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It’s Time for the Church to Unleash Its Artists

There was a time in history when Christians were at the forefront of the arts. That no longer remains the case. Christians remain active in the arts. In fact, thanks to the development of a growing Christian subculture, it might be argued that Christians are more involved in the arts than ever. Yet, whereas most of art history must grant significant chapters to the role and influence of Christianity, a survey of the last century might be completed without any reference to the Church. What happened?

There are no easy answers. Significant cultural and societal changes play a critical role. Christianity is no longer the cultural default, and churches no longer possess the political or financial authority and power of the historical Catholic church. But this only tells part of the story. There has also been a shift in the mindset. Somewhere along the way, the Church simply stopped viewing itself as a patron of the arts.

During a recent church service, a leader on stage championed the potential of the younger generations and expressed excitement at how God will use them to transform the country. Some would be called to be pastors. Others might be sent as missionaries, and still other raised up as Sunday school teachers or worship leaders. I pray all of that is true. May God continue to raise up young people to serve as faithful shepherds amongst God’s people. At the same time, I found myself asking, “What about the artists?”

Left on Fringe

There is a tendency for some churches to think about the Christian mission exclusively within the framework of church service and church services. It is not uncommon for congregations to lay hands on young adults and commission them into Christian ministry. After summer youth camps, church leadership often reports on how many teenagers became Christians and how many were called into Christian ministry. Both are worthy of celebration, but the limited range of these spiritual responses leaves those not called into professional ministry on the fringes, feeling like second-string players or the supporting cast to the more important Christian callings.  

A problem with this mindset is that the world will not be transformed by pastors. Not exclusively, at least. If the body of Christ is the people of God, then the Church body is predominately composed of lay people. Of course, those faithful lay people will need pastoral leaders to disciple and guide them. The Bible is clear that church leaders are called to a unique and crucial responsibility. But that responsibility is to equip people to go into the world, spread the Gospel and make disciples. The reason God continues to call people into pastoral ministry is because He has a divine purpose for lay people, including the creative artists.  

In the body of Christ, artists are sometimes viewed as akin to the eyelash. They add beauty, but most people aren’t sure what functional purpose they actually serve beyond that. There are amazingly talented and gifted creatives in church every week whose God-given artistic abilities are only called upon once a year for the Church Christmas program. There are musicians whose talents are rarely, if ever, heard outside the church walls, and visual artists who get taken out of the storage closet whenever a new mural is needed for the kids’ Sunday School room and then promptly returned.

God has entrusted the Church with creative artists. Is the church being good stewards of them?

Biblical Aesthetics

The Church should support artists because a world without art and beauty is simply a worse place to live. At the same time, supporting artists is not to support a calling wholly unrelated to the Church’s mission. Creativity and art play an important role in the church’s commission.  

The Bible is a prime example. Scripture includes plenty of dynamic sermons, prophetic teaching, and deep theological and doctrinal discourse. Yet, these exist without tension alongside large collections of song and poetry, compelling narratives, and captivating parables. Jesus preached sermons, but he also told stories. He was a teacher who frequently used metaphor and visual symbols. Jesus ordained baptism as the identifying ritual of His followers. Christians proclaim Jesus as Lord with their mouths, but they also engage in a symbolic drama of immersion in the water. The Bible is God’s special revelation of Himself, but scripture also reveals that the sublime beauty of creation also testifies in some way to God’s glory. In other words, throughout the life of Jesus and the pages of inspired scripture, the creative arts and aesthetics have always played an important role.

Right-Brained Church

As actual science, the right-brain v. left brain dichotomy is largely a myth. The human brain is far more complex than that. As a metaphor, however, it is a helpful reminder that people are wired differently. God is not just Lord of the left-brained. He is Lord of all. The church needs preachers that can proclaim the truth of scripture, and apologists and philosophers that can rationally engage with secular ideologies. The church also needs artists.

There are unique qualities in artists that can serve the church. Many artists are naturally sensitive to the hurts and doubts of people. Artists are driven to explore areas that many other people dare not. Artists have a capacity to communicate beauty. Good artists are typically good observers and listeners. It is unsurprising that even secular artists often adopt an identity as cultural “prophets.” There is something innately religious and spiritual about the role of artists.

The Church should empower artists not as a charity, but because artists add something valuable and essential to the body of Christ.  

Using Creatives v. Sending Creatives

Artists can—and should—serve the church. The church can also serve its artists. There is a key difference between using artists and sending them. Artists should minister to the church, but if their talents are hoarded within the church’s walls, they will have virtually no impact on the wider culture. They will be salt that never leaves the shaker, and light set alongside other lights.

When asked what the most dark and “godless” area of today’s culture is, I suspect many Christians would unquestioningly point toward the art and entertainment culture of today. Arguably no area of culture is more in need of Christian influence. The answer is not unending boycotts and complaints. The answer is already sitting in the church pews. Darkness is merely the absence of light. The only way to dispel cultural darkness is to send lights into the darkest areas. It is time for the Church to equip its artists to join in its mission, and to unleash its creatives as beacons of light in a world lost in darkness.   

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