I am drawn to creative people and I love the way an increasing number of churches are adding “creativity” to their core values. After all, we serve the Creator of the universe!
I recently spent time in a 456-page book with the intriguing title Creativity and the appealing tease that it’s drawn from interviews with over 90 of the world’s most creative people – though none of them religious leaders, unfortunately. The author is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian professor at the University of Chicago. (According to Wikipedia, his name is pronounced MEE-hye CHEEK-sent-m?-HYE-ee.)
First, let me discourage you from buying and reading the entire book. It doesn’t land on one clear statement or conclusion, it’s way too long and academic for most readers (including me), and it’s extremely limited in the kinds of creativity discussed. For example, it doesn’t deal with the creativity of children but rather of artists and scholars who have met his prerequisite of first mastering their particular field.
So if you get a copy of Creativity from your local library, or drink some coffee as you browse it at your local bookstore, here’s what you might learn:
1. Creativity involves hard work. It’s almost never the random light bulb that goes off while you’re showering or the sudden inspiration you jot on a restaurant napkin. There may be an “aha” moment, but typically you have first wandered in and out of your subject for some while.
2. Certain environments do help to foster creativity – basically, anything that encourages wonder, passion and curiosity. If novelty and innovation are valued, then creativity has the potential to flourish. You and your church can shape an environment that invites creativity.
3. Creative people are different, requiring a bit of slack from others. “Creative people are constantly surprised. They don’t assume that they understand what is happening around them, and they don’t assume that anybody else does either. They question the obvious – not out of contrariness but because they see the shortcomings of accepted explanations before the rest of us do. They sense problems before they are generally perceived and are able to define what they are.” (page 363).
While Creativity lands most practically on how to enhance personal creativity, as I tried to apply it to the church world, I kept thinking about an interview, Q&A, and book review I did awhile back of Andy Crouch, author of Culture Making. All three are at this link , and see also his talk on Leadership Network’s “Aha!” video conference. Andy’s central point is that Christians need to create healthy culture, rather than merely objecting to bad examples around us. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi may help us understand the creative excitement of the artist, but Andy Crouch shows how a good thing like creativity can be used to draw the world back to its Creator.