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Caring for the Creative

The book of Hebrews tells us that mature Christian leadership is marked by the power of discernment. Through constant training, the wise leader has the ability to distinguish good from evil, right from wrong.[1] One of the primary testing grounds of this skill is the church’s staff, and no one challenges the pastor’s capacity for discernment quite like the creative type. In the seminal comedy The Three Amigos, Ned Nederlander famously drenches himself with a full canteen under the desert sun while his compatriots, holding their bone dry bottles, stare with sand-filled mouths gaping in horror.

Many church staff, feeling the strain of tight resources and mounting to-do lists, often stare at the worship director strolling to the auditorium on a Wednesday to practice with the same shock that Lucky and Dusty started at Ned. What are we to expect from the creatives on our staff? How does the mature leader care for the creative on his staff?


Empathize With Their Insecurity

Creatives typically struggle with overly identifying their worth with their art. This can certainly be a gospel issue, but there is also a design issue at play, too. Our artists come to us preinstalled with senses that are more attuned to the pain and wonder of the world than most others’ are. When sin perverts this gift, they can see whatever it is they are creating as the antidote to their own pain and brokenness. The originality of their art, they often hope, will cover over the shame they feel deep within. This is a gospel issue. At the same time, God has made the vast majority of creatives uniquely sensitive to the world around them, and that’s a gift to be honored and shepherded, not necessarily rebuked.

The wise leader knows how to recognize the difference between a gospel issue and a design issue, between their sin and their suffering. Part of the discernment process is being eager to empathize with the creative’s natural sensitivity. You need to show and tell your creatives (more frequently than you may guess) that they are loved and appreciated. Understand that what may seem like a slight offense to you can feel like a deep wound to them. The words of James are true in all situations, but particularly so with our artists: “You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak” (James 1:19). Empathizing with your creative validates what they are feeling and from there the wise leader can help ground them not in the wild swings of their emotions but rather in the reality of who, and whose, they are.


Empower Their Independence

In the Gospel of Mark, the Apostle comes out of the gates at break neck speed. Jesus goes from teaching at a synagogue to casting out a demon to healing a town’s worth of sick people. The next morning, even more people show up ready for a miracle. The only problem, though, is that no one can find Jesus. The disciples eventually spot him off in the woods by himself. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, times of teaching and miracles are frequently followed by periods of intentional isolation. The pattern Jesus is showing us is that high-output requires high-input.

Aside from the preacher, no one generates as much “content” on a weekly basis as the worship director. From crafting liturgy to arranging songs and managing bands, their role is creatively demanding. No artist can maintain a high level of creative output without consistent times of isolation and space. The wise leader not only understands this, but embraces and empowers this. A sure way to stifle and frustrate your worship director is to fill their time with meetings, agendas, and to-do lists. They need space to be refreshed by the Lord and inspired by other artists. This means it’s OK for them to spend a few hours listening to records or going for walks. Just as the highly efficient staff person needs clear objectives, the creative staff person needs times of isolation. Wise leaders encourage this and, when necessary, demand this.


Develop Them in Private

I save all the hard conversations for my worship director for our monthly 1 on 1 meeting. This is because public criticism typically activates the creatives’ deep sense of shame. In private, we can help our artists to not be controlled by their moods while giving them “room” to voice their emotions. We can remind them that their value rests in the God who saves them, not in the artwork they create. We can help them to look not only to their own interests, but also to the interests of others. If they trust you and know how valuable they are to the team, they can move from self-absorbed slavery to their originality into self-giving creativity.

In private, we can help them see that no guitar solo, no instrument or amplifier, no anything will heal their shame. We can show them that the more they give themselves to that temptation, the worse it will get. Instead, we can help them experience the particular good news Jesus offers them. He loves them because he created them, died for them, and was raised for them. It is HIS creativity that secures their worth, not theirs.

If you want excellent Sunday gatherings with songs and liturgy that are contextualized to your people, if you want to see the creative on your staff move from slavery to sanctification, if you want your church to be a place where artists can flourish, then you must learn to wisely shepherd them in light of who God has made them. Create a culture where it’s safe for their emotions. Define their role with plenty of space to receive, not just create. Have the sensitivity to develop them privately. God has uniquely gifted our creatives to help us see the beauty and suffering of the world. We need them to live into the fullness of who we are as the people of God. And they need us to live into the fullness of who God had made them, too.

[1] Hebrews 5:14

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