The Secret to a Successful Career in Creative Ministry

April 26th, 2011
Image © Pamela Hodson |

I have a book called Breaking In. It tells the stories of how 20 film directors got their start. Many of the featured filmmakers are A-listers. It is fascinating to read how they got into the business. In fact, the book was written by a film student researching case studies for common attributes in directors who made a career out of their craft.

I only found one common attribute: the need to create.

There is no career track for creatives, in industry or in ministry. It is a career you must make for yourself.

I have heard many times while doing creative ministry for the local church that I had a “dream job”. People often want to know how to make a career out of doing creative stuff for the church. It is true that opportunities to get paid money to do art—things like make videos or design sets or write--in a ministry context are uncommon.

This is my advice to them.

Never say, "I want to be a writer" or "I want to be a creative arts pastor" or "I want to be a motion graphic artist". This is a mistake. No one is going to bestow that title on you. Film studios don't send recruiters to film schools. Publishing houses don't troll English departments. Instead, say, "I am a writer" and then start writing. You have to begin by doing it. Start filming. Write stories. Design sets. As you do it, and do it better, you will hone your craft. People will begin to notice. It will develop in time, as it should.

Keep success stories in front of you as sources of hope, but not as instruction manuals. Every creative's story is different. You must make your own.

It helps to be single-minded. When I was media minister at Ginghamsburg Church in the 1990s, developing a ministry that most churches had never head of and experimenting with the use of visuals in worship, I had a vision for media as ministry. This included balancing competing interests in producing, persuading, people-managing and handling new technology. I worked long hours.

Eventually, to avoid burning out, I started an intern program. I had seven interns roll through the church over a three year period. Two things I learned from that experience - one was that money was useless. I paid three interns, all of whom had to be coerced into something as easy as setting up a slide in Photoshop. The other four were volunteer. These were the passionate ones, doing it out of a single-mindedness to combine their desire for visual communication and their faith.

One of them became my long time creative collaborator and Midnight Oil Productions co-founder, Jason Moore. An art school graduate, he was assigned to do print work, primarily. But he saw that the creative action was happening on the worship design team. He stayed after hours working on 3D animations that no one asked for, in spite of the objections of his supervisor. He took risks. He demonstrated value where no one knew there was value to be demonstrated. He created a place for himself by doing work that could no longer be ignored. He made his career.

So if you dream about a creative future, stop. Shut down the "someday" spirit. Start creating.

Len is Senior Leadership Editor for Abingdon Press, the publishing imprint at the United Methodist Publishing House.

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