We have this notion about creativity that it only comes in sudden thunderbolts of inspiration. This is how I used to go about my creative work. I’d sit around waiting for the lighting to strike and the idea to magically pop out of my brain and onto paper. Time and again, though, I was left disappointed when nothing seemed to click. After lots of reading on creativity and inspiration, I discovered that this isn’t how creativity works.
In fact, a lot of research has been done about cultivating creativity and how inspiration is the result of good work habits. To stay inspired, we need to keep showing up to our work, observe the world around us, take good notes, and make connections between what you observe and how it relates to your work.
Twyla Tharp, choreographer and creative director, writes in her book The Creative Habit, “Everything is raw material. Everything is relevant. Everything is usable. But without proper preparation [you] cannot see it, retain it. Or use it. Without the time and effort invested in getting ready to create, you can be hit by the thunderbolt and it’ll just leave you stunned.”
In short, we are responsible for our own creative inspiration. All work is creative work to some degree, even if it means finding a solution to a logistics problem, finding the right words to share an important truth, or how to handle a disagreement among your staff. But when it comes to finding inspiration to address these situations, we’re not sure where to start.
Inspiration is everywhere, but sometimes we need to train ourselves to see it. Here are five ideas to help you start owning your inspiration.
Explore ideas outside of your field but related to your field.
As the elementary curriculum director at Orange, I’m often listening to podcasts and reading books about faith formation and theology. I’ve learned that in order for me to continue creatively thinking about innovating the future of kids ministry, I need to not just understand theology, but also other topics related to kids and faith formation. For me this looks like reading about critical thinking, educational models, and cultural trends in the emerging generations.
If you’re a lead pastor, you may need to explore sociology related to your local communities, where they’re from and the projections for where they’re headed. Or read the top five self-help books on the NYTimes Best Sellers list. This will give you insight into the sorts of topics people in your congregation and community might be considering.
If you’re a NextGen pastor, consider a deep-dive on generational trends. The church is made up of about five or six right now! How do they interact with each other? How do they view the church? What do they need from a faith community to help them navigate their world?
If you’re not sure where to start, head to Amazon and search for a book you’d normally read, scroll to the bottom of the page and look for “Customers who viewed this item also viewed” to see some unexpected books that might be helpful.
Connect with experts in your field.
Use social media for more than scrolling through cat videos and memes. Use Twitter or LinkedIn to follow experts in your field. Go beyond the usual following. Social media is best when it becomes an avenue for conversations and learning. Every social media platform has search engines optimized for discovering like-minded people using hashtags and keywords.
Once you connect with people, reach out to them and see if they’d be interested in a virtual conversation about your work over Zoom. You’ll be surprised how many people will take the time to connect with you. Ask them questions about their current projects and about your current initiatives where you’re facing creative challenges. Their insights have the potential to expand your perspective on your own work and provide a pathway to creative solutions.
Visit an art museum or attend a concert.
During the pandemic, our local art museum was hosting timed tours to ensure safety. I took my two daughters to one of these tours one afternoon. The art itself was amazing, but equally amazing was watching them experience the art. I got a first-hand look at what inspired them, caused them to take out their phones to snap a photo, ask questions or read the description. Seeing them become inspired allowed me to see the art in a whole new way and be reminded that anyone can experience wonder if our eyes are open to the world around us.
When we consider inspiration, we often look inward to our personal experiences with creativity and learning. However, a lot has been said about inspiration we can find outside of ourselves in the presence of others.
Take an afternoon or an evening to experience creativity in public. When we go to a concert or visit a museum with other people, we not only experience the art ourselves, we experience it in community. We get to see what sparks insight and creativity in others. This ultimately influences our personal response as we look for inspiration from others.
Hire a coach/mentor/therapist.
As much as we try to stay inspired, sometimes we get stuck and need help finding our way. It is worth investing in a coach or therapist to help you work through the deeper issues that are holding you back from discovering inspiration in your work. A conversation and time spent with a mentor can jumpstart your creativity and get you focused on your work again.
It’s important that you trust the person you’re meeting with, so take time to interview potential coaches and therapists. Know what you want from meeting with this person and be sure they can help you meet those goals.
Go to a conference!
To stay inspired, we need to keep learning. One the best (and most fun!) ways to do that is taking time to travel to a conference where you can hang out with like-minded people, learn from experts in your field, and expand your horizons by listening to people you might not expect.
At conferences, you get a chance to pause the daily grind and focus on improving your skills and discovering new ideas that can propel your work forward. They can be a breath of fresh air to fill your tank after long seasons of giving yourself to your work.
This is one of the reasons we continue hosting the Orange Conference each year. We love taking a few days to gather thousands of people together for a common purpose to learn from each other and encourage each other to continue the important work of helping kids and families connect with Jesus. We’d love to see you there in 2023!
You can find all sorts of ways for owning your inspiration. Take some time this week to give something a try. You never know what will connect with the way you learn and grow. But keep showing up, keep trying, the next generation of the church is worth it.