by Jack Smith
Ben Britten was an innovator. He had the vision that could have turned his tired mission into a legitimate power in Nigeria. Yet, while the nationals were open to Ben’s ideas, his own organization vigorously resisted any attempts at change.
Ben Britten was an innovator. He had the vision that could have turned his tired mission into a legitimate power in Nigeria. Yet, while the nationals were open to Ben’s ideas, his own organization vigorously resisted any attempts at change. After years of frustration, he has become indifferent, dull and sluggish. Ben toys with the thought of leaving his mission.
Jana S. Bach could be a writer. Ideas for short stories and novels continually flow into her mind. However, Jana lives in one of the most remote regions of Bolivia. She feels that it is impossible to do any serious writing without a library and stimulating people.
Although leadership development is Bill Boyce’s main assignment, Bill has a love for the arts. Bill wrote both the music and lyrics for a musical while he taught acting at Ohio State University. He would like to write again, but he feels cut off from his old sources of inspiration. Bill complains about the intellectual stagnation on his field. He wants to get out of Hong Kong.
Although Ben, Jana, and Bill live in different regions of the world, all have one thing in common. They are frustrated by their inability to create.
This frustration is a common theme I hear from missionaries throughout the world. The desire to be creative is there, but the brakes are on. The potential that God has given is not being released.
The complaints that Ben, Jana, and Bill share stem from organizational and environmental obstacles. The established mission, with its hierarchical pyramids, can choke creativity. If consolidators or undertakers are in control, what place is there for the innovator.
Poor field management can be a factor in limiting creativity. The rejection of new ideas, absence of trust, restricted flow of communication, and attempted control of behavior serve as barriers to the creative mind. There are also the environmental problems of extreme busyness, a staggering work load, and lack of time for serious thinking or even relaxation.
Yet it is my conviction that the organization is not the great killer of creativity. It is the individual himself. Not only that, but I believe missionaries have more unique opportunities for creative thinking than members of any other profession.
Within their reach is an abundant variety of fuel to feed the mind.
FEEDING THE FIRES OF CREATIVITY
One rich source of fuel is exposure to different cultural stimuli. The missionary has the advantage of living and traveling in a variety of cultures. The moment he changes cultures, a flood of new data flows into his mind. The possibility of creative synthesis is increased on a scale never before imagined.
At first, the new stimuli can be overwhelming enough to numb the mind. But after adjustment, both the quality and quantity of associations improve.
History shows that nations that were exposed and receptive to other cultures became leaders in innovation. Greece was receptive to other cultures and acquired cultural renown. Switzerland has benefited from the cross-fertilization of three different cultures.
Another source of creative tinder is interaction with significant people. These are provocative people with ideas to share. I have found significant people in Ugandan villages bubbling over with insight into world affairs. I have found them everywhere.
In a brief 22 years, de Balzac created 2,000 characters in nearly 90 superb volumes, called The Human Comedy. Where did he get his inspiration? For de Balzac, there were no dull people. All of life was fascinating. Of course, the contribution of extraordinary people depends on how you conduct your conversations. Your communication cannot be superficial or programmed. You must ask insightful questions in order to receive creative stimulation.
Still another source of fuel is exposure to knowledge. The knowledge pumped into the brain during the years of college and seminary is not enough to meet the heavy demands of a lifetime of original thinking. In many fields, information becomes obsolete only four to seven years after graduation.
The creative person must accumulate information dealing not only with his area of specialty, but many other disciplines as well. The goal should be to mine the treasures that will develop breadth as well as depth.
Some will say at this point, "I live in a Third World country. I am cut off from a large library and instant information." But libraries can be built up slowly and a vast array of information is available through field research and contact with unique people. Being cut off from an information society has some advantages. The chief one is that a new appreciation and thirst for knowledge replaces the "take-it-for-granted" attitude.
Daydreaming is a rich source of fuel normally overlooked by workaholic missionaries. Reverie and meditation seem juvenile and a waste of time. The real servant of God must feel that he is constantly accomplishing something concrete or he will not win God’s approval.
However, through daydreaming, you permit yourself to stray from the usual path and gain excursions into hidden worlds.
Reverie helps you change your pace and turn from hard concentration to incubation. The unconscious thought process is allowed to take over and the big idea generators start to whirl. Abraham Maslow called this process "primary creativity." This is the kind that comes from depths of the unconscious.
THE GOD-LINK TO CREATIVITY
The most valuable fuel for creative thinking is our relationship with God. We have access to the greatest creative thinker in the universe. The remarkable God who created a Tchaikovsky and a Tolstoy has something to offer. Brahms spoke about his creative link with God when he said:
Straightway the ideas flow in upon me, directly from God, and not only do I see distinct themes in my minds eye, but they are clothed in the right forms, harmonies and orchestration. Measure by measure, the finished product is revealed to me when I am in those rare, inspired moods.
Like Brahms, we have the privilege of taking our insolvable problems to God and getting his insights.
That which has been hidden from the great minds throughout history could be revealed if we link our fragile minds with the mind of the Creator, and expand our consciousness.
If you are unable to create, you are like a space ship that cannot get off the ground. You were designed to reach the stars. You have access to an abundant variety of fuel. The question is, "what do you need to do to blast off and conquer the universe?"
REMOVING THE BARRIERS
First, begin by removing the blocks that are holding you back. The organizational-environmental barriers are easiest to deal with, provided you are a free spirit. Conformists often complain that they are in an organizational cage and their potential is stifled. In contrast, the free spirit sees the cage around the organization, but he lives outside the cage.
Russian artists have the free spirit. Although they live under a repressive regime, they soar above the system. Think of Solzhenitsyn, who suffered for years in prison and still managed to create. If great works of art flourished under the Soviet system, then there can be no excuse for lack of creativity within the mission structure.
Removing psychological blocks are much more challenging. Feelings of inferiority, fear of criticism, the need to conform, the lack of inner quietude, and the lack of self-discipline are barriers to creativity. Yet through self-analysis, spiritual growth, the influence of creative models, and counseling, the psychological blocks can gradually be eliminated. It is encouraging that highly-creative people often struggle with psychological blocks, and manage to reduce them.
History shows that in spite of barriers to creativity, it is still possible to create. So begin to reduce your barriers, but do not become obsessed with them.
Learn to be receptive. Receptivity is openness to new ideas, feelings, and attitudes. Receptivity gives access to the world of ideas that lie buried in the unconscious.
Missionaries are encompassed by a vast range of fuel for creative thinking, but they are often closed. Receptivity is taking off the gas cap so the fuel of creativity can pour in. The more fuel the mind can absorb, the more inter-relationships it can create.
Receptivity takes time to develop. However, the tank can be opened gradually by training yourself to look for more than one right answer. This means being unwilling to seize on the fast answer, and suspending critical judgment of possible solutions to problems. After the first right answer comes to you, start looking for the creative right answer. It is often just behind the first answer.
You can also increase receptivity by learning how to capture your ideas. Try developing the notebook habit, so you will have a place for ideas to land. Ideas are often lost because they are not recorded. The great thinkers in history always carried a notebook with them. Learning to capture ideas will not only increase your openness, but your eagerness as well.
Increase your motivation. The stronger you desire to create, the greater your output will be. Wagner, Einstein Picasso, Tolstoy, and thousands like them were driven to create, and their production was enormous. Beethoven was hampered by deafness, Rachmaninov lost his self-confidence, and Mahler struggled with despair; yet they went on creating.
The starting point for motivation is God. Spend time in prayer. Let God guide you down his creative track and fill you with his energy. Ask God for his ideas and insight. As you listen to God, you will discover new creative goals and projects.
Discovering the sense of curiosity you might have lost at childhood increases motivation. Allow yourself to be puzzled, and you will experience the wonder of God’s creation. Curiosity will help you move outside of your field of specialization to a wider spectrum of knowledge.
KNOW YOUR CREATIVE PATTERNS
Discover your creative moods and thought patterns. Every person is unique, with his own special valleys and peaks of production. You need to know what periods, methods, moods, and conditions stimulate your creativity.
When do ideas fill your mind? Is it in the morning, the evening, or during the day? Do you need isolation, or do you find people highly stimulating? What kind of people and situations trigger ideas? Is it conferences, meetings, social events, or deep, personal conversation?
What does it take to get the creative juices to flow? Is it a walk, driving on a smooth road, flying, two cups of Colombian dark roast coffee, the New York Times book review section, Russian novels, Bela Bartok, a provocative sermon, heavy metal, or Dizzy Gillespie? We all respond to different conditions.
One of the most innovative people I have met in East Africa finds that interaction with people stimulates his thinking. Rick Goodgame has built his own special retreat at Makerere University Medical School in Kampala, Uganda. Brahms received his ideas in a semi-trance condition.
What does it take to get you thinking? Discover the conditions and let them carry you like the wind.
Plan for leisure time. Lack of free time brings innovative thinking to a halt. You cannot generate great thoughts on a mad dash through life. If you cannot find time for a little relaxation, you will produce quantity rather than quality.
There are many advantages to setting aside a little free time. Moments of leisure permit a change of pace, and that is what the minds needs. There are people who try to solve problems with constant effort. They grab the first idea and then go on to the next problem. But incessant effort acts as a barrier to creativity, denying the mind the relaxation and freedom it needs.
Idle time permits you to toy with ideas. Creative thinking needs a light touch. Studies have shown that a sense of humor and intellectual play are roots of inventiveness. Turning the problem upside down, finding a new angle, and asking unusual questions all come from a change of pace.
Leisure time also permits you to engage in daydreaming, which puts you in touch with the big generators of creative thought. Idle time can even be restorative. It amazes me to find so many missionaries are too busy and serious to take time off to actually think.
KNOW YOUR STUFF
Develop competence in your field. Research on creativity shows that unless you master the necessary tools, you cannot produce anything worthwhile. Having an aptitude for creativity is not enough.
There are several stages in the development of competence. The first stage could be called apprenticeship. Apprenticeship varies for each field. For composers, it means the mastery of the principles of composition. Missionaries must learn a wide range of knowledge and skills, from language to administration. At the same time, they need to master their own specialized area, whether it is education or preventive medicine.
The second stage in achieving competence revolves around the development of right attitudes. Love and passion for the work are signs of competency. The great inventors and artists cherished their work.
Competency also means that you will completely immerse yourself in the subject. Newton discovered the law of gravity by constantly thinking about it. For years, Einstein tried to clear up the problem of the relation of mechanical movement to electromagnetic phenomenon. German mathematician, Karl Gauss had struggled to prove a theorem for four years when he hit upon the solution.
Creative people exercise discipline. Multitudes of would-be creators never get very far because they lack discipline. They want to practice imagination and find inspiration, but they flee from the rigor of logical thinking and hard work.
I run into writers who have that great book inside their head. Their ideas will change the world, but they lack the discipline to actually write the book. I have met others who have written their first drafts, but retreat from the hardest work of all, polishing and revising. Our fields are full of missionaries who have ideas, but lack the discipline to implement them.
Preparation, incubation and illumination are the easy parts. Verification means struggle and pain, and this is what separates the adults from the children. The new idea must be tested and molded into a finished product.
Creative thinking is a complex process. There are moments of inspiration, but months of hard work. Einstein once said, "I think and think, for months, for years. Ninety-nine times, the conclusion is failure. The hundredth time, I am right."
BREAKING THE BONDS OF GRAVITY
Your creativity is needed. Creativity finds a better way to evangelize the area. Creativity writes the proposal that gets your mission into the cutting edge of need. Creativity unleashes the national potential on your field. Creativity finds a new way to solve an impossible problem. Creativity comes up with the idea that makes the development project work.
You have at your disposal an incredible variety of fuel to feed your mind. Yet you may be unable to blast off into space. If you want to reach the stars, you need to eliminate the barriers, become receptive, increase motivation, discover your creative patterns, learn to relax, develop competence, and practice discipline. These are the conditions that will lift you off the earth and put you into space. Enjoy your flight and share your discoveries.
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