Art has the unique ability to connect us with feelings and perspectives that we have no direct way of experiencing. A song can take us back to a moment from our childhood. A poem can give us insight into our own normally hidden feelings. A dramatic performance can take us on never before anticipated adventures.
Art Is Strategic For Expanding God’s Kingdom
People in our society are increasingly resistant to being told what to believe or what to do. There are growing numbers who won’t even come to a worship service or any church-related meeting. Ironically, our traditional ways of “doing church” require just that – unsaved people willing to come to a church meeting to have God’s Word preached to them. The result is that we limit our harvest to the small portion of our society willing to come to us.
The arts enable us to overcome this stumbling block because people can connect with the arts on their own turf. God has called us to go into all the world and wise believers (Prov 11:30 *; Dan 12:3 *) will take the arts along with them.
What Is Art?
In order to understand the power that God has given us through the arts, we need to consider the nature of art itself. Let’s think of art broadly as a collection of human activities carried out primarily for their pleasing effect on human senses and not because of any practical use that they may or may not have. In other words, art is human activity that pleases at least someone apart from any practical use. This makes the arts symbolic of those areas of life in which we trust God to accomplish his will even when we don’t understand what’s going on. When we experience the pleasure of a work of art or an artistic performance we should receive it gratefully. We should thank our Father in heaven for every good and perfect gift (James 1:17 *) that he gives us to enjoy (1 Tim 6:17 *)
How Do We Engage The Arts?
Let’s consider the different ways in which people engage the arts:
These are the people who are passionate about good art. They appreciate the nuance, the sophisticated technique, and the subtle elements that the artist brings to his/her work. If they are not artists themselves, they may be “wannabes”. Think of this as someone who will go out at 2am to hear someone do something with a clarinet or a poem that noone else can do.
Art purists keep artists energized, motivated, and excited, but there aren’t enough of them in the marketplace to keep artists clothed and fed.
Although not as knowledgeable as art purists, these people understand what makes “good” art and enthusiastically support the artists who produce it. They may not be willing to go out at 2am to see “cutting edge” art, but they probably go out at 9pm and stay until 2am. Then they head home like “sensible people”.
There are probably enough art enthusiasts to support the very best artists, but not the entire artistic community.
This is the category to which most of the art loving world belongs. They look for an artistic performance to give them and experience. When they show up they are saying to the artist: “take me away from my everyday life for the next hour or two”. This may take a number of different forms:
- Take me back to remembered past experiences (e.g. with a love song)
- Take me into a favorite fantasy (e.g with an action movie)
- Take me into God’s presence (e.g. with a worship song)
Experience seekers generally don’t seek out the most “cutting edge” art forms because the kind of technical excellence that excites artists can actually get in the way of the experience they seek. They like familiar themes and danceable melodies and with their huge numbers they pay for most of the art in this country.
This last group wants art to serve some practical purpose or to support some cause of theirs. If an artistic performance doesn’t help them raise money to “save the whales” then, as far as they’re concerned” it is pointless. Inside the church, cause advocates want artistic performances to have successful altar calls. For them, if a performance doesn’t immediately result in 50 people getting saved, it wasn’t anointed.
Traditional Ministry and The Arts
All too often traditional ministries approach the arts as cause advocates and seek to employ them as an “altar call engine”. They almost require artists to be evangelists in order to practice their art form.
At Life Church we believe evangelists are anointed to win strangers. Most people (including most artists) are not evangelists however and will be most effective winning people through personal relationship.
We want to set the arts free to glorify God outside the wall of the church. Artists who are evangelists should be set free to proclaim Jesus at every opportunity that their artistic work provides. Because of their anointing, they will be able to explicitly incorporate the gospel into their artworks or performances and reap a harvest for God’s Kingdom.
Those artists who are not evangelists however will need to operate differently. They will be most effective when they allow their art to draw people to get to know them and allow the Holy Spirit to draw the people to Christ. When we try to keep them within a narrowly defined evangelical box we actually hinder what God is trying to accomplish through them.
This same principle applies not only to artists, but to all of the people within our congregations whose gifts may or may not be understandable to their pastors. All too often, pastors stifle artists. Sometimes they do this because they do not understand or trust the artists’ gift. At other times they are legitimately concerned about the artists’ spiritual maturity.
Spiritual Maturity and The Arts
Spiritual maturity is a problem not only for artists, but for most believers. Our traditional church structures often fail to bring people to maturity because they don’t establish the covenant relationships that people need in order to mature.
At Life Church we use small groups to facilitate the maturing of all of the believers that God has entrusted to our care. Because we are confident about the spiritual maturity of our artists, we want to turn them loose outside church walls.
Are you an artist? Does this kind of freedom appeal to you? If so, come and check us out!