My buddy, Mark Taylor, has been talking with me about how to empower the gifts of visual artists for service in the church. Mark is an artist, a teacher, an adoptive parent, and a hip-hop enthusiast. He studied at SCAD and ended up at New City Fellowship as he and his wife were looking for a multicultural church where their trans-racial family would find a home. We’ve been talking a lot about the use of art in the church. I’ve found that my church in some respects has been a bit aesthetically challenged. Part of the reason for this is a commitment to meeting the real physical needs of the poor. We’re not going to prioritize the use of our resources to create a swanky worship space instead of meeting basic needs of food, shelter, jobs, education, etc. This is why despite having a relatively large budget we still worship in a gymnasium on rusty, old folding chairs. But, applying some of the basic core values of our church, we know that the kingdom is not about how much resources you have, the kingdom is about small acts of love and grace. So how do artists in the church demonstrate small acts of love and grace. How do saints who are gifted in aesthetic skills put 1 Peter 4:7-11 into practice?
The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Some churches invest these gifts into actual galleries or artist in residence programs. Some churches have artists in the worship service splashing paint on a canvas during the songs or the sermon. Some churches employ artists in the process of creating “sacred spaces” in which design and architecture are used better facilitate the experience of worship. I’ll be attending a conference next week that deals with just that.
For myself, as a liturgical musician, I have to confront these particular issues of the kingdom:
Is my art an act of service to the community? – I believe that “art for art’s sake” is not a kingdom value. Can music or art that is made without “love God, love your neighbor” as a central goal be a work of the kingdom? Beautiful sacred spaces are an offense to the Lord if they are lacking justice and mercy (Jeremiah 7). This comes from the Spirit and is a gift of grace.
Is my art a redemptive, salt-and-light instrument in my culture? If art is engaged with the culture in a way that takes the symbols of the culture in order to redeem them, then we are doing kingdom work. If our art is always sub-categorized into “Christian” art and left out of the market place, then we are no longer speaking into the culture.
Is my art a demonstration of humility? Artists have a sin tendency toward being self-absorbed. Humility is not an abstract concept; it’s a reality that has to be walked out. Art of the kingdom must reflect humility through cultural and economic reconciliation.
If you are interested in joining in the process as we build a team of artists at New City Fellowship give me a heads up and I will pass your name on to Mark.