Does Anyone Care About Art in the Church? — Part One

“Chuck, I’m sorry but I just have no vision for this.”

“No Art,” by June Godwit/Group Scud, New York City

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 okay, I have laid out the problem… but some may be saying “why should we care” and “does all this arts stuff really matter”?

You can probably guess some of my response to this… me being an artist after all.  I plan to give a few of my thoughts in Part 2 of this blog… but I would love to hear your response.

Why should we even care about arts in the church?  Is it really that important?

READ PART 2

50 thoughts on “Does Anyone Care About Art in the Church? — Part One

  1. Wesley Brainard says:

    That makes me MAD!!!!! Name the church, and I’ll toilet paper it tonight after dark…Oh wait…that wouldn’t exactly be “absorbing the pain without passing it back” (something I preach often though fail to live up to). Ok, so that frustrates me, Chuck. I’m tempted to say to the artists in that church, go find a place where you’ll be accepted and respected. But I really don’t think that is the answer. Still…if you can’t will the heart of the gate keeper…you’ve got a problem. So my off the cup answer is to encourage the artists, pray for leadership, and try to get inside this worship leaders head and find out what IS the vision. If a case can be made that the arts can serve the unique vision of the church and even specific elements of this particular worship leader’s vision…maybe significant progress to building the kingdom can be made. Please check out my

    Reply
  2. Curt says:

    Yep. It can get frustrating. But, in the long run, i think the answer is to simply, humbly, do good work. When we’re asked, do good work. When we’re not, create an environment where we can … our living room, a video, a community theatre. God can use us all across the board. Blessings!

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  3. Andy Allen says:

    Interesting post Chuck. I know I’ve seen this scenario to some extent before, but it’s complicated under the surface on several levels for me.

    I think your question is valid. I think we should care about arts in the church. I believe using the arts in the church is important.

    The problem (IMHO) lies beyond just having a vision for it…beyond 20 people having an interest in doing it…the issue, as I see it, lies within execution. More specifically, in doing art well.

    There’s a reason you’ve been successful through the years in bringing your craft to churches…you do it with excellence.

    There’s a reason someone like me is cautious about offering my platform to some creative endeavors….because I’ve seen how poorly it’s been done. To be somewhat blunt…it kind of comes down to quality control.

    I work incredibly hard at my craft…making sure my art is presented with as much preparedness and excellence as possible. Unfortunately, without strong leadership to a team, this level of performance rarely finds itself present within contemporary church culture.

    I’m a worship guy…a musician. I have an appreciation for various artistic expressions and believe they can have a place in our worship services. BUT…while I’m not anti-drama/dance/poetry/visual art/etc…because I can’t coach or teach people to excellence in those crafts…I find myself needing to pre-qualify the inclusion of those expressions based quality (and intentionality…but that’s perhaps another conversation).

    I also understand that ‘art is in the eye of the beholder’ and ‘judging’ it’s quality can be a subjective thing. When I think about it from this perspective I realize that it becomes more of “gut decision” on the part of the leaders involved. This is where things get cloudy and controversial.

    It’s tough. There are a lot of differing perspectives with valid arguments. I’m not saying my approach is right…it’s just my approach.

    Curious to see what you have to say in tomorrows post…

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    1. Chuck Neighbors says:

      I hear you Andy. In this particular case it was not a quality control issue. I totally understand the need for that… although it can be sticky. There is a fine line between controlling the quality and just closing the gate and sticking with only those you know and trust. I know of many fine artists in churches that are totally ignored or can’t find away to get the attention of the gatekeeper—much like the worship leader in this example. I do talk a bit about this in part 2 … but really that is another topic in and of itself. It can be easy to find a small pool of talent and then put up the “auditions are closed” sign. How do you keep the quality level high while at the same time encouraging new or undiscovered artists in your midst?

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      1. Andy Allen says:

        “How do you keep the quality level high while at the same time encouraging new or undiscovered artists in your midst?”

        This leads me to another thing I’ve seen….giving space for artists to make and showcase their art/music/etc is important…but not an entitlement.

        I’ve found that many people in churches who dabble in creative expressions feel that just because they love Jesus and their art, they deserve to be showcased. Not so. This is where the artistic ego finds itself exposed.

        I’ve met countless singers, musicians, visual artists, photographers, actors, etc etc etc who are really more concerned with getting seen, noticed, recognized…ultimately, praised…rather than being aware that their art is of inferior quality.

        In my experience, it’s the uber-talented and gifted people who are content to just make great art and maybe find themselves showcased. It’s almost always the amateur wannabe types who produce crap that demand to be placed center stage.

        OK…there…I said it!

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        1. Chuck Neighbors says:

          I agree up to a point… however I would suggest that ALL artist types want to be noticed, both those of “inferior quality” and the “uber-talented.” It is rare to find an artist who creates art and is content to stay in a vacuum. It is part of the nature of the beast. Some are very selective about WHERE their art is viewed but I think all want the recognition. I find having the church as your audience is more humbling than exalting.

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          1. Creative Struggles says:

            The vacuum is no place to be…I am there and struggle with most moments, I feel as my actions end up being misrepresented…I am currently struggling with participation in the worship art at church. I feel like my desire to excel musically while keeping my spirit attuned to God creates the impression of a fellow who is not all there. In fact I feel ignored. When I suggest that using the knowlege of musical keys for the “set list” (the order of songs can be played taking advantage of different keys), I am given the impression that I am off my rocker. There are some real sharp musicians in the bunch, yet it seems as the discussion of music is met with suspicion. I can only wonder how many engaged artists exist that are not interested in doing something wordly, yet find the church artistic experience wanting. I pray and believe that God is in charge, but like a lonely child – It would be nice to have a hug. I can only assume it is me that is the root of the issue, as there is no way it is God. Art is the exploration and presentation of ideas, and it need not be consumed with self. I do find myself singing aline from plenty of blues music…Oh Lord!

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            1. Creative Struggles says:

              I should add that although I attend the practices in a committed fashion, I have yet to be allowed to support Sunday worship…I accept this as part of art…yet I am hurt. That is okay, as it reminds me of a rejected Jesus – he went to the cross, granting me salvation (I am not him who sits on high, thus my despair). As much as it would be a+ to join in on Sundays, I started particpating hoping to become stronger spiritually and better musically and did not place high importance of Sunday worship art participation…I feel I was enriched more from your article (and my ability to engage) than I have thus far from worship arts family participation…thanks again…go with God!

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              1. Chuck Neighbors says:

                Thanks for sharing your heart and your struggles. I am glad the blog was an encouragement to you! Bless you as you continue to fight the good fight!

        2. Bswope says:

          “I’ve met countless singers, musicians, visual artists, photographers, actors, etc etc etc who are really more concerned with getting seen, noticed,recognized…ultimately, praised…rather than being aware that their art is of inferior quality.”

          I run into this all the time, Andy. I used to have a woman who has a very good singing voice, and the talent to do drama, but if she wasn’t the “star”, she’d not show up for rehearsals, and basically I ended up stepping in and asking her to drop out of the choir, please. (I went the Pastor first and prayed about it.)

          There is a fine line between presenting a special drama/skit that leads into and illuminates the theme of the worship service, and showcasing performance. I struggle with this all the time when people ask me why I don’t do more solos, or monologues, or etc. etc. My simple answer: I’m the Worship Leader, but I let God lead..not me. I don’t showcase my own talent.

          And there’s a scripture that relates to this situation, but I can’t remember the reference, and I might get it wrong..but it’s something about getting your reward here on earth, not in heaven….help me out here, Chuck.

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        3. Creative Struggles says:

          I appreciate your ideas, taking no offence with what you said. I however being of creative spirit disagree with the broad coverage of your statement. I am creative and want to discover, praise and engage with my Lord using art as the catalyst *yes there is other ways such as digging into the word, prayer and fellowship, yet see how art allows one to escape the self – which my heart tells me is a good thing when reaching for God. I desire no attention be given to me, only to the creative expression of the idea. I am sure there are others like me.

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  4. Julisa says:

    May I suggest a link on this topic? Artists in Christian Testimony faces this with all its artist-ministers/missionaries, and the president has given a good summary here – //www.actinternational.org/byrons_blog.aspx
    I think, like he says, the evangelical church has become guilty of ignoring the attribute of God’s creativity and love of beauty, thinking that only information and performance (whether by preaching or, even a “quality show” [emphasis on the word show] is what honors God. Perhaps church leaders worry too much about the entertainment value and not enough about actually experiencing God through the arts.
    Yes, I agree with Andy that excellence is demanded by God (just see His commands for the making of the tabernacle); poor quality is big turn off. But I have seen “poor quality” used by God, seemingly against comprehension! In the rational age we have been in, let’s not ignore the power of the Holy Spirit, who was given first to artists (Bezaliel and Oholiab), focusing on execution more than the mystery of communing with the incomporable God in the artistic languages he has given us.
    I don’t mean to sound mystical, or preachy, or condemning – but as artists, we all wrestle with these issues, and it’s time the evangelical church does as well.

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  5. Wesley Brainard says:

    That makes me MAD!!!!! Name the church, and I’ll toilet paper it tonight after dark…Oh wait…that wouldn’t exactly be “absorbing the pain without passing it back” (something I preach often and mostly fail to live up to). Ok, so that frustrates me, Chuck. I’m tempted to say to the artists in that church, “go find a place where you’ll be accepted and respected.” But I really don’t think that is the answer. Still…if you can’t win the heart of the gate keeper…you’ve got a problem. So my off the cuff answer is to encourage the artists, pray for leadership, and try to get inside this worship leaders head and find out what IS the vision. If a case can be made that the arts can serve the unique vision of the church and even specific elements of this particular worship leader’s vision…maybe significant progress to building the kingdom can be made. Please check out my podcast at: //web.me.com/wesleybrainard/CHARAKTER/Podcast/Entries/2008/12/4_Art_to_Heart.html It’s old…on the old site. But, very relevant.

    Reply
    1. Creative Struggles says:

      Refreshing,…taking it to heart! Could also be the in some cases it is Cains offering, and it has been deemed unworthy…I guess.

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  6. e.m. s. says:

    Oh my! I can SOO identify with this. I find that choir directors – the keeper of all things art – are prideful and controlling. This, of course, is not always the case, but it is way too often. I personally believe that Lucifer was created to be an artist and that he now has his finger on church choirs, drama ministries, music departments, hollywood, Broadway, etc… It’s his habitat. When there is drama among his people (forgive the pun), satan is to blame.

    Now, schools are cutting the arts. I believe that it is time for Christians to take back the arts. We are called to offer up our FIRST fruits and we need to stop offering second-rate art. We need to start schools and offer art classes (theatre, music, dance, visual art, etc….)

    If we raise up a child in the way he should go (according to his bent) he will learn. The arts are a crucial tool and an amazing and perfect gift of God to His people!

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  7. Drama Mama says:

    Oh Chuck! Being a fellow thespian I am in total agreement with your frustrations. I wish I had an answer. Just keep doing what you’re doing and God will use it all. If the “church” chooses not to embrace it, then it’s not our fault.
    Love ya, Brother!

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  8. Judy Straalsund says:

    It’s so hard to hear about situations like that. Trying to get past a zealous gatekeeper would be incredibly frustrating. One might hope that once some good dramas and musical offerings were well received, there would be some “pressure” to continue but it sounds like that was not the case.

    Why should we care about arts in the church? Lots of reasons. One that springs to mind is the fact that the church should encourage all folks in their gifts and skills (artists, engineers, construction workers, whoever!) The bonus of artists is that they can contribute to the worship services and worship setting. I’m always “preaching” that a service should be a like a wagon wheel – one core hub (theme/message) with lots of spokes. Maybe the spoke of music speaks strongly to one person; the spoke of the sermon speaks to another and drama to another. Sometimes the children’s sermon is what really speaks to me 🙂

    The church has had such a varied history with the arts. Some magnificent works of visual art, architecture, music, etc. have Christian themes or foundations. And then there have been the times and places where the church sees art as something to be feared, thrown away, destroyed. I guess it can be “dangerous.” Which of course reminds me of the conversation about Aslan in the first Narnia book (I don’t have this exactly – too lazy to look it up….) “Safe? Of course he’s not safe. But he’s good.”

    This conversation reminds me once again how fortunate I am to be in the church body I’m in. People WANT us to do more drama. We are always on the hunt for musicians and try to incorporate their skills as much as possible. For several years our VBS was an “Art Camp” run by some amazing visual artists in our church. Some of those same artists now paint during worship services at special times of the year (Advent, Lent) on a particular theme. Then those pieces are hung around the church. We actually have more art than we know what do with! That’s a problem worth having.

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  9. barbie says:

    This post makes me so grateful for my church. Our leadership if very sympathetic to the arts; so much so, that I have quit my paid position on staff in Children’s Ministry to persue my dream of acting/directing/teaching/writing full time, with full blessings from the pastors.
    Art is vital to the body. To quote the bard himself “the play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king”

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  10. Michael says:

    Wow! Chuck I felt like I was reading my own experience. I went through a very similar experience at another church. And that goes to your point that this is the norm in many churches. That’s a shame because the church should be the place where the arts thrive, not where they’re stifled.

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  11. theater for the thirsty says:

    Hey Chuck. Art and the Church. Hm… There’s a bajillion things I could say on the subject, but, I’ll just say one… or two. I think art intimidates most Christians, at least certainly art shared in a church setting. Art isn’t easily controlled. The more we try to “control” art the more we suffocate it. Great art has a level of ambiguity and asks more questions than gives answers. I think that Christians are uneasy with that kind of art. We tend to favor art that answers questions– art that’s “message heavy.” I know this is a bit off topic… but I also see it relating to how this worship pastor was acting. He was trying to control the situation. There tends to be a heavyhandedness with art and artists in the church. IF art is allowed or expressed in some fashion in a church it’s usually confined/constricted to maintain manageability/control. I certainly don’t mean to paint with broad brushstrokes, I know there are many exceptions to the rule, but I’ve seen and heard enough to believe that this is an “issue” within the church. *stepping off of soapbox*

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    1. Chuck Neighbors says:

      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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  12. Marquis says:

    Even as a actor performing mostly for churches, I totally understand the worship leaders attitude and skepticism. But true worship transcends art. What I mean by that is; we’re not primarily artists who worship, but we’re really worshipers who happen to be artists. Our art is just another way of worshiping. When what we do becomes less of a presentation, a performance, an attempt to dazzle with our talents, then we enter into worship with our art. And we draw others into worship. Our goal isn’t to be seen, but to disappear and allow God to be seen through us. Unfortunately there are many worship leaders who don’t understand this. They think (and they are usually right) that anyone who wants to do drama or a solo is only interested in being seen. I’ve found that communicating a genuine desire to glorify God puts worship leaders at ease. They’re less controlling because they know where you’re coming from, and feel it’s a “safe” place. Yes, I think arts in the church is important because God’s glory/worship is what the church is all about. And the worship leader should be the last one to want to put a lid on that.

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  13. Colby Martin says:

    Thanks for discussing these things, Chuck. It’s good to interact with like-minded people. I offer a few thoughts in response, (this coming from a Worship & Arts Pastor of church around 1200+).

    – In your first paragraph I was concerned. Not for the obvious (Because the Worship Pastor was not “championing the arts”), but because the Senior Pastor and the Worship Pastor were clearly on different pages. Obviously I don’t know near enough about this context to have any sort of intelligent opinion, but based on what you shared it seems to me that either A) the Senior Pastor does not know his staff well enough to know that a drama-ministry was not a part of the Worship Pastor’s heart/vision for his/her ministry, or B) the Senior Pastor IS aware of how the Worship Pastor feels but ultimately doesn’t care because he/she is the lead Pastor and THEY want a drama-ministry. Both of these are problematic. I have a bigger issue with the Senior Pastor approaching you about starting a drama ministry above or behind the back of the Worship Pastor. (can you tell that I myself am a Worship Pastor?? Ha!)

    – I have no qualms with a Worship Pastor saying “I have no vision for this.” Especially if that’s the God’s honest truth. This could be coming from a place of, “gee, I’ve never considered that before… honestly I have no vision for what that could look like!”… or … “My strengths lay in other areas. Having a drama ministry has never been how I’m wired. I’ve never envisioned that as a part of the ministry God’s called me to lead and shepherd.” And to both of those responses I say, “that’s great, that’s fine.” Me personally, I have a HUGE heart for the arts and for artists. I feel a large part of my calling is to shepherd these people, encourage them to make art, and encourage them to see their gifts of creativity as given by God, to integrate their faith with their art. And I have my own gifts and talents in the area of music, so that is clearly where our ministry is the strongest. But I also have a gift in empowering artists to make art. As a result, we have a THRIVING arts community here at our church, but ONLY in the areas that either A) I am particularly strong at (i.e. music) or B) areas where certain leaders have arisen (i.e. painting, drawing, writing). I personally don’t have a vision for drama. It’s not something that excites me, it’s not something that I want to pour my creative energy in to. This is NOT to say that I don’t see the value in it. I’ve seen drama have INCREDIBLE potential to move people, to tell story, to paint an image of reality that otherwise would go lost. But it’s not my thing, and so far no one at our church has risen up to take the lead. Perhaps if there was (such as in this story) I would love to encourage and empower them. But simply declaring “I have no vision for this” is not, in my opinion, an inherently wrong thing to say. (I understand you never said this, and that the context for this statement is more important).

    – As a leader, I understand the value of doing a few things really well as opposed to doing a lot of things less well. As a church we do a few things really well (missions, serving the world and the community, worship, arts) and often times our emphasis on these things means we don’t do other things very well (at home bible studies, caring ministries, we can get 60 people to go to Africa for the summer but can’t can’t 6 people to teach 1st-4th graders). We choose to play to our strengths (aka: the strengths of the leaders) and understand we can’t be a church for ALL people (sorry, we don’t have recovery groups, single-adult groups, sunday school classes, etc). This conversation feels very similar, and it sort of continues my comment above. I only have so many creative hours in the week. These would be wisely invested in developing my strengths, not spreading myself thin so that we have a wide variety of flavors for everybody.

    – Clearly the attitude of this Worship Pastor was not an easy one to work with. Making people feel like they’re a burden or a hassle is not shepherding well. Yes, somethings are more complicated and difficult, and may cause things to go differently for a week, but our jobs HAVE to be flexible. The platform is NOT ours… I repeat, it is NOT ours (nor yours, or yours, or yours… *points finger to other people in the metaphorical room). The minute we start holding tightly to control of the “platform” is the minute we need a vocational time-out.

    – The issue of “excellence” is one I’m still unsettled on. I think in some ways it’s a cop-out to say “God demands excellence!” (does God? Really? I mean, “demand?” I can’t agree with this). And on the flip-side, I think it’s also a cop-out to say “well it’s the church, I’m a christian, I have a gift (or so I believe) and so therefore I should get to share that/showcase that.” But really this leads to a bigger more systemic issue with me: ought churches be so large and production heavy that we actually HAVE to ask, “is this good enough?” Once we’re there, is it too late? Is there inherent value to smaller churches where quality isn’t such a Dictator? Where everyone contributes something to the group, regardless of it’s polish or skill level? Once a church gets a certain size/feel, they’ve trapped themselves in to some sort of expectation. Even if (as in our case) they’ve done all they can to steer clear of the “show,” of being “overly produced,” you’ve still inherently created a quality-bar. But this is a whole different subject, relating to ecclessiology.

    – Lastly, as I wrap up my novel, the church should care about the arts because God cares about the arts. God, as Creator, is glorified when we create. The world God Created was called “good,” not “perfect.” Perfect implies a static state where things don’t change. This is not what was Created. Rather, we are tasked to continue the on-going beautification of the world. Art unleashes the potential to declare truths about the Eternal. Art tells the stories of those who have no voice. Art opens the heart in ways that non-art can’t even dream. Art pushes people and pulls people towards the unSpeakable. And who makes this happen? Yes, artists. Therefore, the church MUST care about artists.

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    1. Chuck Neighbors says:

      Great comments, Colby, and you raise some great questions as well! The relationship between the Worship Leader and the Sr. Pastor in the story is complicated and one I don’t feel at liberty to discuss… but yes, I think their was a breakdown in communication between them to say the least. The vision casting was not done as a “team.”

      I do appreciate your honest struggle, as we all should struggle, with the quality/excellence issue. And I think you are so right on about God demanding excellence. There is a big difference between giving our best, our all, and equating that with excellence… and then who is to be the judge of that? Then the other side of the coin, feeding the expectation of art done in the church is less than art done elsewhere.

      Great to hear your heart on this!

      Reply
  14. Steven James says:

    Chuck, you make great points. I heard the story about a dancer who danced this incredible program and afterward a woman said to her, “That dance, it really moved me. But I have to ask you–what did it mean?” And the dancer replied, “If I could tell you what it meant I wouldn’t have had to dance it.” This is what the arts do–tell us the truth that cannot be explained, summarized or spoken in any other way. Any culture (church culture or otherwise) that abandons this gives up one of the most effective ways of engaging with the truth and what it really means to be human.

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  15. Sean Gaffney says:

    I’m late to the conversation – mostly because it hit too close to home to not just rant immediately.

    I once spoke with a director of worship who insisted that everything in the service be understood in a way by the congregation so they could articulate the point (or “message”). All music was tested solely by lyrics – the only exception being instrumentals, which she couldn’t real account for, but the pastor liked it so she had to go along.

    Many dramas and musical pieces were disallowed for fear that it would carry the congregation into a place that couldn’t be explained by words. No danger of moving in the Spirit here, so y’all can relax.

    Visual artists got around her by saying that weren’t putting up “art” pieces, they were just decorating to make the place look nicer.

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  16. Scotbluff says:

    I miss the drama that we use to have in our church It helped get the message across in a way that just preaching sometimes doesn’t .

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  17. Bswope says:

    I get the feeling this fellow felt like he didn’t have any “ownership” in doing anything, and saying he had no “vision” for this, meant ” this wasn’t my idea, so I’m gonna kill it…” I’ve run across that so many times..even in putting together choirs and singing groups. Everybody wants to have this in their church, but nobody wants to do the work involved. Well, I do….sigh…

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  18. Jason Gray says:

    Believe it or not, I experience some of the same kind of thing, in terms of it often seems like if a church has me on a Sunday morning, they’re only interested in me doing worship music – it’s often like they have little concept of music or a song that doesn’t serve some utilitarian function. I think the church’s criteria for valuing creative expression is constrained to how “useful” it is. So worship is useful because it’s expected and primes people for the sermon, and then maybe there’s an offertory song that’s useful for filling up the awkward quiet while the plate is passed, and a closing chorus is useful because it’s a good note to end on – I don’t mean any of this to sound angry, I get it, I do, but I’m aware of how much beauty is missed just because there isn’t space given for it to exist in the church. I find I’m always educating people on what having an artist/minister like myself looks like. Most times it’s frustrating, but sometimes by God’s grace I have the perspective that I’m building something in them, making them aware of new possibilities 🙂

    Here’s the main thought that came to mind as I read your post, though. I think that people’s expectations are set really low. It only takes a worship leader seeing one bad drama for him/her to not want to see another one. In my case – and I risk sounding a little self-righteous here – I think people are so accustomed to hearing sub-par, predictable, mediocre songs that they think they’re the norm and that’s what they assume music is.

    They’ve never had Tom Waits come and sing one of his throaty anthems to brokenness, they’ve never heard Paul Simon on a Sunday morning sing one of his delightful odes to the mystery of God and the beauty of grace. If they could, I imagine there would be many whose response might be “whoa, I didn’t know music could do that!” I think Rich Mullins is a good example of an artist whose music surprised people that way and captured their imagination – making people want more.

    All that to say that I take all of this as a challenge as an artist to be curious – what is it that I could be doing in my work to better capture people’s attention? How can I, at every turn, surprise them with more than they were expecting? How can I stir in them a desire for more? How do I give them what they want (a catchy pop song with hooks that make it easy for them to engage) but then also give them what I imagine they need (a substantial lyric that uncovers their hiding places)? It takes me a good 8 minutes per song to do effectively what God has given me to do. But if a church lacks the imagination for that and only gives me 4 minutes, well… then I have to work a lot harder, but I try to receive it as if from the hand of the Lord and ask for guidance on how to accomplish what he’s given me to do in the time they’ve given me to do it. It’s often frustrating, but sometimes it has forced me into creative corners I otherwise wouldn’t have found. This is all assuming, of course, that they’ve agreed to have me in the first place.

    If they haven’t, and if I’m hoping they will, the challenge is kind of the same in my mind – how do I capture the imagination of those in charge? How do I make them care about what I care about without demanding them to? How do I shape what I do in such a way that makes them feel like I’m helping them, doing them a favor, supporting their ministry instead of vice-versa. These are not the challenges I signed on for, but they are the ones I have to face. I think of this as my tent-making ministry. This is my day job so I can do my ministry.

    For instance, last year I packaged a “concert” that was centered around the idea of confession, and this is what we presented to pastors. We found that they were much more interested in hosting an event that nurtured confession in their faith community than they were in just having another concert.

    I’ve already written too much, but I want to say one thing about an idea that I think has crept into the church about quality that isn’t necessarily Kingdom centered. I know we worry about the quality of our actors/musicians/etc. There’s been talk elsewhere in the comments about this, and I totally get it. For years I played in coffee houses and a Christian coffee house was usually synonymous with bad coffee. The same could be said of Christian movies, music, fiction, etc. It’s embarrassing to be associated with all of that. I began to hear this in the church a decade ago, the idea that “Jesus deserves our best.” And on the surface that sounds right, and the heart behind it is really good. But in my experience it can become a hiding place for the sin of pride. If we’re not careful it can breed exclusivity and shame in our faith communities, the pressure to be good enough, to perform to expectation, etc. I think you know what I mean. But one of the most beautiful things about the church, in my mind, is that it’s a place where you don’t have to be Yo Yo Ma to be a part of the worship team. In our pursuit of excellence, let’s never stop being generous and full of grace, making room for all to serve.

    I think if we maintain that attitude – if that were the focus of the worship leader you had a conversation with – then it makes us more inclined to allow for the arts and the people involved in them to have a voice and a platform in our ministries.

    That’s what I really appreciate about this aspect of your ministry Chuck, how you equip churches to make room for those in the congregation to express their faith in their heart language – drama. You help them to bring their hearts to their people! It’s beautiful.

    One parting thought – the artist has to learn how to serve the greater body, I think, too. What I mean is that too often I go into a church wanting to do my thing rather than allowing the church’s need to shape my thing to whatever would best serve that faith community. Does that make sense? If we allow our art to be shaped by what will best serve the body I think we can find more opportunities to serve.

    Unless, of course, you’re dealing with people in charge whose ministry is at the mercy of their own misplaced identity and insecurity, as it sounds like was the case of the man in your story. I recognize that man because I’ve been him many times and I pity him and pray for him, trusting that God will lead me to a church where my ministry will actually be received. (easier said than done!)

    Reply
    1. Chuck Neighbors says:

      Excellent comments, Jason! I should re-post this as it’s own blog! 🙂 Thanks for adding your perspective to this discussion!

      Reply
      1. Jason Gray says:

        “it’s own blog” – I know! It’s so long… I’m sorry 🙁 Grateful to be a part of the conversation 🙂

        Reply
    2. Creative Struggles says:

      Awsome execution of thought…I for one want to serve (In doing so I bring me to the table) and in no way see participation in the worship arts ministry as the same as playing at the local pub…It is me bringing my skils (which I work at improving) to the direct work of the church, I find it hard to watch the guitarist struggle with his settings during the Sunday service, it seems to me self absorbed…bottom line is through salvation I am able to approach perfection (through and for God), and I want to keep moving in that direction…my heart tells me (please do not confuse this with God speaking to me) that I must finally put aside my disdain for the commercialism of art and bring my wares to the aesthetic table, selling my work so I can engage with the ideas and concepts to a deeper degree…in fact as of writing this I am one step closer to ending my participation with the worship arts family…not because I am not reckonized (sp?) but because I am not engaged and see that it is not about working in fellowship, but rasing and emotional reaction from the congreation…God may have a plan, yet even the church and the believers in it can clog the engine (there are plenty of harsh words in the word about this). Thank you for your post and may you continue to place God on high!

      Reply
  19. Bonnie says:

    I led drama in a large church for many years but it was an uphill battle the entire way because the pastor of worship “and the arts” was only interested in music. He was better than the one you’re referencing, at least he appreciated drama, but he had no interest in doing anything himself to foster it in any way. I understand where someone like this is coming from. In order to be a solid, competent music leader you need to be trained and focused on music. We also need them to be solid Christians who are theologically aligned with our church, have the ability to shepherd people, and so forth, down a long list of attributes. During the hiring process being good with drama gets shoved to the bottom of this list of desired attributes, just above being an astronaut and a race car driver.

    When a group of people walks into a sanctuary you are going to have some who are brought to their knees by music and some who get bored and read the bulletin while waiting for the sermon. I honestly don’t think contemporary worship pastors get this. It’s so foreign to their way of thinking. Not everybody loves going to major league baseball games, but that must seem very odd to a team manager. You can do music with excellence but it really isn’t going to matter too much to some people. They are at the church for other reasons. They worship in their own way. And yes, people managed to worship before there were choruses.

    What matters is communicating God’s love and message to as many people as possible in ways they relate to. As Paul says in I Cor: “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” The best thing I heard as a director was when an elderly man who had been a Christian his whole life came to me and said he had never really understood a certain parable until he saw the one-act play we had just done. Drama has a way of fleshing out the words on the page and colorizing the sermon hanging in the air. There’s a reason why people watch so much TV and go to so many movies. They like it. They understand it. When we have concepts we want to convey about God how is this not a good thing?

    I managed to squeak a few sketches into services every year for several years. Whenever I did I was profusely thanked. Everywhere I went members of the congregation told me how much they loved the sketches. But since I was working in a leadership void I eventually gave up. I couldn’t keep a team going when all I could promise them was that we may be able to do another sketch in about three months. I loved doing it but was forced to conclude that it was not possible. And I believe that if God wants that ministry to happen nothing will stop it from happening.

    Reply
  20. Mfetting says:

    Chuck, I appreciated the posting. I’m glad to say our church has encouraged the starting of an improv/drama and puppetry ministry as an opportunities to expand the involvement of others in ministry.

    Teaching/training of family friendly (clean) improv has been the greatest challenge, the local improv groups primarily focus on comedy improv for the bars/clubs, rather than theater improv where humor occurs within the context of the story being told.

    Please keep moving us forward on the use of art to Glorify our Lord.

    Reply
  21. Zdad02 says:

    This is a good comment. Artists like this worship leader can be insecure – artistic temperament and all. But in the evangelical church art seems to have to fit into a box that some of the main-line folks don’t create. I am a visual artist as well as a musician. I have been to very few churches that capitalize on speaking to people through imagery like sculpture or painting. Now if its digital there may be quite a bit of that going on. The reality is that creative people are a misunderstood minority. People don’t get us yet the chuch can only benefit from speaking to visual thinkers as well.

    Reply
  22. Karen Bickel says:

    This is a good word, God wants to use every aspect of arts in the church because everyone has different talents and we are all needed to fill a spot in the body. Just because a “toe” might not be the prettiest thing to look at, it is a very necessary part of the body. Everyone has a part to play.

    Reply
  23. Jmmarz says:

    I am a christian artist. First a Christian and then an artist. I have the humble opportunities to preach at the church my brother shepherds in Arizona. When one speaks of art, what is one speaking of. Art is essential to the community of beleivers, especially in todays contextual world of such visual stimuli. What do you think a sermon is, but a oral and textual artistic peice of work, hopefully Gods work. I perform visual arts in the church through live paintings as well as community art festivals that support Christian artists in the community. God “created” and so do the hands of those artists God has created. Art has been a part of the christian community since the time a simple fish was drawn on the ground in the sand to signify they were followers of Christ. The simple answer is…..it does not matter who does it, just that it is to be done. Dont create “programs” for art, but let those who create, create. Encourage their gifts just as you support the gifts of so many others. God bless you in your God given artistic endeavors.

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  24. David Ian says:

    It sounds to me as if it is a larger issue than one gatekeeper’s insecurity, ego and lack of vision. I think there is some responsibility, in this example, for the senior pastor to ensure that he has “buy-in” for making what is essentially his vision executed by a subordinate.

    I’m wondering how this new program was instituted and introduced to the worship leader, because he didn’t “get it”. He didn’t catch the vision. That’s the senior pastor’s job to be able to aply express his vision so others can see it, and excite and inspire the responsible subordinates who will have to carry the new idea to its fruition.

    Within an executive structure when new programs are initiated, especially from the top-down, anything new will always be met with resistance. Especially, in this case, if it is contrary to what the worship leader envisions as the scope of his job. The senior pastor must break through existing prejudices and current obstacles by infecting others with the vision, the potential, the awaiting low-hanging fruit and long term benefits.

    In this case, I’m thinking the fact the program was arts-based is only incidental to its failure. Especially if there are 20 people who already prepared to be dedicated to the program, and the congregation received it well, it’s not a clash of arts vs. culture, which is often the common cause for conflict. In this case it was more of a disconnect among the leaders that led to its downfall.

    Reply
  25. Betted says:

    Oh, my goodness … been here … done this!!! So true that … if the person in charge does not see/support the ministry … it will die a quick death. I used to think that the success I had with drama ministry was because I was such a gifted writer/director/performer. That was when I was young and foolish … !! It takes people who are gifted PLUS the “Top Dog” … whether it’s a youth minister, or senior pastor … whoever … if they don’t want it to happen, sooner or later (usually sooner) it won’t!

    There is plus side to this: God can use “rejection” to move you into an even better place of service! (I KNOW this to be true in my own life!!!) Instead of moaning and groaning about how their talents are being wasted … a gifted person .. with a true heart for service … simply needs to redirect their vision. When one door closes … try another. For instance, if the senior pastor does not want or know how to use drama (be they full-scale or simple dramatic sermon sketches) perhaps the teen ministry, or children’s ministry can use them. And if the people in charge there don’t have the drama “Vision,” perhaps the gifted ones need to move their talent outside of the “box.” People in community theatre are often dying for a Christian contact. (I have also found this to be true!! What dear, dear friends I have made … and nurtured into a faith … by moving out of my “comfort zone.”

    Anyway … this is what I think about that!! God will put you in a place of service, if you are willing to be moved occasionally!! 😀

    Reply
  26. Creative Struggles says:

    I think there is a failure to understand – “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I The Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me, and keep My Commandments” (Exodus 20:4-6 KJV)…unlike most other arts music itself can be created on the spot (take with a grain of salt or two), and can be a rather lazy endeavor in the sense that music itself can be considered directly vague…it also has a tendancy to appeal to emotions where the great arts seem directed at thought and ideas using symbolism as one of the main elements…it is unfortunate that we are not creating works in both music and visual arts that force an individual to the word…I believe there is a reason that the bible is of written word these days!

    Reply
    1. Creative Struggles says:

      It is also worthy to note that the bible expresses a history of individuals with less than steller communicaiton skills who are the ones chosen by God to reveal his truth or direct his people…it really states that above all your heart must not be decieved and the truth must permeate your person…it could be that now in this time we have got it backwards and we believe somehow that if someone is not very good at what they do, they are worthy…oh the church will spend monies on the technology, yet the artist is put aside…at least we still have the word as it is my guide!

      Reply

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