How to Be More Creative

Developing Your Idea Factory

Do you think it’s possible to become more creative?  Is creativity natural, or developed?  Is it a limited commodity, and you’re just stuck with however much of it you have?  Is it even possible for a small-church pastor to be creative with limited budgets, no staff, and few options?

I think you CAN become more creative.

Here’s my definition of creativity: The skill or ability to view problems and possibilities in new ways, and find solutions that are novel and courageous.

So how do we develop the skill of creativity?  Here are a few suggestions:

1. Read broadly.

Take some time and check out authors that break boxes, think fresh thoughts, and have an “upside down” way of viewing things.  This will mean reading people who disagree with you politically, who synthesize differently than you are used to.

Try some of these:

2. Strategically break your routine.

Seeing the same things the same ways will eventually result in stifled creativity, because it doesn’t give you new experiences and info to process and synthesize.

  • Eat somewhere new.
  • Take a new road to work.
  • Learn a new skill.
  • Read a book about something different or weird
  • Do a new kind of recreation (If you’re an inside guy, go out. Or vice versa!)
  • Talk with someone outside your normal circle – ask them questions

Identify what is unique and different about these experiences.  You may not like them – you might even decide not to do it again.

3. Think childish.

Kids see ways to solve problems creatively because they haven’t been discouraged yet by how many WRONG answers there are. What if you recaptured that mindset, by deciding to ignore the voice that says there’s only one right answer?

  • Shut down the inner voice that says “that’s stupid.”
  • Deliberately suspend your disbelief.
  • Force yourself to come up with 10 different ways to do something, even if 4 of them are completely ludicrous.

The person who rolls their eyes at an over-the-top suggestion may be RIGHT, but they are not creative.  So don’t be that guy.

4. Involve others.

Some people are “Yes, and…” people.  Some are “yes, but…” people.  You know who I’m talking about.  When you want to get creative, it is important who you choose to be around you.  The right people will help you break through a creative block.

“It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but that you are a conductor of light. Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it.” ~ Sherlock Holmes (Hound of the Baskervilles, Sir A. Conan Doyle)

5. Be ready to capture ideas.

Brainstorming is a huge part of the art of creativity.  But you have to have a way to capture those creative ideas.

Don’t let a flash of insight slip by!  Write them down in Evernote, or put them in your Todoist list.  Sketch it on a napkin.  Take pictures with your smartphone.

6. Plan ahead.

Don’t wait until the last minute.  Creativity is useless if you don’t have time to execute the idea.

Time pressure only creates the base layer of creativity.  Going to the next level of great creative ideas requires margin. So start early.

7. Get enough sleep.

There is abundant research saying that if you don’t sleep, your life will suffer.  You’ll make less effective decisions, your productivity will drop, and your creativity will suffer.  So make yourself go to sleep.  Check out Michael Hyatt’s post on evening routines for help.

8. Ask “What if…?” and “Why not?”

The more you ask these two questions, the more you unleash your creativity.  Even if the answer is “obvious,” go ahead and ask the question.  What you gain from the question is more than the answer – it is perspective.

9. Use metaphor and simile often.

If creativity really is the synthesis of ideas, metaphor is a great laboratory.  To practice this, think these kinds of thoughts:

  • “How is this problem LIKE other problems?”
  • “If this situation was a ___ (car, storm, war, family, factory, etc), what would each piece be called?”

This forces your brain into a synthesis mode of completely different sets of ideas, which is the essence of creativity.

10. Laugh at yourself.

Creativity = Ridiculous.
Ridiculous = funny.
Funny = people laugh at it.
People laughing at you = bad.
THEREFORE, Creativity = bad.

If that’s your logic, you’ll never grow your creative skill.

So if you decide that you’re OK with being a little ridiculous, and can develop the ability to laugh at yourself, you’ll be further down the road toward being truly creative.

In the comments below, share this: Which of these ideas surprised you?  Why?

How Living In the Urgent Can Kill Your Creativity

And how to reclaim your life from the stress...

If you haven’t read Stephen Covey’s excellent book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” you’re missing out.  Out of the many helpful things in the book, here’s one I have found most useful:  Covey’s distinction between URGENT things and IMPORTANT things.

  • Urgent things shout at you – flashing lights, ringing phones.
  • Important things will not – maintenance, relationships, planning.
  • Urgent and Important things must be done or things will fall apart immediately.
  • Important, not Urgent things must be done or things will fall apart eventually.
  • Urgent and Important things are like filling up with gas when you’re on empty.
  • Important things are like changing the oil after 3,000 miles.

He draws a matrix like this:

Quadrant 2 graphic

As you can see, Quadrant 1 is Urgent & Important.  Quadrant 2 is Important, but not Urgent.

Now, think about your life in terms of this diagram.

I think of Sunday as a Quadrant 1 day.   If you don’t lead worship, don’t preach… if you fail to do whatever your core activities are, there will be an immediate negative effect.  Some activities eventually change quadrants.  For instance, sermon prep is a Quadrant 2 activity, but Saturday night… it’s moved up.

Here’s why it’s better to do activities while they’re still in Quadrant 2:

1. Living in Quadrant 1 is exhausting.

Living your whole life in Quadrant 1 means you’ll be like Mario, leaping from crisis to crisis, barely escaping destruction at each turn, always inches from disaster.

It means not being able to sleep because of the stress of upcoming deadlines.

That’s exhausting.  Better to live in Quadrant 2, where you do important things before they move into Quadrant 1.

2. Relaxed thinking is better than crisis thinking.

You do better quality thinking when you’re relaxed.  Research is clear: You make better quality decisions when your stress is lower.

In his ground-breaking book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell tells of a study where college students were brought to a snack table, and offered a choice between healthy snacks (fruit, etc) and unhealthy snacks (cookies, cupcakes).  Half of the students were given a phone number to memorize and repeat back after the snack.  Those students were much more likely to choose the unhealthy snack.  Why?  They defaulted, under even that mild stress, to choosing what was immediately rewarding, instead of what was smarter.

3. Creativity flows better when you are not in urgent mode.

Ever think that your creativity goes up right before the deadline?  It doesn’t.  Your desperation does.  You may produce, but it’s not your creativity that gets your sermon finished!  It’s shame, and the potential embarrassment of having nothing to say.

It’s not more creative, it’s just… finished.

Instead, take time and focus early in the week to get in a creative flow.  (I’ll be writing more on this soon.)  You may not think of yourself as a particularly creative person, but I bet that you’re more creative when you aren’t “under the gun.”

4. Creativity is useless when you have no time left to execute.

In Quadrant 2, when you think of a really creative way to present a sermon, you can do it.  You can find that prop, create that Powerpoint, locate that great historical story, find that song that complements, think of that person whose testimony should be shared.

But in Quadrant 1, even if you think of it, you often don’t have enough time to do anything about it. I’ve been there too many times, finishing up a sermon on Sunday morning, when I realized – “You know what would be GREAT?!… ah, never mind, I don’t have time to do that this morning!”

Don’t do it.  Commit to living in the Important, not Urgent.

One final thought:

“What if I’m already overwhelmed?  How do I get into Quadrant 2 when Quadrant 1 is already so full?”

I’m glad you asked.  You can’t just stop doing Quadrant 1 activities.  Everything would fall apart, because they really ARE important!  There are only 2 places that you can find time to do Quadrant 2 activities at first: Quadrants 3 & 4.

Here’s what that might look like:

  • Turn off the phone.
  • Block Netflix.
  • Shut off talk radio.
  • Turn off the TV.
  • Use Stayfocusd to keep off Facebook.
  • Get off Youtube.
  • Turn off your wireless access altogether for 3 hours.

And do something Quadrant 2.  Like this:

  • Prepare for NEXT week’s message.
  • Prep for a series that’s a month away on your sermon calendar.
  • Invest in a key relationship.
  • Learn something new.
  • Do that item you’ve been putting off.
  • Check your calendar for tomorrow.
  • Schedule lunch with someone.
  • Pray.

I think you’ll find that if you’ll do this for a week, Quadrant 1 will be slightly smaller, and Quadrant 2 will be slightly larger.

Now, imagine 6 months from now, if you did that every day!

Leadership Lessons from the Rise of Donald Trump

His hair is legendary.  He has an ego the size of the Grand Canyon.  He might possibly be the next President of the United States.  He’s definitely making waves.  His name is Donald J. Trump, and the enormity of his wealth is only surpassed by the Trumposity of his personality.

Let me start by saying this is no endorsement.  I didn’t vote for him, and frankly, find the thought rather disgusting.  But whatever you think of him politically, his candidacy has generated more buzz and traction than anything in recent memory.  There is a long list of pundits and bloggers who are astounded at his ability to transcend accepted political wisdom.

I’m not getting political in this post.  I’m not going to talk about how to stop him, or talk about his faults & failings.  I have only one question.

Why?  

Clearly, he’s tapped into something.  Why?

What’s he doing, and what can we learn from it?

No doubt, the analysts will argue about it for years.  But here’s my list.

Note: These observations are amoral.  A case could be made that the following things are what dictators or fascists do as well.  But for this post, I’m concerned ONLY with the leadership observations, not the morality of their uses.

Why We Still Do Sunday Night Services

Sunday night services have fallen on hard times.  I can understand why.  Attendance is low.  It’s tiring for pastors & their families, especially for those who have 6 children.

People are busy.  They feel overworked, overcommitted, tired and stressed.  Family time is drained by a million things.  (I know, I know — family time is mostly drained by TV & the internet.  And it’s not like people who stay home from Sunday night are using that time to sit and have quality conversation & fun with their kids.)

Pastors are also tired.  Administration and stresses drain the creativity and energy it takes to draw out Biblical content and present it in fresh, memorable way.  Pastors also complain of not enough family time.  (TV & internet? Hmm.)

People used to “go to church every time the doors were open.”  But that assumption isn’t there any longer, unfortunately even among Christians.

But we still do them at our church.  I’ve had people ask me why, even suggest that we cancel it.  But I haven’t, and I don’t plan to.

Here are 4 reasons why we still do Sunday nights:

1. It gives me freedom to focus on non-core people on Sunday AM.

I have two different audiences with two different needs.  While you don’t have to “dumb down” the Gospel, or the Bible, preaching to an audience of young Christians & biblically illiterate people does require changes in preaching.  You have to think about assumptions, different cultural connection points, different levels of biblical literacy.

2. It gives me a chance to encourage the leadership of the church.

I often talk with pastors frustrated because EVERYONE doesn’t attend on Sunday PM.  I’ll be honest… that’s not the end of the world to me.

It’s no secret that those who come to Sunday PM service are the most committed people you’ve got, at least in terms of faithful attendance.  Board members, musicians, children’s workers, nursery attendants, and more get up from their Sunday afternoon time and have given years to serving faithfully.  What an opportunity to encouage those who make the place run!  As a leader, honestly, if I didn’t have Sunday night to do that, I’d have to create a new venue to do it.

Even though they were present for your Sunday morning service, they were probably serving anyway.  They gave out.  They come into Sunday evening with deflated tires — you are the air compressor.  Pump ’em up.

3. It gives me a chance to develop systematic Bible study content.

Preaching is a lot of work.  It makes sense to figure out how to make some of your work do double duty.

Sometimes, I’ll develop the material, and teach it Sunday nights.  It lets me outline the book, develop the flow of thought and application, locate illustrations, do the background and language studies. Then when I re-preach it on Sunday mornings, I can develop it further, develop graphics, artwork & Powerpoint slides, add another layer of communication smoothness on it.

I don’t feel badly about doing that, and you shouldn’t either, as long as it’s not all the time.  I’ve probably only done it with 5-6 series over the years.  Your core people will not mind, as long as you are serving them well.  They might even enjoy hearing it again, with another layer of polish on it.  Learn this from Top 40 Radio & Christmas music: If the song is good, it’s worth playing again.

4. It gives me a chance to cast vision to the core.

When you’re doing church in a way that people are not used to, communication is crucial.  John Maxwell was right when he said, “People are down on what they’re not up on.”

I realized the potential value of this when I taught a series on the purpose of the church on Sunday nights early on in my ministry.  One of my core people said, after going through a few weeks of inductive study on the purpose of the church, “You know, I am realizing that the church is here for more than just to keep it going and keep the doors open.”

Exactly!  From a leadership standpoint, you can’t put a price tag on that.  And I realized that this was a chance I had to keep communication lines open with people who needed to hear from me outside of the Sunday AM context… to hear that it was going to be OK.  Even though there were people coming that were new, and didn’t hold our values, and didn’t look or talk or smell the same… it was going to be OK!

Crucial for church revitalization.

In my next post, I’m going to talk about ways you can keep Sunday night from being a drag.

10 Ways Evernote Is Making Pastoring Easier For Me

I am loving Evernote.  I had an account with Evernote for a couple years, but I confess I didn’t see the benefits & uses at the time, so I didn’t start using it. Then I read a post by Michael Hyatt on how he uses Evernote, and it opened my eyes to the possibilities. Since then, Evernote has become one of my absolute favorite tools.

It’s really useful on on a personal level — I keep my budget there, gift lists, etc. But in this post, I’ll talk about how I’m using it professionally in my ministry work. Here’s what I’m doing with it, and how it’s making my life easier as a pastor:

5 Reasons You Should Plan Sermons In Advance

There’s a running joke among preachers, where sermons are referred to as “Saturday Night Specials.”  It’s one of those jokes with an element of truth.  Every small church pastor knows the feeling of a busy week of ministry, outside jobs, counseling, maintenance — and an emergency crash sermon prep session on Saturday night.  (Or Sunday morning!)

I know the stress & pain in that.  Recently, I’ve had to a few times, with our 6th baby arriving in September.

But for some, it’s a distressing, stress-filled, regular occurrence.

Often, it’s just a function of life.  But for some guys, it goes deeper — down to a fundamental doubt about whether it’s really a good thing to prep sermons in advance.

Here are 5 reasons why you should plan your sermons in advance:

Who Is This Baby?

Why Christmas Changes Everything...

In a few days, you’ll gather with family, enjoy old traditions, play special music, and celebrate the birth of a peasant baby born 2,000 years ago in an obscure village in a backwater province in a foriegn country.

Why? What is so special about this day?

It all hinges on who you think Jesus was. This year, as you peek into the manger, consider this question: Who is this Jesus?

S.M. Lockridge says it this way:
The Bible says my King is the King of the Jews
He’s the king of Israel
He’s the king of righteousness
He’s the King of Heaven
He’s the King of Glory
He’s the King of Kings
And he’s the Lord of Lords.

Jesus is the loftiest idea in literature,
The highest personality in philosophy.
The fundamental doctrine of true theology.
He’s the only one qualified to be an all-sufficient Savior.

Paul said it like this:
Colossians 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.
17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,
20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (NIV)

John Piper puts it this way:
“If you took all the greatest thinkers of every country and every century and put them in a room with Jesus, they would shut their mouths and listen to the greatness of His wisdom.
All the generals would listen to His strategy.
All the greatest musicians would listen to his music theory and His performance on every instrument.
There is nothing that Jesus cannot do a thousand times better than the person you admire most in any area of human endeavor under the sun.”

Here’s how I would say it:

If you put together the entire knowledge of the internet, you have not begun to scratch the surface of his knowledge.

He knows right now, whether you stand or sit, whether you itch or hunger or thirst, and what you thought of 30 seconds ago… and what you will think of 30 minutes from now.

If you could harness the spy satellites from every country and place, he would see more, see further and sooner.

If you could tap every phone and hear every conversation, and see every email, you would still not know as much about what is going on in this world as He does.

The greatest of marksmen cannot be so accurate as He.
If you put him against the military, you cannot imagine the carnage he would inflict on them, and never get a scratch.
Against the best of the weapons, he cannot lose.
If you were to put him against the special ops forces of every country, they would find that there was more power in his word than in all their training.
If you put him in a room with Navy’s new laser gun, he would dwarf its power.
If you pitted him against all the atomic arsenals of the world, what is that against the One who created the atom & knows all of its secrets?

Yet he doesn’t need to use this power… for though mans power can end a life, it has never created life in the priciest of laboratories. But He has; in fact, He is life itself. Man’s power can change a mind, but it has never changed a heart — but he can, and he has… and he does.

If you were in his care, you would be safer with him than with the best security team ever assembled. No lock is safer, no security system more unbeatable, no self-defense course or method as unstoppable.

If you collected diamonds and gold from every country and piled them in a warehouse, he would be richer. In fact, he would own them all, no matter whose name was on the title.

He is everything any boy ever loved in any superhero. He is everything any little girl ever longed for in a handsome prince. He can seem to be late, then swoop in, defeat the enemy and leave their schemes in ruins, save the princess, and ride away into the sunset without breaking a sweat.

He is everything good you have ever seen in a person, everything admirable and strong. He is all the things you ever loved in a man or a woman, all the good and kind and beautiful, with none of the scars of sin.

He is all the wise and powerful, with none of the corruption and lies.
He cannot be voted out, term limited, or deposed.
No coup will ever threaten his righteous reign.
No traitor will ever escape his wrath, and no whistleblower can ever call him to fault.
The Scriptures say it this way, “Of His government and kingdom there shall be no end…”

To know him is to be as wise as Solomon, as rich as Bill Gates, as powerful as all the presidents and prime ministers and dictators combined.

Light is not the fastest human thing… thought is. Thought can travel anywhere in the blink of an eye. But if you let your thoughts race from here to the furthest reaches of the galaxy, you would find that he was already there. Then if your thoughts raced back to the people you love and care for, you would find he was already beside them, before you decided to think of them.

He is faster than the fastest, higher than the highest, greater than the great…

But this Jesus who is unlike anything that has ever existed, is completely and utterly other, and holy, and separate, and above all things…

Became a baby.

A baby!

And they laid him in a feed box for cattle!

And smelly shepherds were his welcoming party.

He was…
“The eternal one, living in a moment of time.
The Omnipresence corralled in a feed box.
The Omnipotent in a helpless infant who could not raise His head.
The Omniscience confined in a baby who would not say a word.
The Christ who created galaxies, in a cave.
For when God would draw near to a cold, cruel, sinful, suffering humanity, he placed a baby in a manger in Bethlehem.”
[adapted from The Wesleyan Bible Commentary, 1986. p. 221]

Let it drive you wild…
let it drive you tears…
let it drive you to awe, wonder, and to worship.

Merry Christmas.

Introducing SermonSubscribe

I’m pleased to announce that our church is launching a new ministry that will serve churches without pastors, or busy bi-vocational pastors who need preaching support.

Introducing SermonSubscribe.

The Sermon Subscribe Story: SermonSubscribe Logo small

In 2012, I (Darrell S.) sat talking with Darrell Underwood, a USAF Master Sergeant who was moving to Clovis, New Mexico to be stationed at Cannon Air Force Base.  He said, “While I’m in Clovis, I feel like God wants me to plant a church.  I’m just not sure what I will do if I am deployed overseas.”

As we discussed options, we talked about the current trend of “multi-site” churches.  We discussed video preaching, and became convinced that this was the path God was leading us toward.  Darrell Underwood was employed full-time with the Air Force as a process improvement specialist. We realized the video preaching I supplied would be a blessing to him as he labored to start what eventually was named Servant’s Heart Chapel in Clovis.

After preaching for a year for Servant’s Heart, I began to feel that there was more that could be done for some small churches that I knew.  Churches that:

  • Had no pastor
  • Had a sick pastor
  • Had a bivocational (read: nearly burned out) pastor
  • Had a pastor who had to be away for a time

And so was born SermonSubscribe.  For a small fee, we do the heavy lifting on preaching, making it as turnkey as possible to have quality biblical preaching in a local church.  Every week, we:

  1. Sermon Supply 2Prayerfully prepare sermons.
  2. Preach them live at my church in OKC.
  3. Record high definition video of the message.
  4. Edit and produce the video.
  5. Burn a DVD or upload the finished video to share.
  6. Print handouts, and ship it all to the subscriber church.

We do all this for $200/mo — a fraction of the cost of a special speaker each Sunday, or of hiring a 2nd staff member.

Our goal: To serve churches by providing quality biblical preaching by video.

Here’s a sample from a recent sermon series, “Redeeming Ruth.”

If you have questions about this service, you are welcome to give me a call or text at the number on this flier, contact me on Facebook, contact me on Twitter, or drop me an email.

RECOMMENDATIONS: 

Pastor Darrell is an “ideas” guy… one of the most prolific I have ever worked with. He has also been gifted by God with the ability to take the truths of Scripture and present them in a memorable and exciting way. I highly recommend SermonSubscribe! This ministry is helping to fill the gap of empty pulpits and spiritually starved congregations.       – Rev. Jonathan Heath, pastor & Youth Challenge director

Pastor Darrell Stetler II offered the solution of video sermons when I wondered what my church was going to do if I was called away to serve our country. It was an enormous success. The sermons were both timely and challenging to our people. They have also helped me meet the challenges I face as a bi-vocational pastor as they have allowed me to spend more time with the people of my community and my family.   – Rev. Darrell Underwood, Pastor (Clovis, NM) & USAF officer

If you are looking for Biblical, practical messages that will stimulate your mind and challenge you in your walk with God, the ministry of Darrell Stetler II will be that kind of ministry.   – Rev. Darrell Stetler, Sr., Pastor, Burlington, KY

If I I know anything about Darrell Stetler II it is this — he will preach the Word of God, the whole Word of God, and nothing but the Word of God. If I was going to be away from my pulpit, I would feel safe allowing Pastor Darrell to preach for me.         – Rev. Doug Eads, Pastor, Ada Chapel Bible Methodist Church

 I would whole-heartedly recommend Darrell Stetler to any church in need of an interim ministry. Expect substantive, biblical, practical messages that will both challenge you and help you grow.   – Dr. Philip Brown, professor, God’s Bible School & College

“I watched the first DVD of the “Made” series, and it’s great!  You’re doing a really good work.” – David Gervais, church member, Trinity Bible Methodist Church, Alabama

——————-

What about you?  Do you know churches that could use this service?  Share your thoughts below!