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“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:

  1. Bring your visual artists together to create a large-scale mural to hang as a backdrop behind your stage in your sanctuary.
  2. 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.
  3. Start an art gallery in the lobby or other area of your church building.
  4. 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.
  5. Create visual testimonies of faith using portraits, collage, mixed media, etc.
  6. Start a monthly songwriter’s guild where your musically creative people can share their songs, hone their skills, and encourage one another.
  7. 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.
  8. Invite visual artists (such as painters, pastel artists, or sculptors) to create artas an expression of worship during your services.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. Encourage your songwriters to write original worship songs and incorporate them into your services as expressions of faith.
  12. Host an arts festival and invite all the artists of faith from your area to participate.
  13. Experiment and incorporate Visio Divina (praying with an image in mind) into your corporate worship experiences.
  14. Start a book study for all the artists of faith in your church or arts community.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. Use poetry and spoken word in your worship gatherings.
  18. 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.
  19. Ask your graphic artists and photographers to create original backgrounds for the lyric slides you use during your worship services.
  20. 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.
  21. Get your videographers involved in your services by having them produce video announcements. You can also use these in your church websites.
  22. Create an on-line media gallery on your church website to celebrate and share the arts, and the artists, of your church.
  23. Send your photographers out to take nature photos, and then use them in your worship as a visual call to worship.
  24. Involve the young photographers in your congregation as well, seeing the world through the eyes of a child is enlightening and beautiful.
  25. 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.
  26. 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.
  27. Produce a worship CD with your musicians and vocalists.
  28. Let the youth of your church graffiti the walls of your youth room or provide large stretched canvas or even canvas tarps.
  29. Start a culinary arts club.  Yummy – seriously, why aren’t we doing more of this!
  30. Assemble a worship choir. You can start small with a one-time event, and work towards seasonal or year-round participation.
  31. Start a book club in your church.
  32. 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.
  33. 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!
  34. 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.
  35. 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.
  36. 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.”
  37. 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.
  38. Enlist artists with theatre and vocal training to use their gifts to read Scripture during the assembly.
  39. 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.
  40. 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!

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