3 Things Artists want Pastors to Know

brownmandmsI recently returned from a few days of retreat with some fellow artists who are ministry minded. Many, myself included, make their living serving in churches where they perform almost every weekend.  With a gathering like this, you are almost guaranteed to hear a statement resembling this:

You are not gonna believe this one church I performed at….”

If you are a pastor or church leader, you most likely will not want to be the leader of the “church” the artist is about to reveal. Oh sure, it might be a wonderful testimony about God’s grace and power, but more likely it will be a horror story about how the artist was treated by said church. We all have our stories, both good and bad. We have our stories about wonderful life-changing events where things went perfectly, and we have our stories about being bumped off, turned off, and ripped off at our performances. (And to be fair, I’m sure a gathering of church leaders could offer some equally amazing stories about artists that you have invited to your church—I have heard a few myself…oh my!)

As I reflected on the stories that were shared, I thought it might be good to come up with a list of a few things artists would like churches to consider in order to make a great event.

  • Be Prepared. Yes, the Boy Scouts’ Motto is good for all of life. I’m not talking about a greenroom and a candy dish with all the brown M&Ms removed (Just Goggle the most ridiculous artist riders). But if the artist has provided a list of “needs” for their time with you, take the time to go over the list and do what you can to accomodate. Sound needs, props and rehearsal time all need to be considered. I actually covered a lot on this topic in a previous blog here: A Stage That Is Hard to Fathom. The artist is a guest and needs to be hosted. By this, I mean there needs to be someone to greet and orient the artist to the appropriate people/places for set up, rehearsal, etc. If not the pastor, then another person to act as sort of a personal assistant. This person can also be a great help at the end of the event. The artist needs to be free to interact with people after the event. They will often have a resource table to staff in addition to visiting with the people that want some of their time afterwards. There is often that person who monopolizes the artist’s time with their own stories, and making it impossible for the artist to greet and speak to other people. This is where an assistant from the church can be a huge service, serving to rescue the artist from the monopolizing fan.
  • Honor the Agreement. It’s no surprise to me that many of the stories artists talk about fall under the catagory of the church not doing what was agreed upon. Most of the time we are talking about things that were agreed to in a written and signed document. At the top of the list is not honoring the financial arrangement and not giving the artist the time alotted. I had one pastor want to change the agreement moments before I took the stage and when I tried to challenge this he accusingly said, “I brought you here to serve!” — implying that satisfying our agreement meant I was not serving.  Another church had agreed to a freewill offering for my ministry and informed me they were just going to give me a gift; “but don’t worry it will be generous” (it was far less than what I have received in offerings from churches half their size). The offering, for many of us is our livelihood. A single worship service on a weekend will often translate into a week’s wages. With that in mind, please be careful how you explain the offering to your congregation. To say simply “defray the cost of having an artist come” is not accurate or fair. The audience will be thinking they are covering a tank of gas and a pizza rather than providing for the actual livelihood of the artist.
  • Trust the Art. If there is one thing that makes an artist bristle, it’s for someone to get up and try to tell the audience what the artist just said throught their art, be it music, acting, dance, painting, or spoken word. I understand that this can be a tough one for a pastor who is concerned, and rightly so, that the message be recieved. The artist’s gift is to communicate the message differently. If they are good at what they do, let the audience be free to absorb and receive the art…even though they may not all get the same message. It’s okay to add a few words of commentary and/or personal impact about the art. We just want you to resist the urge to preach a sermon on what they have just seen and heard.

I’m sure there are other things artists would like the church to know, and perhaps some of them will chime in through the comments. And we who are artists are not without sin. There are examples of us not being prepared, not honoring the agreement and not trusting the church as well! I am also certain a posting from the pastor’s perspective might be in order. Perhaps one of you would like to submit a guest blog to me on “3 Things a Pastor wants Artists to Know!”  Any takers?


We have a response! Check out the next blog: What a Pastor would Like Artists to Know

20 thoughts on “3 Things Artists want Pastors to Know

  1. Jon Karn says:

    I am no stranger to Chuck Neighbors ministry. Been booking him for years. And I STILL learned things from this helpful post! (I hope I haven’t transgressed any of these!)

    After being a music minister for 20 years and now being a senior pastor who also leads worship, (I THINK) I can share this:
    An old friend who is a Christian artist looked me up and down with skepticism. “So!” He said. “You’re a senior pastor now. I see you’ve decided to be your OWN butt head.”
    (Only he didn’t say “butt head”)
    I wasn’t offended one bit and understood completely!
    Why shouldn’t us pastors treat guest artists the way we do the visiting new family from the community? We make sure they’re happy! They’re both guests!
    Just a thought.
    (Chuck please delete this post if necessary)

    1. Chuck Neighbors says:

      Not gonna delete it…even though you did say “butt head!” 😉
      I will say you have always treated me well, which is one reason I keep asking to come back!!!

  2. Josh Snodgrass says:

    We have certainly had our share of interesting experiences. We try to be thorough in our planning but we’ve had some occasional situations where things didn’ go as smoothly as we would have liked. Some have been caused by poor communication before hand on my part. A lot of misunderstandings can happen because of unspoken expectations as to how it will all go. I think that the more communication that takes place the better.

    If there was one thing that I would tell pastors, I guess it would be in reference to the fact that they often try to just plug is in as guest worship leaders, or guest speakers with some special music. We have a presentation that all works together to communicate something but if it gets taken apart, it doesn’t mean nearly as much or come across as powerfully. I guess that’s like your “let the art speak for itself” point.

    1. Chuck Neighbors says:

      It’s nice to have the flexibility to adapt to different situations, but I totally agree. In some instances I can do a short bit, but most of my presentations are a set length which minimizes this issue for me.

  3. Bonnie Gorshe says:

    In my comparatively brief time doing Christian theater even I had someone, an elderly man who had attended church all his life, come up to me after a performance of a one act play I’d directed and tell me he had never before understood why we needed a savior and couldn’t save ourselves. With all you’ve done I can only imagine how many hearts you’ve touched.

    Some church leaders use the “all I have is a hammer so your problem looks like a nail” method of addressing the spiritual needs of the array of people who walk in their door. They know how to preach. They know how to do music. They don’t know how to do drama and so they don’t see the incredible power drama has to speak to people in ways that are novel and both speak to the heart and the mind. What they don’t understand they undervalue. It’s hard for them to differentiate between a well-written sketch or monologue and a silly skit the high schoolers would do at camp.

    Historically speaking, of course, the actors have always been regarded as low class. Even more recently, when I was one of the drama kids at my high school we were pretty far down the pecking order as far as coolness went. But we were able to have the last laugh when one of our little group became a big movie star.

    So my tongue in cheek advise to you is to become a big movie star and I believe you’ll find yourself being treated a lot better. Shall I bring your limo around, Mr. Neighbors?

    1. Chuck Neighbors says:

      Bonnie, IF it happens, I’ll be checking your chauffeur’s license! 🙂

  4. Marcia Whitehead says:

    For the most part, I have had wonderful experiences with pastors, especially my visit with Jon Karn’s church on Sunday. They treated me like visiting royalty and I felt so welcome and part of their church family.

    However, there have been a few times I’ve visited churches, came at the agreed upon time to connect with the a/v crew and waited alone in the sanctuary for 25 minutes until someone showed up. Those were usually the mornings the service started late because the a/v crew wasn’t on top of things as we had discussed beforehand.

    The following has only happened to me a handful of times, but in the Body of Christ, it should never happened even once. At one church, five minutes before the beginning of the service, I was told I’d be given their normal pulpit fee which was considerable less than the compensation the pastor had agreed upon. At another church, after the service, the pastor said they hadn’t counted the love offering yet, but he handed me a check that had been typed up the day before the event. Based on conversations with congregants, right after the service I know the love offering was at least twice the size of the check the pastor gave me. In asking for an explanation from the pastor during the week after the event, I was told the check was all I was getting and that the amount in the love offering was really not my concern. After that, he refused to answer my emails and I don’t know if the rest of the love offering went into the church budget or the pastor’s pocked. Truly wondered if that pastor had ever actually met Jesus.

    I’m lucky, though, as dishonorable conduct on the pastor’s part is something I’ve experienced rarely and most visits with congregations are wildly positive, leave me feeling appreciated and I’ve been told repeatedly that sharing my story and testimony had a deep and long-lasting impact on congregation members, for which II am very, very grateful and humbled.

    1. Chuck Neighbors says:

      Agreed. As the saying goes “one bad apple doesn’t spoil the whole crop1”

  5. K!M says:

    embarassed bythe church.
    i don’t know how he keeps doing it.
    persistent. calling. drive.

    1. Chuck Neighbors says:

      obedience. passion.
      don’t know what else to do!
      thankful. blessed.

  6. John Welton says:

    One time I drove 250 miles to perform in a very large church and was supposedly to receive a love offering. Like one of your commentators, I was handed a check and told it was out of the church budget. By the time I drove back home, I had cleared $20. However, on the other hand I have performed in tiny country churches and received much more than I had thought I would. I guess the good Lord makes it all balance out.

    1. Chuck Neighbors says:

      Yes, He does. For every “bad” experience I have multiple good ones!

  7. Tim Lowry says:

    This is an interesting thing to read in light of the fact that I’m sitting in a hotel room having just finished a show for an audience that was not well prepared for my presentation, a teacher who texted during the entire show, a producer who rearranged my schedule ten minutes before start time, no provision made for lunch, etc. And this is not a church gig, it’s a secular arts festival. I fear the issue is one that all performers face, not just church performers. At risk of sounding self righteous and preachy, I try to remember the conditions under which St. Paul, Daniel, and even the Lord Jesus worked. They were often undervalued, unappreciated, and under paid. And yet, they never lost sight of who they were there for. There is someone out there who is desperate to hear a word of hope. My prayer is that I can encourage producers/presenters to be professional, but when they are not, let it go so that I can focus on loving my audience and speaking peace to them.

    1. Chuck Neighbors says:

      Well said, Tim. And it is this spirit of encouraging others that this blog was intended!

  8. Keith Ferrin says:

    I would certainly agree with all of these Chuck. It is a different situation to have someone who has a full-time job come speak at your church as a guest, versus someone who is doing this for a living. I once had someone ask me about an event on the other side of the country, and when the topic of price came up, he said “We have never paid a guest speaker more than $250.” I bit my tongue and only said “I am sorry. But it is not going to work out for me to do that.” What I wanted to say was “My wife would pay me $250 to stay home!”

    1. Chuck Neighbors says:

      Love it! I’ll have to find out what price my wife would pay…what a great negotiating tip. (Hopefully she won’t offer to pay the rest of the fee for me to go!)

      1. Lorie Neighbors says:

        Ha! Sure…only if it didn’t come out of my shoe fund.

  9. Lorie Neighbors says:

    I appreciate your sharing this perspective. What a challenge to performers to be sure your art is STELLAR. But in saying that, I know everyone thinks their art is stellar. In our performance- and entertainment-based culture, I can understand why some people might want a straight- up sermon at church.


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