To Tell the Greatest Story Ever Told

I have some exciting news. I have been invited to take our ministry to both Athens, Greece and Madrid, Spain this summer. I will be working with a ministry called Greater European Mission. Europe knows all about religion, but the knowledge and experience keep most from discovering a life-changing relationship with Jesus. Europe needs a new wave of people following Jesus in such a way that others are drawn to do the same. GEM is working to ignite discipleship movements in 50 cities in Europe over the next five years, and then working to rapidly create churches.

I will be a part of a team of artists and communication specialists that will be training individuals on the power of story as a means of sharing the Gospel.  The goal is to equip both long term workers and short term missionaries to be more effective in sharing the story of Christ as well as telling their own personal stories in order to communicate the Good News.  As one who believes in the power of story, I am sure you can see why this approach is exciting to me and one that believe can truly make a difference!

The dates of my journey are August 4-16. As with other mission trips of this type, I am going as a volunteer and will need to raise support to be able to be a part of the team.  Would you to prayerfully consider being a partner with me in this venture.  I will need to raise about $2000 to cover my travel expenses. If you can help please send your gift to:
Master’s Image Productions
P.O. Box 903, Salem, OR 97308

Or you can donate online through Paypal (including credit cards) by clicking this button:


Gifts are tax-deductible.

Even if you can’t support with dollars, we ask you to support us with your prayers. Pray for safety, that hearts will be open to the message and that opportunities will abound! Also pray for my wife, Lorie, as these longer trips are never easy for her. Thanks for joining us in the journey!

Serving the Lord dramatically,

Chuck Neighbors

Plant Those Feet!

It was a typical worship service in many ways… typical for an evangelical church in North America, at least. The service started with a three-song set of upbeat contemporary worship choruses.  The worship leader was trying to get the congregation to bring some life to the song she was leading, encouraging them to clap and sway to the music: “As long as the feet don’t move, it’s not dancing!” she quipped.

Sculpture by: Zenos Frudakis “Freedom”

Finally! I now have a definition I can use.  We need to plant those feet.  I had to laugh… but it got me thinking all over again about the “worship wars.” And how we define what is appropriate or inappropriate in worship.  I am not going to even try to answer that question… the dialog, especially on music styles, is long and tired on this topic, and there are no clear winners in the worship wars.

As a dramatist, I have had to fight my own battles—not as fierce or as divisive, perhaps, as those on the music front,—but battles nonetheless.  The other day I received this email from a church leader: “Dramas and plays have their place, but it is our reasoning that we do not allow them in our sanctuary.”

It surprised me to hear it stated so bluntly.  I have been in ministry, as a dramatist, for over 37 years.  I fear if I were not able to share my ministry in a church sanctuary I would have no ministry at all, or at least not the kind of ministry I have today.  Yet I know the sentiment is out there, just not verbalized so readily as this person was willing to state it.

Part of me wanted to engage, to fight back, to defend my art, my craft and especially my calling. I wondered what standard I might apply so that what I did would not be considered “drama” at this church.  If I limit my movement or don’t change my voice for different characters, is it not drama?  If I only quote scripture, is it not drama? I wondered if the pastor was ever accused of “acting” or being theatrical if he told a good story. As one who does this as his life’s work, it was hard not to take it personally.  I could easily have taken offense… and perhaps I did just a bit.

I understand it though, really I do.  This particular church denomination had in its history   taken a stance against the “theater.” At the time they took the stance theater was associated with the worst of the entertainment industry.  “The church should not be a place of entertainment” is the cry. We so easily justify “throwing out the baby with the bathwater” when something goes too far in one direction.  We especially see this in the church with the arts. Music, dance, and drama—all have had seasons of being embraced and then rejected by the church. (For more on this topic see Redeeming Entertainment and The Pendulum Swings-Worship Trends)

It leaves the artist struggling to find a way to share—what many feel called to share—in a way that gives them a voice without being rejected.  We look to find the proper balance.  We want to know were we stand.  It leads to compromise… sometimes that can be a good thing… and yet the artist also has a prophetic voice and compromise can sometimes  render the art impotent. I personally believe that the artist’s voice is especially needed in the church today—needed both inside and outside the sanctuary.

“As long as the feet don’t move, it’s not dancing.” Planting your feet may be the standard… but maybe we really do need to dance!

Have you struggled as an artist to find ways of expressing yourself in the life of your church?  As a church leader how do you determine if a certain artistic expression is appropriate for your church?

When Art and Ministry Become One

I received an unexpected gift this weekend.  Not the kind you can put in a box… more valuable than that… at least to me.

Sometimes, being an itinerant performer/ministry, you can wonder if what you do makes a difference.  I show up, do my performance and leave… rarely do I get to see any tangible fruit of my labor, beyond the applause, handshakes, and thank-yous at the door. I hope, trust, and pray that God is in this with me… but sometimes, I just need a little  confirmation, a little taste of the fruits of my labor.

I got a taste this weekend.  The church that hosted the performance was not huge—maybe 150 people. I performed in the morning worship service, presenting my adaptation of the book In His Steps… a piece I have been performing for over 27 years… and to be honest, I sometimes wonder if it is still relevant… as an artist I am prone to doubt.

The congregation was with me, I could sense it. I finished the performance and exited the stage… and then… then the gift.

The pastor stood and began to pray. It was obvious from the prayer, that he was deeply impacted and challenged by the presentation.  At the conclusion of the prayer, he asked the congregation to remain silent and to listen to what God is saying to them at this moment.  After the silence he asked if anyone had anything they wanted to share.  I stood in the back of the room and took it all in.

“Our sign out front says ‘Carrying Christ to our Community’ but we aren’t doing a very good job of it.”

“I keep telling myself that I am too old to do things anymore, but I need to remember that it is not my strength but God working through me… I just need to be available to be used.”

“The Bible says faith without works is dead… some of us need to hear that.”

“There are ways we can serve each other right here in this body. There are people in this congregation that need help and I need to be doing more to help them.”

Similar comments continued for several minutes. The pastor went on to affirm that it was no coincidence that I was there this particular weekend.  God had orchestrated it.  It was a timely message in the life of this church.

What a gift to be able to see and hear firsthand the impact of the morning. Truly an unexpected gift and a confirmation that was a blessing to me.

I left with a heart full of gratitude. Thankful to be reminded again why I do what I do. Thankful to be an artist and to see how art and ministry can work hand in hand together to build the Kingdom of God.

Do you have stories of how God has used art to touch you or the lives of others? 

Drive-Thru…What?

The other day I went to a repair shop to have the windshield on my Dodge Dakota replaced. They advertised in-and-out in an hour. Which turned out to be false advertising. So, since I wasn’t getting the fast service I was promised I decided to kill some time by taking a walk in the neighborhood. That’s when I came across this signage.

I was literally stopped in my tracks. Oh the images that flooded through my mind as I pictured people pulling up to a drive-thru window to have every thing from an ear to a belly-button pierced.

“Please put your car in park and keep your seat belt fastened, now lean your head out the window and…”

“Would you like fries with that tongue piercing?”

(Turns out this is actually a coffee house as well as a puncture house, but the signage from the street said nothing about coffee.)

While, thankfully, this is not really a body piercing drive-thru, it got me thinking about just how much we have become a drive-thru culture. We want what we want and we want it now! We see it in fast food, banking, and oil changes on our cars. In Vegas you can get a drive-thru wedding. I remember seeing a sign recently for drive-thru divorce.  The internet has added to the instant culture. We can shop, bank, and order food all from our computer or our phone. We have become conditioned to “fast” and anything that is “slow” is inferior—it’s the story of the Tortoise and the Hare in our everyday lives. It was why I selected that particular windshield repair shop—in-and-out in an hour was too good to resist.

However, I don’t normally equate quality with speed. If I am looking for an excellent meal, I expect to go to a restaurant where the food will be prepared fresh to my order and I expect to wait longer than I would at McDonald’s. Things of high value; a well built home, a handcrafted piece of furniture, a masterpiece of art, are things that we would expect to take longer to create and are hard to appreciate when we are in “drive-thru” mode. My one-man show, Truth Be Told… from a Guy Who Makes Stuff Up, addresses the values of time and perseverance in shaping our lives. As an artist/performer, I have learned the value of the hard work that goes into creating art. Art done fast is almost always inferior to art that has been crafted over time (I have done both… believe me, I can tell the difference.)

As I ponder our drive-thru culture I see its impact in the church. Many churches try to blend into the culture, give the consumer what they want and do it fast. My friend Jeff Smith wrote a short sketch called McChurch which pokes fun at what church would look like if it were a drive-thru. Our culture places a high value on expediency and the church  can get sucked into that quicker-is-better race. I see it in the way we incorporate art in the church (see my previous blogs, The First Church of Youtube and The Pendulum Swings). I believe the church does need to be relevant and speak to our culture, don’t get me wrong, but some things can’t or shouldn’t be hurried or obtained on-the-go. A body piercing, a masterpiece of art, our spirituality and relationship with Christ—these are some things that take time, sometimes a lifetime!

What examples can you share of where faster is NOT better?

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?

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

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