The Arts and Worship
“In the beginning God created …”
Genesis 1.1 reminds us that God, by very definition, is an artist.
Why then, I wonder, do we continue to have little to no place in the church for the artists among us? Oh, we try to accommodate by “allowing” them to sing or play their guitar every now and again; or perhaps we’re truly progressive and we include a “drama” into our worship service.
More and more churches have begun embracing the arts, and that is comforting, but we have a long way to go.
Artists have been shunned and dismissed by the church for centuries. Idolatry and worldliness are the primary sins artists are accused of committing; and yet I return again to the first chapter of our Bible: God is an artist: what do we do with that?
We live and move and have our being in a world saturated by the arts: film, television, theater, music, technology etc. Why does the church refuse to acknowledge that the people who sit in our pews on Sunday morning have been and will continue to be influenced by the arts in every other social circle that they travel in? Why are the arts not a part of what we do on Sunday mornings?
Andy Crouch’s brilliant study on culture Culture Making sounds a wake-up call to the church. Crouch argues that we have spent too much time bantering over which of Niebuhr’s cultural strategies is most useful for the church today. He suggests that we stop trying to figure out how to counter culture, and simply start creating culture. If Crouch is right, and I think he is, then we need to start looking around for the creative types in our midst, put them on our staffs, pay them a livable wage, and leverage their God-given artistic impulses to assist in creating the kinds of Spirit-filled, life-transforming Christ-centered worship experiences that will not simply compete with popular culture, but form an alternative culture.
This alternative culture that I imagine is one where the arts are used not as a means of entertainment to compete with pop culture, but to express true and genuine worship to the creator; it is one where performing artists use their gifts to remind us of our brokenness and sin, and then lead us to a place of forgiveness and hope; it is one where musicians are free to experiment and create music that honors the author of song, and where there are no restrictions with regard to the “styles” of music that are utilized or the types of instruments that are “acceptable;” it is one where painters and sculptors craft images that honor and glorify not the artist or the art itself, but honor and glorify the Master Artist and Sculptor of all things; it is one where storytellers can tell the Story of God with passion and boldness remembering that the Savior Himself “never taught without using parables …” (Mark 4.34 NLT); it is one where technology is utilized to its fullest potential so that the Message can be taught in the way that people are learning in every other sphere of life, and so that those among us with gifts in the area of technology: digital animation, video, graphic design etc, can feel that they have something to contribute to this alternative culture of Truth and Beauty.
I truly believe that this kind of culture can be created if the church is willing to embrace it. Some churches have been willing, and the fruits are evident.
Artists are looking for a place where they can worship God in the way that they are uniquely wired; the world is looking for a place where they can encounter God in new and fresh ways; and I believe God is looking for a church that is willing to take a step of faith, invest in the artists among them, and create a culture of creativity and beauty.
Are we willing?