By Ryan Rasmussen
When I was a kid, I had a notepad that traveled most places with me. Hidden inside were doodles of, well, a little bit of everything. Floor plans of my dream house were wedged between drawings of my favorite comic book characters and sketches of Ariel from The Little Mermaid. I know it seems odd to think of a 13-year-old boy drawing princesses, but my dream at the time was to become an artist for Disney and I was trying to sharpen my craft. Don’t judge me.
Eventually my notepad and I grew apart and I found another way to feed my creative side. Throughout most of high school and college I played in a rock ’n’ roll band. I loved the vulnerability of penning lyrics to paper and collaborating on songs with bandmates. Those were some of the best years of my life and some of my most creative as well.
Shortly thereafter, I graduated from Bible college and entered into full-time student ministry. As a youth pastor I was expected to create outside-the-box ways of relaying age-old biblical concepts to the young people I influenced. In addition, I often found myself leading worship in student services, editing video, and acting as a makeshift interior designer on youth center renovations. Student ministry seemed to be a perfect fit for my wiring.
And then something strange happened. . . .
I began feeling an urge to lead on a larger scale. I sensed God was calling me to lead a church.
For years I struggled with that calling. It may seem odd, but I wrestled with it primarily because I was a creative and every senior leader I knew was cut from the Maxwell-CEO-leadership-style cloth. That wasn’t me.
I didn’t even read Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership until I was 28 years old.
I also recognized that I wasn’t a highly dominant personality. I could turn it on when I had to, but it wasn’t my default setting.
And if I’m putting it all out there, sometimes the thought of being a boss made me nervous. Isn’t it more fun to be everybody’s friend?
For years I did self-assessments that trudged up doubt that I could ever actually lead a staff or church . . . or anyone, for that matter. I knew, as a creative, I had a tendency to be flighty, impulsive, and emotional. Those didn’t seem like the best qualities for a senior leader.
Yet, I couldn’t shake God’s desire for me. Apparently God couldn’t either, and for the last four years I’ve had the honor of serving as lead pastor of an amazing, growing, dynamic church.
Here are some things I’ve learned as a creative in senior leadership:
Years ago, while serving in student ministry, I attended a Christ In Youth conference with my youth group. It had been a great week and we were wrapping up the final session when Mark Moore, that week’s primary communicator, asked the students who had made first-time commitments to stand. We cheered for them and Mark encouraged them as their lives were now changed forever. Then all those who had made recommitments were asked to stand. They too were given a charge by Mark. Next he asked students who had committed their lives to full-time Christian service to rise from their seats. Again, he gave them support and challenged them to stay the course. Finally, Mark asked the student pastors to stand.
I can’t recall his exact words, but they went something like this:
Some of you are athletic. God wired you that way to reach athletes. Others of you are more “churchy,” and God made you that way to reach a certain group of students. Some of you, honestly, are more “worldly.” You connect best with kids far from God and have a stirring in your heart to bring them to Jesus . . . just be you. Be who God created you to be. There’s a reason God wired you that way.
In that moment, I remember feeling set free. It wasn’t that Mark’s words were hugely profound, but they did speak to me. It was as if the Spirit shaped those words into an arrow aimed specifically for my heart.
If God was calling me to lead and wired me the way he did, then he wanted me to lead with, not in spite of, my spiritual gifts and natural skill set.
This isn’t to say you as a creative leader shouldn’t challenge yourself in your weaknesses; rather, it’s granting permission to not abandon who God created you to be in order to fit into the senior pastor box.
SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PEOPLE WHO AREN’T LIKE YOU
If you are a creative leader, you’re probably not highly organized. You’re too busy dreaming about the future. You’re probably not great with details either. I’m speaking in generalities, of course, but surrounding yourself with people not like you is almost a necessity to sustain you in this role. You need someone you trust to act as an extension of you and your leadership, all the while filling some of your leadership gaps.
RECOGNIZE THAT SOME OF TODAY’S PROMINENT CHURCH LEADERS HAVE A CREATIVE BENT
Creative leaders, we’re not alone. Recently I’ve noticed that many household-name pastors—the one’s with big, influential churches—have roots in art, music, and other creative avenues. These individuals learned how to harness their God-given gifts, opting to use them instead of believing they must exchange them for more “typical” leadership qualities.
SHIFT THE MODEL
At First Christian Church, which I have the honor of serving as lead pastor, we’ve shifted (and are continuing to shift) to a model where I have three primary areas of responsibility: general church oversight (vision, mission, values, budget, etc.), writing and content (sermons and sermon series, blogs, church communication, monthly podcast, and other content), and oversight of my “lead team” (four individuals who help me guide the church under the authority of our elders). That’s it. Everything else is delegated to other trusted staff members, allowing me the opportunity to spend more time doing what I do best . . . dream and create.
Leadership can be lonely, especially as a creative. Be encouraged! Your calling is not a mistake and neither is your wiring. Trust that God knows exactly what he’s doing with you.
Ryan Rasmussen serves as lead pastor with First Christian Church in Canton, Ohio.