“How big of a cardboard tree could you make for VBS this year?”
I love questions like this! As a pastor, creative-type and occasional church handyperson, I’ve developed a bit of a reputation around my community for repurposing things. I seem to have a knack for making things from other things that weren’t originally supposed to be a thing like that other thing. (Does that make sense?) My colleagues in ministry seem to get it and ask me to help with all sorts of creative projects at our church.
It’s one of my favorite parts of church work: the variety of one day wearing a tie and sitting with someone at the hospital and the next being in my grubbies to glue hundreds of pieces of tissue paper on a giant worship banner. For every day I spend emailing nonstop while simultaneously playing 7 different games of scheduling tag, I get to spend one bubble painting.
I didn’t always love this variety. It used to drive me bonkers. I don’t know where I got this notion from, but I used to think “real” ministry was all the administrative and relational stuff and the creative stuff was just secondary. I minimized the creative side of ministry and thought of it as… I don’t know… as less important, an after hours thing, a hobby. Finish all your real work first, I thought, then you can do the fun creative stuff. (Before you start sending me a nasty message: All ministry work is creative. I get that. I’m talking about artsy-type creative stuff. Keep reading.)
Creative expression is what I really love to do, and I’m realizing more and more that God’s call for me to be a pastor has a lot to do with my eye for beauty, my knack for repurposing, my desire to create. Discounting these gifts from God really hurts my pastoral identity and makes it harder for me to be a good minister to my community. So, on good days, I make myself make things at work.
I’m not that into checking my office voicemail. I get weird about calling people on the telephone for some reason and I have an aversion to returning emails in a timely manner. But, I am pretty good at writing prayers that make people say, “interesting,” and hang their worship bulletin on the fridge. I can bring out unique and challenging visuals of faith and who God is from folks who would never call themselves artists. ALL of that is church work. All of that is NESESSARY church work. And as a pastor I do all of it, the stuff I excel at and the things I do passably, for the glory of God. The tricky part for me, and perhaps for church leaders in general, is to remember that all of this: the administrative, the relational, the creative, is pastoral work and that each varied part of the pastor’s day needs to serve the others.
No one can grow a vibrant church from their office just sending emails. No one can grow a vibrant church hunched on the floor just painting pictures. The one has to serve the other. I’m happy sending 10,000 emails and playing schedule tag if it’s to accomplish big creative things or check up on how someone’s faith changed from a profoundly beautiful performance.
So why did I bifurcate my call so much when I first became a pastor, sending creative to a corner to sit by itself? I think I was trying to legitimize myself as a young minister. I can send emails and organize potlucks and understand the budget. I’m an adult! I can do anything you can do, oh great mythical-stereotype-of-a-pastor! I felt inadequate because I didn’t look or act like what I thought other people thought a pastor was. I didn’t trust myself enough to have the faith of a child. But maybe my ability to emulate the flawed concept of a pastor in my subconscious isn’t why my church hired me. Maybe they are cool with the fact that I accidentally wear cut-off jean shorts to work sometimes and say “dude” too much because they want me to live into the creative vision of ministry that I have in my prefrontal cortex.
Some days I still get bogged down with too many emails and forget to make myself create something, but most days I’m a creative pastor with a little bit of paint on my clothes. And thank God for that because I’d be a lousy pastor otherwise.
ALEX WIRTH is an ordained teaching elder doing building maintenance and social justice work at Lake View Presbyterian Church in Chicago. He buys vinyl albums more than mp3s, tries to ride his bike more than drive a car, make/bake things more than buy them, and generally stick to a punk rock, do-it-yourself mindset like Jesus did.