I once asked a friend what single thing the church needed to hear from artists, and the response was that the church on the whole doesn’t create room to hear them.
He went on to explain that artists question things, and explore areas that a lot of church folks are really uncomfortable about – for instance: doubt, fear, repulsion, sin, the felt absence of God in a life and what that means. These run counter to an individualized, American Christianity.
The church wants beauty, and love, and righteous happy endings. It’s about triumphant transformation and freedom from sin and courageous evangelism. The church is about movement, a gradual increase of holy, happy living. These ideas are often the topics of priority in American churches, and for good reason. Every single thing I’ve listed above is (with deeper context) a hallmark of Christ-centered faith.
Where the disconnect occurs for artists could be that they won’t accept pat answers or lack of context.
Classifying artistic temperaments is difficult – like any classification of the complex, living, thinking beings called humans. However, I believe that there are baseline “compulsions” of artists. Primarily – creation, communication, exploration, and passion.
Artists live to create. This is not just artists, of course. For instance, craftsmen – such as carpenters, engineers, plumbers – all incorporate creative expertise in their professions. The drive to create is simply a fundamental element of created beings.
Artists create to communicate. When sound is intentionally designed to communicate concepts and aesthetics, that is art, and its creator is an artist. This translates to craftsmen too; when an architect designs a building to say something specific about symmetry or to model nature: that is art. When a chef show utmost respect for ingredients and sense of place, or makes modern art on a plate: they are an artist.
Artists communicate to explore. They look at life as they find it and ask: Why? It’s this deep curiosity that is simply not satisfied with easy answers. This need to live in the question is vital to a church founded on Someone who is way beyond our finite minds. Without the perpetuation of mystery and wonder that artists can provide, truth can seem like shallow, easy answers. When we provide the space for artists to explore theological truths deeply, in different sensory ways, those truths take on the profound qualities they always had. Increased artistry equals increased understanding.
So yes, the church needs to hear and value the contributions of the artistic people in their congregations.
But artists also need to listen.
Artists explore passionately. This can be a double-edged sword. Artists, necessarily, get excited about what they are creating, communicating, and exploring. This passion is what drives them to do it in the first place. Passion, though, can be misdirected.
The church as a whole is full of people from a variety of backgrounds and ideologies. When I come into a church community, there’s something at stake larger than my gifts and personality.
Yes, I am valuable. Just like everyone else.
Yes, the church should make room for my gifts. Just like they should for everyone else.
I have frequent conversations with young artists of all disciplines who are concerned about the lack of beauty and art in churches. They are passionate about the church being a proponent for the arts in every community and serving artists in its congregation. This is coming at it from the wrong direction.
The church is not here to serve artists. It’s here to be served by artists. Church isn’t about me, it’s about giving glory to God with His people.
Being a part of the church is about being nourished by His Word, His sacraments, prayer, fellowship, discipline, etc. It’s about loving those around me more than my own creative voice. And it’s about using my creative voice to participate in all of those things.
Don’t be afraid of where artists will go with the truth of God’s Word. Press into relationship with them that will guide and form conclusions. Make space for them to find mentors in the arts and in your congregation. Reference and respect art in your sermons and liturgy. Use their art for mutual edification in your services, and to stretch your church. Encourage your congregation to support their work outside of the church. Create opportunities to reach out to your community through your artists. This will be a key outreach for communicating Christ in the coming days, because it can be both loving and honest, declamatory and conversational.
Take a chill pill. Turn from trumpeting your temperament to submitting it to the service of the body. Get over your ambition to be heard and ask your leaders what you can do to augment worship. Adjust your expectations by serving in small ways – even and especially ways that are outside of your comfort zone. Encourage and applaud other people’s contributions to the life of the body – especially when they are different then your own. Exercise patience, charity, and respect toward leadership and congregation alike. Learn to live in love, and to let yourself be loved.