A post from my Monday morning column at Zondervan’s ministry blog, Engaging Church. It is the first in a series of three on reaching out with, through, and to the arts using a fabulous new books by Con Campbell, Outreach and the Artist. About the arts Con says this: “The arts are a precious gift of God. Music, painting, dance, sculpture, theater, and so many other art forms enrich our lives and give expression to the human condition. They challenge and comfort us. They inspire and humble us. They feed us and demand our energies. I can’t imagine life without the arts. What a miserable and shallow existence that would be!” (11) (Read the full column HERE)
My day job is pastor of an Evangelical Covenant Church in West Michigan. But I also moonlight as a writer, as a freelancer and author. Which makes me part of two minority groups in two cultures: pastor in America and artist in the Church. While the former is expected, the later is unfortunate.
It’s unfortunate this is the case, that artists are a minority, overlooked group in the Church. It’s been shown time and time again that the church is struggling to remain connected to the next generation of young creatives (including, musicians, artists, writers, designers, and actor). Which is why I am thrilled about a new book by Jazz musician, Con Campbell, called Outreach and the Artist: Sharing the Gospel with the Arts.
Con insists there can be a beautiful, bountiful partnership between the church and artists. But that partnership “is not as straightforward as it sounds.” There are issues both sides need navigate in order to work together.
The Most Important Question
How will this work?
Con writes that this is one of the most important questions that an artist needs to get sorted out. Which means that “some artists might need to be persuaded that their art form can be used for evangelism.” When Con was asked a number of years back to headline a jazz night in order to outreach into the community, he thought it was a dumb idea. He had no idea what jazz had to do with Jesus.
Artists first need to know that it’s possible, that other’s have done it before, and that “you want your artists to develop a great, unique, and special way to use their gifts for outreach.” (32)
There is Always an Angle
And the reason why is because “The arts are about life. And because the arts are about life, they relate to Jesus, because Jesus is about life.” (34) Con insists there will always be a way to connect jazz to Jesus, or connect any other art form to Jesus because art is fundamentally about life. And because Jesus Himself is about life, you can encourage your artist that there is a way to connect their particular art form to their faith.
Two Major Concern
This partnership isn’t without concerns, however. Con addresses two of them:
Major Concern #1: Professionalism vs. Opportunity. Con generalizes here, but he maintains that “the church will primarily be concerned with people, while the artist will primarily be concerned with quality.” (38) Again, generalization, but the point is that we need to respect the artistic integrity of whomever we’re hoping to partner with in reaching out into the community. Compromising an artists professionalism in the interest of outreach opportunity is a big no-no. Con urges us to “trust that the event will be better overall if you allow your artist to do what they do without compromising them in some way.” (40)
Major Concern #2: False Idols. Con speaks primarily to artists here when he says, “[arguing for the importance of artistic integrity and professionalism] doesn’t mean that the event is all about you. It’s not. Your motivation for arts-based evangelism must be the glory of God.” (44) Here is a way for us ministers to disciple our artists and help them be ultimately concerned about the glory of God in collaborative artistic evangelistic events.
Some of you who come here are active in ministry. If so, are you actively partnering with the creatives in your church (musicians, artists, writers, designers, and actor) to reach your community for Christ? If so, what are the barriers you’ve encountered in trying to do evangelism with the arts? If not, what steps do you need to take in order to partner with and empower your artists to glorify God with their gifts for the saving good of your community?