Working with Creatives in the Church
Understanding the Artistic Spirit
Artists, even those who just have artistic temperaments but do very little creative work, are not like other people. It is just a fact. They tend to think more deeply, feel with more intensity, focus more tightly, obsess more often, and they are usually not shy about expressing their feelings. It is easy for the more level-headed, calm, and predictable types, who usually are in charge of things, to see this artistic temperament as weakness or even as sinfulness. While human nature, in all its variations, has to be moderated and disciplined, we must remember that creative people are also made in the image of God. He is CREATOR and He has made them creative. They lead challenging lives as do those who live with them.
The facts remains, the church needs them, and Jesus loves them. The Holy Spirit speaks to them in ways that He may not speak to the rest of us. They can then process His voice into music, images, stories, designs, and all sorts of word-filled or word-less art. They can tell us things we need to know, remind us of things we may have forgotten, and warn of imminent things we might otherwise never see coming our way.
Through the ages of the church, pastors and other brothers and sisters, have been challenged to work with and have endeavored to disciple creative Christians. What we need is just a different set of tools for this work, and that will be the subject of this lecture.
Art and Entertainment
“Art may be entertaining and entertainment may be artfully done, but these are two different forces in the world.” I wrote these words many years ago in my search to understand the role in the mission of the church that I, as a musician, writer, and actor, had to fulfill. I went on to define these differences. “The goal of the entertainer is the pleasure of his/her audience. The goal of the artist is to communicate the truth and/or beauty of what has been discovered.” Think of it this way: entertainment is also called “amusement.” “A” is a prefix meaning, “without” and the word “muse” can mean “thought.” To be “amused” is to be relieved of the burden of thought. On the contrary, art is intended to provoke thought, not suspend it. In light of this fundamental difference, it is easy to see that entertainment may be an option for the Believer as long as it is wholesome and uplifting. For the church, artistic expression is more than an option; it is a mandate. We are commissioned to tell the truth to the world, the Gospel truth, in all its applications and implications. Through the worship arts we carry out our mission–love God, and love people.
Defining the Worship Arts
The creative work of the church usually falls into predictable categories: The four common categories of the Worship Arts are these:
- Musical Arts,
- Theatre Arts,
- Visual Arts, and
- Literary Arts.
Proper pastoral leadership can lead these individuals as ministry teams. These teams will:
- lead worship at all levels,
- tell the Jesus story in applicable ways,
- teach and make disciples within the church, and
- effectively witness to the lost folk in the community.
Contained within an effective community with the church, artists find ways of communicating the truths they hold and expressing the beauty of the Kingdom of the Lord.
Discipling the Christian Artist
Jesus commanded the church to “make disciples.” Broadly speaking, I have observed two types of artists:
- The Originator is the artist who seeks to create original art. Whatever their arts may be, music, literature, painting, etc., they tend to finish one thing and move on to something new. Repetition bores them and forced repetition will drive them away. There are fewer of this type of artist because fewer Originators are needed.
- The Interpreter is the artist who loves his/her work and can repeat it time after time. He/she loves the craft and its product and is pleased with thorough repetition. The church needs an abundance of these artists because repetition is a natural part of church life.
Leaders need to make room for both types. The church needs a few innovators who will take people to new and/or different truths or perspectives. The church also needs many skillful, equally artistic interpreters who can bring works of art to life whether it is new or seasoned material.
These two complimentary expressions of the image of God need each other as well. The song writer needs singers to sing his/her songs. The playwright needs the whole theatre company to bring his/her play to life. There should be no friction between the two types of creative artists. Leaders must esteem them both equally while recognizing the different ways each type is led.
Learning from Lazarus
Those who seek to be pastors to creative artists, and the artists themselves, need to learn from the biblical account of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. This story serves as a metaphor for the pastoral process needed by artists who come into the church from the secular world. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and called him out of the tomb, but he told the people around him to “loose him and let him go.” Lazarus was still bound by the grave clothes. In the same way, people who learned the skills demanded by their art in the world’s system need to unlearn some things and learn new things based in the Kingdom of God. In my book, Loose Him and Let Him Go, I teach the details of the differences between art in the world and art in the Kingdom of God.
Let’s look at a few of those details.
Humility not Pride
Arts in the church are based in humility and service, not in pride and status. “God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5) This is the guiding truth for a Christian community of artists. The resistance of God is a serious impediment to ministry through the arts. The grace that comes from humility is essential to build and maintain the artistic community within the church. Anointed expressions of truth and/or beauty are of great benefit to people. Since the arts serve humanity, artists are properly seen as servants of humanity.
This is a chief difference between arts in the world’s system and the arts in the church.
- Secular artists and entertainers can be most selfish in their goals and dreams. They strive to be stars, not servants. They dream of self-fulfillment through the appreciation of their fans.
- Artists in the Kingdom of God seek to please the Lord and serve mankind. This distinction lies at the heart of the difference between the grave cloths that bound Lazarus and the freedom he enjoyed when his brothers and sisters unwrapped him and gave him new clothes to wear.
This is one of the many ways the artistic community within the church exists, as does the whole church, as a counterculture to the world’s system. “Stardom’ is worldly thinking, not Kingdom of God thinking. Servanthood is the coin of the Lord’s realm. Here is Christian thought:
- All are esteemed equally before God.
- All have equal opportunity to minister to God.
The esteem of the audience rates people from unimportant to very important. There must be no “V. I. P.s” (Very Important People) in the church. What is the equalizing core value? Ministry to the Lord, rather than pleasing an audience, equalizes the artists; all have equal opportunity to honor the Lord and do His work.
From the Heart
The world places the premium on outward appearance. The Christian artist must learn to create from the heart out, not from the outside in. Jesus used a fruitful tree as a metaphor for this kind of fruitful life.
Matthew 12:33 NKJV
“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit.
“A tree is known by its fruit.” “Making the tree good” is the discipling process. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. Artists in the church must realize that the House of God is no place for the deceitful person. The Church deals in truth. “The way things really are” must never be hidden behind “the way things appear to be.” Pastors and other leaders must help the artists to cultivate the things of God in their hearts. The demands of the creative life will reveal the contents of the heart. The fruits of the artist’s life will reveal the true nature of the artists’ heart. Jesus made this abundantly clear.
Luke 6:45 NKJV
A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good;
and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil.
For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
Artists with impure hearts will spoil the work of the rest of the company. What is the test of the heart? The true contents of the heart will come pouring out of the mouth.
- If the heart is evil, all manner of evil will be apparent.
- If the heart is good, all manner of good will be the product.
The discipleship of all the artists of the church is essential to effective worship and witness. Private worship fills the heart with the things of God adorns the artist with the seamless robe of Jesus. A neglected Secret Place of prayer will eventually appear down stage center.
Creating the Artistic Culture
Leaders of the creative community within the church must establish an atmosphere conducive to creativity. I see two primary characteristics of this creative culture.
- There must be a Climate of Devotion. This climate is characterized by a passion for the will of God, from a rhyme in the lyric of a son, to the characters and plot of a play, to the lighting and scenic design of the stage. Seeking God’s plan for each artist and for each project is essential. The Bible is the final authority on all matters of truth. Integrity is the authority on all matters of art. Pleasing God is the personal and corporate goal.
- There must be a Climate of Creativity. Respect for the dreams and visions of the artist is essential. Dreams and visions are a part of the Last Days Outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Innovation and respect for the past must coexist. The church must be a safe place to fail. Room for individual artistic processes must be given. Collaboration must be highly esteemed in group projects. This healthy, two-dimensional culture will encourage the creativity of current artists and it will be a conducive atmosphere for the younger generations to benefit from as they mature in the ministry.
Structuring for Generational Growth: “Artists United in Ministry”
Artists need each other to fulfill their calling from God. Over more than 40 years as a pastoral artist, I have developed effective artistic communities within the churches I served. I gave each ministry its own name. Now I want to present the concept with a generic name, “Artists United in Ministry.” Is there a biblical precedent? In the Bible we see a beautifully detailed description of the discipleship structure of the orchestra at King Solomon’s Temple.
1 Chronicles 25:5-7 THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language
God gave Heman fourteen sons and three daughters. Under their father’s supervision they were in charge of leading the singing and providing musical accompaniment in the work of worship in the sanctuary of God (Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman took their orders directly from the king). They were well-trained in the sacred music, all of them masters. There were 288 of them.
The KJV says these sons were “under the hands of their fathers.” They planned for the transfer of the musical arts from one generation to the next. I have seen this work in 40+ years of leadership in the church. Some things can only be hand delivered from one person to another, and one generation to the next. Two of these precious things are spirituality and artistry. The “Artists United in Ministry” concept guides and perpetuates this vital transfer of faith and artistry.
This structure counters the world’s plan for the young, gifted ones among us.
- Satan divides the generations; the Church must unite them.
- The world creates generational markets; the Church must create trans-generational communities.
Artists United in Ministry can help the Church become a holy counterculture rather than a “Christianized” version of popular culture. Here is the Artists United in Ministry concept:
To speak to the current pop culture, churches have turned away from many traditional methods of worship. Unfortunately, some of these forms are biblical in origin and not cultural; they represent the heart of God as expressed in the Bible. My conviction is that the church is due to see a particular and delightful expression of the Last Days Outpouring of the Holy Spirit, predicted by the prophet Joel and declared by the Apostle Peter. I am convinced the Lord wants to send a renaissance of the worship arts! Instead of nostalgia, this will be innovation at the highest level.
In these Last Days the Church must value the artists God has sent her. Our two-fold mission to love God and love people requires all the gifts the Lord has supplied us, particularly the communicative arts. The Worship Arts are not about entertainment; they are about the truth and beauty of the Gospel, the Good News we are called to share with our world. We need the fullness of beauty, joy, peace, and strength our artists long to discover and present. To sum up this vision, I prepared this graphic.
Do you feel the call? Can you hear the Spirit of God calling for a rebirth of the Worship Arts? I can. I want with all my heart to tell His story, to sound His praises, and for my life to reflect His glory.
Dr. Stephen Phifer