When I was 12 years old, art was my future. I was drawing all the time, and in different mediums. Pencil, dipped-ink pen, charcoal, pastels, cray-pas, etc. I drew my own comic books. I did still-lifes for fun. I created fantastical characters for stories that I’d sometimes write up on my computer. I went to private art teachers. And my favorite thing to draw was portraits. I got recognized in high school for my portrait and still-life art. When it came time to think about the future, like career-wise, I often saw myself doing something art-related. Maybe teaching art, making art to sell, or even some sort of graphic design for businesses.
That seems like a long time ago now. God tapped me on the shoulder one day toward the end of my high school years and told me He wanted me to be a pastor. I struggled with that calling, on and off, but eventually I submitted fully to that calling and here I am today, having been working in professional ministry for about ten years.
I mentioned before that I also enjoyed writing. There was a time I thought maybe I would write novels as a career. Sometimes, when important issues would appear on my radar, I wondered if going into journalism would be a practical and helpful career. I also enjoyed writing music: both the arrangements and the lyrics. I self-recorded several albums worth of songs during high school and college: some of which were silly and non-sensical, and others which wrestled with the deep questions of life.
However, at that time, there didn’t seem to me to be a congruence between my creative side and my calling into ministry. Part of my submitting to God’s call was, in my mind, abandoning my creative endeavors and committing to things like Bible studies, hospital visits, board meetings, and strategic planning. However, there was one area that I started to grow more and more passionate about, partially because I realized the creativity involved in it: and that was preaching.
Preaching became my main creative outlet for years! I loved the process of wrestling with God’s Word, praying over the process, and ending up with a practical message for the congregation by Sabbath morning. I got to the point where, in my last district, I didn’t feel like I was preaching enough, so I started up a weekly Friday evening service so I could preach even more. I also used music, not so much original music, but music for worship and praise, quite often throughout my years of ministry.
Over time, however, I started seeing the creative work that my peers in ministry were doing. I got involved in The Haystack by creating a (short lived) podcast. I also created graphics that I called “Ironic Ellen,” which took lesser-known Ellen White quotes and juxtaposed them over stock images. Eventually, I became the meme guy when Pastor Samuel Moreno moved on, and I created lots of memes that were shared by thousands of people online. My preaching became more creative, as I came up with month-long themes each month and creative imagery to go along with each sermon in the series. I wrote blogs on business, creativity, and current events. I organized musicians to do at-home, live-streamed concerts.
All of this came in handy over the past years, especially, because creativity is a great way to stand out when everyone is doing church online. As a result, I have realized that God has plans for creatives…not just silly side gigs, but actual, life changing, real-life ministry that brings people to Christ.
Recently, we started a new initiative at the Wisconsin Conference Youth Department. We want youth to know that they are set apart for God’s good work. So we have been asking people to send in their profile pictures to me or to the Youth Department social media page, and we’ll produce an off-set line portrait over their photo. We are, in an artistic sense, setting them apart in a visual way. It’s just one of many ways we will preach this message to young people over the coming years. But we are hoping that it will contribute to the message: they see themselves “set apart” in a shareable graphic, and it’s a conversation piece and a visual example of what God truly wants to do in their lives.
If anyone is interested, go to the original post on our Facebook or instagram, and post your photo that you’d like to be “set apart.”
Zack Payne, Youth Director