Why We Should Get Artists Out of the Church
“How can I get the artists more involved in my church?”
As an artist who has a PhD in Christian aesthetics, I’ve heard this question multiple times. The people who ask it have typically noticed that the synergy between their church and its artists is not all it could be.
The disconnect might not be evident at first glance. After all, artists routinely participate in church programs. Musicians are the most visually and consistently involved, but they aren’t the only ones. Churches often enlist visual artists to design chalk signs, wall murals, and stage decorations when VBS season approaches (*insert horror slasher music here*).
Actors shine each year during the Christmas and Easter programs—a lucky few nabbing the coveted roles of Mary or the the three wise men while the others patiently bide their time as sheep and donkeys. Filmmakers occasionally utilize their skills to produce clever announcement videos for the upcoming seniors’ brunch or congregational cookout.
Artists do participate in the Church. But the problem with their involvement is typically two-fold: First, it always takes place inside the Church. Second, they are often treated as resources. They are called on to contribute to various ministries and then put back into the toolbox until they are needed again. The relationship involves the artist giving and the Church receiving.
It’s time to reverse the paradigm.
To channel JFK, “My fellow Christians, ask not what the artists can do for the Church; ask what the Church can do for the artists.” Instead of asking how artists can support the Church’s ministries, we should consider how the Church can better support its artists so that, by extension, they can use their talents to bless their community, culture, and world.
The Calling of the Christian Artist
The first time the Bible mentions artists by name—Bezalel and Oholiab—is in the context of a specific divine calling (Exodus 31). In fact, the first person the Bible describes as being filled with the Holy Spirit is an artist. Artistic ability and creativity are not arbitrarily given gifts. They are divinely given tools people can use to spread God’s glory throughout the world. As the Church, are we empowering and enabling our artists to bear this responsibility, or are we stockpiling them for our own use?
A successful businessman can assist his church through his tithes or by serving on the budget committee. But his greatest ministry is his Christian witness in the corporate world.
A family that has been called and trained for international missionary work can bless their church by teaching a missions class on Wednesday evenings. But their greatest ministry is on the mission field.
A high school football coach can serve his church by volunteering as a VBS recreation leader. But his greatest ministry is in the locker room with his players.
Do we have this same mindset toward artists?
Artists can certainty help put on a spectacular Easter Sunday performance, but do we recognize that their greatest ministry may lie outside the Church?
When an aspiring young filmmaker joins our church, is our first impulse to support and equip her so she can become a light in an industry that desperately needs a greater Christian influence? Or do we immediately think about the audio/visual needs she can meet within our church? Could it be that today’s pop culture has become increasingly secular because the Church is hoarding all the gifted Christian artists behind its own walls?
Empowering Christian Artists
People often bemoan the lack of Christian filmmakers and actors in Hollywood, but fewer demonstrate an equal passion for investing in the Christian filmmakers and actors within their own congregations. If churches want to see more of the former, they can’t neglect the latter.
If an artist in your church has a role in a school play, go see the performance. If a musician is playing guitar at a local coffee shop, fill the building to capacity. If a potter is selling original work at a craft fair, find a piece that matches your home décor and buy it. If a filmmaker posts a creative video project on YouTube, watch it and share the link. If we have to ask “What style is it?” or, “What genre is it?” we’ve already missed the point.
Simply put, if Christians are more stingy in their support for young Christian artists than they are when buying their morning cappuccino, we have no right to complain about the godless state of today’s culture. Empower the change today that you want to see tomorrow.
Should artists play a role in the Church? Absolutely. Most are thrilled to do so. What’s missing is the Church’s active role in supporting artists’ work and life outside the Church.
To be clear, this conviction isn’t born from bitterness over how “the Church” got it wrong. Rather, I’ve witnessed the power of the Church getting it right, and I see amazing potential if more artists experienced their church’s encouragement and support. The Church can be an incredible, empowering force that sends a tidal wave of creative Christian artists into a culture that desperately needs hope and a fresh perspective. It starts by encouraging and equipping the artists that are already sharing our Sunday morning pews.