The dance: Create to tell a story. Innovate to solve a problem.

“A designer without an engineer is an art gallery, and an engineer without a designer is a parking lot.”

— Etan Lightstone (techcrunch.com/March 31, 2015)

There are two types of creativity needed as humans. We have presented issues that need addressing and to be creative in this case mean people work to solve what needs to be solved.  After all, necessity is the mother of invention. Things that are “needed” get the resources, the cash, the spotlight. This is true in our spiritual leadership, as well. Culturally, we are locked into a love affair with making things “work” which is not entirely a bad thing. The problem comes when the other leg of creativity is neglected and even denounced. You see, aesthetics are hard to justify as expenditures when your only vision of creativity is one of utility. This modernist thinking clashes with our souls, yet we still in our leadership worship “what works.”

But, let me caution that innovation is desired as a normative habit. It isn’t. “Let’s not reinvent the wheel” is said in meetings I have been in more times than I care to count. If it is possible to not change much and fix a problem, then a win is marked on our score cards. With this line of thinking, why would any change ever be considered as the reinforcing culture dictates? Since we live in a reality of change today this is a recipe for disaster. The usual reality is this: One only makes a change—especially in an organization—when the pain of the change is less than the pain of the status quo. This is why innovation is the exception, not the rule. 

That being said, we think we are truly creative and honoring the activity of humans as image bearers of God by simply taking the step to innovation. But, we miss the point. Being truly creative means we need to tell a story, too. Why are we solving this problem and not another? Why do we sing the songs we sing at church the way we sing them? Who are we? All of these and more cannot be answered or even addressed with utilitarian leadership. They have to be humbly hashed out. Creatives have a place in being more than ones who innovate. Creatives are necessary because stories need to be told.

Stories brand our identities, focus our vision, and energize the tribe to action. Innovation is the vehicle, a new path, and a new adventure. But, the quest we are on needs to be defined. The banner we hold needs to be painted. The voices of warriors crying out in battle need the soundtrack of their drum line played. Creativity in the typical local church, for instance, is limited. We think of innovation by the technology or worship style or even the way a sermon is delivered. However, the local church has the greatest Story to tell and has perhaps squandered the true creative energy afforded within the ranks. Do we simply call  ministry a problem to be solve?. Do we minimize beauty?

Beauty is describable at times but not quantifiable. The metrics need tweaking to evaluate the instance when you truly have beauty and simply are as ugly as a1970s tilt-up office building—you know, those buildings that are concrete with small windows and rocks thrown in as texture for good measure. There is square footage to be had, but no soul. And, yet the opposite is possible as well. A beautiful structure that has no use is like good leather without the shoes to go with it. Our institutional efforts require a delicate balancing act. It’s a dance between what we can easily measure and the immeasurable human intuitive soul.

When the Psalmist of the Bible says, “make his praise glorious” do we know how to? What is making something glorious—especially the praise of God? The balance is in solving the problem, and also telling the story. The Christian Gospel is both a story to be told and a proposition to be shared. We have ripped the artist apart. We have separated the goats as the ones who love to tell the story, ask the question, and paint the picture. We have kept as sheep only those artists or creatives that make things work—with a tinge of innovation to keep a church ministry relevant. Creativity is not a spice to add to an endeavor. It is a calling to be lived. 

The two legs of being creative address both aspects. We tell a story. We solve a problem. To tear these apart is to make us less human. We actually need both. One will not fully live without the other. I love what Etan Livestone, director of UX design at New Relic said about designing great enterprise software. “A designer without an engineer is an art gallery, and an engineer without a designer is a parking lot.” How much more true is this in our endeavor to lead people in greater tasks? Keep up the rhythm. Create to tell The Story. Innovate to solve that problem.

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Rich Kirkpatrick

Rich Kirkpatrick

Writer, Speaker, and Musician. Rich Kirkpatrick was recently rated #13 of the “Top 75 Religion Bloggers” by Newsmax.com, having also received recognition by Worship Leader Magazine as “Editor’s Choice” for the “Best of the Best” of blogs in 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

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