A post from my Monday morning column at Zondervan’s ministry blog, Engaging Church. For the past two weeks we’ve been challenged by artist Con Campbell in his crucial new ministry resource about the “why” and “how” to outreach to the art community with Jesus’ gospel. That resource is called Outreach and the Artist: Sharing the Gospel with the Arts. And it’s one every ministry leader should read. We’ve explored what it means to do evangelism “with” the arts and what it means to do evangelism “through” the arts. But what about “to” the arts? (Read the full column HERE)
Perhaps you’re a pastor in a city with an unusual concentration of the creatives class, and have wondered “How do I reach these artists with the God’s rescue in Jesus Christ?” Perhaps you’re a small group leader, and you find yourself ministering to painters and poets and have a similar question: “How does it look to evangelize these artists?”
Con explains that this type of outreach is a “complicated mission with many challenges.” Thankfully Con shows us a way forward, beginning with understanding the central issue in outreach to artists and how to disciple artists through that issue.
The Central Issue in Outreach to Artists: Idolatry
“Yes, the chief problem facing the evangelist of artists,” Con explains, “is that their god is art.” (99) While every person worships something at some level, for the artist idolatry goes deep. Think about it: for most professional artists at an elite level they have been devoted to their art for most of their lives.
And inevitably that devotion translates into an identity around their art form. “For many serious artists, art becomes the most important thing in life before they’ve finished school.'” Con goes on to say, “Once an artists reaches university-level study, their idolatry is confirmed and encouraged…In a thousand different ways, we were taught that if we wanted any chance to make it as a professional [artists], [art] would need to be the most important thing in life.”
As a dedicated artist himself, Con helpfully explains that “If we have any hope at all of reaching an artist for Christ, the major challenge will be to dethrone the idol. In the end, the artists must choose whether they will worship art or Christ.”
But how can we ministry leaders dethrone this idol, while also affirming the artist’s gifts to the world?
Art Has It’s Place, Just Not First.
This is key to helping Christian artists and to reaching non-Christian ones. Con makes it clear that art has its place. Our goal should not be to vanquish art, because God created the arts. And God created the artist to use the arts for His fame and glory. Here Con has some incredibly wise words:
We need to affirm the wonder and beauty of art, but also teach that it is not god. We have no business telling an artist that they must quit their art if they want to be a Christian. No, their gift is from Christ; who are we to take that away? The secret is not to pit art and Christ against one another…They are in competition only if art is occupying Christ’s position as number one. Once he is recognized as Lord, art will find its place.
For Con’s own journey, he confesses that “the battle between Jazz and Jesus in my life wasn’t finally over until I was willing to give it all up.” (105) And he did. In his final year of studying jazz he decided to pursue full-time vocational ministry once his studies were complete. “The decision to give it up meant that the idol was finally destroyed. Christ was lord of my life, and now without any competition.” (106)
In the end, Con helpfully reminds us that artists will need to learn what it looks like to have Christ in first place while also being committed to art. And this means “the ideal scenario is for a newborn Christian artist to be discipled by a mature Christian artist.” (108)
We’ve talked a lot about discipleship (here and here) at Engaging Church, and for good reason. It’s the way God has always worked to transform a life in Christ. Whether or not you have mature Christian artists available to disciples newborn Christians, they will still need the Christian life modled to them in two key ways:
1) What it looks like for Christ to be Lord
2) How to appreciate God’s good gifts while not committing idolatry
How these two things go together—the lordship of Christ and the proper embrace of art—will be key to the Christian artist’s maturity and growth.
Con ends his book with a prayer for us churches, one I’d like to end this column with:
I pray for the churches. May they embrace the arts as God’s good gift. May they encourage, equip, and inspire artists in their midst. May they understand the challenges and particularities that artists face, offering a safe haven of respect and love rather than misunderstanding and judgment. May the churches form partnerships with believing artists for the sake of the gospel. May the partnership of creativity and re-creativitiy become a powerful alliance in churches everywhere…May they reach out to the artistic communities around them. May they show love and acceptance to unbelieving artists, who will, through them, catch a glimpse of the awesome love of God in Christ.