I remember the day vividly. It was one of the most disastrous days in my children’s ministry career. I had only been in my position for a while, and I was planning for our Vacation Bible School. We were studying the life of Moses, and I needed something to take it over the top. I needed something “Creative!”
So, I made a classic error. I just simply thought back to the last big event I had attended and figured, “I’ll just do THAT!” That last event was called “Hell House.” It was a tour through real-life situations and ultimately—through HELL. I thought, “What if I take this idea and apply it to Moses and the Exodus? This will be great!”
The concept of “The Plagues Tour” was to give the kids a real-life experience of what it was like for the Egyptians to go through each of the plagues that God sent upon them. So, I gathered up all the supplies I would need, trained the team on what to do, and the day came for “The Plagues Tour.”
We entered the first room. The kids loved it as they watched the illusion of the clear water turning red to symbolize the Nile River turning to blood. “Wow! How did they do that?” I was getting so excited.
We went to the next room that represented the plague of frogs. We had purchased hundreds of tiny plastic frogs from Oriental Trading Company and had a CD of frog sound effects going. The kids loved it. They also loved the next two rooms that had sound effects of flies and gnats to signify those plagues. It was going so well!
But, that’s when the tour took a major turn. The kids didn’t react so well to the fake cow we had lying in the next room to signify the plague of dead livestock. They were pretty freaked out when we went into the room where the people had been struck with the plague of boils. I thought the leaders had done a great job with the theatrical make-up making those boils look realistic. Apparently, they were a little too realistic.
And, then things went horribly wrong. I had made the mistake of putting several junior high boys in charge of the next plague room—the plague of hail. They sat atop ladders with hundreds of ping pong balls in trash bags. As soon as the doors opened, the boys started pelting the kids with ping pong balls. They were like wanna-be snipers and this was their moment. They smacked one of the girls right in the eye. She was bawling, while the rest of the kids started screaming and running out of the room.
It didn’t get much better through the plague of locusts room and the plague of darkness room. Did you know that most young children are actually scared of the dark? Who knew? But, it all came to a disastrous end when we entered the last plague room—the death of the firstborn. I had one of my female leaders in full Egyptian period costume with a baby doll in her lap. The kids walked in as the leader was screaming, “My baby is dead! My baby is dead!” The children refused to go in the room and didn’t stop crying for 20 minutes.
Needless to say, the next few days were very busy as I had meetings and phone calls from parents—some curious, some angry—wanting to know what in the world I was thinking when I came up with this idea. Parents are so unreasonable sometimes, aren’t they?
Why was this event such a disaster? It’s because I made the mistake of falling for one of the three “Creativity Killers.”
THREE CREATIVITY KILLERS
When you’re a young adult (with no children of your own) tasked with the assignment of leading children in their spiritual journey as I was, you feel like a fish out of water. You aren’t sure what works and what doesn’t work—what will be effective and what will fail miserably.
So, I made a huge mistake that many others in kids’ ministry make. I decided to just copy what others were doing. I opted for duplication rather than innovation. This classic mistake of choosing duplication over innovation is not one that is unique to me. This phenomenon happens quite often in the church world. We go to a conference, attend a seminar, watch a YouTube video, or read a blog as someone shares a great concept or strategy. We think, “What an amazing idea!” Then we run straight back to our church and try to duplicate it.
We hear reports of what God is doing in the church down the street or the “hot church” in our denomination, and we try to chase their ideas instead of asking God for His ideas. We do this for a lot of reasons.
Duplication is easier.
When we opt for duplication, we avoid the tough work of seeking God for a vision and strategy to grow our ministry. It’s a lot easier to steal someone else’s “good idea” than invest time seeking a “God idea.”
Duplication is faster.
It doesn’t take any time at all to get plenty of cool ideas from church leaders in every kind of ministry. Type the words “children’s ministry growth ideas” on your browser, and you’ll get over 19 million hits. There are books upon books and conferences upon conferences that provide a ton of great ideas. Don’t get me wrong. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with books and conferences. I’m a firm believer in attending conferences, networking with other ministries, and reading great books. However, books and conferences can easily become a substitute for seeking God and trusting Him for guidance and creativity.
You see, duplication may be easier and faster, but the problem is …
Duplication rarely produces eternal results.
Jesus told His followers, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). What do you “seek first?” Is it conferences, books, message boards, and ministry networks? And then do you go to God only when all those things begin to lose their punch? Instead, you should begin on your knees, seeking His idea that will change your life and ministry.
Perhaps you aren’t much of a duplicator. Instead, you suffer from the second Creativity Killer …
There’s an epidemic of procrastination in kids’ ministry. I can’t believe how many times I hear people say that they don’t start their preparation for Sunday services until Saturday night, and I’ve heard a lot of reasons why.
FULL-TIME: “My week is so full of other church assignments that I don’t have time to prepare my lesson until Saturday.” (Yet, I get all kinds of Twitter jokes, Facebook updates, and countless requests for help in “Clash Of Clans” all week from those same people.)
VOLUNTEER: “I work all week, so I don’t have time to prepare for kids’ church before Saturday night.” (Did you watch any TV this week? Then, you just made a decision that your favorite show is more important than the spiritual development of your kids.)
SUPER-SPIRITUAL: “Well, I don’t prepare too far ahead of time, because I prefer to be led by the Spirit.” (Really? So, the God who knew everything about your children before time began can’t inspire you today for what He wants to do in the lives of your children three weeks from now?)
Nothing will kill your ability to be creative like procrastination. Is it any wonder the creative juices don’t flow when you are constantly under the stress of last-minute work? Don’t let procrastination kill your creativity. YOU CAN DO IT! Work ahead! Prepare. Make time for creative thinking. Get alone and pray. Allow the Spirit to inspire you NOW for what He wants to do down the road!
Perhaps the biggest Creativity Killer of them all is…
So many kids’ ministry leaders immediately disqualifiy themselves and say, “I can’t do it! I’m just not wired that way!” They allow themselves to believe the 6-word lie that I despise—“I’m just not a creative person.”
Many kidmin leaders sell themselves short when it comes to their ability to think creatively. They have decided that God only gifted a few key leaders to be able to create and innovate. They have turned the innovative process into some mysterious, spooky, hokus-pokus type of activity.
Some of you have convinced yourselves that, since I am creative, I must have my own personal “bat cave” type lair where I receive downloads from the angel of creative kids’ ministry, and your only hope is to duplicate whatever I’m doing. I have news for you—there is no such cave.
YOU can be creative. How do I know? Because you are child of God! You serve a Creative God with limitless creative ability! Even the most naturally innovative and creative minds are finite. The term finite means “having bounds or limits; not infinite; measurable.” But God is infinite. He is “far above all,” not limited by any boundaries at all. When you draw only on your own creative resources, it’s like drinking from a thimble instead of the Great Lakes.
You were born for creativity! The most innovative people I know? Kids! It’s true! When you were a kid, all you needed was a cardboard box and a stick. We were all born creative innovators. Somehow, we allowed society to suppress our creative juices and conform us to the mainstream. We’re afraid of getting outside the box. We allow fear to dominate our minds and hearts, and we never become the creative person God wants us to be!
Whether it’s Duplication, Procrastination, or Disqualification, don’t let any of these three creativity killers keep you from becoming the creative innovator God created you to be. I believe the time is coming when every kidmin leader will have confidence in themselves enough to be able to tap into the creative innovator that lives in each of them. When that happens, we will change the world!
Brian Dollar has been a kids’ pastor since 1992 and is the creator of High Voltage Kids Ministry Resources (highvoltage-kids.com). Brian is the author of several books and has a passion for training kidmin leaders via his blog at briandollar.com. Twitter @briandollar1