Heather Heflin Hodges is a wife, mother, visual artist, itinerant preacher, and follower of Christ. She holds a Bachelor degree in Communication, a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy, a Masters of Divinity, and Doctor of Ministry degree from Abilene Christian University with an emphasis on Preaching. She has been in ministry along side her husband for over 23 years.
She lives in Dallas, Texas with her husband, Wade, and their two sons Caleb (18) and Elijah (17). She is passionate about art in worship and spiritual formation and loves to inspire others to use their own creativity to the glory of God and the beauty of the church.
Heather is our newest Featured Author at Wineskins. You can visit her blog at www.heatherheflinhodges.com
Author’s note: I received a lot of
feedback regarding my last post. I want to briefly address that before
presenting the next part of my findings.
I set out to discover if my experiences in Churches of
Christ are unique. I have learned that I am not alone. I want to reiterate that
regardless of one’s particular beliefs, theology, hermeneutics, or ecclesiology
we cannot deny the experiences of women who self-report pain. Their story is their story, and it cannot be ignored,
rewritten, or taken from them.
I was not sponsored, endorsed, or in any way compensated to
do this work. I have embarked on this journey without the support of a
congregation or an academic institution. I have used my own time and resources.
This research was not intended to be published or peer-reviewed, I simply
wanted to gather information and see what I found. I have held this research
for a year because of the intense pain it causes me to evaluate it, write about
it, and share it. But after a year of reflection and prayer I share it now. As
I have repeatedly worked through comments of hundreds of women who answered
this survey, I sense their sorrow and pain and my own pain bubbles to the
surface – this is deeply troubling work for me.
One thing that I want to make clear (that I had hoped was clear in the first article) is what these findings are verses what they are not.
What This Is:
– This is a survey I sent out in order to gather more information to “take the temperature” of other women in our community. – This is research that was initially borne out of my own experiences and feelings of solitude as a woman within the Church of Christ. – This is a summary of findings that point to a need for professional, academic studies—something that has not been done before at the scope and scale of what I am proposing here. – This is data-gathering that asks previously unasked questions.
What This Is Not: – This is not a peer-reviewed article or a methodological approach to the statistics. – This is not intended to prove causation, as much as it is to present findings and say, “What do we do with this? What are our next steps? Where do we go from here?”
I know this study has gaps and holes. Nevertheless, in spite
of the flawed methods, embedded in this imperfect research are stories of
hundreds of women and their voices should be heard. I embarked on this research
out of shear curiosity and to offer other women the opportunity to be heard. I hope that a more robust methodology will come with future
research. I hope that future research will be based on the quotes, experiences,
and findings I share below and in my next post. The implications of this survey
(which measures symptoms of trauma experienced by women in the Churches of
Christ) are great. More research is unequivocally needed. I also recommend
an in-depth study of the self-reported trauma symptoms in men who have served
as ministers and preachers in Churches of Christ to determine if gender
differentiates a self-reported trauma level.
My prayer now is that you, my dearest brothers and sisters, read on with curiosity, empathy, and openness to the stories of others. I also pray that the hard questions asked here will continue to be asked and that further research will be undertaken by someone more skilled than me. May we all have the courage to ask brave questions – and then listen. Soli Deo Gloria – Heather
In September 2018, I launched an
online snowball sampling survey through the social media venue, Facebook. This
snowball survey used the self-reporting assessment PTSD
Checklist – Civilian Version (PCL-C) and was used to screen for the
presence and severity of self-reported trauma symptoms in women in Churches of
Christ. The eligibility criteria for survey participants was they must be a
current or former member of a Church of Christ. The goal was to collect between
50-75 responses but within one day the survey had grown to over 500 completed
responses. The results show that 50% of respondents reported none to mild
self-reported trauma symptoms as a result of their experience in Churches of
Christ, 22% reported moderate symptoms, and 28% reported severe to extremely
severe trauma symptoms.
The PCL-C is a standardized self-report rating scale for PTSD comprised of 17 items that correspond to the key symptoms of PTSD from the DSM-IV. The PCL-C was derived from the PCL-Military Version (PCL-M; Weathers et al., 1993). The civilian version is identical to the military version, except that it inquires about a “stressful experience from the past” as opposed to military trauma. The PCL-C demonstrates good retest reliability and internal consistency, as well as adequate convergent and discriminant validities (Adkins, Weather, McDevitt-Murphy, & Daniels, 2008). In other words, experts in the research and psychology communities view it is a reliable assessment to screen for self-reported trauma symptoms. In fact, one study found that the PCL-C may be superior compared with other assessments in discriminating between trauma symptoms and symptoms of social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, OCD, and depression (Conybeare et al., 2012).
The PCL-C is self-administered and takes about 10 minutes to
complete. Each respondent indicates how much they have been “bothered” by a
symptom over the past month using a 5-point scale; 1 – “Not at all” to 5 – “Extremely.”
The PCL-C is scored by tallying all items for a total severity score (17-85). The scale used by this research to rank the presence and
severity of symptoms is below:
0—17 = No symptoms
18—29 = Mild
30—44 = Moderate
45—57 = Severe
58+ = Extremely severe
respondent was asked to consider her own experience(s) of being part of Churches
of Christ and answer the survey questions through that lens. While each
respondent’s definition of trauma was different, this survey explored the self-reported
symptoms of their experiences. Five of the items measure re-experiencing
symptoms, seven measure avoidance symptoms, and five measure hyperarousal
symptoms. The following DSM-IV criteria are used by the PCL-5 for assessing symptoms
(note that the PCL-5 does not include a Criterion “A” component):
– Symptomatic response to at least 1 “B” item (Questions 1–5),
– Symptomatic response to at least 3 “C” items (Questions 6–12), and
– Symptomatic response to at least 2 “D” items (Questions 13–17)
Please see the expanded symptomatic criteria for
PTSD in the DSM-IV here
Please note:The PCL-5 should not be used as a diagnostic
tool. Only licensed and qualified clinicians can diagnose PTSD. This assessment
was used to screen for the presence and severity of self-reported trauma symptoms
and was not intended to diagnose or treat any symptoms. The gold standard for
diagnosing PTSD is a structured clinical interview such as the Clinician Administered
PTSD Scale (CAPS).
This data includes the 5 women who did not fully complete their surveys. While they did not complete the 17 question PCL-C portion of the survey, they did provide relevant comments which will be included in Part 3 of this series. Since these incomplete survey scores did not exceed 17, their answers have been added to the “No Symptoms” category. Thus, the survey sample size was 521 women who are now or have been part of Churches of Christ.
The 521 respondents were from 41 States and 10 countries.
Of these 521 women, 95% answered yes to, “I have served as an unpaid lay leader in Churches of Christ (i.e. Bible class teacher, ministry leader, nursery, meals, benevolence, hospital visits, hosted showers, youth group volunteer, office administration, missions, building care and maintenance.)” One hundred and thirty-three (133) have served as a paid minister or ministry leader in Churches of Christ, and 111 answered yes to, “I am now or have been married to a Church of Christ minister.”
While the survey did not ask the ages of the respondents it did inquire as to how many years they have been part of Churches of Christ. The majority of respondents, 370 or 71%, have been part of Churches of Christ between 21 and 50 years.
Of the entire sample group 50% reported none to mild symptoms, 22% reported moderate symptoms, and 28% reported severe to extremely severe symptoms.
The following chart shows the number of years spent in Churches of Christ and the presence and severity of self-reported trauma symptoms. There is a correlation between the number of years the respondents spent in Churches of Christ and the absence of self-reported trauma symptoms. The longer a respondent has been part of Churches of Christ the fewer symptoms reported. Likewise, those respondents who have spent fewer years in Churches of Christ report more symptoms and a higher degree of severity.
Of the 494 respondents who have served as an unpaid lay leader in Churches of Christ, 51.5% reported none to mild symptoms, 21% reported moderate symptoms, and 27.5% reported severe to extremely severe symptoms. Of the women who are or have been married to a Church of Christ minister 36% reported none to mild symptoms, 23% reported moderate symptoms, and 42% reported severe to extremely severe symptoms. Similarly, of the 133 women who have served as a paid minister or ministry leader in Churches of Christ 42% reported none to mild symptoms, 23% reported moderate symptoms, and 36% reported severe to extremely severe symptoms. Of those women who have both served as a paid minister or a ministry leader and also married to a Church of Christ minister only 31% report none to mild symptoms while 18% report moderate symptoms, and 51% reported severe to extremely severe symptoms.
According to the National Center for PTSD there is not an absolute method for determining the correct cut-off point on the PCL. However, a cut-off score of 45 or higher is appropriate to use as the threshold to aid in the prediction of PTSD and was selected for this study to yield optimal sensitivity. Freedy et al. (2010) used a cut-off score of 43 or higher as the cutoff for PTSD. Gore et al. (2013) used 48 as a cut-off for PTSD and 22 for those without PTSD. Gelaye et al. (2017) used the cut-off score of 26 in pregnant women in Peru to determine the presence of PTSD. Alaqeel et al. (2019) used the cut-off of 30-35 to determine the PTSD status among emergency medical personnel. Bown et al. (2019) used three cut-off thresholds of 36, 44, and 50 to determine the presence of PTSD in patients with traumatic brain injury. Bressler et al (2018) used the cutoff of 35 to 38 as a positive predictive value of PTSD.
The prevalence of PTSD in the general public of the United
States has been estimated at 6–8% (Kessler et al., 2005; Kessler et al., 1995;
Kilpatrick et al., 2013; Pietrzak et al., 2011). The global prevalence of PTSD
has not been well characterized, but the World Mental Health (WMH) surveys have
identified prevalence in a number of countries ranging from 1 to 10% (Atwoli et
al., 2015; Koenen et al., 2017). In civilian primary care samples, rates of
current PTSD of 6%–20% are typically reported (Freedy et al., 2010). Recent
large-scale studies indicate that PTSD among U.S. service men and women
returning from current military deployments, are as high as 14 –16% (Gates et
al., 2012). In a review of the prevalence of combat-related PTSD among Iraq and
Afghanistan veterans, one study reported estimates for current PTSD ranging
from 4% to 17% (Richardson et al., 2010).
This study shows that 28% of the entire sample group meet the screening criteria for further PTSD assessment and possible diagnosis. With 28% of respondents reporting 45 or higher this survey reveals that the prevalence of possible PTSD in these women is two to three times higher than the general public. Additionally, all three of the subgroups, women who have served as a paid minister (36% scored 45 or higher), women married to a minister (42% scored 45 or higher), and women who have both served as a paid minister and also married to a minister in Churches of Christ (53% scored 45 or higher) all exceed the cut-off threshold for a predictive diagnosis of PTSD.
PTSD is associated with health issues: health risk behaviors
(e.g. smoking, sedentary lifestyle, medical nonadherence), vague physical
complaints, chronic medical problems (e.g. diabetes mellitus, COPD), mental
health comorbidity (e.g. depression, alcohol abuse) and functional impairment
(e.g. relationship instability, underachievement) (Freedy et al., 2010). Research shows that women are exposed to
higher levels of sexual victimization, a form of trauma that is particularly
associated with PTSD risk. Also, women in general are more willing to report symptoms
than men (Freedy et al., 2010). One study showed that a PTSD diagnosis is
higher among women than among men, and the prevalence increased with greater
traumatic event exposure (Kirkpatrick et al., 2013).
Twenty-eight percent (28%) of the 521 women who answered the survey scored 45 or higher which exceeds the cut-off threshold to aid in the predictive diagnosis of PTSD. Respondents who served as a paid minister or ministry leader in Churches of Christ were more likely to report severe to extremely severe symptoms of trauma over the general reporting group. Those respondents who were or have been married to a Church of Christ minister reported very similar results. However, those respondents who were both a paid minister or ministry leader and married to a Church of Christ minister were the most likely to self-report symptoms of trauma. In fact, 51% of this demographic self-reported severe to extremely severe symptoms of trauma.
The number of years spent in Churches of Christ also seems to have a connection to the presence and severity of self-reported trauma symptoms. The more years the respondents spent in Churches of Christ, the less likely they were to report symptoms. The reverse was true as well, respondents who have spent fewer years in Churches of Christ reported more severe symptoms.
The two groups who were most likely to report severe to extremely severe symptoms were women who have both served as a paid minister and also married to a Church of Christ minister, and those who have been part of Churches of Christ for 10 years or less.
This study is not definitive and requires replication.
Nevertheless, the results are important. More research is needed to accurately
assess the severity of self-reported trauma symptoms in women as a result of
being part of Churches of Christ. Future research should also explore the reason
behind the self-reported trauma symptoms (i.e. is the trauma
tied to issues such as patriarchy, complementarianism, sexism, internalized
sexism, physical or sexual trauma, or something else entirely?).
For more robust conclusions, future research could include
the study of self-reported trauma symptoms in women from other denominations as
well as women in the general public who do not attend a church. Another area of
study could include the correlation between whether a woman in Churches of
Christ feels that her particular spiritual gifts were fully utilized or not.
In addition, future studies should also include men in
Churches of Christ and men who have served as a minister in Churches of Christ.
I suspect that the presence and severity of self-reported trauma symptoms in
men who have served as ministers and preachers in Churches of Christ is also quite
high. Similarly, research should be done to assess whether there are any mental,
emotional, or spiritual effects on boys and men as a result of being part of
Churches of Christ, particularly related to the church’s view of women. Also,
more research could help determine whether there is any correlation to the experiences
of women and the decline of Churches of Christ.
In the third part of this series I will share direct quotes and comments from the survey respondents.
Adkins, J.W., Weathers, F.W., McDevitt-Murphy, M., & Daniels, J.B. (2008). Psychometric properties of seven self-report measures of posttraumatic stress disorder in college students with mixed civilian trauma exposure. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 22, 1393–1402.
Alaqeel, Meshal K., Nawfal A. Aljerian, Muhannad A. AlNahdi, and Raiyan Y. Almaini. 2019. “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder among Emergency Medical Services Personnel: A Cross Sectional Study.” Asian Journal of Medical Sciences 10 (4): 28–31.
Atwoli L, Stein DJ, Koenen KC, McLaughlin KA (2015) Epidemiology of posttraumatic stress disorder: prevalence, correlates and consequences. Curr Opin Psychiatry 28(4):307–311.
Blanchard, E. B., Jones-Alexander, J., Buckley, T. C., & Forneris, C. A. (1996). Psychometric properties of the PTSD checklist (PCL). Behavioral Research & Therapy, 34, 669-673.
Bressler, Rachel, Bradley T. Erford, and Stephanie Dean. 2018. “A Systematic Review of the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist (PCL).” Journal of Counseling & Development 96 (2): 167–86.
Bown, Dominic, Antonio Belli, Kasim Qureshi, David Davies, Emma Toman, and Rachel Upthegrove. 2019. “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Self-Reported Outcomes after Traumatic Brain Injury in Victims of Assault.” PLoS ONE 14 (2): 1–14.
Conybeare, Daniel, Evelyn Behar, Ari Solomon, Michelle G. Newman, and T. D. Borkovec. 2012. “The PTSD Checklist-Civilian Version: Reliability, Validity, and Factor Structure in a Nonclinical Sample.” Journal of Clinical Psychology 68 (6): 699–713.
Freedy, John R., Maria M. Steenkamp, Kathryn M. Magruder, Derik E. Yeager, James S. Zoller, William J. Hueston, and Peter J. Carek. 2010. “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Screening Test Performance in Civilian Primary Care.” Family Practice 27 (6): 615–24.
Gates, Margaret A., Darren W. Holowka, Jennifer J. Vasterling, Terence M. Keane, Brian P. Marx, and Raymond C. Rosen. 2012. “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Veterans and Military Personnel: Epidemiology, Screening, and Case Recognition.” Psychological Services, Health Services Research in the Veterans Administration, 9 (4): 361–82.
Gelaye, Bizu, Yinnan Zheng, Maria Elena Medina-Mora, Marta B. Rondon, Sixto E. Sánchez, and Michelle A. Williams. 2017. “Validity of the Posttraumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) Checklist in Pregnant Women.” BMC Psychiatry 17 (May): 1–10.
Gore, Kristie L., Phoebe K. McCutchan, Annabel Prins, Michael C. Freed, Xian Liu, Jennifer M. Weil, and Charles C. Engel. 2013. “Operating Characteristics of the PTSD Checklist in a Military Primary Care Setting.” Psychological Assessment 25 (3): 1032–36.
Kessler, Ronald C., Patricia Berglund, Olga Demler, Robert Jin, and Ellen E. Walters. 2005. “Lifetime Prevalence and Age-of-Onset Distributions of DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication.” Archives of General Psychiatry 62 (6): 593.
Kessler, R C, A Sonnega, E Bromet, M Hughes, and C B Nelson. 1995. “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in the National Comorbidity Survey.” Archives Of General Psychiatry 52 (12): 1048–60.
Kilpatrick, Dean G., Heidi S. Resnick, Melissa E. Milanak, Mark W. Miller, Katherine M. Keyes, and Matthew J. Friedman. 2013. “National Estimates of Exposure to Traumatic Events and PTSD Prevalence Using DSM-IV and DSM-5 Criteria.” Journal of Traumatic Stress 26 (5): 537–47.
Koenen, K C, A Ratanatharathorn, L Ng, K A McLaughlin, E J Bromet, D J Stein, E G Karam, et al. 2017. “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in the World Mental Health Surveys.” Psychological Medicine 47 (13): 2260–74.
Levey, Elizabeth J., Bizu Gelaye, Karestan Koenen, Qiu-Yue Zhong, Archana Basu, Marta B. Rondon, Sixto Sanchez, David C. Henderson, and Michelle A. Williams. 2018. “Trauma Exposure and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in a Cohort of Pregnant Peruvian Women.”Archives of Women’s Mental Health 21 (2): 193–202.
Pietrzak RH, Goldstein RB, Southwick SM, Grant BF (2011) Prevalence and Axis I comorbidity of full and partial posttraumatic stress disorder in the United States: results from Wave 2 of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. J Anxiety Disorder 25(3):456–465.
Richardson, L. K., Frueh, B. C., & Acierno, R. (2010). Prevalence estimates of combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder: Critical review. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 44, 4 –19.
Weathers, F.W., Litz, B.T., Herman, D.S., Huska, J.A., & Keane, T.M. (1993). The PTSD checklist: Reliability, validity, and diagnostic utility. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, San Antonio, TX, October.
Author’s note: This research was birthed out of my own trauma as well as my experience ministering to other women in our tribe who are hurting and who report that their pain is directly related to being in churches of Christ. While we continue to discuss what a woman’s “role” in the church can or cannot be, I want to spend a short time focusing on the repercussions of how we have treated women in churches of Christ.
The research is crystal clear, how churches of Christ have treated women has caused trauma. Regardless of one’s particular beliefs, theology, hermeneutics, or ecclesiology we cannot deny the experiences of women who self-report pain. Their story is their story, and it cannot be ignored, rewritten, or taken from them. I want this research to speak for itself, knowing that within every study or survey exists many flaws. This research is flawed but embedded within it is Truth. I embarked on this journey out of shear curiosity. I was not trying to prove or disprove a theory but to simply ask, listen, and learn. My prayer now is that you, my dearest brothers and sisters, may read on with the same curiosity, empathy, and openness to the stories of others. May we never stop asking hard questions nor be afraid of challenging answers. Soli Deo Gloria! – Heather
In September of 2018, data were gathered from 516 women to evaluate their self-reported trauma symptoms as a result of being part of churches of Christ. Of the women surveyed 52% reported none to mild trauma symptoms while 48% reported moderate to extremely severe symptoms. The research found that 78% of all respondents experienced one or more trauma symptoms within the past month of the survey as a “result of being raised in churches of Christ and/or serving as ministers in churches of Christ.”
The instrument used for the research was the civilian version of the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist (PCL-C.) The PCL-C is a 17-item self-report checklist of PTSD symptoms based closely on the DSM-IV criteria. Respondents rated each item from 1 (“not at all”) to 5 (“extremely”) to indicate the degree to which they have been bothered by that particular symptom over the past month. A total symptom severity score (range = 17-85) was obtained by summing the scores from each of the 17 items. This research assessed the respondents’ scores in the following manner:
0 – 17 No Symptoms
18 – 31 Mild
32 – 44 Moderate
45 – 57 Severe
58 – 85 Extremely Severe
Please note: The gold standard for diagnosing PTSD is a structured clinical interview such as the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS). The PCL-C was used in this survey as a research tool and was not intended to diagnose or treat any symptoms.
The respondents were given the following information about the survey, “This survey is designed to explore self-reported trauma and stress by women as a result of being raised in churches of Christ and/or serving as ministers in churches of Christ. This is an independent social sciences study conducted by Dr. Heather Hodges for the purpose of researching the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement.”
Of the 516 women surveyed, 71% have been part of churches of Christ for over 20 years, 25.53% have served as a paid minister for churches of Christ, and 21.3% are or have been married to a church of Christ minister.
When asked to self-report any trauma symptoms 22.09% reported an absence of trauma symptoms, 30% reported mild symptoms, 18.41% reported moderate symptoms, 16.08% reported severe symptoms and 13.37% reported extremely severe symptoms.
This research finds that roughly half of women surveyed report moderate to extremely severe trauma symptoms as a “result of being raised in churches of Christ and/or serving as ministers in churches of Christ.” One-third of the 516 women surveyed report mild symptoms and only 22% of the women surveyed reported no symptoms.
The implications and ramifications of this research are broad and far-ranging. Part – 2 will delve more deeply into individual responses as well as suggestions for how we can help women heal who experience trauma as a result of being part of churches of Christ.
More research is needed to accurately assess the severity of self-reported trauma symptoms in women as a result of being part of churches of Christ. I suspect that the degree of self-reported trauma is correlated to whether a woman in churches of Christ feels that her particular spiritual gifts were fully utilized or not. Future research could ask, “To what degree have you felt your spiritual gifts have been utilized by the church of Christ?” “Have you ever been restricted from using your spiritual gifts because of your gender?”
version of the PCL was published in 2018 and is based on the DSM-5 criteria
for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Any further research could utilize this expanded
and updated tool.
“Fractured Beauty” Community art project – a table top mosaic. Invite everyone to contribute to the whole by creating something beautiful out of something broken. (Photo: Betsy Stratton)
Over the course of September, we have discussed what it means to be a left-brained church in a right-brained world. I think we leave no doubt that we are indeed a cerebral crew! But what does it mean when we privilege our head over our heart and hands? It means we are out of balance and need stabilization. Integrating the arts into our worship gatherings can offer one means of balance to our sometimes wobbly and uneven lives of faith.
Here are a few ways to begin redeeming the arts in worship for Churches of Christ:
Start a Discussion:
Design a survey or inventory to discover artistic gifts among your congregation. Remember, this may include people with woodworking skills or engineering know-how to consult on space and lighting issues.
Gather a team of creatives to form a Worship Arts Team in your church.
Many artists do not belong to a congregation. How could your church reach out evangelistically to artists?
Which areas of your church include visual arts? What message do these works convey? Where else might you use art to enhance worship or congregational life?
How might you use a common interest in creating art to build community in your church?
How well do the arts-inclined people in your church understand the difference between thinking theologically and thinking decoratively?
40 Creative Ideas to Get Started:
Bring your visual artists together to create a large-scale mural to hang as a backdrop behind your stage in your sanctuary.
Create an ambience team whose job would be to create the ambience and decor for your sanctuary. This multi-disciplined approach can include graphic arts, interior design, floral design, and set, sound, and light design.
Start an art gallery in the lobby or other area of your church building.
Sponsor a live music cafe on your church campus. Better yet, create a live venue at a local coffee shop and have your musicians play there.
Create visual testimonies of faith using portraits, collage, mixed media, etc.
Start a monthly songwriter’s guild where your musically creative people can share their songs, hone their skills, and encourage one another.
Create an open studio, a regular venue for gathering a community of artists of all kinds, to create together in a relaxed and affirming environment.
Invite visual artists (such as painters, pastel artists, or sculptors) to create artas an expression of worship during your services.
Recruit actors to build a drama team that will perform during your services, and empower the writers in your church to write scripts for the team.
Establish an after-school program for the arts. This can take many forms and sizes, from art classes to dance lessons to photography to a school of rock.
Encourage your songwriters to write original worship songs and incorporate them into your services as expressions of faith.
Host an arts festival and invite all the artists of faith from your area to participate.
Experiment and incorporate Visio Divina (praying with an image in mind) into your corporate worship experiences.
Start a book study for all the artists of faith in your church or arts community.
Present a theatrical play. One act or full, comedy or drama, musical theater or murder mystery; this can be a great outreach for your church, and can tap into a whole host of artistic disciplines—acting, set design, graphics, music score, lighting, visual arts, etc.
Challenge the gifted writers in your church to write short stories, i.e., modern parables, which can be shared in children’s ministries or even in services.
Use poetry and spoken word in your worship gatherings.
Give your technical artists the tools to be creative. Purchase adequate lighting for your lighting tech, an adequate mixing console for your sound tech, and adequate computers for your multimedia tech.
Ask your graphic artists and photographers to create original backgrounds for the lyric slides you use during your worship services.
If you have quilters, needlepoint or tailors in your congregation, have them create tapestries to hang in your sanctuary, or tablecloths for your communion table.
Get your videographers involved in your services by having them produce video announcements. You can also use these in your church websites.
Create an on-line media gallery on your church website to celebrate and share the arts, and the artists, of your church.
Send your photographers out to take nature photos, and then use them in your worship as a visual call to worship.
Involve the young photographers in your congregation as well, seeing the world through the eyes of a child is enlightening and beautiful.
Invite the teenagers in your church to share their favorite song lyrics(appropriate of course), hand-written and framed, for your art gallery. Related to the previous idea, this also is a window into the minds of our teens.
Start a photography team, which will take photos of all the events of your church. Post them on your website. Every year, compile the best of them and create a video montage celebrating the life of your church.
Produce a worship CD with your musicians and vocalists.
Let the youth of your church graffiti the walls of your youth room or provide large stretched canvas or even canvas tarps.
Start a culinary arts club. Yummy – seriously, why aren’t we doing more of this!
Assemble a worship choir. You can start small with a one-time event, and work towards seasonal or year-round participation.
Start a book club in your church.
Commission an artist to create a piece that conveys the mission or ministry of the church. Or commission several artists to create a piece of art for each of the Stations of the Cross, etc. Don’t be afraid to commission a piece of art, you pay for the plumber to work at the church, make it ok for artists to be paid as well.
Create a piece of art together as part of a larger gathering, mission, or lesson. Glass or tile mosaics offer a perfect medium for adults to participate even if they feel hesitant about their creative abilities. You’ll be surprised by how enthusiastically “non-artistic” adults will engage when given the opportunity!
Offer an “Art and Spiritual Formation” class in your Sunday morning adult education line-up. Begin class with a Scripture reading, a song, poem, a visio or lectio divina exercise and give the participants an opportunity to respond in creative ways. Here are some ideas to get you started: paper collage, clay/play-doh, painting, poetry, doodle-art, prayer beads, mosaics, string and glue, sand art, or sketching.
Make a space to mentor and train young artists to follow God’s call on their lives as worship artists. This will offer low-key ways for artists to begin practicing and using their gifts to glorify God, tell the Story, and bless the church. For example, set up a space at the back of the sanctuary for budding artists to work along-side veteran worship artists during the assembly.
Create a “flipped classroom” where the youth and children of your church can facilitate a learning environment utilizing the arts with adults. We can learn a great about creativity and being created in the image of God from our kids. In all my years of ministry I have never given a crayon to a 5-year old who refused it and said, “No thanks, I can’t draw.”
Consider contacting an artist to offer art lessons at church, host an art show, or invite artists who don’t attend church to share ideas or attend a special event.
Enlist artists with theatre and vocal training to use their gifts to read Scripture during the assembly.
Establish a big idea group made up of the most creative artists in your church to come up with a hundred more ideas you can enact in your church. Good things happen when creatives come together. Hint: For maximum creativity, always feed them.
Pray for your artists.
I’m anxious to hear and see all the creative ways you redeem the arts in your church and your own walk of faith. Soli Deo Gloria!
“Simply Jesus” 40×60 oil on canvas. Painted during the keynote message by Scot McKnight at the Preacher’s Initiative conference at the Highland Oaks Church of Christ, Dallas, TX. November 2016.
During lunch on Sundays my family usually discusses the sermon from earlier that morning. My teenage sons have heard their dad preach their whole lives and have come to expect the question, “What did you hear in the sermon today?”
Recently, our youngest son answered with, “I’m sorry dad, I have to admit I wasn’t listening today. Everyone was playing this game on their phones and I guess I was just too distracted.” This kid is smart and he is also a good schmoozer, he could have faked it and made something up, but he resisted – he told the brutal truth. He was unable to pay attention, much less glean anything useful from the sermon because he and forty other kids were simply distracted. Wade is a brilliant communicator, but he was not able to break through the digital distraction of the entire youth group. Something else had their undivided attention.
Our culture is changing faster than most churches can keep up. Not only are we losing the ability to pay attention, our culture has succumbed to what Richard Foster calls the new tools of the devil: the distractions of much-ness, many-ness, crowds, hurry, and noise (and I would add technology to that list.)
We live in a Postmodern, Post-Christian age that is technology driven, immediate, and impatient. As regular churchgoers it is easy to be mortified by the actions of the youth group playing games on their phones during church, but adults are just as guilty. We may exhibit more overt courtesy during worship, but adults are just as preoccupied and inattentive as our kids.
The arts are among the few powerful mediums with which we can break through the distractions, slow down, and speak into our preoccupied and frenzied culture. I believe that if we want to affect our culture as followers of Christ, then artists of faith are compelled to create culture.
The arts do not just illustrate theology but are themselves modes of theological expression and worship. Those of us raised in the Stone-Campbell movement come from a pragmatic heritage that believed efficiency and simplicity were necessary to spread the gospel. Art is neither simple nor efficient so it can feel superfluous and emotionally unpredictable.
Yet, we live in a visual world that is becoming more aware of art, aesthetics and design. Our culture is changing, however our worship experiences are not in step with those changes. I believe that our times of worship and the mission of the church can enrich and be enriched by the arts. Nearly forty-five years ago, Francis Schaeffer said, “A Christian should use the arts to the glory of God, not just as tracts, mind you, but as things of beauty to the praise of God. An art work can be a doxology in itself” (Art and the Bible, 19).
There is a new generation that is discovering and calling for the arts as liturgical expressions of praise to God. Madeleine L’Engle argues that since the Master Artist has created artists, our duty is to make art that points others back to God.
Churches of Christ must reclaim what we have lost and once again become alert to the power of the arts. If the church is going to be successful in its mission to reach the current generation and the generations to come, it is imperative that it engages culture more creatively. It is time for the church and artists to work together to the glory of God and the beauty of the church.
But where are the artists? Some have left to use their gifts more fully in other churches, but most of us are still here. In every church around the world there are actors, painters, poets, writers, dancers, sculptors, potters, photographers, videographers, carpenters, weavers, and creatives of all kinds whose gifts and talents are laying dormant. They are valued out in the artistic world perfecting their craft and doing amazing work, but unfortunately there has not been a regular place for them to use their gifts in Churches of Christ … but this is changing.
It is time to unleash the arts to write, paint, sing, play and dance to the glory of God. It is time for artists and Churches of Christ to finally come out and play together!
Where are the artists? We are here and we are ready!
I stood in the quiet chapel at Thanksgiving Square in downtown Dallas holding my breath in awe, gazing upward. The spiral stained-glass ceiling was mesmerizing. It winds skyward in bursts of jewel tones and is one of the largest horizontally mounted stained-glass windows in the world. I have seen pictures of it in books and thought it must be housed in one of the great cathedrals of Europe. I did not realize it was right here in my city.
The lower panels begin in varying shades of blue representing the color of peace. As the spiral climbs upward, the colors become warmer and meet sixty feet above the chapel floor in a circle of beaming yellow light. This magnificent work of art, entitled Glory Window, takes its name from Psalm 19: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Ps 19:1 NRSV). The creator of this magnificent window, French artist Gabriel Loire, meant for the ascending window to “express all life, with its difficulties, its forces, its joys, its torments, its frightening aspects. And then, bit by bit, all of that falls away and you arrive finally at a burst, an explosion of gold; you arrive at the summit.”
For me the Glory Window simply represents the presence of God through beauty, and I stood in the chapel captivated and weeping. At that moment I felt the powerful presence of something Other, and I could only think, “Praise God, Praise God, Praise God.”
It was a transcendent and spiritually formative experience to be fully engulfed in beauty which evoked true worship. I felt exposed and raw but wrapped in pure, overpowering love. I did not want to leave that space or break the moment of communion with God. The gossamer veil between heaven and earth parted for just a moment; I caught a glimpse of the glory of God, and I will never be the same.
The arts are a powerful force that have the ability to spiritually transform us and transport us into the presence of God. Art and beauty can be an expression of praise. The arts can provide a pathway to experience and relate to God. They tell stories, communicate pain, promote healing, speak truth, and call for mercy and justice.
The arts have a profound way of inspiring our minds and nurturing our souls through experiences that are beautiful and transcendent. Gregory Wolfe states, “Art invites us to meet the Other—whether that be our neighbor or the infinite otherness of God.” Art, like faith, helps us rise above the splintered and broken world in which we live and reach something more beautiful and more holy than ourselves.
One of the inherently theological aspects of the arts is through their search for reconciliation and redemption. Unfortunately, these deeply spiritual experiences have been rare in the lives of many Christians and almost lost in many Churches of Christ. Nearly all churches value and acknowledge the worth of music in worship, but due to a variety of reasons, other forms, such as the visual arts, have been marginalized over time and labeled suspicious or idolatrous.
Yet Scripture does not forbid making or enjoying art; it forbids the worship of it.
I believe we need a full biblical understanding and renaissance of the arts in worship and find a way forward for the integration of the arts which will enrich worship and lead to spiritual formation for Churches of Christ.
I am exploring these topics and more in my doctoral thesis at ACU. One of the issues my research will address is how Churches of Christ have been limited by a tradition that supposedly dismissed aesthetics, art, innovation, and creativity during worship. While there are many admirable qualities about the Stone-Campbell Restoration heritage, I suggest that Churches of Christ have lost the ability to tell the story in our culture, because our worship relies too heavily on intellect and reason and has divorced any transcendent meaning from the practices of worship. Our artless, prescribed acts of worship were suitable for a time gone by, but they are no longer adequate and are in fact detrimental to our witness in the world.
I propose there is a way to acknowledge our heritage while navigating a compelling future for worship integrating the arts for Churches of Christ. I invite you on this journey with me as we explore the intricate and beautiful relationship between art and faith.