Adaptive Leadership

Need Creativity? Introduce Play.

About twenty years ago, a supervisor shared with me the idea of “work hard, play hard.” Those words hang emblazoned in gold on my wall as a reminder to both myself and my teammates that those words matter. Sure, hard work is important and so too is play. Pastors leading and serving on church staff need to remember to make time for these both as a team and as individuals.

“There is a time for everything,” as we read in Ecclesiastes 3. The rhythm of time described by the author of Ecclesiastes provides church staff with a unifying and purposeful flow for ministering in today’s world. Working hard and playing hard both matter in ministry and through intentionality, church staff can create a healthy rhythm of the two.

There are daunting times and there are heartening times in ministry. This rhythm both fosters community among staff and unifies that staff for a shared purpose of serving together.

It is easy for church staff to forget to play when they are filling a variety of roles and meeting a variety of needs in their congregation and community. Church staffs pastor the hurting, care for the bereaved, manage chaos across intergenerational groups, preach, teach, recruit, plan events, set budgets, and even clean toilets, among other things.

Incorporating play into a church staff’s rhythms provides that team a space to live out healthy rhythms. We need an ebb and flow, corporately and as individuals, to be more fully Christ-followers serving together. In The Grace of Playing: Pedagogies for Leaning into God’s New Creation, Courtney T. Goto states, “When Christians are playing together, they are playing at/in God’s new creation—where the faithful lose themselves in exploring a world of possibilities in Christ so that they might live into them more fully.” Goto continues, “Playing invites the faithful to live into being children of God, helping adults to realize their capacity to love and trust one another and God, to respond spontaneously to Spirit, and to create together for the sake of God’s new creation. Coming into greater awareness of being children of God encourages Christians to move in the world with confidence, purpose, and a sense of freedom and creativity—how human beings are meant to live.” In play, space exists for our veneers to drop, for God’s creativity in each person to shine, and for us to enjoy and celebrate all God is doing in and around us. Rhythms of working hard and playing hard remind church staff that the sun shines, the rains come, and that God is present in every season.

What’s involved with creating a rhythm of work and play on a church staff? Intentionality! That may seem tough during this season as COVID has made almost everything more difficult. Things that used to be easy to do became harder. Impromptu runs for coffee, shared lunches in someone’s office, and gatherings and parties became more complicated or even unlikely. Covid has also challenged church staff to be creative and resourceful, and to find new ways to do old things. Finding a rhythm of work and play is no different.

So, let’s get intentional:

1) Get the Senior Minister involved — he or she sets the pace.

2) Have “fun advocates” — church staff members who remember “our team needs to play.”

3) Consider what your team enjoys and where your team needs to grow in togetherness.

4) Schedule play.

5) Don’t miss out on enjoying impromptu opportunities for whimsy or fun.

6) Budget a little money or resources for play.

“Rhythms of working hard and playing hard remind church staff that the sun shines, the rains come, and that God is present in every season.”

If you’re still wondering what I mean by the word, “play,” I understand. If you’re not used to playing together or having fun with your staff, you’re not alone. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

1) Random holidays — if you google random holidays, you’ll discover a variety of special days to brighten your week. Things like National Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich Day or National Basketball Day can provide a quick, fun break for lunch (with Covid, you might explore socially-distanced options or a quick 3 pointer match).

2) Spirit week — find a week that works for your team and plan something special each workday that week. Include food or an outing together. Imagine even setting a time for everyone to clean their offices and gather back together for Happy Meals! That fun activity was a summer 2021 activity that brought a lot of laughs and fun to the team with whom I serve.

3) Remember milestones — when staff members experience life events, acknowledge them. You could remember the life event during a staff meeting, through a special message, in a gift, or in some other way. The key is to remember.

4) Celebrate what God is doing in the life of the team and the church. Share among the team the stories of what God is doing in the church and within the lives of the staff team. Whether on Zoom or in person, sharing these stories generates life and motivation during times of stagnation and discouragement. The stories may start slow, but once the sharing begins, it’s a wonderful time together.

5) Bring the whimsy — Zoom made this concept particularly fun and surprising. A regular staff meeting became host to a Disney princess or a meeting under the sea. Whimsy can be found in common, unconventional items: a unicorn costume, a plastic roach, googly craft eyes. A random Bob Ross cardboard cut-out can surprise even the most serious of folks — at the right time, of course. Imagine finding a large box in your office and experiencing a person jumping out of it when you try to move it! Laughter brightens the day.

6) Enjoy your community. Learn about the fun, inexpensive things to do in your town or city and find ways to engage your staff as a team. One of the best team memories I have from the pre-Covid era was surprising our staff with a trip to Dinosaur Park (our very own little Jurassic Park with papier mâché dinosaurs) and a lunch at a well-known local BBQ stop.

May you celebrate and mourn together as a church staff. May you laugh and cry more freely as a church staff. May you live life together as a church staff who experiences the rhythms of “work hard, play hard.”

Nikki Hunt is an alum of Emmanuel Christian Seminary at Milligan. View Emmanuel’s Academic Programs page here.