In the late 80’s, while I was in 3rd grade, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles took America by storm. Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael. These turtles, raised and trained by a rat in the sewers of New York City, fought evil while staying in the shadows. They were the good guys, and my friends and I loved them. We would pretend to be the turtles as we terrorized the small town where I grew up.
Tracing the Ninja Turtles out of a book was my first attempt at creative art. I wasn’t naturally artistic, but I still had a desire to create. Once I got bored with tracing, I tried my hand at drawing the turtles exactly as the image was in the book. Having a natural bent toward detail, it was easy for me to get lost for hours mimicking each line and angle until my final image was almost identical to the original.
There is a creative urge in each and every one of us. The reason is simple. We were made in the image of The Creator. We carry the image of God, who created all things. His creation spans across the full spectrum of beauty, excitement, wonder, strength and danger.
Every student that comes through your youth ministry has the potential to create. I have found that in the same way I need to draw out leadership in my students, I need to draw out their creativity. Encouraging our students to exercise their creativity can be just as life giving to them and others as encouraging them to exercise their spiritual gifts. When we draw out the creative potential in our students, we are drawing out the image of God hardwired in each one of them.
For some teens, all they need is the space to be creative and they will do the rest. “Space” might be as simple as putting out an easel and some paint during worship time or making room in the back for those who want to express worship through dance.
Others might need a little push. One of our bass players at church turned 25 this year. He started playing bass when he was 12 years old because I handed him a bass during youth group and said, “Someone needs to learn how to play this. I vote you”. At the time, he was one of the least visibly creative people in the group. He was a terrible bass player for what seemed an inordinately long time, but gradually he got better, and then he got really good. He ended up going to school for graphic design and works for a large graphic design firm downtown Chicago today. He credits taking that bass I offered him as one of the turning points in his life because it helped unlock his creative potential.
I wish that I could take credit for that, but I just really needed a bass player and he came every week. I’m much more intentional about drawing out the creator in my students these days.
When I get some free time, you can usually find me with a camera in hand. I still can’t create much on my own, but I absolutely love capturing the beauty that God creates.