Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness …” Genesis 1:26.
There is something incredibly unique about you, something that sets you apart from all of creation. No, it isn’t that freckle no one knows about or that pudge you try to hide. It isn’t that quirky smile or the fact that you can touch your nose with your tongue or say the alphabet backwards. As a human being, you can do two things that no other creation of God has the ability to do. They are two abilities God imparted to people when He created us in His image. Do you know what they are? I’m talking about two things that make you uniquely human, two things that no other living, breathing creature on this earth can do. Have you guessed yet? They are love and create.
It is because of the image of God in us that we have the ability to love and to be creative. The gift of love is a glorious and beautiful gift, but I’d like to focus on the ability to be creative, which is in all of us. It is part of the image of God in us. I mention it with love because, while some people claim not to be creative, the ability to be creative is much like the ability to love—it doesn’t come naturally. It requires effort. God has placed creativity within each of us; He can develop it and empower it if we are willing to embrace it.
You may be one who says, “I’m not creative,” but I’m here to tell you: you ARE! Creativity is like a muscle that simply needs to be exercised. Through constant use, or workouts, you exercise your creative mental muscles and your creativity improves until soon you are the stud at the Creativity Gym! People often ask me, “Karl, how do you come up with your creative ideas?” Or they say, “You are so creative!” While I enjoy a compliment like anyone else, I’ll let you in on a secret: I can’t come up with creative ideas in a vacuum. As creative as I may be, I still need something to stimulate my creativity. Over the years, I’ve learned to develop mental processes that trigger creative ideas, and, yes, I’m going to share some of my secrets.
I had a drawing book as a boy that came with some lines and curves already drawn on each page, and the challenge was to complete each page in order to transform those meaningless lines and curves into something. I LOVED THAT BOOK! I would stare at those meaningless shapes until I saw a building or a mountain or an animal, and then I’d take my pencil or crayons and complete the drawing until the original markings could hardly be seen. Later, I would take blank paper to my mom and ask her to create some new challenges for me—lines that I needed to transform into something. Little did I know that she was helping me flex my creative muscles at that early age. I was learning to work with what I had in order to create something that didn’t yet exist. That’s all creativity is!
When it comes to being creative, like that pad of paper with a few lines, the secret is to give yourself some mental launching points. Creativity occurs in the brain, and it’s like a chemical reaction that happens in response to thoughts, so you have to think about something in order for creative thoughts to result. Creative ideas don’t just appear out of thin air. They are the result of creative thinking, the answers to specific questions, and the solutions to challenges. So if you want to get a creative idea, you have to be willing to let your mind wander up and down some mental roads. The ideas are there to be found, but you have to be willing to travel past a bunch of lame, stupid, or incomplete ideas to get to the good ones. Creativity requires intentional thought. People who say, “I’m just not creative,” are making a lame excuse. It’s like saying, “I’m just unhealthy.” No, you choose not to be healthy. You could work to be healthy, and you can work to be creative, too.
I have taken the word C.R.E.A.T.E. to represent six mental triggers that you can use as road signs to help you wander down mental roads that lead to creative ideas. But first you need a neighborhood; you need a purpose for being creative. Perhaps you need a theme for your children’s ministry or VBS next summer. Maybe a lesson element has you stumped or it could be that you want to do a summer family outreach or you need an activity to do with your leadership team. Whatever the reason, that is the neighborhood around which you need to wander. Now you need to C.R.E.A.T.E. something new, something original, something exciting and unique and different and wonderful.
So here is how you can C.R.E.A.T.E.
C = Culture
Think about the CULTURE. The world around you is loaded with ideas! What is a current popular television show or movie? Can you tie into that? Is there something going on in sports? What are people talking about? What’s in the news? What is trending on Twitter? What’s big in technology or fashion or literature? What about occupations or recreational activities in your geographic area? Consider special events; there may be something in the local, regional, national, or even global culture that would really bring some unique attention to your event or program. It could lift your event above the mundane and get people engaged and talking. You’ve heard the phrase “think outside the box”; how about “think outside the culture of your church.”
R = Read
It has long been said, “Leaders are readers.” Well, the same can be said of creative people. Ideas are everywhere! Read books and magazines and online sources, and don’t limit yourself to children’s ministry materials. Be well read and have a wide range of exposure. You don’t have to digest everything deeply; learn to expose yourself to things without reading every word. There are so many good ideas out there. As Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). It’s okay to use other people’s ideas … just give them credit when you do.
E = Emotion
When you tap into emotions, you make a lesson more real and deepen the impact. Thinking through the emotions involved can lead to a great idea. Ask yourself, “What emotion do I want kids to experience here?” and then ask, “How can I generate that emotion?” Create an experience for your audience that ties into what you are trying to teach or communicate.
A = Alphabet
You may laugh at this mental trigger, and it may be a last resort. But sometimes I have simply gone through the alphabet, thinking through names or words that start with each letter. Whether I’m looking for a rhyming word, a topic, or a word to fit one of my teaching acronyms, simply working through the alphabet has saved me more times than I care to admit!
T = Things
When an idea is needed, I always say, “Look around you, there are ideas everywhere!” Everything, every object around you, is a potential creative idea or can stimulate a creative idea. If it’s good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me! Jesus was the master of object lessons and often taught with a physical object in His hand. It brings your lesson to memory when people see that object again. But beyond object lessons, things can simply bring you ideas if you open your eyes in stores, while out driving, and around the house. Ask God to help you “see” what He wants to show you!
E = Educate
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you have to remember that you have a purpose for your teaching. Every lesson has a main point, and the most important question you can ask is, “What will best teach them the main point?” Look at your lesson and ask yourself, “What will cause them to remember this lesson ten years from now?” The answer to that question may be the source of the most creative ideas. Be willing to do something a little nuts once in awhile. When I did the story of the men who lowered a friend through the roof to Jesus, I took a class of second-graders up onto the roof of the church to tell them the story! That’s a lesson they will never forget. (It was in downtown Chicago!)
These are only six possible mental triggers. I’m sure you will come up with more on your own. The key is to take the time to think and reflect and let your mind wander until you have that “Aha!” moment. Be sure to talk with others as well. Bouncing your ideas off other people provides feedback, improves your ideas, shows you things you may have overlooked, and often leads to even more ideas.