Scenario 1: A married couple—he a gospel singer and she a talented painter—describe to me the shared frustration of having the man’s work regularly encouraged and applauded in their church while she has no place or artistic voice to express herself.
Scenario 2: I meet with a woman after a conference who confesses that she is a semi-professional jazz singer who won’t tell her pastor what she does on Saturday nights. She is fearful that letting her church leadership know what she does musically will disqualify her from her praise team.
Scenario 3: I receive an e-mail from a Christian artist frustrated and deeply hurt by the continual lack of support for his art throughout his life. From a father who deemed his painting as sissy to a home church that disallowed creative expressions outside of music, he carries both childhood scars and adult wounds for being an artist.
Scenario 4: A friend of mine is excited to bring an arts conference to a few churches he knows. But as he dreams and plans about the opportunity, he also shares his wariness over a particular denomination that is suspicious about anything having to do with visual arts or dance in the church.
Four hundred ninety three years after the dramatic beginning of the reformation, and the evangelical church still seems to have an underdeveloped understanding of the arts—and the artists. Outside of the narrowly defined genres of hymns and choruses, most musical styles are misunderstood. Dance is frowned upon, except under the guise of “worship movement.” The visual arts are often limited to iconic representations (e.g., doves and crosses), or as backgrounds behind the lyrics of songs. Drama is limited to Christmas and Easter, or demoted to children’s ministries. Other art forms, like poetry, sculpture and painting are noticeably absent in the expressions of our churches. Even a most basic aesthetic of beauty is being stripped from our sanctuaries, as we adopt a utilitarian approach to architecture and stagecraft.
The bigger issue may be how the arts are understood. There are a lot of artistically hip churches out there these days—with worship concerts, theatrical lighting, and moving abstract backgrounds on wide screens. But I suspect that many of these churches are driven by style, not driven from a Scripturally-based theology of the arts. The immediate danger of this is that we become flavor-of-the-month churches, grasping at the latest fashion or fad. The larger danger is that the arts become simply relegated to be a medium for a message, not primarily an expression of the Christ-following artist. In a crass sense, art becomes part of the show, not a reflection of the bride of Christ.
So. Can you resonate with any of this? If you are an artist, do you find that there is a place for you in your church to express yourself? Is the only venue for artistic expression the Sunday morning service—and you don’t fit into it? How does that make you feel? What can be done to change it? And what is the role of the church in unleashing the arts—and artists—in the church, to the world, and before God?
I have met a lot of frustrated artists lately, as well as with those whose job would be to lead them. I’d like to dialogue over these issues over the next few blogs, so I invite your comments. I want us to share our thoughts together, think through some theology, and maybe talk about some practical ways that the evangelical churches among us can begin to better unleash and uphold the Christ-following artist.