Does Anyone Care About Art in the Church—Part 2

Read Part 1

Yes! Some do!

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 & 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?

21 thoughts on “Does Anyone Care About Art in the Church—Part 2

  1. e.m. s. says:

    Our new pastor says, “We are not in the business of entertaining. Therefore, no art.” Um….then why does he work so hard to tell those silly jokes at the beginning of each message? Just askin’ Oh wait, they’re not really that entertaining!

    Reply
    1. Mfetting says:

      You need to share this article with your pastor. The pastor needs to see that it allows more people to be involved in ministry, which will draw the participants closer to God as they give of their talents.

      While it would be great for the arts to be part of the sermon, we can start drama/improv/arts/etc. as a ministry separate from Sunday morning services. It can be a great way to draw people to the church during the week and to use your gifts to in other venues (such as public settings, retirement centers, special ministry events, etc.)

      Reply
  2. Kenhobson60 says:

    I know most people have an appreciation for realism but, i also think there is a place for beautiful abstract art as well.

    Reply
  3. Michael says:

    To a degree, this is why I lament seeing the trend in churches to rely on videos to tell a story rather than a local group of performers telling that story live on the church platform. Granted, I want people to buy my scripts and I probably will move into developing videos of my scripts down the road, but I think the local church loses something when they rely on videos instead of the talent that exists within their own congregations. Art is a powerful way to inspire people and help them connect with the presence of God. Sure, it takes more work to act out a drama, as opposed to popping in a video, but it’s worth it.

    Reply
      1. Michael says:

        Thanks for pointing me to this column, Chuck. Very interesting thoughts. I really appreciate the authenticity vs. excellence view. It does require a balance. I’m all for excellence, and one of my favorite verses is in 2 Samuel when David says, and I’m paraphrasing, that he won’t offer God something that costs him nothing. Still, I’ve been in a church or two that has tilted too far to the extreme and seems to serve the god of excellence.

        Reply
  4. Kim says:

    This is great Chuck! Thank you for these excellent suggestions.

    Reply
  5. JHJ says:

    Speaking as an artist who is a Christian, I applaud this article.
    I heartily agree with many of your thoughts. Well written.
    Thank you Chuck.

    Reply
  6. Sean Gaffney says:

    Appreciation of art and how it can elevate in a worshipful way (as well as understanding that art is not just entertainment) is best done top down.

    I was blessed at one time with a pastor that would often incorporate art within his sermons. He did a ten part series on the stained glass windows that adorned the the sanctuary – one sermon per window. When doing a series on the disciples, he opened each sermon by pointing out the focal apostle in “The Last Supper,” discussing why da Vinci put them in that placement and pose.

    He would often reference books, plays, musicals, movies, music. From there, the discussion stops being, “Does art have value” and instead is only about “how can we best use the talents of those among us.”

    In that specific case, we did not have a drama team for our regular services, but did utilize one within our college ministry and for special occasions.

    (That church also had a tradition of employing an artist on staff – a composer while I was there. They were paid full time, gave half of their time creating/working for the church, the other half working on whatever the Spirit lead them to create. The congregation was gifted ten-fold for the cost of that staff member…)

    Reply
    1. Cathy Clark says:

      I can’t imagine being in a church like that last one….I had no idea such positions existed. How marvelous!

      Reply
  7. Dan E says:

    sitting as a creation, made in the image of the Creator of the Universe…. I consider my innate creativity to be part of the Image – certainly not my appearance! (Nor yours….) and this creativity is a universal trait share by all those whom He loves. So I am rather troubled by the number of Christians I encounter who deny any creativity within themselves. Art, it seems to me, is simply the disciplined exercise of the Creativity God built into each of us.

    Our churches are not about entertainment – although how much of “enhancing the worship experience” is in reality theatricality? But shouldn’t we be reminding each other what it means to be Like Christ? Celebrating His greatness by whatever means possible. Teaching and encouraging one another to broaden our definition of what actions constitute worship.

    On balance: We are certainly called to give our best to God- as worshippers and as artists. Sometimes, can that mean not approaching the limits of our ability, lest we become a distraction or, even worse, discourage others by highlighting the distance between their skill level and our own?

    Reply
  8. Gordon Williams says:

    From: Gordon Williams
    I share the frustration these theatre artists must be feeling. If it’s any comfort to them, they’re in a lot of company. In my years as a believer-artist,
    I’ve had to learn to think outside the box a lot. Some suggestions I’d like to make: for starters, pray to Our Creator God for guidance. He is the One who gave you your dramatic gifts in the first place, so He intends for you to use them. If any of you have writing skills, start developing your own scripts.
    Once I was going through a dry period, and a young actress friend of mine in the A. D. Players gave me a piece of advice that I still remember: “Go where you’re needed.” Check out hospitals, retirement or recreation facilities, schools,
    coffeehouses, even other churches. It’s great when your own church calls for you
    to do something for the worship service, but I’ve learned over time you can’t always count on that. May God in Christ Jesus continue to bless you.

    Reply
    1. Dan E says:

      Great advice!! Don’t go stale just because you can’t get in your preferred venue. What I have found is that sometimes we have a richer voice outside our home..

      Reply
  9. Jerry says:

    Thanks, Chuck! This is an issue close to my heart, and I’m inspired to do more. I am fortunate to attend a relatively small church (250ish/weekend) in Kelso, Washington (a church at which you recently performed :o) which recently remodeled. It is developing into a beautiful place to honor and celebrate with God. New stained glass, theatre lighting, and paintings done during the worship services are new additions. We also have vibrant, passionate leaders, who enjoy the addition of various kinds of cultural music from around the world, short dramas, and mime. My family really love our church, and it is my hope that we can continue to do more.

    Reply
  10. Andrew says:

    This is a great article Chuck, and I’m equally engaged by the comments of the others on here. I think one of the greatest things that art has for the church body is community. One body. Now, that’s certainly a challenging prospect but in my work in Jacksonville Florida some of my favorite times have been seeing artists from one church crossing the street and helping the small group at the other church or sitting down and working together. I’m working on a performance piece now that is solely designed to engage artists across our city, whether in a church or not, to know that their art is valuable.

    It broke my heart a few years ago when a young talented actor said to me “I love acting. But I also love the church. and i don’t really see how the two go together”. I told him that that was a lie. They had to go together. To seperate the passions and gifts God has given you from the “place” he has called you to is to self impose a desert exile. So, thank you for your work and your words, God Bless!

    Andrew

    Reply

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