Working with creatives is a new experience for many church leaders. Some will find working with creatives energizing and satisfying, others may find managing church creatives challenging. If you are bumping up against frustrations as you interact with your worship director, video director, or creative arts ministry director, it’s probably due either to a lack of understanding of how creative people are “wired” and how to work with them, or you might need to employ different leadership styles to gel as a team and experience the best results for your staff and your church.
In a post-Covid church landscape, creativity is essential for churches that want to grow and be effective. That means you need creatives at the heart of your team, and your success will depend on their flourishing.
So, understanding them and leading them effectively will be vital for your success.
Table of Contents
How are creatives wired?
During my television career, I have led many creatives. While they can seem different even “odd,” they’re not. Instead, they approach work, and often life, quite differently. We need to understand this so we can honor their creativity.
Is there a biblical foundation for honoring creativity?
God is the creator and the source of all creativity so approaching the management of creative people should include a sense of respect for how God has wired them. We also see an answer in the story of Bezalel in Exodus 31. Here, the first person to be “filled with the Holy Spirit” was a craftsman (or) a creative. When you honor what a creative does you are honoring the Holy Spirit working in them.
Two Truths About Creatives
First, each person’s creativity is closely tied to their identity. When you criticize their work, they often hear this as a criticism of themselves. Creatives appear ultra-sensitive around what they create because it’s intertwined with their identity. Understanding this link is key.
Second, creatives need to feel part of something bigger than themselves. The “why” behind a project is vitally important. When they ask for a more detailed brief or an explanation of the reasons for a project, it’s because they need the whole context for their creativity to flourish.
For creatives, knowing what you want isn’t enough, they also need to know why it’s important to the vision and mission of your church. Once you grasp how creatives are wired, you can adapt your leadership to create an environment for them to flourish.
Great leaders learn HOW people want to be led and adapt their leadership accordingly.
Here are 5 core skills to manage and lead church creatives:
#1 – Lead Church Creatives Through Communication
When they receive instruction, creatives may seem to respond negatively. Because creatives have a deep inner thought life with many creative impulses running through their brains hourly, it can feel abrupt to them when they are asked to step outside their brains and do the work you require of them. When asked to do something, the first word you may hear will be “no” or you get a list of why something won’t work. But, by giving creatives space, they will often think about the challenge more deeply and, either find a way to get it done, or they’ll propose a better solution – which is what creativity is all about.
So, don’t let their response to a request offend you. By communicating your request articulately as a somewhat vague suggestion and inviting input, you might just find the outcome of your initial request far exceeded by the creative’s output.
#2 – Lead Church Creatives Through Trust
One of the most important leadership traits is building trust. Another is the ability to protect it. For creatives, trust is critical. They need to know you trust them and more importantly, they can trust you. Trust is built through encouragement, genuine relationship, and regular feedback. It can be helpful to encourage touchpoints at various stages through the creative process so that you can see what genius your creative is plotting—and also avoid a total do-over if they run off course. By setting up checkpoints at two to three midpoints throughout the process, you can make sure both you and your creative are hoping to hit the same target.
Things that destroy trust are bursts of anger, undermining, gossip, poorly handled feedback, and involving more people in the project without the creative’s approval.
Trust is enhanced by providing a stable working environment. If you want creatives to do good work, they need stability. Make sure they know you value and appreciate them and don’t let them think they’ll be fired if they don’t perform. Set expectations and goals at the outset, and a true creative will find more joy in hitting the mark than just about anything else.
#3 – Lead Church Creatives Through Humility
Philippians 2:3, in the Amplified Version, reads: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit [through factional motives, or strife], but with [an attitude of] humility [being neither arrogant nor self-righteous], regard others as more important than yourselves.”
What a great summary of how to lead creatives. Creatives want to be a part of a bigger story, but they also need to be free to create and that takes humility from the leader, when you lead with humility you’ll benefit more from their creativity.
Also, accept your creative team will be more creative than you and realize that’s a good thing – remember it’s not about you, it’s about the creative vision for the entirety of your church. If you’ve worked alongside your creative from the beginning, he or she views the creative process as part of a larger plan to achieve the mission through a creative vision.
#4 – Lead Church Creatives Through Flexibility
Flexibility both in vision and working style is a choice I highly recommend you consider when working with creatives. They are non-conformists. They can be quirky, enjoy working off-hours, and have peculiarities that suit a creative lifestyle. Learn to adapt and be flexible to empower their creativity in God-given ways, even if it means shifting the weekly staff meeting to a different time.
Don’t require creatives to conform to your work patterns. Doing so will stifle their creativity. Instead, create environments where they can thrive. Creatives often work odd hours rather than the standard church office hours. Also, they may not want to be in an office but rather work in a coffee shop or at home –let them work when they like once trust is built.
Let go of any concern you have around them “putting the hours in,” it doesn’t matter!
All that matters is if they deliver a great product. Generally, creatives will work many more hours than you expect on a project they believe in, so don’t focus on the hours, focus on the quality of their output.
#5 – Lead Church Creatives with Gratitude
Practice gratitude regularly. Showing appreciation to your creatives goes a long way to fostering a positive and productive work environment. Give praise in public and criticism in private.
Oh, and one other BIG thing, don’t ever take the credit for a creative’s work. Instead, make sure everyone knows who is responsible for the creation – sing their praises.
If you work on developing these leadership traits your creatives will flourish.
How to Communicate During the Creative Process
Communication is critical so let’s look at the best practices of how to communicate through all the stages of the creative process.
First: The Briefing Stage
When starting a new project, give as detailed a brief as possible. Develop a “briefing document” that you work through and then give to them.
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While creatives want the freedom to create, the process works best when they have clarity on what they need to produce and guidelines to work within.
Also, set a clear (but realistic) deadline. Creatives need this, it helps them focus and, whilst they won’t admit it, creatives thrive under pressure. When a creative is put under appropriate time pressure, they produce their best work.
Second: The Production Stage
Creatives don’t enjoy working in a vacuum. Talk to them regularly, explain things clearly, give them answers when they ask, and don’t expect them to read your mind or vice versa.
However, don’t micro-manage them either, insisting they show you what they are working on – they may not have started. Creativity often comes toward the end of the process, which is why a clear deadline is important.
Third: The Feedback Stage
If I could impress on you just one thing about how to get the most from your creatives, it would be this: GIVE GOOD FEEDBACK.
I once worked for a leader who, if he didn’t like a piece of creative work went quiet…
It was horrible, you knew he didn’t like it (from his silence) but had no idea why or what he didn’t like. Don’t be that person.
Take time to give feedback to your creatives and, do it quickly. They’ll be waiting anxiously to hear your thoughts. Remember their creativity is tied to their identity.
How do you give good feedback?
First, do it quickly in the right place.
Give feedback in private, not in public.
Start with what you like – always find something to be positive about. Then, explain what you don’t and why, if you have suggestions on improvements, give those at this stage – creatives crave feedback and input, they don’t expect their first iteration to be perfect and they expect to change, amend and alter it. But they don’t like silence or a simple “I don’t like it…”
Even if you hate what they have done, they still need encouragement. Remember trust is a vital component of leading creatives.
Don’t let anyone not directly involved in the project give them feedback (unless they have personally asked this person). If you need a second opinion, fine (though be careful who you ask) but you need to be the gatekeeper for feedback. There’s nothing worse than a creative feeling undermined by others who are not involved or invested in the project.
Protect creatives from irrelevant criticism or critics who have no investment in the project.
One last tip.
To the best of your ability and budget, give your creatives the tools they need for the job along with access to any training they need. A creative with woefully inadequate tools (or budget) will be frustrated and not produce their best work.
Working with creatives can be challenging, but striving to understand them and developing the key leadership traits of communication, trust, humility, flexibility, and gratitude, means it can also be incredibly rewarding.
Remember creativity (and therefore creatives) will be a key component to the success of your mission.
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Graeme Spencer is speaking at WAVE Fall on Mastering Multi-Camera Production to Create Effective and Engaging Content. Join us this September 12-14, 2023 in Louisville, KY. Learn with your peers, meet leading manufacturers, and connect with others with the same challenges you are facing.
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The WAVE conference focuses on audiovisual and lighting first and is a traditional conference and expo with the best church AVL exhibitors and vendors in the industry. At WAVE, you and your tech team will have the time to talk with exhibitors because our expo floor is less crowded and better organized than other AVL conferences. WAVE offers the opportunity to see what others are doing and even boasts and church tour local to the conference. Experience roundtable discussions during meals and after sessions. Visit the biggest manufacturers in your area. Maximize your team’s time for education, training on equipment, and industry connection and collaboration. Lastly, WAVE offers incredible value for the education, exhibit access, networking, worship, and amenities for the price of the ticket. Lastly, we at WAVE want to see your church grow, help others find God, and feel personal satisfaction with their jobs by being educated and connecting within the AVL church tech industry. Register for WAVE today!