Does the Church do a disservice to artists by calling their art “ministry”?

Elizabeth Sharpe (chair of Flyingbow Ministry) and I just got off a phone interview 30 minutes ago with Robert White where we discussed “The Economics of Art” in today’s world and the role Flyingbow Ministry is playing.  You can listen to the “Art’s Connection” interview here. A question we did not touch on before our interview ended was this:

Does the Church do a disservice to artists by calling their art “ministry”?

Let me speak to this. I believe the arts have undeniable intrinsic value simply as art. God is the master artist and creator of the universe and as men and women created in His image, He has given us a desire and passion to express ourselves in creative, artistic ways. Through this art, we worship our creator and give others a glimpse into the divine.  Christian Artists should not have to feel that their art needs to be used to evangelize or be used to minister in the church in some way to be legitimate. Our art is valuable and beautiful on its own.

At the same time, artists can be called to a “ministry” in the arts or to “mission work” in the arts … just as a brick layer can be called to build a hospital in Africa or a social worker can be called to the ministry as a pastor or Christian counselor.

Are the arts viewed in the Church and Christian life as a necessity or a luxury? Terry Glaspey in his book, Children of a Greater God says: “While willing to admit that the arts can even be useful at times (in evangelism, for instance), some do not see them as anything more than frivolous embroidery on the fabric of daily life,” … he goes on to say:  “Because we don’t see the arts as important, it is not surprising that much of our ‘Christian’ art is of the most shallow and forgettable sort” …  “With this attitude, it is also not surprising that many Christians feel that art needs some sort of justification. Unless it is useful in the task of evangelism, some will say it is ultimately a waste of our time; or even worse”.

I agree with the words of Glaspey that Christian art can often be “shallow and forgettable”. Critics describe Christian art as too safe, watered down, and simplistic. In a blog posting by Tyler Huckabee, he describes it this way (paraphrased):  “Christian art is too simplistic, too willfully ignorant of the world’s suffering. It is too eager for happy endings and warm sentiment, too ready to resolve any conflict with a Bible verse and a Sinner’s Prayer. Christian art is clichéd and airbrushed, afraid to show sin in all its distressing aesthetic glory. It is black and white. It’s one-dimensional. It is cheesy and prone to misguided attempts at being vaguely ‘edgy’.” It is childish and boring – ignorant of the world’s suffering, cliché and airbrushed”. Do you agree?

I have seen this. Honestly, “Christianized” forms of art can simply be bad art! Why is this? Shouldn’t we be leading the way with new “God inspired” forms of art done with absolute excellence to His glory? We need to grapple with this in the Church today.

The reality is, today’s church has not always engaged the arts in their fullness and to their potential as God intended. Historically, some of the greatest art and artists came out of the church but I think we have for the most part lost this today. In some denominations, dance is not embraced as an art form, yet David “danced before God”! We need to reclaim all the arts for God and embrace artists in the church without dictating to the artist how that art should look, feel or sound. If we don’t claim all the arts for God, the world will. Do we need to educate the Church on what good art is?

Prompted by the Lord, I wrote the following words in my journal yesterday as reminders to myself and to every artist:

1) Artists need to be challenged to produce their art out of a place of absolute submission to God and the leading of His Spirit. This needs to be our focus. If we start here, God will bless it in profound ways.

2) Artists need to be unleashed and mobilized to create their art in new, fresh, innovative, original ways – not looking to the culture or secular world for their ideas, but to God himself and His divine revelation. I think this what it means in Psalms 96:1 when David challenges us to:  “Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth!”

3) Artist who create art “to sell” will sell themselves and their art out! This is why economics or dreams for success must not drive our art. We must constantly examine our motives for doing our art.

4) Artists must strive do create and do their art with excellence to the Glory of God! Colossians 3:23-24
 is a good life verse to memorize:  “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving”.

Let me leave you with this simple thought. If God breaths life into a beautiful Edelweiss that clings to a cliff face in the Alps – never be seen by human eyes – is that flower any less valuable? God sees it and delights in it.  It brings Him glory. It is intrinsically beautiful without discovery (or contamination) by human kind. Our art is like that. Our lives can be that.