As ministries grow there are two things many church leaders realize: 1) they need imaginative, skilled, and inspired creatives around them to pull off everything from the church website to the music for the Christmas service; also, 2) they always seem to be frustrated trying to work with these creatives.
As a pastor with a strong creative streak, I’ve been in the position of experiencing both sides of this. On the one hand, I’ve found myself irritated by how long my video guy is taking to finish a project or how passive-aggressively frustrated my worship pastor is. On the other hand, I’ve been the passive-aggressive behind schedule creative who doesn’t get why my boss just doesn’t understand. Over the years I’ve seen this tension play itself out at every church I’ve worked for, and in several cases I’ve watched as a faithful volunteer or hardworking staff person quits, leaving a frustrated pastor feeling betrayed and wondering what happened.
This tension doesn’t have to exist. Here are three common mistakes we as pastors make in working with creatives along with some good news: they’re easy to avoid.
BE HANDS ON IN THE PLANNING … BUT HANDS OFF IN THE EXECUTION
Often pastors get the sense that their worship leader, graphic designer, or particularly sensitive student pastor never wants to be told what to do. If the person is particularly immature, this might be the case, and you should either try to coach them in that area or find someone else. However, most creatives just want consistency from their supervisor.
If you have a lot of opinions then bring those to the table right out of the gate. Sit in a room with your worship leader and hash out the weekend service. Create a space for an exchange of ideas and make room for healthy tension. Ultimately, even if the creative disagrees if they feel heard and have a clear vision of what you need they’ll most likely do great work for you.
However, once you have this meeting take your hands off the creative wheel. Most of the conflict between pastors and creatives comes from a pastor saying “You run with it!” with very little guidance and then nitpicking every single choice the creative makes. Most creatives want you to be super-involved on the front end and then want you to trust them to implement the vision you’ve given them.
One other note on this: let them experiment and then evaluate the results together. You might not think something will work but find moments where you can say “okay I don’t get it, but let’s try it and see how it goes.” Then recap together and discuss the results.
LET THEM HELP IN SETTING DEADLINES … THEN HOLD THEM TO IT
I worked at a church once where the pastor wouldn’t have the fill-ins for his message until a couple of hours before the message started! Because the creatives were too intimidated by this pastor they never told him how miserable this made their lives as they churned out the bulletins on the fly, loaded the slides into the computer, and did all the tasks they could have leisurely finished with excellence on Friday. Unsurprisingly, most of these creatives burned out and left during my time there.
Allow your creatives to tell you how much time they need to get things done. If their timeline feels too long or short, ask follow up questions like “That seems like a long time. Can you help me understand why you need that much lead up?” Once you’ve mutually agreed to a deadline, hold them to it! Many creatives are very driven, punctual and conscientious people … and then there are the other ones who don’t know what year it is.
These second creatives need a high level of accountability from you so if – like me – you’re a bit conflict-avoidant don’t hesitate to remind the creative you’re working with that they helped set that deadline.
LET THEM BLEED WITH YOU
It’s easy for pastors to isolate when it comes to leading the church. It’s easy when leading a ministry to feel as though no one cares the way you do and to allow that belief to become a suspicion that your creative “just doesn’t understand.” And often that’s true – no one feels the weight the same as you. However, many creatives care deeply about the church services, website or stage design. For them they’re preaching a message through their art that’s birthed out of a heartfelt passion for people to know Jesus in a deeper way.
So share those dreams together. Be frustrated together. Talk about the wins and losses of the project you’re working on and why it’s so important. Pray together. Invite them into your vision and let their passion encourage and energize you.
If a creative feels they are doing something with you not for you they’ll follow you to the ends of the earth. And if you feel like a creative gets the weight you carry then their optimism and passion will help you feel both supported and energized. This is when the pastor/creative relationship gets exciting, when God births a shared vision and the Holy Spirit inspires both of them to work side by side to a shared goal.