be able to hear it. They cant’ hear without audio or see without visual.
Talent – This would include everything from a host, to an actor, to a praise team leader.
When it comes to assigning tasks there are some crucial things to consider. Heart is the most important element. There is no room for arrogance or pompousness in ministry with kids. A team of self-promoting leaders will swiftly take you into a tailspin. These talented people should be actively involved in the daily life of the church. For example, small group participation, worship attendance and faithfulness. Multi-purposing your talent as assistant helpers keeps everyone on an even footing.
You may want to hold a casting call. Advertise to your entire church body, so that you can flush out the hidden talent. Determine what you are looking for and who is best suited to that purpose. Keep in a mind, a great actor does not necessarily equal a great leader for your large room. If you are using kid actors, you want to make sure that they are kids who are known for their kindness by their peer groups. We have instituted a monthly actor’s workshop to minister to actors, but also to make sure that our servant leaders have ongoing training.
Acting like someone who loves God allows you the opportunity to act in a production.
Editor – This person always keeps the big picture in place. They are responsible for making sure that the content being produced is consistent with the messaging and overall purpose of the ministry. They may be responsible for making sure that everything is biblically accurate and in accordance with the views of your particular ministry. Many times, the creative director will serve this function. However, with certain projects, even though I may be the creative director, I’m going to solicit opinion and advice, allowing myself to be edited.
For example, at one of my churches it was very important to the executive children’s minister that an animal in a puppet show could not receive salvation, but could learn moral rules. The humans in the show, however, could have spiritual experiences. At my current church, this is not a guideline. The point is that you have to know the guidelines of your particular ministry and make sure you create within the confines of those parameters.
Fellow creative, don’t balk at the word “confines.” You must have guardrails to keep you from spinning off the edge of a slippery slope.
Keep these in mind as you put together your creative team:
• Fun. If you can’t laugh together, how can you expect to help kids laugh together?
• Common Goals. If you don’t agree on the messaging, the message can get very confusing, very quickly.
• Varied Skill Sets. You don’t need four comedy writers. You don’t need four editors. You certainly don’t ever need four creative directors. You need to have a variety of gifts and talents.
• Faithfulness. This will apply mostly to your volunteer creatives. They need to be actively involved in your church body. By evidence of their church membership they have bought into the goal and mission of the church. Secondly, they are personally impacted by what is produced. If someone is not regularly experiencing the things that are being created, they cannot be as deliberate as someone who is intimately involved with the process and the kids’ experiences.
Aside from seeing a child come to know the creative God of the Universe, my greatest joy in ministry is working alongside like-minded creatives. I call them “heART-ists”, because (1) He is the reason for our Art, and (2) others will recognize whether or not what you create comes from your heart. My hope for other creatives is that you surround yourselves with others who will build each other up in the quest for excellence in creative ministry.