The Challenge of Creative Thinking in a ‘Been There, Done That’ World

Posted: March 17, 2012 in Faith/Christianity, Life As We Know It!
Tags: , , ,

If you’ve ever tried writing an essay, a book, been given a business, art or design project to do, you’ve likely come to a nasty collision known as ‘the wall’!  It’s the point where our ability to think creatively and inspire ideas comes crashing into the wall of ‘nothingness’ and dead-ends.  I’ve heard of numerous methods to inspire creative thinking…some work, while others…well…not-so-much!  With the onslaught of technology in our culture…apps, digital imagery, animation…it’s hard to imagine that we would often ‘hit the wall’ in our creative thinking pursuits of today, but it happens!

Quite frankly, it bugs me that the Christian community hasn’t been more in the forefront of leading the creative charge in society, instead of ‘generally’ (I use this term because there are many creative thinkers leading the way, who happen to be Christian…but they tend to be few and further between!) following behind and picking up the scraps.  We’ve got the most creative, innovative, original and profound influence the world has ever seen in Jesus…in fact the only reason we can see anything at all is because He created us with the capability to do so!  The God of this universe has given us incredible capacity for creativity, yet why is it that we often look to the ‘secular world’ to come up with the ‘original’ ideas, only for us to render a cheap after-the-fact copy?  Well one reason might be found in the ancient writings of Older Testament scripture.  Ecclesiastes 1:1-18 (particularly vs. 9-10) confirms this;

9″What has been will be again, 
   what has been done will be done again; 
   there is nothing new under the sun. 
10 Is there anything of which one can say, 
   “Look! This is something new”? 
It was here already, long ago; 
   it was here before our time. “

But you may think; “that was then, and this is now“, but are things really all that different today than 4000-ish years ago?  The speaker or ‘preacher’ in this biblical passage was likely referring a little more towards pursuing new ways of happiness and wisdom, but I think you get the picture that his tone indicates, and I paraphrase, “If you’ve thought of it now, someone has thought of it before…you’re not as original as you may think!”  Sure there are new and creative ideas happening all the time, but the trouble is most ideas never seem to go beyond the idea stage, and into the implementation and experimentation stage.  Creativity takes risk and work…something many people just aren’t really into these days.  There is no reason for more creative and ‘original’ ideas not to be flowing in our culture today, especially from the minds, hearts and experiences of Christ-followers.  Sure someone may have already thought of it before (or something very similar), but we can re-think an idea that meets the needs of our culture and community, and give it a fresh and innovative touch to do what it never could before.

Shame on us, as Christians, for waiting so long for the world to mass produce ideas and creativity, only for the ‘church sector’ to come along and offer cheap substitutes.  But the tides are starting to turn, more noticeably over the past 5-10 years, as more and more Christians are fleshing ideas from out of their heads, and into implementation in society.

The reason?

I think it has a lot to do with motive and initiative.  If your motive for coming up with an idea is based more on your own personal agenda and gain that it is on cultural impact, then I think that is where a lot of ideas are kicked to the curb.  But when we begin to dream and think passionately about ways to impact our community, families, and especially the Kingdom of God, then I think that is what puts wheels and momentum on creative thinking.  Here’s an example; most churches in North America have vastly more resources and man-power than churches in other parts of the planet, yet we tend to spend most of our time and resources thinking about ways to simply get people in our buildings and programs.  On it’s own…not a bad motive…more people in attendance at weekend worship gatherings and programs designed to increase spiritual growth are good things…great things because it means more people are hearing about the gospel and the call to live and serve as Christ.  The bad thing is that the means (getting people to attend) often become the end.  Think of all the creative thinkers inside the church, and there’s the problem…they’re efforts are largely confined to increase attendance and serve the church, as opposed to influencing culture.

This isn’t a rant against the motives of church leadership in general, but rather just one example of how we could be doing so much more to truly impact our communities.  It’s just an observation and opinion about what gets people’s attention.  Can you imagine the difference of reaction between these two scenarios from observing someone’s obvious talent;

A. “Yeah it’s a gift I guess, so I may as well make something of myself and earn as much as I can and not waste it!

B. “Yeah I’ve been given a gift and I just want to bring honor and recognition to the Lord who blessed me with it, and hopefully the Lord can shine His light through me to be a witness to those around me.”

Both seem to contain an element of humbleness, but one is based more on the motive of self, whereas the other is pretty clear that the motive is to bring God to the forefront by seeking to shine among others.  Kinda a lot like what the apostle Paul spent much of His time saying to those around Him…that through all the insight, radical ideas and creative light he brought to his culture, it wasn’t about following Paul, but about following the true light…Jesus!  There’s just something about ideas that inspire and impact…I mean people get behind those kinds of ideas (social justice, art & film, technology, science & medicine, education).  It’s not about a church or organization being glorified, but rather the body and church of Christ working creatively to bring the glory and influence of Christ into the culture we live in.

My challenge would be for Christians to spend a little less time trying to think of things that haven’t been done before, and much more time thinking creatively about how we can do the things that have already been thought of…better!  There’s no shortage of ideas out there, and some are begging to be tweaked and twisted in a way that is far more effective now than it was then.  I’m reminded of the old BASF commercials…”we don’t make a lot of the products you buy, we just make them better.”   That’s why I have a lot of respect for Christian communities like Mosaic.  It’s an urban multi-site church led by the creative influence of Erwin McManus, with the main site in Los Angeles, CA.  The goal of Mosaic is to bring the creativity of Christ into the mainstream marketplace.  It’s not necessarily that Mosaic is doing things that haven’t been done before, but they (and many Christian communities around the globe) are doing things that lots of other Christians aren’t even trying.  They have a clear focus to bring the light of Christ into the communities at-large, as opposed to focusing largely on getting people to come to them.

So while it’s true that there may not be much that’s new under the sun, we can certainly spend more time as Christians thinking up ways we can make that sun a little brighter for the world to see!  You may not come up with something totally new and original (but then again maybe you will!), but the important thing is to keep dreaming and stretching the borders.  And in case you’re trapped in a ‘Been There, Done That‘ dead-end, and in need of some creative exercises to get your juices flowing…here’s 29 ways you can fan the creative flames (thanks for the link Doug Fields)!


Here’s a couple of added thoughts from my own brain (scary!)

Chalkboard or you can use a marker board, chart paper…but when ideas are lacking, sometimes it works to go old school!

Watch TV
– You never know what kind of idea you might strike up during your favorite show or random commercial

Make Something to Eat
– I get great ideas when I rest my brain and engage my stomach!

Bathroom Break
– It’s a rumor that some of the greatest ideas known to man have come while sitting on the throne room of meditation…but it’s worked more than a few times for me!

Write it Down
– okay this was a ‘re-tweet’ of ideas #2 & 26 in the video, but it’s such a simple concept that almost never gets done…I mean who carries a pen around with them everywhere they go?  That’s the great thing about Evernote…you can sync it with your PC/Mac, ipad/Tablet, iphone/smartphone and use video, audio, camera pics, and note pad to record ideas as they come along.  You just create tabs and notebooks to seamlessly sync your ideas into folders on all your electronic devices…available whenever you need them and all nicely organized.  The only problem is you have to actually remember to use it!

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