Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Does Anyone Care About Art in the Church?



“No Art,” by June Godwit/Group Scud, New York City
Guest Blog Post
By Chuck Neighbors
“Chuck, I’m sorry but I just have no vision for this.”



I looked across the table in the coffee shop into the eyes of the church worship leader, trying to understand. Trying but failing. He was the worship leader of a good sized church (over 700 people on an average weekend). I had been asked by the senior pastor to assist the church in starting a drama ministry. The pastor had the vision. I had met with the group interested in doing drama at the church—over 20 adults—a great start! Yet the one person who should have been the champion of the cause, the go-to person for artistic endeavors in this congregation, was telling me he had no vision for it.

And really, that is almost the end of this story… the ministry never really got off the ground. Oh, the team met, developed material specifically targeted to the pastor’s sermon, and the few times they performed it was well received—the pastor and the congregation wanted more. But the worship leader had no vision for it and pretty much single-handedly killed it. When a drama was scheduled, he would roll his eyes and complain about the hassle it would be to make room on the platform for the scene to be performed, or the extra chorus that would have to be cut in order to allow for the drama. Being the gatekeeper of the arts in this church, he was able to foil the attempts to grow the ministry. Opportunities became less and less frequent. Performers became, understandably, discouraged when not allowed to perform. The drama ministry died.

And it wasn’t only drama, for a church this size the number of musical artists allowed to share their gifts was extremely limited. Only a hand-picked few were given opportunity to perform and use their gifts in the church.

I wish I could say this was an exception, not the rule, but sadly I have seen this scenario repeated at a number of churches. By and large I fear that most churches are not a very welcoming place for the artists in the congregation. Why is this the case?

In my example above I think it was a combination of ego, insecurity, and control for the worship leader in question—a pitfall for any person who is the single gatekeeper for everything artistic in a church. He knew one area of the arts well—contemporary Christian music—and anything other than that was outside the box, and possibly considered a threat.
The other side of the coin is the church that really has no one to turn to. Often smaller churches have a perceived void when it comes to things artistic. They may not have a paid worship leader and are at the mercy of whatever volunteers they can find to lead music during a worship service. A gifted artist may be hiding in the congregation and not willing to be discovered either for fear of being over-used or for not wanting to be associated with what they consider sub-standard performance.


So OK, I have laid out the problem… but some may be saying “why should we care” and “does all this arts stuff really matter”? Why should we even care about arts in the church? Is it really that important?

Yes! 



The church has changed. Anyone who has experienced the cathedrals of Europe, and compared that aesthetic to the average function-over-style of the majority of churches built in this country in the last 50 years, would have to conclude that they don’t build them like they used to!

A couple of weekends ago I walked into a church and I could tell almost instantly that this was a church that cared about art. It was not a huge church; they averaged about 250 in their worship service. The foyer had a feel that was more like what I have seen in certain museums or fine hotel lobbies. The furnishings were elegant. There was art on the walls—meaningful art. One piece especially captivated me. It was a wood engraving of the hymn “How Great Thou Art” that was engraved to look like a page out of hymnal, with incredible detail.

The platform of the church was tidy, not the usual clutter of mic and music stands I am accustomed to seeing in most churches I frequent. As the worship service started, we were treated to a string ensemble that played their music impeccably. Somebody cared about the aesthetics of this church. Yet is wasn’t an atmosphere of artistic snobbery you might have expected by my description.

If you are still wondering “does all this really matter?” Let me give you a few reasons why I think it does:

  • It is an indication of giving our best to the Creator. By caring about art, about things of beauty, I think we are acknowledging that we are creative beings and affirming that to both to God and to each other.
  • It is obvious that our culture cares about art. I would argue that we live in an entertainment culture. That doesn’t mean that all art is good art or appropriate for church, but we need to recognize that it is a huge part of the culture we are trying to speak to. 
  • By caring about art we are given a voice worthy of paying attention too. We are speaking the language of the culture we are a part of. You may not like the fact that we live in an entertainment culture, but it doesn’t change the fact that it exists. Art is one valuable way we to let our voice be heard. 
  • It is Biblical after all. It goes all the way back to the Old Testament, from the building of the tabernacle (Exodus 35 and 36) and the Psalms of David, to the New Testament with the parables of Jesus.
So how can you make your church a welcoming place for the arts? A big church can hire artists, and many do. But art in the church is not only for the big, the moneyed, or the ultra sophisticated. Little things can go a long way. Consider the following:

  • Look for ways to include the arts in your worship—not just music, but drama, painting, sculpture, and dance, etc… there are exceptional artists in all these areas and more (probably some hiding in your very pews).
  • Care more about the aesthetics in your place of worship. From the moment you enter the church, what can you do artistically to draw attention to the things of God? Think paintings, furniture, music etc. (Some churches have turned their foyers into galleries that showcase artists in the church.)
  • Plan social events that create opportunities for artists to be discovered. A talent show at a church retreat might just be the venue to discover talents you never new existed.
  • While we want to encourage art, we also want to encourage quality. Have some sort of screening process in place so that what you create is truly inspiring to those that experience it… (I know that art is in the eye of the beholder… so tread carefully).
  • Don’t do this alone. Consult with others in your church who are artists or at least good appreciators of art. Use them for everything from the design of the worship service to the design of your print materials; from the table displays in the foyer to the paintings in the bathroom. An arts committee in your church might be a great investment of time, talent and service.
  • At the risk of sounding self-serving, invite guest artists into your church. Experiencing art well done inspires art well done!
For some pastors reading this, I can hear you saying, “great—just one more thing for me to do!” I know leading a church is not easy and there is a lot on the proverbial plate. I don’t think every pastor needs to make this their personal responsibility… but I do think that by delegating and encouraging those already in the congregation who have an artistic bent, we can do much to enhance our message. Artists are uniquely gifted to speak to the culture. Artists who are Christians need opportunities to use their God given gifts to the benefit of the Body of Christ and the world.

What ideas can you share for discovering and encouraging the arts in your church?

This post originally appeared on Chuck Neighbors blog (used with permission). You can read it and other information about Chuck's ministry, Master's Image productions at 
www.mastersimage.com.

2 comments:

Tahlib said...

You care Lauren, so that's a great start, and it has to re-start somewhere. Why not with you?

jhon mathew said...

Chuck...This is a Great point. I am sure it has a lot to do with the control issue. I hadn't thought of it in terms of intimidation before... but I think you are right!
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Lauren Yarger, Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

In 2008 she was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater with a Christian perspective for Reflections in the Light (http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/) and is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection. She also is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com

She also reviews books for Publisher's Weekly and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. She formerly was Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp, a national theater web site bsed in New York and a reviewer for American Theater Web.

She also served as Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. and worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford and the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.

She is a freelance writer and member of the Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and The CT Critics Circle.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger lives with her husband in West Granby, CT and has two adult children.

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All contents copyright © Lauren Yarger 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, contact masterworkproductions@yahoo.com.

Scripture from THE MESSAGE Copyright 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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