Art can be an elusive topic. What is it? Who is it for? Why do we need it? But imagine a world where there's no soundtrack as you drive down the highway, where there are no Friday night movies, and where uniform buildings line the streets of every city. That world quickly becomes utilitarian, and the people in it lose a fundamental avenue of relating to one another.
When art is lost, culture is lost. The same is true with the culture of the church. The Bible is more than a list of practices and a moral code to follow; it's a relationship with a God who speaks in stories, pictures, and songs. The role of the artist in the church is to tell and retell those stories.
The question of why we create art should be easy for the church to answer. The first ten words of the Bible make it clear that God is Creator. By definition, an artist is someone who creates or produces aesthetic works. The universe—of all things—is not a bad example of such a creation! It's only a few verses later (Genesis 1:26) that God describes people as created in his image. In the most basic ways, we were created to create.
As we look at what that means for an arts ministry in the local church, I would add that we were created to re-create. That is, to retell the story of who God is to our generation. God uses story and metaphor as the primary avenue to reveal himself to his people. It's not a list. It's not a memo. It's certainly not a formula to follow. It's a story, and it's an opportunity to look at the truth of Scripture time and time again with fresh eyes.
Jeremy Begbie, professor and director of Duke Initiative for Theology and the Arts at Duke Divinity School, says the work of the artist is "something like revelation. What is revealed has been there all the time, but it has gone unnoticed in our humdrum everyday experience. It needs the sensitivity of the artist to bring it to light." The church must ask itself; why wouldn't we use art to share with others who God is, what he has done, and what he is doing right now in our midst?
In the worship department at my church, we see ourselves as storytellers. We're musicians, filmmakers, designers, and administrators, but we all work with the same focus: telling God's story. It's about making the gospel known to our generation. In the same way that art shapes our culture, artistic expressions of worship shape the culture of our churches each weekend. This should be exciting to us as local church leaders. Arguably, art is the most effective platform to connect our culture with the Creator. It needs to be creative. It needs to be Christ-centered. And, if we want it to affect our culture at all, it needs to be excellent.
Art as Architecture
Architects shape the spaces in which we live and work.Both inside and out, we often take these spaces, where we spend the majority of our time, for granted. Though architects have no influence on the substance of the meetings that will take place in the environments they design, they do control how that environment functions, feels, and facilitates the needs of their client. What if we started to see ourselves as worship architects? For worship leaders and arts ministry leaders the need is apparent: people need to meet with Jesus. We really have no influence on the outcome of our weekly gatherings. That's the work of the Spirit. What we do have influence over is the environment in which that work takes place.
When we start to see art as a highway for God's people to express worth, honor, and adoration to their Creator, it becomes work that reignites passion for God's people. In doing so, we need to, as Rory Noland says, "stop seeing ourselves as half artist, half leader. We are full-time artists and full-time leaders." We do not create art for art's sake. We create art that must ascribe worth to the Father. That is worship. As worship architects, we design the structure. As leaders, we usher people inside.
Why should the church spend time, money, and staff resources to create art? We invest in the arts so our generation will not lose the essential role of retelling the story of who God is and what he has done with fresh eyes. Psalm 96 says to sing a new song to the Lord. Why don't we sing a song of God's present, living, and active power? As artists in the church, let's become worship architects, not manipulating or programming time with God, but facilitating an environment for the Holy Spirit to move among us and the name of Jesus to be elevated.
—Steve Smith is the Worship Programming Director at Harvest Bible Chapel in Naperville, IL. Steve holds a B.M. and an M.A. from Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL.; © 2011 Christianity Today International/BuildingChurchLeaders.com
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