The Big Bad Box

Posted: October 23, 2012 in creativity, junior high ministry, middle school ministry

Today during lunch my wife was watching a show called “Rachael” (or at least that’s my alibi, and I’m sticking to it). They were doing a segment where they were interviewing a family who ran a restaurant together. At one point the mother of the family started talking about their desires to expand the menu and offer new exciting options for customers. They wanted to get creative with their menu. But as she talked about their creative desires, she expressed her frustration in not ever having the time to do that while also maintaining the restaurant – you know, the cleaning, the budgeting, the customer service, the shopping for ingredients, etc.. And then she said something I don’t think I’ll ever forget:

It’s hard to think outside the box when you’re too busy building the box.

In one sentence, this woman articulated every frustration I have felt for the last several years running a middle school ministry. On one side I have a strong conviction that I need to “think outside the box” and creatively present the gospel and the truths of Scripture to engage the unique minds of my middle schoolers. Many preachers have said that it’s a sin to make the Bible boring for the listener, and I completely agree. But on the other side, I have to “build the box” with the 400 items on my To-Do list, including (but not limited to): replying to e-mails, running meetings, returning phone calls, interviewing and meeting with leaders, negotiating conflict, and on and on and on… And if I’m honest, I yield to the “other side” of the to-do list if there is ever a conflict between getting creative and gettings things done.

But then a tension begins to build. When I only focus on the to-do list and “building the box,” I start to lose my fire and passion for what I’m doing. I start going through the motions to try to meet expectations. Now, let me stop here and assert that building the box is absolutely essential. If you just sit around coming up with creative ideas without ever pulling the trigger on them, all you’re doing is day-dreaming. But, as Bill Hybels said at the Willow Creek Leader Summit this year, you and I have been called as leaders not to respond to things all day, but to move things forward. And we can’t move things forward without a little thinking outside the box.

So whether you are a youth pastor, a parent, a teacher, or volunteer, here are a few thoughts that help me to stop building the box occasionally in order to think outside the box:

  1. Get away from the box. When I am struggling to get creative with a sermon I’m preparing, I have to get away from the office. If you need WiFi, go to a coffee shop or somewhere like Panera. These places are intentionally designed with color and art to encourage the creative minds. It’s ironic, really. If I want to do something creative at church, I have to be anywhere except the church. Find a third place (home is first place, work is second place, creative space is third place).
  2. Find other people who are in a similar box. The best ideas happen in community. I get so much joy from connecting with other youth pastors and swapping ideas. You have to realize that you don’t have to come up with every creative idea on your own. Find something similar that someone else has done, adapt it for your context, and see what happens!
  3. Identify sources of inspiration. Around the student ministries office at Southland, everyone calls me “the Resource Guy.” This is simply because I do lot of research around the web to find creative ideas, and often times I find something that I’ll pass on to other people. I get inspired looking at a few different websites and blogs, such as More Than Dodgeball, Stuff You Can Use, the Source for Youth Ministry, and yes, even Pinterest. I may lose some man points on that last one, but honestly there is a lot of good youth ministry stuff on Pinterest. I have two boards on Pinterest named “Church Design” and “Youth Ministry Ideas” that I use frequently for new ideas.

If you are like me and believe that making the Bible boring for listeners is a sin, then let’s stop building the box occasionally to start thinking outside the box.

How do you start getting creative? What sources of inspiration do you use to help jump-start your creativity?

  1. Brandon Hammond says:

    Was up David?! A great blog read. I frequently stop by your site to see if you have posted anything new. Good stuff on thinking outside the box. I have recently been looking at a site called It sparks a lot of creative ideas for me and its freaking humorous. Check it out and let me know what you think. Talk to ya soon.

    Brandon Hammond
    7th/8th Grade Minister
    Northside CC

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