How to Discourage Artists in the Church

Many Christian artists live between two strange worlds. Their faith in Christ seems odd to many of their friends in the artistic community—almost as odd as their calling as artists seems to some of their friends at church. Yet Christians called to draw, paint, sculpt, sing, act, dance, and play music have extraordinary opportunities to honor God in their daily work and to bear witness to the grace, beauty, and truth of the gospel. How can pastors (and churches) encourage Christians with artistic gifts in their dual calling as Christian artists?

As a pastor and college president, I have made a sad discovery: the arts are not always affirmed in the life of the local church. We need a general rediscovery of the arts in the context of the church. This is badly needed because the arts are the leading edge of culture.

A recovery of the arts is also needed because the arts are a vital sign for the church. Francis Schaeffer once said:

For a Christian, redeemed by the work of Christ and living within the norms of Scripture and under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, the lordship of Christ should include an interest in the arts. A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God—not just as tracts, but as things of beauty to the praise of God.

In this article, I am taking a fresh and somewhat contrarian approach by seeking to answer the question, “How do you discourage artists in the church?”

In preparation, I asked some friends for their answers to my question: an actor, a sculptor, a jazz singer, a photographer. They are not whiners, but they gave me an earful (and said that it was kind of fun).

Here is my non-exhaustive list of ways that churches can discourage their artists (and some quotes from my friends).

Treat the arts as a window dressing for the truth rather than a window into reality. See the arts as merely decorative or entertaining, not serious and life-changing. “‘Humor’ artists by ‘allowing’ them to put work up in the hallways, or some forgotten, unused corner with terrible lighting, where it can be ‘decoration,'” David Hooker told me.

Embrace bad art. Tolerate low aesthetic standards. Only value work that is totally accessible, not difficult or challenging. One example would be digital images and photography on powerpoint as a background for praise songs. Value work that is sentimental, that doesn’t take risks, that doesn’t give offense, that people immediately “get.”

Value artists only for their artistic gifts, not for the other contributions they can make to the life of the church. See them in one dimension, not as whole persons. Specifically, discount artists for leadership roles because they are too creative, not analytical, too intuitive.

Demand artists to give answers in their work, not raise questions. Mark Lewis says, “Make certain that your piece (or artifact or performance) makes incisive theological or moral points, and doesn’t stray into territory about which you are unresolved or in any way unclear. (Clear answers are of course more valuable than questions).” Do not allow for ambiguity, or for varied responses to art. Demand art to communicate in the same way to everyone.

Never pay artists for their work. Expect that they will volunteer their service, without recognizing their calling or believing that they are workers worthy of their hire. Note that Old Testament artists and musicians were supported financially.

When you ask them to serve through the arts, tell them what to do and also how to do it. Don’t leave room for the creative process. Take, for example, a children’s Sunday school mural: “Tell them what it should look like, in fact, draw up plans first,” David Hooker said. Discourage improvisation; give artists a AAA road map.

Idolize artistic success. Add to the burden artists already feel by only validating the calling of artists who are “making it.”

Only validate art that has a direct application, for example, something that communicates a gospel message or can be used for evangelism. Artist Makoto Fujimura answers the following question in an interview at The High Calling: “How then do you see art as evangelism?” He says:

There are many attempts to use the arts as a tool for evangelism. I understand the need to do that; but, again, it’s going back to commoditizing things. When we are so consumer-driven, we want to put price tags on everything; and we want to add value to art, as if that was necessary. We say if it’s useful for evangelism, then it has value.

And, there are two problems with that. One, it makes art so much less than what it can be potentially. But also, you’re communicating to the world that the gospel is not art. The gospel is this information that needs to be used by something to carry it.

Only, that’s not the gospel at all. The gospel is life. The gospel is about the Creator God, who is an artist, who is trying to communicate. And his art is the church. We are the artwork created in Christ Jesus to do good works. If we don’t realize that fully, then the gospel itself is truncated and art itself suffers.

Do not allow space for lament. The artist’s call is to face the darkness while still believing in the light, to sense God’s silence and sorrow. Ruth Naomi Floyd asks, “How can artists of faith trace the darkness and pain of Good Friday to the joy of Sunday’s Resurrection?”

I could go on. Here are some more ways to discourage artists in the church:

  • Not setting reasonable boundaries.
  • Not allowing artists to experience creative freedom.
  • Asking the input of artists and deciding not to use it without an explanation.
  • Not giving artists the gift of real listening.
  • Not preaching and teaching the unadulterated gospel of Jesus Christ.

But the last item on my list is, in general, make artists not feel fully at home in the church. Most of the items on my list reflect a failure to understand art and to let art be art as a creative exploration of the potentialities of creation. This is a crushing burden because artists already know that as Christians they will not be fully at home in the world of art—they don’t worship its idols or believe its lies. N. T. Wright comments:

In my experience the Christian painter or poet, sculptor or dancer, is regularly regarded as something of a curiosity, to be tolerated, humoured even, maybe even allowed to put on a show once in a while. But the idea that they are, or could be, anything more than that—that they have a vocation to re-imagine and re-express the beauty of God, to lift our sights and change our vision of reality—is often not even considered.

So will you make a home for Christians called to be artists?

Please do what you can to accommodate them, because they are pointing us toward eternity. As W. David O. Taylor writes in For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts:

Whether through paint or sound, metaphor or movement, we are given the inestimable gift of participating in the re-creative work of the Triune God, anticipating that final and unimaginable re-creation of all matter, space, and time, the fulfillment of all things visible and invisible.

* * * * * * * * * *

Editors’ note: For more on how pastors can encourage artistic gifts, read from Michael Wilder, dean of the Conservatory of Music, Arts, and Communication at Wheaton College. He presented together with Ryken in a workshop at The Gospel Coalition 2013 National Conference.

  • Curt Day

    Though my artistic talents lean far more to appreciation than actual artist, musician to be precise, I can identify more with artists than non-artists. And what I find inconsistent here is to quote Francis Schaeffer’s view of the arts on one hand and then reveal that the way to discourage artists is to view their work as “window dressing for truth” than for reality.

    Where as some groups serve as respective canaries in the mine, artists often serve as the first line of detection that something is wrong in society. And thus to corall them into producing works of beauty and portraying the self and world we want to see robs artists of their prophetic calling.

    We should also note the more we need artists to wake us up to reality, the more set in our ways, a euphemism for being stiff-necked and hardhearted, we are. So not only do artists serve as society’s smoke and CO2 detectors, artists often provide the only way to make a “spponful of medicine go down.”

    • Monique

      Thank you CURT!! Perfectly said =) (from a fellow artist who actually works with her husband to create music all day every day …. and we actually make money from it. Go figure?)

      We constantly feel a tremendous gravity in what we do and we constantly pray for God’s inspiration to be the driver of everything we create. We often feel just like that… the first line of detection. We take it seriously. Our work is 100% God’s call… whether we continue doing it for the rest of our lives is His decision, but for now we constantly pray for the grace to gently wake people to reality through BEAUTY itself. Beauty is not something the world fully gets or understands, so the very existence of it pushes buttons. Here’s to more artists who feel the call, are not intimidated and ready themselves to plow through the fields as culture-makers. It’s TOUGH and it’s hard and it’s not for the faint of heart. Thank you for the encouragement =)

    • Joel Pelsue

      Here is another level to the discussion: we need to consider the different roles pastors and artists play in different contexts (I am both a jazz musician and an ordained minister) Sometimes, each of us may be more in the role of prophet, priest, or king. The prophetic want to proclaim truth, while priest seek to extend grace and mercy, and the King bring efficiency, order and the like. I know pastors and artists who fall in each of these categories, and the tension created can be painful if our differences are not appreciated as all part of the body of Christ.
      here is a video we shot on this issue: watch video 2 for more precise theology on this issue.

  • Dean P

    I think the one area that this article will get push back on from some people is #2.

    “Only value work that is totally accessible, not difficult or challenging. One example would be digital images and photography on powerpoint as a background for praise songs. Value work that is sentimental, that doesn’t take risks, that doesn’t give offense, that people immediately “get.”

    Not because people want to embrace bad art per say but for the potential argument this holds for accusations of elitism that many conservative Evangelicals point at artists for. It is this posture by the Conservative that causes them to see the “artist” as an elitist which gives them the “excuse” to hold a disposition of being the “persecuted starving artist” in the church. When in fact this may not be the case, but due to insecurities about what good art is this can cause the conservative evangelical to dismiss the artist and their work as just another hipster elitist who wants to draw attention to themselves by being intentionally reactionary, iconoclastic, emperor’s new clothes and ultimately being judged for making an idol out of “ART”.

    • Walt

      Dean P,

      I think that what the author is saying in #2 is that it is very discouraging to artists when a church’s only effort to incorporating the arts into the life of the church is through posting some inspirational stock photo as the background for powerpoint slides. (sorry for the long sentence)

      Wanting to create thought-provoking artwork (visual, musical, literary, dramatic, etc.) for the glory of God is not elitism. I think that more people value this type of art than we give credit to, they just aren’t exposed to it.

      • kymi johnson rutledge

        Yes, I agree. Art is more than a literal translation.

      • Heather G

        The visuals projection area in the church can actually be a very creative space.

        I work with this area of service in my church and we use photos of our church artists work as well as photos of our dancers AS the background to lyrics. So the different areas can work together.

        In general, yes, we do have to avoid the danger of twee images. I was very challenged by an online post which commented that the standard picture for background use is a single person out in nature, arms open wide to the skies. The huge problem with this is that it is being used often in a Sunday morning service where the emphasis is on the community of believers together, whereas it is expressing a very individual attitude.

        • Sara B

          Thank you Heather! I have felt disquieted by that type of photo, arms open wide out in nature, over and over again, without being able to identify what was “off” or “slightly wrong” about it. I’m a drama/wordsmith person, so visual medium isn’t my primary focus or communication style, but I know when something “looks right” or “doesn’t look right.” You pegged it for me. Blessings!

      • Ryan

        But #2 still asks some very poignant questions and will receive a lot of pushback because of it. Specifically, what do you say to someone in your church who is a bad artist that wants to contribute? What do you say when a talented artist at your church flubs and makes an unremarkable piece? When they do it several times in a row? Does their work then become less valuable to the church?

        This is the really difficult balance that we are forced to face. The unfortunate reality is that the arts are an extraordinarily competitive and very performance-oriented world. Have you ever wondered why many artists seem to have such fragile egos? It’s because the very livelihood of the artist depends on what other people think of you. One wrong move and everyone discredits you as washed up and no one wants to buy your stuff anymore. And that’s assuming you were even able to amass some sort of following in the first place, which the vast majority of artists aren’t. I believe that the church needs to be supportive of artists, and create an atmosphere that is a bit more loving and nurturing.

        However, in doing so, we begin to promote mediocrity. We take the truly gifted individuals and shackle them, so that instead of being able to distinguish themselves, they are forced to run at the same pace as the others. Unfortunately, it is often the truly gifted who inspire the greatest response – both within the church and without it.

        I’m beginning to conceive of a bit of a paradigm shift that may be beneficial to our churches – what if, instead of being relegated mostly to planning out services (a role, don’t misunderstand me, that is still quite important), the “worship pastor” was more like the church’s patron artists of yore? Composers, musicians, painters, scriptwriters, etc brought on by churches to create and display art, and foster its growth in the congregation. I don’t know, just a thought. Contemporary art in the church seems to be a process of taking something someone else made that you like, plastering it everywhere until people are sick of it, then sweeping it out of sight and out of mind, never to be heard from again.

    • Audrey Menard

      I’m with you that this might be the area (#2) most likely to receive push back,
      just because it’s a difficult subject to tackle
      …though I find the questions more easily framed within a context of ‘visual illiteracy’ & ‘loving one another’ than ‘elitism’.

      Elitism/taste conversations can be incredibly sticky… particularly when had with people who have not learned how to engage images. If we can help create an atmosphere where people are learning how to engage visual arts as viewers– learning how to ‘listen’ — then we can focus more on loving & listening to the people behind artworks rather than beginning with judging/arguing the quality of an artwork. Doing so will hopefully then produce more thoughtful viewers and artists (and artworks!)

      • David

        It’s always about love. When that’s the priority we, walk with forbearance, in the humility of Christ.

  • Brian John Mitchell

    Some of you might be interested in a series of interviews I did on this for my webzine QRD a couple of years ago. Balancing faith & art is hard. I think in part because faith is supposed to answer some of the questions that drive people to make art.

  • Walt

    Thanks for this article. Evangelical Christians have been stuck in an artistic rut for a while, and need to break free.

    As an artist and teacher, I have always valued the story of Bezalel and Oholiab (Exodus 36) — two men that were empowered by the Lord to create, and teach others how to create, beautiful things for service in worship.

    The arts absolutely provide a means for us a humans to meditate on God’s Word, His plan, and our part in that plan. Some quick examples that come to mind are the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, the fantasy worlds of Lewis and Tolkien, the St. John’s Bible project (, songwriters like Andrew Peterson and Justin McRoberts, and challenging sacred choral works of composers like Arvo Part and Eric Whitacre (not Christians, but writers of profound Christian music). All of these examples lead us into deeper thoughts about our relationship with the Lord and how we can know and serve Him more fully.

    • Walt

      One more thought — the idea that the arts don’t need to provide answers is tough for some, especially Calvinists, who seem to always need to have the answer. (There — that should arouse the ire of many of this website’s readers!)

      • Brian Lundin

        As a Calvinist writer and artist myself, I reject the premise of your observation. My ire, however, is not raised. ;)

    • Julie Gould

      Your comment seems to suggest that Arvo Part is not a Christian, when in fact he is an Orthodox Christian. Please see For more examples of profound Christian arts, you might want to visit

  • Hollie Taylor

    I cannot say how encouraged I am by this article! Not only as an artist (a painter), but also as an art historian and disciple. I was saved two years ago and just finished Re:train at Mars Hill where I’ve begun to build a ministry using art and museums for evangelism and discipleship, since museums are full while churches are empty. My hope is to see a tour agency established as an extention of the local church in Florence, Italy where the Renaissance was born. ‘Renaissance’ literally means ‘re-birth’ and so it just fills my heart with overflowing joy to be a part of God’s mission in Europe through art. So exciting! Thank you so much for this article! I love Schaeffer and Sproul, and I thank you for posting these other resources! There is so little written, I’m always looking for more, thank you thank you thank you!

  • Richard Williamson

    Brilliant article – thanks so much. I will share this with many of my musician friends in the Musicians Network (encouraging Christian classical musicians who work in the profession) and Epiphany (exploring improvisation sometimes alongside classical music to express God’s heart). We’ve often quoted N.T. Wright & others and it’s so good to hear your thoughts on this also! I’ll also share this with other Christians we work with in the arts. Such a vital way of bringing the reality of God’s Kingdom to a world that has largely rejected the church and faith in general.

  • i41mok

    I was excited to read the article, but I didn’t see/hear the topic that I was most interested in.
    Being a performing artist (singer), I opted “out” to engage in the operatic world. I felt I would be compromising my testimony by (potentially) portraying characters that would be interpreted as “less than savory”. I always struggled with the decision – realizing that it was a huge mission field, ripe with opportunities. But I never could reconcile the two, and erred on the side of caution.
    I just wonder if I had been encouraged or pursued the idea further with some wise, mature christian, if my decision would have been different…

    • Bernard

      Well, I am a Christian artist who has been performing in internationally in professional opera and commercial music theatre for more than 30 years. I am also one of the four elders of our church and am involved in the music “worship” team as a musician and occasional song leader. Only once have I declined an opera job on the basis of objecting to its content. Maybe I might have to do that again some day. There certainly is a big need for strong Christians in the professional arts but it’s certainly not for the faint-hearted.

    • EricP

      That would be a great topic. I was just listening to the radio and heard Johnny Cash singing about Revelations. I think pre-CCM, artists sang both Christian and secular music.

      • i41mok

        Exactly, EricP – but somewhere along the line, somebody objected, and a lot of us “fell in line”….
        Bernard – I congratulate you!! You are a stronger man than I!! I personally just couldn’t make the reconciliation between the two.

  • David

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and try to push back a little. Flannery O’Connor was once asked whether she thought the university stifled writers. She responded “I think it doesn’t stifle enough of them”. Too many of our so-called Christian artists seem to just be chasing secular respectability. We want to do what the cool kids are doing. What we need instead are artists that cultivate a principled, skilled, challenge to the secular status quo. Bold, confident, and grounded artisans. We need art that is transgressive of the secular sacred cows, but most of all, we need artistic literacy. When a book editor leaves a manuscript bleeding, he shouldn’t be judged as being a “harsh critic”. Both the author and editor understand that there are grammar standards and other accepted “rules” of the craft. Christians need to study the arts long enough to understand these rules for each medium before we run off calling ourselves “artists” and get offended by people who think our work is at best, nonsensical or worse, terrible. Lastly and most importantly, we need constant study of the Christian story as we approach our own storytelling in art. Our culture making should be an overflow of our view of the world which should in turn be shaped by the stories and world shared with us in scripture.

    • Jonathan Mayer

      Well said, David. I especially agree that our artists are chasing secular respectability. This is why (or perhaps because?) many churches will pass up Christian artists altogether when designing new churches. They want to make a statement that they are hip and modern, and could probably care less whether they end up with a well-crafted Christian worship space.

    • Brian Lundin


      I want to ask for clarification on your lead assertion. When you say that, “Too many of our so-called Christian artists seem to just be chasing secular respectability. We want to do what the cool kids are doing” I infer that you’re arguing that Christian artists should not be concerned with the secular markets for their work, or at least are overly concerned with it to the detriment of the church. Is that right? I do not want to be unfair and question something you are not actually saying.

      The reason I engage on that point is that I think we have to view artists holistically and understand that many writers, painters, photographers, musicians, etc. cannot make a living simply within the bounds of the church, or with the patronage of other believers. I agree with your view of what we need in artists. When you say, “What we need instead are artists that cultivate a principled, skilled, challenge to the secular status quo. Bold, confident, and grounded artisans. We need art that is transgressive of the secular sacred cows, but most of all, we need artistic literacy” I could not agree more! But I guess my point is this, some (maybe most) Christian artists need to pursue engagement with the secular culture for two reasons: 1. we need to be able to provide for our families while working diligently for the kingdom (like any other church member in other fields) and 2. how can we speak that bold and articulated view of the gospel into the culture if the culture will not listen to us?

      I appreciate your well thought post.

      • David


        Let me flesh it out a bit more. Perhaps this will help.
        I believe Christians need to consider the work we do as Christians, whether it’s artwork or accounting, as something that we ought to work hard in and pursue excellence in before God. We need to remember that it takes a lot of practice before we are an expert in anything and so we need to always be teachable, whether we’re a photographer or a plumber. What I see emerging as the fundamental problem for artists in the church is that we are taking our cues from a secular arts infrastructure. An infrastructure that is most often designed for worship of the artist or artwork. Frankly, this is incompatible with the church’s worship of God. Because we’re mimicking this infrastructure, I see many Christian artists that are terribly close to idolizing self-expression. If you can’t take criticism, then maybe you need to examine yourself. You’re not above it. Even best-selling authors have editors. Ultimately, Christian artists must alter the arts infrastructure if it is to have any place in the church. The secular art world is built on sand and if we try and import that into the church, we’re just sabotaging it.

        • Brian Lundin


          Thanks for the clarification. Again, I agree with what you said, particularly around the danger of the idolatry of art and artist. I fully agree with your point of view that we must not take our cues fully from secular culture.

          I believe the church, both leaders and artists, need to significantly think about the place the arts and Christian artists have in worship, the church, and the broader culture. I don’t have the answer, but I pray that we can bring salt and light to the secular world through our art, without bowing to its idols. I pray that we can have a strong artistic culture in the church, without creating a Christian art ghetto separated fully from the culture we live in. Based on this conversation, I bet we are aligned in our prayers and hopes.

          • Barbra Elvin

            Amen….Very very interesting site this.

    • Holly Golightly

      “Christians need to study the arts long enough to understand these rules for each medium before we run off calling ourselves “artists” and get offended by people who think our work is at best, nonsensical or worse, terrible. ”

      Yes, thank you! At present I find myself in a church situation where I’m feeling estranged because of my artistic training, in spite of my church’s strong “dedication to the arts”.

      I’m one of the few in the church who has a strong artistic education, and I’m finding myself developing a decent career outside of the church, while those within the church are not supportive and could not care less about any upcoming performances I have.

      I get tired of hearing about how “artistic” my church’s musicians are when they can’t even tell you the key signature of the songs they are playing, or what a key signature is.

    • Christian Vagabond

      The problem with your approach David is that you’re treating the arts differently than any other craft or occupation, and that treatment is a big part of the problem. You wouldn’t criticize a Christian doctor who learns from the best doctors, even if the best doctors happen to have arrived at their mastery via ego and greed. You’re beholden to another doctor’s religious beliefs.

      The arts should be treated the same way: l:earn from the best. A Christian filmmaker would have to be spectacularly obtuse to insist that they would only pay attention to Christian directors. Artistic literacy means one needs to familiarize themselves with all forms of art, including current trends and ideas.

      I also think your comment that art needs to transgress secular art illustrates another problem with the Christina view of art. Why must Christian art be political in nature? Why must it carry “a message” or challenge secular culture? Your utilitarian approach assumes that art should be a weapon to be wielded in spiritual warfare.

      • Christian Vagabond

        Correction: I meant to say that you’re not beholden to another doctor’s religious beliefs.

      • David

        I don’t think I’m treating the arts different from any other craft or occupation. I wouldn’t criticize a Christian doctor who learns from the best doctors, but I would criticize him if he was idolizing money and fame.

        Why must art be political in nature you ask? I don’t think it absolutely has to, but I don’t think it’s neutral either. What you would call ‘political’ I would simply call ‘public’. Yes, I could probably get a job at a design firm and have a pretty clean conscience. But what if they signed a contract with planned parenthood? I’m not saying you need to have preachy art. I’m just saying that all art has a worldview, and artists, like someone in any other profession, need to be aware of the pressures in the world and have a backbone. They need to have the courage of their convictions. Frankly, in our day and age, just sticking to our Christian convictions publicly will likely make us transgressive of their worldview.

    • katherine james

      David, thanks for the Flannery O’Connor quote. Not to sound too harsh (or maybe I want to be a little harsh), I believe that many Christians and non-Christians have the same problem; liking the idea of being an artist, and not so much being engaged with art and its many, many complications. Not to sound too dramatic, but I think it could be argued that for many incredibly gifted artists, the desire is more along the lines of “take this cup from me.”

      I do believe that there is a “love for the arts” right now that in reality is love for trends. To me this is evident in both the church and the wider population. How many church “coffee shops” are there with some pretty bad stuff on the walls, and how many neighborhood Starbucks are there with low quality neighborhood art on the walls too? Perhaps it boils down to the definition of art. I think many “artists,” both Christian and secular, enjoy a little Thomas Kinkaid bashing and feel good about themselves for doing it, but there are few artists who have the right to do that, and if they are a talented enough artist to do that (meaning their work truly surpasses Kinkaid’s), and are a believer as well, then they should be too consumed with the depth of truth that the gospel provides for them to take part in such things; they have enough understanding of the love of God to make that whole process appear anathema.

  • Dean P

    Walt: I agree with your assessment but what I’ve noticed in the past whenever articles have been posted about Christianity and the arts here at TGC there is always this knee jerk reaction (especially when the subject of paid artists as church staff is mentioned, but that’s another conversation) and suspicion in regards to defining artistic taste and whether it can be defined or whether there is room for drawing distinctions in good art and bad art and who makes the desesions about that.

  • Jonathan Mayer

    I am a liturgical artist. I think it is necessary to point out that parts of this article contradict other parts, which I think shows that differing opinions on the arts in worship are sometimes mutually exclusive. A Christian has to be selective with these bits of advice.

    I particularly object to the idea that we shouldn’t place value on art on the basis of how well it conveys the gospel. For instance, this contradicts the first point, that art should not be considered a window dressing, but a window to the truth (that is, the gospel). While I can’t object to Christian art in galleries that ask open-ended questions, the worship space is not the place for that. In worship, all our music, art, and devotion should be pointed to Christ and the gospel. Worship isn’t where we ask difficult ethical questions and come away wondering. It is where we get the only answers that matter in life; it is where we learn of our sinfulness, and hear the salvation that was won for us by Christ on the cross. THAT is the gospel (literally, “good news.”) The gospel isn’t “life,” as Fujimura claims. It isn’t God “trying to communicate” with us. His definition of art and the gospel devalues sacred art (contrary to his intent) by valuing everything equally, even bad art.

  • Anonymous

    While this has clarified a few things for me I still remain quite confused about my ‘genre’ of art. I am a dancer.And maybe it is even more adequate to say my form of dancing is not the soft, tranquil Ballet. But I’m from Africa. More tribal upbeat form of dancing is what I do.I grew up in a white suburban area and most of my friends are musicians and I can’t think of anyone to whom I can relate in terms of this.
    A few years ago, someone in my chruch spoke about dancing and how it is better to refrain lest the males should stumble (this based on how men tend to be more visually stimulated). More on the comical side though can I just mention how miserable life has been since. I tend to be one that dances randomly to the beat in my head; so the element of controlling myself proved (and still does)to be SO hard. I haven’t danced or atleast felt the ‘freedom’ to dance anywhere since. I am concerned for the gospel and the church and would hate to cause anyone to stumble upon my conduct or and actions. However, is not dancing at all the answer? I had a woman from my church once frown upon me dancing (reflex moment I had when I realised I won a game we were playing); simple shoulder movement that turned her face black towards me? How bad can that be?

    • Paul Ellsworth

      It seems that a lot of art is very culturally relative. With dance, some things are “suggestive” (sexually) in some cultures, I think, and not in others. Being aware of this would be pretty important, as being suggestive is not something we want to be doing.

      That said, there has definitely been a backlash against dancing that, I think, is wrong. There’s no biblical prohibition of dance, and it seems to have been an integral part of celebration and whatnot in OT Israel. This form of adding to biblical commands in a Pharisaical sort of way is not good, and has led to a lot of division, unfortunately.

      Dance, in and of itself, is not the problem; the way we dance is. Is it suggestive (you may need external input on that)? Don’t dance that way. Not suggestive? I don’t see why one could not dance that way, then (assuming you do not offend your “weaker brother,” as Paul puts it).

      My wife and I are slowly learning some swing. There are some dance “moves”/steps that we don’t do, because we find them to be … intentionally drawing attention to aspects of our bodies that we don’t want people to focus on. :) Line dancing, from what we have see, tends to do this, too. But a lot of the swing steps we’ve been learning have nothing of that, so we have no problem with them.

    • Pamela

      It’s not every church that looks down on dancing. The Bible has many instances of dancing before the Lord! Psalm 150 actually commands the people to praise God with dance. This kind of rule, no dancing, goes along with not using the decorative arts in church because you *might* worship the artist rather than the Creator. I feel like God confronts our legalism when we read the scriptures just as strongly as He confronts the sinner with his sin.

  • Melody

    In my family, video is seen as art. Most people have no idea the creativity that goes into it. You can certainly tell the difference from church to church who recognizes that it takes talent given from God to put together a good video/movie and those that think if you know how to use the device that it is similar to putting together a powerpoint.

  • Pam Eason

    Dr. Ryken, I am an instructional designer – not an artist, but I do strongly agree that Christian artists should be encouraged so I spend a year designing a curriculum for artists (Creating Art from Theology, Doxology Publishing – free online). I read your book, “Art for God’s Sake,” as well as Francis Schaeffer’s book about the same subject in the process. I was greatly encouraged in my endeavor by your thoughts. Thank you for your work in this important area.

  • Lisa England

    As an artist from a very conservative fundamentalist background (I am now evangelical), I can relate to the frustration, pain, and fear behind every one of the issues here. When I decided to become an artist, I alienated many of my brothers and sisters in the Church, which was certainly not my intent. I pressed on, believing that God would open a way and teach me how to walk this path, and I am grateful that He has. It has been a transformative journey — but I have to say, I have not found it worthwhile to expend time and emotional energy trying to convince my conservative friends who view the arts with suspicion or try to control my work as a “teaching tool” where answers must win out at the end of the day. I’ve also noticed a trend of people who SAY they want to commission or create “better” Christian art that adheres to the ideals expressed above — but when push comes to shove, they create the “same old Christian art” for fear of alienating the conservative communities who control them. The difference between talking this vision for the arts and having the courage to enact it is huge.

  • Kyle McDaniel

    Thanks for this article. Thought it was great and really agreed with most of it. One piece that did concern me though was the quote by Fujimura:

    “Only, that’s not the gospel at all. The gospel is life. The gospel is about the Creator God, who is an artist, who is trying to communicate. And his art is the church. We are the artwork created in Christ Jesus to do good works. If we don’t realize that fully, then the gospel itself is truncated and art itself suffers.”

    It sounds like Fujimura doesn’t know what the gospel is.

    The gospel is not art. The gospel is not the church. The gospel is not the “good works of the church”.

    The gospel is the finished work of Jesus Christ crucified and risen for the remission of sin. (1 Cor 15)

    His quote implies that the church is the artwork of God that is to be received as good news.

    But Paul preached another gospel entirely. Paul decided to, “know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified” and said that, “the preaching of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to those of us being saved it is the power of God.”

    How care there be good news apart from the cross? Sin is not dealt with unless it is covered in the shed blood of Jesus.

    It sounds like Fujimura is giving the church a role it can’t possibly play. That of Savior.

    • Raj

      Very good catch. However it is possible that if we read a bigger article by Fujimura it would be there. This is just an excerpt and perhaps not a good one. There is another comment I want to make but will first see if others have made it below.

      ~ Raj

    • Monique

      I think there might be an misunderstanding involved here. The Gospel is Christ and Christ is Life. The manner in which God has given us His salvation through Christ is thoroughly artistic… generative… creative. Christ is the author of Life and Life itself. Anything that is creative in nature… points the person back to the beginning of all things. Fujimura was not incorrect… I think he simply didn’t follow all the way through logically in that particular quote, but it doesn’t make him wrong. He’s simply seeing the big picture of God’s way of doing things. Any good christian worth his salt would recognize that God does all things perfectly. Perfect timing, perfect manner, perfect everything… I simply think an artist is just a little bit more attuned to the intricacies of that. Fallen nature corrupts and alters things, but it can never change the fundamental substance of what God has created. It’s the artists job to draw attention back to that “substance” through the particular medium God has given that individual. While art is not “salvific” in nature, it does play a vitally important role in reminding people of what God ACTUALLY created, in order to give better understanding of WHO HE IS. “Grace builds upon nature” … it doesn’t destroy it!

    • Barbra Elvin

      Good answer

  • Fred Moto

    After attempting to find community in my family’s local Bible Church and not succeeding, I was advised that I was dis-included because because I was a worldly, too-experienced artist and could not participate in the church unless I went to a Christian recovery program first to rehabilitate myself from the art lifestyle and a 19 year old divorce. Teaching a Life Drawing class at the local college damned me more. The fundamentalist view seems to be that Art is sin. Our open mindedness makes us unfit for closed minded groups. Just living in the image of the Creator is enough for me. A group of us now gather to recite poetry sing hymns and dance in rotating places of peace surrounded by the beauty of the music and the participatory arts. Am I right, is Art feared in the 21st century organized church?

    • Tracey Rolandelli

      Fred, I am so sorry you had that experience. It is all too common, the uneducated, Fundamentalist view on art.

  • MarieP

    I think an important issue that needs to be considered is that, just because one’s artistic gifts may not be used in corporate worship, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they shouldn’t be pursued or that they are unimportant or invalid. I hold to a view of the regulative principle of worship that would, for example, not use pictures as a means to worship God. And yet, we use non-inscripturated poetry with musical instruments, which some corners of the church do not use in their public worship. But that did not keep one Psalms-only hymn-writer, Horatius Bonar, from writing some beautiful lyrics!

  • Ajay Pollarine

    I’ve struggled with a church family that could not accept lamentation as a proper form of art, constantly told that my work was morose or too serious. Nice post, some good points I was glad to see brought up.

  • Harold Sikkema

    Re: “tell them what to do and also how to do it” … It is possible that Bezalel and Oholiab were somehow discouraged when they received a divine sanctuary blueprint, that established both colour palette and sculptural / material choices. But I prefer to see them as empowered by the prescriptions. What faith communities continue to offer artists is a set of parameters within which to meaningfully work. In the church, our gospel commitments precede the hard questions. But within the gospel itself is a template for questioning. “Why have you forsaken me?” Successful art will find ways of asking hard questions inside of the existing boundaries that stabilize our collective orientation to the divine.

  • Kathleen

    This is SO important! The church was the main supporter of the arts for centuries. When psychology started to enter the picture in the 1800’s, the church lost it’s influence in the arts.

    The church needs to take back the arts. What is considered art today is really sad. I’ve had the opportunity to travel around the world and go to places like the museum at Trinity College in Dublin, the British Museum, Topkapi Palace in Istanbul……… and see real works of art that were breathtaking. The Ardagh Chalice in Dublin is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen!

    Christians shouldn’t be put into a box and have their art contain something that has a cross or a dove or some kind of Christian symbol. I saw a multi-media portrayal of the Last Supper 30 years ago. It was 12 suits hung on a wall, with the suit representing Jesus having blood spattered across it, with a bottle of wine in one pocket and a loaf of bread in the other. The other suits portrayed how, by legend or history, the other apostles died. It really was fascinating.

    I hope Christian artists and artisans (I quilt and do crochet and consider some of my pieces as art) take this article to heart, and use the talents God has given them for His glory.

  • Just a sheep

    this article gave me a chuckle…only because any or all of these things can and does happen sometimes to ANY church member seeking to make some kind of contribution–not just artists! We need to value each individual and their individual gifts and let people be led by the Holy Spirit as to how those should be used. Not dictate.

  • Lyssa

    Personally, I find that much of what is called art today is just…odd. Don’t get me wrong–I’m an artist myself. I sing, dance, write, and paint. But when I go to an art show, I feel like saying, “The emperor has no clothes!” Am I the only one who looks at chicken feathers spattered in red paint and glued to a piece of canvas and thinks, “That is not art?” Or wonders what deep meaning a woman with a cabbage for a head could possibly have? Or thinks that the broken mirror dripping down the wall and across the floor looks dangerous?

    I’m all for art. Even the stranger stuff probably has its place. But in a church, I believe everything should point to Christ. I can certainly sympathize with church leaders who are hesitant to give artists free reign. A pastor has a spiritual responsibility to his entire flock, and he needs to know and understand the meaning of what adorns the church walls. How can he explain to visitors that “It’s meant to provoke thought and probe the deeper questions of life” if he doesn’t even know what questions the piece is designed to provoke?

    • Raj

      Might I comment on this?

      The stuff is not just odd. Its bad. There is such a thing as bad artwork because art has both subjective and objective qualities. Piss Jesus by Andres Serrano is one example of bad art and I did not like it even before I was a believer.

      ~ Raj

  • Selina

    THANK you. This is quite possibly one of the best articles I’ve ever read. As a professionally trained dancer and the daughter of a pastor, I can’t even count how many times I feel like the halves of my heart are planted in two separate worlds that can never intersect. And yet, David, the man that God called “after His own heart,” was an artist. The two worlds SHOULD intersect, in fact they should be deeply entwined. Artists see God in incredible ways, and to shut their voices out of the church is to lose that sighting of Him. Thank you for acknowledging our Creator God and the beauties of His creative church!

  • Dreammaker

    The problem here is this; we as artists love using our arts to serve, exalt and magnify Jesus Christ, but we see so little of Jesus in the visions of the church, or the fruit of the churches “programs”, that the church makes a poor investment for the hundreds of hours, money and resources art requires.

    As an artist, if I want to share my faith, encourage people to Christ, or invest in the “Kingdom of God”, the “non-profit 503c church” is the worst investment I can make, because it’s focus is on internal programs.

    Even it’s evangelistic efforts are internal focused, with the goal of “bringing people into the church”, rather than “bringing people to salvation in Jesus Christ”. Some leaders will take offense to this statement, thus the reason the conversation stops.

    • Scott

      You are creating a false dichotomy. You cannot separate Christ and His church.

      • Violetta

        I think there’s a distinction between The Church, as in the worldwide body of brothers and sisters in Christ, and the church, as in a building where flawed human beings who may or may not have pure motives try to conduct services and events in line with those motives. An individual church may or may not have its priorities in order. I know of churches that people attended for many years without knowing anything about the Salvation message; I know of churches where you can feel the close, undeniable presence of Christ before you even step in the door; and I know which ones I’d rather invest in.

  • Ruth-Ann

    Please see how Section 106B at Willow Creek Community Church has become the expression of art for the body of Christ:

    It’s an exciting ministry!

  • Scott

    This article contradicts itself as well as guidelines set forth in the scripture for other ‘challenging’ expressions of faith like speaking in tongues. We should always be on guard with anything that makes the gospel confusing to visitors. We should always be at the ready to explain meaning of difficult passages of scripture. One can liken a particularly challenging piece of visual art that goes unexplained to the speaking of tongues left untranslated, or even a particularly scholarly view into some scripture in a sermon that isn’t broken down and parceled out for unbelievers or persons new in their faith. Timothy Keller addresses the keeping of the gospel as simple as possible in his book “Center Church”. Andy Stanley uses a visual analogy of a stepladder with the bottom rungs missing – equating the making the gospel story of salvation too complicated and hard. His Simple series addresses this quite well. If art can compel someone to accept the gospel then it’s worthy of pursuit an encouragement in the worship service. If art detracts and confuses the gospel message then one has to question the purpose of it in a worship service.

    • Raj


      I think one prominent problem with artists is that they all too often think that people will just get their artwork. No they don’t.

      That’s why I am a big fan of Artist Statements. An artist must explain (and even defend) their work. They need to mediate between their art and the person seeing/hearing it. Otherwise they fall into the a problem similar to what Matt Chandler describes as the Assumed Gospel in his book The Explicit Gospel.

      The Assumed Gospel is when we live great lives in front of others and we totally understand how the Gospel shapes and direct our lives, but its all personal. We never say a word about the Gospel to help unbelievers connect our lives to the Gospel. We don’t make the Gospel explicit.

      So our lives that we live in effect become a display of stellar artwork for the unbeliever – but the Artist Statement of the Master Artist is not spelled out for the unbeliever and so a connection is not made and meaning is lost.

      ~ Raj

      • Tracey Rolandelli

        I find it interesting that an artist must have a statement for all art, to “explain” it, as if he or she were defending the Gospel. Why would a person not be able to look at a piece of art and come to their own conclusions, without being told what to feel?

        • Raj

          Good question. I will have to think about that. I think some artists don’t care what you walk away with when you view their artwork. However some do.

          And I have observed at least one artist who did a painting because she wanted to get across a certain message. Yet people who viewed her artwork could easily have walked away with either nothing at all or something quite opposite. So – it seemed to me that a statement was needed. And it seems to me that a statement is needed in many instances because its difficult to understand what is going on. Its good to know why the person painted what they painted. What give rise to it?

          Now let me think some more …

          The explain and if need be defend stuff comes out of a class I took years ago in where our prof required that of us. The ideal was just to be able to explain your work to the prof and the students and hopefully it ended there. But however at times we had to defend it in a heated back and forth.

          ~ Now scratch the parallel thought that I attempted to make with the Assumed Gospel – I still need to process that more.

          Now I would say that an Artist’s Statement would just be a help. A little extra on the side. It wouldn’t just be some black and white statement telling people exactly what they should feel and think in some facile manner – yet you want them to feel what you feel and process what you process – while still owning their own thoughts and coming to their own conclusions which hopefully coincide with yours.

          All that aside, here is a cool thought that I’ve been processing in the back of my mind. The whole creation is God’s Artwork and God’s Artist Statement is His Word. The Word helps us to understand, process, think about, feel the Creation just a wee bit more like God, and the Holy Spirit mediates this. Hmmm… need to think more about this.

          Ciao and God bless,
          ~ Raj

  • AP

    I’m not sure if my comment relates at all to what either of you guys are mentioning, but I would say one of the larger issues with Christian art (performance or visual) is that a lot of it is pastiche. Ironically, the only way to break free of this is to go into the secular academy, study with the top folks of your field, learn the rules/experiences inside and out, perhaps imitating the style, and then ask the Lord for a way of breaking new ground that is completely original. This requires an incredible spiritual maturity along with drive and ambition to see this through, but the reward is that your artistic achievement will actually say something about God that non-believers won’t be able to ignore.

    • Monique

      COMPLETELY and totally AGREE!!

  • Bernard

    Great article!

    Here’s another way to discourage artists that you left out – As soon as an artist finishes their “item” in a church service, make sure the pastor gets up and says, “I taught him/her everything he/she ever learnt.” That used to happen to me very regularly (I’ve been involved in Church music for more than 40 years and perform internationally in commercial music theatre and opera).

    Also: Discourage them from using their gifts in the secular arts.

    And another (although I think it may have been covered in the article): Only include artistic performance as a filler while the offering is being received and what ever you do, don’t allow the artist to talk about their performance.

  • Dean P

    I knew that we couldn’t get through one article at TGC on Christianity and the Arts without one person that comments referencing “The Emperor’s New Clothes” cliche. I am so tired of this cliche. It always seems to be the default comment by someone who thinks all artwork should be self-contained and tied up with a nice neat little explanatory bow without any dissonance or ambiguity. That’s not art that’s a Sunday school lesson.

  • Christian Vagabond

    Speaking as an artist myself, I long ago gave up on making any kind of connection with fellow believers regarding my work. Some people appreciate it and are eager to engage me on it, but those people are rare. To a degree I can’t fault them. Most people don’t have the background or education to talk about art, and people tend to be uncomfortable talking about things that make them feel self-conscious.

    There’s also a long history of distrust among American Christians towards the arts. In America, every major art form went through a faze where churches regarded it as Satanic or sinful. That includes the theatre, movies, fiction, paintings, music, and so on. Nowadays there’s much less of the “arts are sinful” mentality, and it’s been replaced by one camp that views art as a weapon in the culture wars (hence all of the didactic Christian songs that actively discourage nuanced messages or hidden subtexts) or as a frivolous and irrelevant hobby (i.e. questions like: when are you going to get a real job?)

    I could relate to the article and I give the author credit for making a solid effort calling attention to the problem, but the problem can’t be resolved until Christians view the arts as an activity with intrinsic value and purpose.

  • David

    I have never understood why “art” has become something the church should spend much time (if any) on. I actually try to discourage the arts in my church and we have many “artists”. What i object to, (and im going to rant a bit) is that Art today is primarily hobby. People don’t need more hobbies and they certainly don’t need a stage and an audience for their hobby. Never once in my life have I thought the church was stifling my gifts because no one wanted to incorporate my hobby of archery into a service. Never once have I been carving a duck decoy in my garage and thought “people should be watching me!”

    This is narcissism. Why we kowtow to a bunch of hipsters who think owning an iPhone makes them a photographer is baffling to me. Most artists I know need to quit writing songs and quit seeking the approval of others, and do something more useful. There are so many great needs in the world. We don’t need another crappy painting about them. We need people to actually love others and make disciples.

    True artists will continue to create without our encouragement. In fact, a little hostility will probably be inspiring:).

    Why the painter or the poet gets more attention than the

    • Shawne

      What is wrong with you? No, that’s a serious question. Did an art teacher ridicule your macaroni picture in 2nd grade, dude? Art is a form of communication. Archery is not. I would have thought that was self-evident.

    • Stacey Rawlings

      David, I think it is people like you that cause artistic types to resist the calling God has put on them and in them. Art is not just a hobby. it is a way of expressing love, pain, hope, joy, fear. it is a way of engaging people in conversations they would not normally have. It tells a history or person’s story. It is a way of showing empathy, compassion and passion. I think that every person has a calling in this life and for some, it is to create. And who cares if it is a hobby? or a hobby for right now. By belittling artistic aspirations, I think you crush a person’s spirit and a piece of their soul. Yes, a little hostility can be inspiring, but if a person’s creativity is still in its “infancy”, it is just mean and unnecessary. Your words and intentions are cruel and honestly, I feel bad for artists (especially your children if you have any) you come in contact with. You sound angry and jealous and I am sad for you. I have come across a number of people like you and for a long time I let that influence me. No more. When I create something that invites someone to share their story of heartbreak and how they identify with one of my pieces or it makes them cry, which has happened on numerous occasions, I know that God is on my (and every other artist’s) side and not yours on this issue.

    • Raj

      Here is one – just one – thought to chew on.

      C.S. Lewis once said: “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered. . . . ”

      Like so bad artwork also requires a response and this must come from – among many things – good artwork.

      ~ Raj

      • David

        To run screaming from Calvinism is to run screaming from God… but that is another topic. Well said David. We artists need to get over ourselves and get about the real business of preaching the gospel and discipling the nations. “But we do that through our art” again, get over yourselves.

    • Tracey Rolandelli

      I do believe some people are misunderstanding the difference between “church art” and Christian artists who make art. And I have to agree with Stacey’s comments above. David, I have to say, that attitude is a large part of why I ran screaming from Calvinism. Although I appreciate you expressing it here.

    • Nathanael Schulte

      Honestly, David, I have to agree with Shawne and ask what is wrong with you?

      This is one of the many things that’s wrong with that church today. This attitude drives away anyone with any heart or imagination away from Jesus, who as far as I’m concerned expressed far more love and respect for people than you’ve shown here.

      If you want to talk about people who are primarily seeking approval, I suggest you look in the mirror because I can’t imagine any other motive for what you wrote here. I think you knew exactly the type of response you were bound to get.

      You’re exactly the type of person who really needs art and artists to wake you from your smug, self-satisfied version of the “gospel”. Ironically, you seem to be effectively guarding yourself from the very people that could actually do you some good if you actually bothered to give them any time and a listening ear.

  • David

    Engineer who actually makes something is strange to me.

    Rant over

  • Lowell

    I feel this article reinforces the stereotypes the author meant to take down. OK, the artist wants to do his/her own thing without answering to anyone or taking direction from anyone–and get paid handsomely for it. He/she wants his/her work to be displayed prominently to attract the most attention possible. An expectation of teamwork, like, say, to edify a song being sung, will not do.

    In which other roles in the church is this the norm? A pastor giving a sermon with a conclusion nobody “gets”? A children’s ministry without predetermined Bible stories? An elder who doesn’t care to attend meetings? A janitor who has a thing about mops?

    Every role in the church carries with it some baseline expectations. Without them, the artist’s role
    could rightly be described as elitist.

    • Nathanael Schulte

      Lowell, I think you’re missing the point of art. The artist, at the core, is not looking to do their own thing.

      Obviously some are, but by no means is that exclusive to the arts, and not what I or the author of this piece would consider part of true artistry anyway. What a true artist is trying to do, at the core, is to reveal something hidden, to show a part of God’s heart that isn’t normally seen clearly. It’s a servant’s role. However, that comes with lots of room for misunderstanding, and is very often misunderstood.

      There is a baseline, but it’s harder to put into words because it doesn’t speak directly to the rational part of a person, but to their heart, which doesn’t necessarily speak with words.

      It’s not elitism, it’s just the nature of the beast.

  • Erin

    In sharing this article on Facebook, I feel like I want to quote every other line. So much truth in this. Thank you.

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  • Patrick

    Good read! It’s always interesting to explore this topic (usually the comment threads are pretty wild, artists are passionate people!) I think there needs to be a distinction to be made here, how can a church support a thriving artistic environment without spending the funds the arts require? It feels to me like we all want a thriving artistic environment, but the argument comes down to who’s going to pay for it, and who’s going to regulate it? These are some pretty deep decisions and the have huge implications.

    It warms my heart to see the comments about art pointing to Jesus. In the Weight of Glory, Lewis points out that objects point us to a longing, a beauty, a remembering, and that that longing is our God-given desire for Heaven. But when we look at the object as a thing of beauty it becomes an idol. The problem is that the line for where one sees a pointing and one values the object is subjective. I am an academic composer, what this means is that I’ve been trained to hear complex music with high amounts of dissonance, so the type of music I hear as beautiful most people would hear as “random” or too “modern” or “ugly.” So we can listen to the same piece at the same time in the same place and have completely opposite reactions. This is where difficulty in the arts becomes a problem.

    Anyways, I won’t get going too much, I’m thankful this discussion is happening and hope it will continue to happen at large in our churches (people). At our core artists know that all of what we do is a reflection of Jesus, that reflection can be as clear or obtuse as the artist desires, and that’s okay, that’s a part of being an artist.

    • Raj

      Right. This is why, IMO some level of education is always necessary. It could be just simply something small like an Artist Statement on the one end and on the other end it could be whole courses taken at a U. Understanding shapes our perception.

      So for example lets say you were living during Rothko’s times and you saw his Abstract Expressionistic paintings and your basic reaction was “Blah!”. However if Rothko educated people on what was going on with his artwork, it would have made a huge difference to our lives and also his life – because he committed suicide and his artwork was his biography. Towards the end of his life, his work took on darker and darker tones and colors – deliberately.

      So it goes. Artists need to explain their artwork and Christian artists especially need to explain how it points to Christ.

      ~ Raj

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  • T. Webb

    I often hear about churches encouraging artist in their endeavors… especially those formerly known as the emerging/Emergent churches (for good or otherwise). But I have a related question: as we encourage artists in the church, how do we encourage plumbers in the church? Seriously. Why are we always talking about encouraging artists in the church (and we should!), but neglecting plumbers? Or other blue-collar trades. Or white collar ones? I’d love to hear an answer.

    • Stacey Rawlings

      I don’t think that plumbers, blue collar trades or white collar trades are ignored. I think it is a given that they are valued and valuable. We employ their services, ask their advice and pay them do to a job. We also acknowledge their importance in the world all the time. The same is not true for artists. Christian artists are on the margins of both the Christian world and the artistic world, often not fitting into either. Plumbers, doctors, bankers, construction workers, etc, are capable of being in both world and accepted by both worlds. The same cannot always be said of artists.

  • Musaic Worship

    Are we talking about art as Christians (in the church) or Christians as artists? There is a big difference, because of the corporate duty of “loving the brethren” in the context of a weaker faith of a brother/sister and the duty of the leaders to “speak the truth plainly”. An artist outside of the Church should be free to use their gifts in whatever way they like as long as they do not dim the light of the gospel by compromising their profession. We can apply James 1:19-21, 26 to any expression, not simply verbal:

    “Know this, my beloved brothers: Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls …

    Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.”

    So in our artistic expression, make sure that we are putting away all filthiness and rampant wickedness while considering the implanted word, which is able to not only save our souls but the souls of those we reach with our art. Further, don’t let your expression be the equivalent of a loose tongue in a context of a professed “artist who is a Christian”.

    Our artistic expressions is not a license of lewdness. Colossians 3:8 “But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” It does not say “Through your artistic expression, you must rid yourself of all such things as these…” As Christians, there is a line and the context of our expression, church or world, determines where that line is drawn.

  • Stacey Rawlings

    Thank you for this. I am an artist that has struggled to find my place somewhere in the Christian world. The images and topics I am drawn to paint or draw are a far cry from “sunny” images, tackling subject such as emotional pain, abuse, human trafficking, etc. I do cute and whimsical stuff too, but I am always drawn to someone’s pain and suffering, which is not always well received by other Christians. I had, for years, tried to force myself into the box that is assigned to Christian art and artists, but that box is tight and painful and the art in it does nothing for me. Painting the darkness is not only therapeutic for me, but I feel it tells stories that need to be heard and seen, stories that make people uncomfortable or angry or opens their eyes to things that are happening and largely ignored in the world. Sometimes people can identify with an image that conveys a feeling that words cannot even come close to touching, someplace dark they have been or are going through at the moment. When someone buys my art or views it and can tell me a story about why it touches them or if they are lost for words because they are too busy crying, I am so humbled and so honored to share that story or emotion with them.

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  • ann

    another way to discourage artists is to refuse to allow any part of the Gospels to be depicted showing Christ. This is a prevalent attitude in many churches

  • Deborah

    I have had the privilege to be part of a group of artists who use voice, instrument, dance, and acting to take programs into prisons, to the homeless, and to other venues where one might find people who are “forgotten.”

    We tell a story using our gifts which is based on people’s real life experiences and growth or new belief in God and His work of salvation or work of maturing that belief.

    I invite you to check out KnoxCAM – Knoxville Christian Arts Ministries to see what we do with our artistic talents.

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  • Andrea Arthur

    Thanks for the article!!!

    One question I have… Why is it so hard to find a Christian University/College with an awesome Visual Arts/Performing Arts program? I mean if you are just going to do it half-way, then don’t do it all. If they are out there, they sure are hard to find. Seems like Christian Universities are hindering the arts as well.

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  • Andrea

    This is too true. I am often called upon to decorate for Christmas or to pick paint colors. Sometimes I am asked to paint a large mural, but now I reply that I will do it if folks will come out and help me… so it never happens. I felt like they expected me to do 100 hours of work alone and in 20 hours. So, I guess what they really need to do is understand what goes into creating artwork, by perhaps taking a class or two themselves. Maybe then there will be better appreciation for artists.

  • Rebecca LuElla Miller

    I notice you didn’t list writing, so now I as a writer am discouraged.

    Actually I say that as a tongue-in-cheek observation to illustrate that I think we might be getting a little too sensitive. I mean, are we sure we aren’t discouraging the scientists in our church? The high school cheer coach? The retiree? The mail carrier?

    Don’t get me wrong. I think the arts have been undervalued in society at large, and the Church has run along behind as we so often do, to our shame. But I don’t think the answer is to come up with ways not to discourage artists (including us writers ;-). I think it’s the last point in your list which should take care of discouraging anyone–make sure we are preaching the unadulterated word of God.

    • Lindsay

      The difference is that most other professions are respected more than the arts. For one, many people expect artists to do their craft for free without considering that it is an artist’s livelihood. They would not expect the same from their job. Also, no one would tell a scientist or mail carrier how to do their job. It is insulting.

      I love to offer/donate my services to the church as any other person would offer their gifts, but it is discouraging if your time, creativity, personal financial investment (camera, musical instrument, software, etc.-not cheap esp. for an artist!) are not valued or are assumed and/or disregarded.

      • Scott

        “For one, many people expect artists to do their craft for free without considering that it is an artist’s livelihood. They would not expect the same from their job. Also, no one would tell a scientist or mail carrier how to do their job. It is insulting.”

        This is absolutely wrong. Millions of people (plumbers, electricians, etc.) volunteer their time and skills for the work of the church and ministry. And yes, they do use those gifts in accordance and under the authority of their local church.

        This attitude is exactly why many people accuse artists of having an elitist attitude.

        • Tracey Rolandelli

          Scott, as a professional artist, I run into the expectation that we will give our work over for free in almost every setting. It’s not just church. I’m curious, where did you pick up this “artist are all elitists” opinion, and why is it contrary to a working class vocation in your eyes?

          • Scott

            This very argument is where people pick up the “elitist” stereotype. Notice I did not say that “all artists are elitists” nor have I said I believe artists to be “elitists,” as you try to suggest. I merely have pointed to a perception or stereotype that many many have or believe.

            The context of this article is within the church, so I don’t understand your complaint. The mere fact that the Artist is being singled out for their somehow mistreatment, is why it is contrary to the “working class vocation” in my eyes.

      • Rebecca LuElla Miller

        Lindsay, I have to agree with Scott. I don’t see the guys who vacuum the carpet ever get a round of applause, but from time to time our musicians do. I don’t see the nursery workers get bouquets of flowers or special farewell events when they leave, but our music minister and wife does. We have parking attendants and ushers and people who fold all the bulletins, and from time to time we have events that require painters (of walls) or cooks or teachers. They do their work without the applause or even recognition of others. They often do it according to someone else’s specs even though they might know a better way. No one is talking about how we are discouraging them.

        We artists simply aren’t all that special. We have been created by God with the talents He willed to give us–like the car mechanic and the lawyer and the waitress. If we choose to use our talents in the Church we should do so without any compulsion, not for “sordid gain,” and with eagerness. We’re giving, after all. We should be cheerful about that, not expecting some kind of recompense. We should be pleased we can serve, in whatever capacity.

        I think we Christians have bought into the world’s way of doing business–but we’re in good company. The disciples were all arguing who would be greatest. Jesus simply got on his knees and started washing feet. I wonder what feet-washing artists would look like!


        • K

          Becky, I think your comments are particularly helpful. I was reading along to see if someone would bring up these things before I commented myself. Thank you!

          • Rebecca LuElla Miller

            I appreciate your kind words, K. This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart.


        • Scott

          Rebecca, thank you. Your words are far clearer and eloquent than mine.

        • Kim

          Yes… thank you, Becky.

        • Karen

          Becky, by far I think your comment here is the one that focuses better on God and His sovereignty in giving gifts and how all these gifts are given to glorify Him and not us. I have a degree in arts and I agree 100% with your statement, thank you.

  • Sharyn

    Spot on! You could also add this one: Expect professional artists who have long proven their theological soundness to present sketches first to a committee who will alter their plans, give input and direct their artistic work. Another gem: Call routinely at the last minute with the expectation that a professional artist working on other deadlines will drop it all in to do a poster, mural or banner you knew you’d need six months ago.
    I love the Lord and respect my church leaders but you’re right… the visual arts are not understood in the church.

    • Scott

      Heaven forbid the elders of a local church work to ensure the doctrinal integrity of the things to be used in it.

  • David

    Two books that I think are particularly helpful in this discussion are Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life by Douglas Wilson ( and Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl by N.D. Wilson ( Wordsmithy succinctly discusses HOW one can create more effectively while Tilt-a-Whirl addresses the content or the WHAT. I think both authors have also shown that they practice what they preach which gives their words that much more weight.

  • Tracey Rolandelli

    I LOVE this article!!
    I have had such problems in the past about being a Christian and an artist. While I myself have never been in the American “Evangelical” type denominations (Lutheran then Orthodox), I have experienced the above with more reformed type Christians (and some Lutherans).

    When I post life drawings of the human form on art sites, it used to be a matter of seconds before the Evangelicals would come out of the woodwork screaming about obscenity. (My work is very traditional with life drawings).

    While watching the “Story” series with a group of Christians recently, the first video showed Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel creation, and BLURRED OUT THE GENITALS.

    I had to burst out laughing at that.

    And human form aside, I agree with all the points made above in the article. Very little support in the Protestant churches, or should I say understanding. Unless someone wanted to make my art into a chapel quilt. Because yes, that is pretty much the only way some churches see art. Only if it’s a quilt.

    (No offense to the quilting craft, it’s a fine craft. But my fine art wasn’t to be made for quilts.)

    I have very little problems with European Christians, which I find interesting. Maybe our Puritanical roots are just too deep? It boggles my mind.

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  • Ellen Jervis

    THANK YOU! I am going to pass this along to as many people as I can. I would like to point out however that sometimes the people or person hindering the use of the arts in the church is the artist put in charge of them. I ran into this problem and reached out to a fellow artist I respected for some counsel. He in turn wrote a blog article about it. It has to do with technology and the arts and when not to use it.

    See the article by Chuck Neighbors here:

  • CourtneyrR

    As a Christian artist I have felt SOOOO alone since I do not fit anywhere…neither the church world or the art world! It is only when a person shows the slightest interest in my work do they actually hear that each piece I create points to Jesus! In its raw gritty truth….It is ALL about JESUS! In my pain, in my failures, in my learning to trust and Love….it is ALL ABOUT JESUS! But Rejection from both sides has forced me to keep the true meaning of my sculpture to my self and reduce my creative process to decrative art…just to feel like I fit SOMEWHERE!

  • Patty L
  • Martin

    Perhaps the most important reason churches need to encourage the arts is that it validates and prompts the development of creativity in its members. – and exercising creativity proves so very fulfilling to an individual. We are each created in the image of God, honed in His incredible imagination. What is more true in reflecting the image of our Creator than being creative ourselves? What is more thrilling than participating in the act of creation? God invites us to share this excitement with Him.

    Worship attains a higher level of authenticity, a greater sense of truth and personal honesty when enveloped in creativity. The arts are an obvious channel for this.

    Music is the most frequented medium for creativity in the church. We are all blessed by both wonderful traditional hymns and excellent contemporary songs. But, there is an undeniable scarcity of other creative mediums in our churches. There are many reasons for this – not the least of which is that they just don’t fit with “the way we usually do things” or they don’t conform to our traditional liturgy.

    Well, it’s time to wake up! God is worthy of worship that emanates from the deepest recesses of our spirits and hearts. Is there anything more magnificent than God’s imagination? Is there anything more profound and beautiful than His redemption of mankind through the sending of His Son to live and die for us? Our God is a God of excitement, hope, possibility and unimagined saving grace.

    As an example of how we have acquiesced to mediocrity, think about the way we pray (maybe not all of us, but probably most of us) when gathered. We pray without passion. We pray the way we think is acceptable to others, rather than what God would love to hear.

  • Scott Welch

    I’m curious to know where exactly artists have been left out of the church. Last I checked church buildings are still being designed and constructed. Every Sunday Tomlin, Crowder, MacMillian, Hillsong and others are being sung. Thomas Kinkade and Precious Moments is being sold and hung on the walls of churches, and probably in the homes of more than a few Christians.

    If the chief compliant is that Christians no longer talk about art, then I can get behind that statement. However it seems that the first hurdle is not that Christians have discouraged artists, rather that judgment of art has been discouraged. Encouraging folks to make art probably isn’t going to help our current situation.

  • David

    I think, at the end of the day, the problem is artists is that they view themselves as “arteests”. As a vocational artist myself I can say with confidence that we take ourselves, our preferences and our tastes too seriously a majority of the time.

    At the end of the day, we have to come to terms with the fact that only people like us will REALLY care, no matter what type of educational moment you provide for the “duped” masses.

    One comment pointed out that the presence of arts wasn’t the problem, but that educated judgement of them is what is missing. I would go further and say that the problem in the arts communities in the Church, that I have been a part of, is that the presence of judgement is the problem. Elitism and snobbery is not loving the brethren. We just need to get over ourselves, and do what we love to do without it becoming some sort of identity crisis.

    At the end of the day our art doesn’t matter. We reach the world with the “foolishness of God”…

    “When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom (profound art) as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness (“bad art”) with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words (profound art), but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power (the gospel), so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” 1 Cor. 2

  • Marty Schoenleber

    Some other ways we discourage artists:
    1. We steal their work by grabbing photos of it and using them on our blogs without attribution.
    2. We re-title their works to suit our purposes.
    3. We don’t let the artist speak for their work and their context but insist on using it to adorn our work and our context.
    4. We interview them only with our questions and never ask them what questions haunt them.
    5. We are only interested in their work when it will enhance ours.

  • Martin

    “the first hurdle is … that judgment of art has been discouraged. Encouraging folks to make art probably isn’t going to help our current situation”

    I would agree with the first part of the comment in that most people tend to approach art with a mindset of what has “mass appeal”. But, I certainly don’t think there is a “Christian” litmus test on style and technique. Content, however, is another thing.

    Encouraging people to be artistic/creative has many benefits – for one, bringing them face to face with critical thinking regarding what is good. Prompting intuition. Many of us lack an awareness of our intuitive thinking … many fear it.

    Every child should be trained in at least one of the arts. It will bless them throughout their life – for it will provide them with creative skills that are both a joy and that are transferable. Each of my children, now adults, maintain an active experience in the artistic skills they learned earlier in life.

    But, I think we have missed an important aspect of the arts in this rather academic blog site. When you seek to be creative, you are seeking a heightened sensitivity to the world around you. You hear more because you listen more. You see more because you look more closely. As a writer and musician, I am much more sensitive to the Spirit of God – his voice, his vision – when I make a decision to create a work. Yes, the intellect is present. But; intuition, imagination and emotion are given a chance too.

    Churches will forever squabble about what is good or appropriate art. So be it. The most important reason to encourage the arts is for its people to enter into creative processes.

  • David
  • Terry

    When you listed drama & dancers in this discussion, did you remember the costume makers? I stopped making costumes for our church functions when I was told exactly what pattern I would purchase & the type of fabric I would buy for a rather large drama production. The cost from my pocket would have been more than $1,000 for this production. Plus all my time to sew the costumes. It was the directors way or else. No one was helping me with the expense or time. Nor could I have any input in the fabric & she picked expensive stuff. So I took the or else option. — This is how to discourage someone.

  • jscottmcelroy

    Excellent article. For a treasure trove of resources that ENCOURAGE the arts and artists in churches see The New Renaissance Arts Movement site,

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  • Megan

    Several years ago, though it’s not my usual genre, I attended a Christian Romance writing workshop. A woman in the audience asked if it was acceptable to write a romance involving one or more divorced individuals. No, the instructor responded, this was still not acceptable. However, widowhood was okay.

    “Hahahahaha!” she said, “We kill off a lot of husbands!”

    I spent the rest of the rest of the workshop pondering whether it was more sinful to divorce one’s husband or to murder him.

    • Christian Vagabond

      Great line, Megan. Your experience illustrates a big part of the problem. Great art (and great writing) is complex and open to multiple interpretations I remember taking a literature class years ago and discussing Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Ou professor explained that there were three main ways to interpret the text, and none of them could called the “correct” interpretation. The people at your workshop illustrate how rigid Christian readership can be. They don’t want unpredictability or moral complexity to enter the stories the read. They want didactic plotlines where spiritual lessons are unambiguous and no gray areas linger.

      • Monique

        May I introduce the work of Flannery O Connor, who I might add was a devout christian, but who understood that in order to truly illustrate the more redemptive points of the Gospel… she had to show the dirty gray parts in order to get there. She never glorified sin, but she surely didn’t avoid talking about it. And she was a master at showing how bad choices really and truly affect us.

        • Christian Vagabond

          Flannery O’Connor is a great writer, but she didn’t have to deal with the modern Christian market, which is largely governed by evangelical tastes. She was also Catholic, and while there are exceptions, in general Catholicism has a much friendlier history with the arts than evangelicals have.

  • Tracey Rolandelli

    I figured the Calvinist only opinion would be there. But again, I am still confused on why this is “either-or”. Get over ourselves? Why so heavy with the law? It is not either or. Either make art and beauty OR preach the Gospel. Law, law, law.

  • Shane Sanders Marcus

    Seeing the quote from N.T. Wright made me think of David Mahan’s great book An Unexpected Light. He argues that poetry (specifically) can be, should be, and in fact is a legitimate form of theological discourse that should push Christians towards a “missiology of the imagination.” @e need artists to re-imagine a way for the church to be in the world, to teach us anew (like Chesterton did wonderfully) how to follow Jesus.

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  • T L

    I like the list to discourage – it’s so humorous. Reread it as exactly the opposite of what a church should do. Think in terms of C.S Lewis’s Screwtaped Worm.
    Fr sculptor/lecturer

  • KSS

    I have a few thoughts that I would appreciate engagement with:

    1) It seems to me that there’s a big difference between art being a meaningful work for Christians to do, to glorify God, express truth and beauty, express brokenness, etc; and incorporating it into worship. Some of the arguments here seem to conflate the two. I think there should be a wide range of possibility for Christians creating art in the larger community, Christian and/or secular. But within worship? That has to serve a very particular purpose, just like everything else within a corporate worship service. No one, the pastor included, gets to contribute whatever they want without oversight. (And while asking questions and expressing our pain and the hardness of life is good, doubt is never commended by Christ. It’s real, it’s there, but it’s never a goal. That’s another issue though.)

    2) I am still struggling, genuinely, with why there is such a push to put art as one of the foremost needs/works/ministries of the church. I believe art is valuable. I believe art –both the creation and appreciation thereof—reaches into our souls in unique ways. I create art myself, and I am very supported in what I do by my church and fellow believers (and nothing I do is even remotely specifically Christian). But I have yet to hear a cogent Biblical argument for why art must be supported by churches above other works.

    First of all, the church’s role in the world is certainly broader than we often think, reaching beyond just telling people a Gospel summary, but it is still focused on making disciples of all nations. Individual people have a calling to art, or making sturdy buildings and structures, or waiting tables, or counseling people, but it does not mean that the church has to sponsor all of this. Which leads into my second point, which has been made numerous times in the comments, that we do not talk about how we can encourage other vocations in the church.

    I am asking an honest question here: do you really believe that art is more valuable to our full being than, say, physical fitness? or emotional and psychological peace and insight? or analytical thinking that uncovers scientific mysteries and proclaims the glory of God? I just cannot accept that proposition. And yet we do not incorporate fitness initiatives in the church, or science discovery initiatives. I think that is fitting, because while it is good work and glorifies God, it is not the primary mission of the church. Let me again clarify: the church as the body of Christ does well to be working and leading in these areas, as far as is possible, to bring the truth into every corner and to edify ourselves. But a local church with limited resources, time, money, staff? They must make priorities.

    Someone will charge that I am making a false dichotomy between spiritual/sacred work, like preaching and teaching and praying, and secular work, like creating art and working an assembly line. I’m not separating the two, I’m simply saying that the charge for full-time vocational church workers must center around “preaching the word of God”, to quote the disciples in Acts 6. But the body of Christ is, of course, larger than the church staff. So yes, artists, Create art! For the glory of God! Expect the same encouragement that primary school teachers and gardeners receive.

    • Tim M.

      Part of the problem is that our society has adopted such an amorphous view of what art is and what artists do, that biblical categories do not really matter. If you say that the church should focus on discipleship, an artist might say, art is discipleship. If you say we should focus on preaching, art is preaching, etc.

      • Scott

        Not trying to be argumentative, I am genuinely curious. But could you please explained how art can be considered Biblical discipleship or preaching?

        • Tim M.

          I don’t think it can.

        • Tim M.

          I often hear artists speak of art as if it is this wonderful and magical thing that is simulaltaneously everything and nothing all at once. Therefore, when people try to insist that churches should focus their energies and resources on clear biblical priorities, I often hear artists trying to insist that art is one of those clear biblical priorities. How is this accomplished? By having an all inclusive definition of art. It is almost as if art is viewed as the sum total of everything, or that through art one can accomplish anything. I’m speaking in hyperbolically of course, but this is the general sentiment that I hear.

          In short, I think art is an ordinary thing which should be demystified. If one looks at art objectively, I think it would be difficult to think that art is much of a priority in the church.

          • Scott

            I agree.

            It’s seems that many times the artist expects a certain freedom that no one else has. I am not free stand before my congregation and spend an hour preaching a message that is obscure or confusing. Nor is our worship team free to present songs that are doctrinaly confusing. As has been said by others above, we should be clear to not conflate the general work of a Christian artist, with Christian art used in church and worship.

            • KSS

              I agree, Tim and Scott. It’s an excellent point that art has been defined so broadly and amorphously as to include anything that has any value. But art isn’t actually preaching or discipleship. Art can convey some measure of reality, but it does not give clear knowledge about how God has revealed Himself, who we are in relation to Him, how we are to be saved, how we are then to live, etc. Our hope is based on truth, not questions.

              Another thing that I notice is that artistic types tend to think that because art is the most meaningful expression for them, it must be for everyone. Now, music and good writing moves me in a way that little else does. But I know people for whom a car engine, with all the pieces working in sync to produce movement, is like music to their soul. Or those for whom discovering an interesting feature of certain bacteria that makes it useful for medicine, is pure joy and excitement. As a counselor who counsels homeless pregnant women, I come alive with exhilaration watching new identity and hope take root. “Art” is not the only or best way to see the world afresh, take in beauty, learn truth, challenge prophetically, etc.

            • Tim M.

              Oh i agree that scripture does not equate preaching or discipleship with painting a picture.

              I was just pointing out what i think might be the basic pressupositional difference in these discussions.

            • Rebecca LuElla Miller

              KSS, best comment of the thread in my opinion: “Our hope is based on truth, not questions.”

              For some, art has become an ambiguous pursuit of the unknowable. But quite frankly, because of Scripture, a Christian can know a lot about the way the world and the people in it work. We don’t have to scratch our heads and wonder why a gunman shoots up a kindergarten class or whether it is ethical to kill disabled people. We don’t need to try to figure out if God is good or if Jesus and the Father are at enmity with one another. These things have answers within the pages of the Bible.

              It’s true that people wrestle with these things, and I think it’s fine to show people grappling with the truth, but that’s not the same thing as the artist grappling with the truth and leading his audience to the conclusion that we can’t really know.

              Actually we can, because God proves He wants to be known. He revealed Himself in the prophets but then didn’t stand pat. He came in the flesh. Why? so we’d shrug and say, who knows? Of course not. He came to show us the Father, and to make a way to the Father, and to bring the Holy Spirit who leads us to all truth.

              All that to say, great comment. :-D


    • AR

      KSS, Tim, Scott

      On one hand you bring up a valuable point. Art/music should not be lifted up ABOVE other giftings in the body: mercy, service, teaching, etc.

      On the other hand, worship is important because it is eternal. We do not know much about heaven but we do know that we will be worshipping day and night around the throne (Rev 7). We know from scripture that praise silences the enemy (Psalms) and is important in encouraging and exhorting each other (Colossians). I know personally that private practice of worship through music helps me retain a right sense of humility and joy. It also guards against my love for Christ going cold like the Laodoceans (Rev).

      The purpose of this article is not to lift up artists above other laborers but to say – don’t actively discourage artists.

      • Tim M.

        I appreciate the warning. My intention is not to discourage, but to express where I think a possible foundational difficulty might be occurring. Would you consider plumbing a spiritual gift?

        • AR


          I understand your point. Neither music nor plumbing is a “spiritual gift” although the passages imply these lists are not inclusive of all spiritual gifts.

          Yet there is a difference in art and plumbing. The music portion of the service does take a leadership and teaching gift (correct theology) to discern appropriate lyrics and correct doctorine in spoken transitions. McArthur has an appendix in his “Worship” book exhorting worship leaders to get their theology straight.

          Not all artists have rock star personas. If there is a problem of this in a church, then confront them on an individual basis.

          Art in church isn’t my idea. OT and NT passages support their place and importance.

          It is not a question of rank or importance but one of respect. We can extend basic repect to artists and not make their job harder. I respect the plumbers, too. :)

          • Tim M.

            My comments are in reference to art, not music. I understand that many lump these things together. Part of the difficulty is that so many things are now lumped under the same heading, art.

            In terms of your response. I do not believe that the N.T. explicitly encourages either music or art. We have passages in the New Testament that speak of songs, hymns, and spiritual songs, but these are not necessarily references to music.

            I am neither anti-building, nor anti-church music, however I do believe that a faithful church can have neither building, nor music. Why? Because I do not believe that either a building or music are essential elements of corporate worship. If this is the case, then neither art, nor music are necessary for a church to be faithful.

            This should not be discouraging. It is simply a statement of fact. If you disagree with the statement I have made, argue with the statement, but I do not believe I have been discouraging, depending on what we mean by this word.

            In terms of artist in the church. I do not consider art to be mandated. Therefore, I want a church to be more focused on things which are mandated than things which aren’t. I do not believe that art is essential. However, if we are a church that happens to have a building and we happen to have music, then if you have talents in those areas, we would welcome the use of your talents. At the same time, we do not want to consider these talents to be essential. If we do, we have lost a sense of proportion.

            I am not saying anything personal. What does the New Testament command a church to be? There are many who insist that art and music are necessary, I say they are not necessary but they could be helpful.

            • Paul Ellsworth

              “We have passages in the New Testament that speak of songs, hymns, and spiritual songs, but these are not necessarily references to music.”
              What are they references to, then?

            • Tim M.

              Songs can either be sung acappella or with musical accompaniment.

            • Paul Ellsworth

              (is there a nested-reply limit? for some reason, after a certain point, I no longer have “reply” options… :) )

              So, what you’re actually saying is that those verses do not necessarily refer to *instrumental* music, then? “Music,” to me at least – and I am guessing many others – would include instrumental and vocal music. So, in light of the two passages that Paul mentions… he emphasizes singing songs pretty strongly (whether accompanied by instruments is not my point here)… I realize the musical parts aren’t actually commands, but Paul uses it as part of his exemplify of what it means to “be filled with the Spirit.”

              I don’t know if you are saying that singing (vocal music) is optional for a church or not, but that idea – which I know is around, but again, I don’t know if you in particular hold that view – is what I’d like to respond to below…

              Looking at Ephesians 5:19 in its larger context, he’s talking about being filled with the Spirit (i.e., our singing is [or, should be] a result of being filled with the Spirit).

              “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

              In the same “breath,” so to speak, Paul explains what he’s talking about when he says to “be filled with the spirit ” – to address each other in song, to give thanks, and to submit.

              We certainly would think it odd if someone were to say “well, I’m not a thankful person, so I don’t give thanks” or “I’m just not one of those submission types, so I don’t worship that way and don’t find it to be very important.”

              So why pull out the music/singing part of this verses and isolate it as something that is optional, when Paul couples (or triples ;) ) it with two other outworkings of the Spirit that we certainly don’t see as optional?

              (to re-re-reiterate, I don’t know your position on that so these are rhetorical questions, not necessarily aimed at you :) )

              I am fully aware, of course, that Paul’s words here do not necessitate a band, orchestra, or even a choir. Implementation differs, but “congregational” singing certainly DOES seem to be what Paul is talking about here, regardless of it’s accompaniment… and it seems that Paul thought it was important enough to use it to exemplify what it means to be “filled with the Spirit.”

              (differing opinions are quite welcome… iron sharpening iron and all that ;) )

            • Tim M.

              I’m sure your definition of music is more precise, so just substitute music in my posts for instruments.

              As I have said, I am not anti-music, i.e. instruments, neither am I anti-building. I’m mentioning buildings, because without a building, much of what is commonly understood as “art” cannot take place. As a result, I do not believe a church without a building is sinning. I believe a church can be faithful without much investment in the “arts.” I do not believe these things are commanded. As a result, I do believe a church can be faithful with no artists.

              As a result, I reject the sort of argument that goes like this:
              1) Paul commands songs
              2) songs are a form of art
              3) therefore, the new testament commands that a faithful church be involved in all things commonly understood as art (whether music, painting, sculpting, interpretive dance, whatever)

              That is simply a lot of baggage to drag into Paul’s two passages and John’s passages in Revelation, which mention songs as a part of the corporate worship service

              The overwhelming bulk of teaching in the New Testament on the corporate worship service has to do non artistic things.

              My concern is that we do not smuggle everything that is commonly understood as “art” into passages on music.

            • Paul Ellsworth

              I completely agree with … pushing a very open definition of “art” into passages dealing with music. That is not my intent, but it sounded to me like you were arguing that singing (which is included in “music,” which is included in “art” I think … hehe) did not have a scriptural basis for inclusion in the church.

              But I agree with the rejection of a “songs -> music -> art -> sculpting” type argument.

              I think there are plenty of biblical arguments to be made for Christians being free and even encouraged to use art to God’s glory, but I don’t see any biblical requirement or command to use it in the gathering of the believer… nor, as you say, buildings (or pulpits, instruments, chairs, pot lucks, tax-exempt donations, music ministers [and I say that while being one!], lights, sound equipment, bands, organs …).

            • Tim M.

              Sounds like I wasn’t careful with my words :) I really have no problem with music, except the fact that it is often viewed as more important than preaching and discipleship.

            • Tim M.

              Yes I completely agree with your list. If these this are helpful and not distracting from the purpose of the church, by all means pursue, but I hope we do not think that the church will cease to be a church, or somehow be powerless to reach the lost without these things.

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    Interesting article, but I take issue with two points.

    1. “Embrace bad art. …One example would be digital images and photography on powerpoint as a background for praise songs.”

    Working as an advertising / public relations professional, I learned long ago it is impossible to judge how “successful” a creative piece is. It is better to discuss its “effectiveness.” One person’s “creative art” is another person’s “bad art.” For example, I and other creative people in my church volunteered for years designing PowerPoint slides for announcements, sermon support, lyrics, etc. We devoted hours to that ministry, and could be found at church in the media booth long past midnight. Some of the slides we created were very creative, some were not. Several of us started the media ministry when PowerPoint was “cutting edge.” A key point here is we were UNPAID volunteers serving Jesus with our talents. Several years ago, our church hired a new pastor. His “target market” for people he wants to attract to his church is young married couples with small children. Ironically, this pastor is in his mid-40s. To attract his “target market,” he wanted “new cutting-edge graphics.” So the new pastor fired all the volunteers, and then HIRED a large full-time communications team composed of graphic artists in their 20s & 30s. Since they are paid money for their work, are they more effective than the volunteers? No. Like any creative person, sometimes their work is very good. At other times, it is horrendous. Last Christmas Eve, they hit their all-time-low by having life-size “ham hock” puppets dancing on stage to represent the three wiseman. Believe me, you can’t imagine it without seeing it.

    My second issue is with the article’s statement “Never pay artists for their work. Expect that they will volunteer their service…”

    I can see both sides of this issue. I used to believe that sharing my creative talents with the church was in obedience to God. I was sharing my tithes, time and talents. Then, I began to realize that the “volunteer” accountant was being paid. The “volunteer” lawn crew was being paid. Even the lady who “volunteered” to paint the large murals in the nursery and library really worked for money. Yet I was doing church work for free. When I raised the issue with the pastor, I was assured that those people were returning those dollars to the church in the offering plate. Yeah, right. Did I feel stupid or what? In reality I learned a valuable lesson. If the pastor could get a church member to work for free, he would let them. But if he had a personal friendship with the worker or he deemed the worker to be a “trained professional,” then he arranged for those people to be paid money. Remember, pastors are humans, too. Needless to say, I developed a bad taste toward doing volunteer work for the church.

    In summary, if the other “volunteers” are being paid money, the “creative volunteers” should be paid money too.

    • Christian Vagabond

      I think the issue with not getting paid has more to do with a general attitude towards artist. I can’t count the number of times people have responded to my sharing that I’m aan artist with “can you paint a picture for me?”….And then they’re shocked and offended when I give them my rates. People don’t just ask artists to volunteer their services for free; they assume that artists have enough free time and money that they can just give away their work.

      Other people have compared artists to electricians or plumbers. The difference is that Christians view electricians and plumbers as legitimate occupations that needs no defense, explanation, or justification. Plumbers don’t get criticized for working for companies where the management isn’t Christian or for serving customers who aren’t believers. Artists do get this criticism.

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  • tom

    there was a musical group of youth(high school/college age) in our church who wanted to share a couple of original tunes at the wednesday night service. two members of the group were the youth pastor’s sons. we had no reason to expect anything wierd. they pranced and quaked and screamed and bashed too loud to understand any lyrics. we all clapped weakly but mostly scratched our heads. me being a word guy couldn’t leave it at that. i had to know the words because after all, they were singing something and it probably was spiritually nourishing and i didn’t want to miss out on that; words are important. i caught up with the lead singer later and he showed me the back of their one album where all the lyrics could be read. i read the lyrics to the two songs they sang. the lyrics made no sense, no theme, no meaning, not even a rhyme. i asked the lead singer, who was the oldest member of the group and the sole author of all their songs. ” what’s it mean?” he confidently said, “it’s art, it doesn’t have to mean anything”. oh.

  • Nathanael Schulte

    Man, I feel this one, especially “Value artists only for their artistic gifts”

    Thanks for this.

  • Diane Wick

    great insights. I only wish it came from a positive perspective with suggestions for how to nurture artists instead of just telling the church what they’re doing wrong.

    • Collin Hansen

      You may want to click on the resource linked at the end of the article, Diane. Hope you find it helpful!

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  • Jean Frazier-Lee

    Artists are “Storytellers” – Jesus taught in parables – So sad, when most God given gifts are welcomed at a church but the Christian Artist in many churches (but not all) can be treated with suspicion by leadership with the raised eyebrow and ” That’s not the direction we want our church to go” … “but we want you to work in an area” …where the Christian Artist may want to help where needed but may not be gifted in and made to feel that what God has given them a talent for.. or have to offer.. is not welcomed …so instead of encouragement from the Church Leadership to develop and grow in the talent that God has given them to use to ” Tell His Story” … they are rejected and discouraged for wanting to serve their church with the gift God has called them to – There are some churches who encourage all of their sheep to develop and grow in the different gifts God has given them – Sad that too many churches do not -

    • David

      Parables were used by Jesus for the sake of confusion, the same result that happens when unclear and yet “profound” art that “asks questions” without answering them achieves. God is not a God of confusion.

  • lynn mossburg

    At first I just scanned the article since a friend recommended it,and I’m thinking “Oh no,artists have a hard enough time within the Christian community,and then I slowed down. Went back to the start and saw the point of this well written,enjoyable read. Just wish a copy could be sent to every church!

  • David

    Many so called artists need to stop whining and recall one of the core storytelling principles of “show, don’t tell”. Let your artwork speak for itself. If you have to explain your work or yourself to others because it’s always “misunderstood” then you’re probably doing it wrong. Good work will stand on its own. You should be more concerned with doing quality work than you are about being considered an artist. Unfortunately, too many Christian “artists” have that inverted. They’re the folks in Starbucks who are always “working on my novel” but never complete anything. Let your reputation for good work sell you.

    Proverbs 27:2 – Let another praise you, and not your own mouth.

    • Christian Vagabond

      I think you’re projecting too much. Get to know some artists. You sound like someone who’s never met one. Your description of them here and in your other posts doesn’t sound remotely like any artists I’ve met. Instead they sound like talk radio caricatures.

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    Whether we realize it or not, one organization probably has discouraged or impacted Christian creatives more than anything else – the Willow Creek Association. For those who are not familiar with it, the Willow Creek Association (WCA) is a spinoff company of Willow Creek Community Church.

    Willow Creek Church is a non-denominational, Evangelical Christian mega-church located in the Chicago suburb of South Barrington, Illinois. It was founded by Bill Hybels, who is currently the senior pastor. The church has three weekend services averaging 24,000 attendees, making it the third-largest church in the United States. Its main worship center seats 7,000 people. The church has been listed as the most influential church in America the last several years in a national poll of pastors.

    The Willow Creek Association (WCA), a 501(c) 3 not-for-profit ministry, is an international, Christian association of more than 7,000+ member churches from 90+ denominations and 90 countries. In reality, it is a company that sells a large inventory of ministry aids and media that are or have been used at Willow Creek Community Church.

    Some of WCA’s primary product lines include Books written by WCCC pastors including Bill Hybels, Lee Strobel, John Ortberg, etc. Another product line is Curriculum for Bible studies, small groups, children, etc. Again, most of that material is written by Bill Hybels and the WCCC staff. In WCA’s Music product line, a member church can buy anything from accompaniment tracks to full musicals. Again, this material was created by WCCC staff. In its Video area, you can buy video intros for a sermon series to long videos for class studies. Once again, all videos created by WCCC staff. Next, the Drama product line sells drama scripts that have been written for and produced at WCCC. Finally, we get to the product group that fascinates me the most – Messages. If you pastor is having trouble coming up with his next sermon, he can turn to the WCA Message catalog and buy one of Bill Hybel’s old sermons. If nothing else, WCCC deserves a prize for recycling. :)

    Many of the Willow Creek Association products are good.

    With more than 7000+ member churches in WCA, the chances are very good that you attend a WCA church.

    So how does WCA impact creativity in the local church? WCA eliminates the need for local creatives. Why bother recruiting a creative volunteer to write a drama for your church, when you easily can buy one off the WCA shelf?

    Since WCCC is so influential and invasive, it seems many evangelical Christian pastors want to model their church after WCCC. However, the WCCC model is not right for every church.

    I speak from personal experience. I attend a large evangelical Christian church in the Midwest. Our church used to have 7,000 members and many very effective ministries created by local, talented volunteers. Five years ago, we hired a new senior pastor who was a junior pastor at WCCC. The new pastor dumped all of our existing ministries and instituted many WCCC/WCA ministries. Now, we are strictly a seeker church, just like WCCC. Thousands of people have left the church. Ironically, the new pastor claims our church is larger than it has ever been with 4,000 members. You try to figure out his math.

    To improve opportunities for Christian creatives in the local church, we must insist our leadership develop local ministry programs designed by local creatives to enrich our local congregations.

    The world only needs one Willow Creek Community Church. Local churches do not all need to be WCCC clones.

  • Thomas Pearson

    Yo, peeps, just started studying glass art this year, am a christian, just wanna say thanks for the article, it was liberating in a way to be free to chose my own artistic purpose and realise that as an artist who is a christian, i too have a purpose and place with the Body, god bless

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  • John Stuart

    Very good article. As a pastor who also happens to be a collectible artist, I appreciate what you have written here. The church that I serve thankfully has a great arts ministry. God bless.

  • Martin

    Thomas, keep producing glass art. It’s wonderful. Discovered it a few years ago and really appreciate the creativity and beauty.

  • Elise G

    Thank you for this wonderful article. I have faced many of the problems you presented and feel like quite the misfit. To top it off, I’m both left and right brain (I make my living in technology in spite of being an artist). I hope that church leaders will heed your advice and stop “Value[ing] work that is sentimental, that doesn’t take risks, that doesn’t give offense… etc.” and that they learn to value artists enough to let them follow their creative instinct.

  • Mark

    Great article!

    Both the OT and NT have numerous encouraging references to song being used to glorify God. As a landscape painter and metal smith I particularly relish the early Christian works. However, with exception of music I can’t think of any other NT supported glorification of God art forms. I’m thinking that a seamstress, candle makers, glass blowers, painters, metal smiths, carpenters, landscapers, architects and other workers of material things would seem to fall into the tent maker and dealers in purple cloth vocations whose works could be donated or the proceeds would be used support the church.

    Any art form or combination thereof song, lighting, imagery…that strives to create a powerful response could be subjective in nature and a step toward mysticism. “Christianity is not mysticism. But it can be very easily metamorphosis into a thinly veined Christianized mysticism.” (Christopher Ash, 2011, Hearing the Spirit, page 133). Did you just break the second commandment? We look to the scripture not secular culture for our guidance; if no support can be scripturally established, and if you must proceed, proceed with caution.

    In speaking on two separate topics (food and sex) Paul indicates that we have the freedom to do anything, however, be cautious that your freedom does not cause other to fall. The caution was given as leaders, including artists, will be held at a higher level of accountability.

    P.S. I’m a Baptist and we don’t dance :)

    • Paul Ellsworth

      “Any art form or combination thereof song, lighting, imagery…that strives to create a powerful response could be subjective in nature and a step toward mysticism.”
      Hmmm. Was OT temple worship, then, close to mysticism? Now, I completely agree that we don’t do temple worship in the church. However, you (or your quote :) ) references the 2nd commandment which *clearly* would be applicable to temple worship.

      On one hand, I agree. Mysticism, along with many other potential problems (traditionalism, “modern”-ism, new-age-ism, lukewarmism, emotionalism, anti-emotion-ism…) are quite possible. However, just as we can gear towards a response to something other than the truth, so we can do exactly the opposite; be so afraid of a response that we hinder it by essentially encouraging a *lack* of response to the truth.

      I do have a question, too, though. I like dialogue ;) What do you mean by “subjective in nature” – do you mean that it’s an “experience” or do you mean that it’s something that is somewhat unclear? I ask because “subjective” is often a negative word in some (more conservative) circles (including my now), but it seems to often be confused with “personal” or “emotional” (as opposed to “emotionally driven” … our worship should not be emotionally driven, but our emotions should be driven by our worship… just as love in marriage should not be built on emotion yet it certainly should not be characterized by a lack of emotion, either!)

      • Mark

        Zing…no intention to offend…sorry if that occurred.

        What occurred at the tent or temple in the OT was not worship of the tent or temple but was worship of God per His specific instruction. This was how they were instructed to interact with Him. Touch the arc and you die kind of instruction. After I made the post I realized my second commandment question was not worded as a rhetorical question, which it was intended to be. Additionally, I meant to reference the third commandment, idol worship, when He is not the focus we are out of focus. When the worship becomes entertainment for self fulfillment have we created an idol (rhetorical question)?

        Excellent counter point on the “encouraging a lack of response” which is the opposite end of the out of balance spectrum. It makes me think of David in 2 Samuel 6, including the dancing, was this pleasing to the Lord, I’d say yes. So no matter which way you turn the creativity nob some are either going to be disengaged or offended. Which leads to subjectivity, my use of this term refers to individual personal perceptions and emotions that land one outside outside of glorification and scriptural instruction.

        You comment “our worship should not be emotionally driven, but our emotions should be driven by our worship” is an excellent wording of the point of concern. So when we become as joyous as David or our praise creates a reaction like Peter and Silas’s prison song I guess we should assume some will be hardened rather the carried along with us (rhetorical question)?

        • Paul Ellsworth


          Nice “talking” with you, I enjoy conversations like these. No offense taken, and my intent was not to “zing” in any way either :) I have often been bitten by the after-pushing-submit thoughts of “wow, did I word it THAT way?!” bug, ha. :)

          … and in fact, I think I was unclear. I meant “temple worship” as “worship in the temple” (as opposed to the New Testament church). That said, I think we end up agreeing in the end, hehe.

          “When the worship becomes entertainment for self fulfillment have we created an idol?”
          I know it was rhetorical, but … I think so, for what it’s worth… :)

          “So no matter which way you turn the creativity nob some are either going to be disengaged or offended.”
          Sadly, it seems this is true. In some circles, showing any emotion seems to be looked on with disapproval (and we get distracted [what?!] by seeing others visibly moved by the gospel/in worship [whether musical or not]). In others, showing emotion is almost equated with worship. Put someone from one circle in the other, and it seems judgment starts rather quickly… apparently similar to David’s wife’s judgment of him in the dancing example.

          “I guess we should assume some will be hardened rather the carried along with us”
          I guess “hardened” is a good word for it. It seems that when we see something we are not used to, especially with regard to worship (and it seems to show up primarily in musical portions of church services), we get distracted and begin to judge the motives of others very quickly.

          All that said, I think we actually agree, hehe. I am interested in the subjectivity point. I tend to get confused when people bring up the word simply because I have read and heard it in so many uses to mean things that I don’t think the word actually means. Not to say that you are doing that ;) But I am just leery of talking about it without knowing what is meant by it.

          So, I’ll just ask! I have enjoyed the discussion so far.

          “my use of this term refers to individual personal perceptions and emotions that land one outside outside of glorification and scriptural instruction.”
          Your original use tied it to a response; i.e., a “subjective response.” Can you expound a bit? Or perhaps I can surmise and you can correct me, hehe: my understanding of the word would be … that it is a response based on personal feelings. The problem, then, is not the actual feelings – those are quite possibly good to have and I think should even be cultivated, since if anything moves us to tears, it ought to be the gospel! – but that we are responding to the feeling rather than responding to the truth (or the gospel/Holy Spirit/Word of God/other proper things to respond to).

          • Mark

            Hey Paul,

            When you state “but that we are responding to the feeling rather than responding to the truth” we are on the same page. As an example a number of years ago we had a very popular minister of music, I say popular in that worship service attendance blossomed. However, giving and small group attendance for example did not grow relative to worship attendance. Will there be a direct 1:1 growth correlation, you’d hope, but in reality probably not. When he left he was missed by many and worship attendance contracted to the previous levels.

            To dwell on the subject (pun intended) of subjective responses including tears, sure, I go into wet eye mode during a powerful congregational worship. It is possible to objectify these subjective individual responses by measuring or probably a better word to use is observing an individual’s corresponding level of obedience in the areas of tithing, small group attendance, community outreach participation and actual Bible reading. Does this obedience occur instantly, probably not, as most including myself continue to grow in our walk.

            As I re-read the post, to regain my bearings, the theme that troubled me is the suggestion to abandon accountability in art forms. Are we to embrace, representational art as “a window to reality”, “tolerate low aesthetic standards”, “not raise questions” and retain staff artists? I’m not suggesting iconoclasm, but as I said originally we go to scripture not secular culture for guidance. From another perspective, when Christ indicated that he would destroy the temple (or insert your building here) and rebuild it in three days, was this not a metaphor for as John said God is Spirit and must be worshiped in Spirit and truth, thereby abandoning tangible vehicles of worship for the non-tangible?

            We are human (sinners) and Americans no less and we love our stuff and would in fact like more stuff, better stuff and different and sometimes funky stuff and then of course a new museum wing to put all our stuff in…this is entertainment culture in action and I feel far from Christ’s instruction to the rich man in Mark 10.

            • Paul Ellsworth

              We being stuff-oriented is sadly true.

              I think some of the article’s arguments tend towards the “all art is good art” type of extreme, I agree… and I actually think elder oversight of arts (including my own music in my church) is very scriptural. Even if the elders aren’t artistic.

              That said, I think some of the article’s points can be found to be biblically based. For example, we should not embrace poor art as good art, whether that’s musical or visual… especially in worship. That does not mean that unskilled people cannot worship through various things (e.g., a “bad” singer can and should still worship through congregational singing!); however, we should not kid ourselves and think more highly of our work than we ought to think, to borrow Paul’s phrasing :P So, for example, when we pick congregational songs – the primary “art” that is in our church, I guess – we do try to pick *the best* ones we can to function however they are functioning (repentance, praise, meditation, whatever). We realize that we are both worshiping God (“vertical”) and encouraging each other (“horizontal”)… and, especially the first one, we bear in mind that we ought to offer the best we can do.

              That doesn’t mean we only let the “good” singers sing; but it does mean that we don’t make people think they are better singers than they are, either. In the more visual art, then, if I was going to try to put a painting up in church – say, for example, to focus attention to what we come to church for, whatever that might be – I want it to be a good painting that functions well (yes, art has a function, in my opinion). That means I don’t want “blah” art. I want it to be the best that I can reasonably acquire or produce.

              Which is a very grey area… and a bit subjective ;) in that opinions vary. Should I really pay $500 for a painting? I dunno. On the other hand, we pay more than that for a piano…

              With the temple tearing down… I think the temple represented more than just “tangible vehicles of worship.” The temple was the means of *accessing* God, right? It was where the priesthood did their stuff. You didn’t really access God, you didn’t cover your sins or make sacrifices, apart from the temple. So the temple was a lot more than simply a physical means of worshiping God… of course, He was talking about His body, as we know; however, a change *did* occur in the temple – the veil was torn. The veil was symbolic of the separation between God and sinful humans while an inferior sacrifice was all that was covering our sin. But after the perfect sacrifice, that separation no longer had to be there; we now have free access (!) to God through Christ, no sacrifices or priests necessary. So worship did change, but I don’t think, necessarily, the tangible expressions or vehicles of worship were completely done away with. As an example, we still do the whole “do this in remembrance of Me” communion/Lord’s Supper thing, we do baptism, and we congregate. Those are “vehicles” for worship, I think, and they are quite tangible :) Well, the congregating part maybe not so much, but it’s still something that we worship God through doing with our actual bodies, in physical space, etc. And, for that matter, singing is also something more than just the intangible heart and mind response; it’s vocalization… and it is worship, and it is something that God appears to take pleasure in our doing…

              With regard to emotional response during worship but seeing no change; I totally agree there, too. The two extremes, again; the cold, emotionless singing and the high energy, emotion-full singing. One can do either of those and not actually be “right” with God; and, to me, neither one is “worse” than the other, because both – if not actually coming from the heart – are insincere. Although, I guess one is more visibly honest (cold heart, cold song) except for the fact that the song is essentially a lie. (“joyful, joyful, we adore Thee” – by which I mean “frowning, scowling, we kinda like Thee [sometimes]” :P ). Real, authentic, Christ-following *does* include, I think, authentic, holistic corporate worship, but it must include the other areas as well… throughout the week. If you are known to be a hot-tempered, irate, easily annoyed guy that tends to harshly treat your wife and also known for passionate singing on Sunday, something is wrong…

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  • http://facebook Louise Klawitter

    This is a helpful article but I would like to add a comment as well…”artists” should be careful about being judgmental of others. It is not edifying to belittle expressions – music, visual representations, poems, etc. – that minister to others, even if we find them to be “bad art” or mediocre. I think those are human categories that we apply too quickly at times. Those who consider themselves to be artists are not in a separate category any more than others with distinctive gifts – we are to use what God gives us to glorify God and serve His body. I put “artist” in quotation marks because I think we all have an artistic streak in as as a mark of the creator – organizers and administrators bring the creative process to bear in what they do as well.

    • Kim

      Louise, thank you for this reminder. Biblical principles always trump skill. (I Cor. 1 and 2; James 4:6) God continues to use the lowly, meek, and humble for His grace-filled work. I continue to be blessed and edified by the (perceived) weakest and lowliest members of our church in any area of church life.

  • Pastor Nate

    So how are we to “not tolerate bad art” yet at the same time “not tell them how to do it” when you’re looking for quality, timeless art for your children’s wing?

    • Christian Vagabond

      Replace “art’ with electrical work or floor waxing, and you’ll get a better sense of the right way to approach it. You wouldn’t tolerate bad wiring, but odds are you also wouldn’t hassle an electrician while they worked nitpicking over their decisions. If you’re looking for quality, timeless art, you should make sure that that’s actually what you want. Most children’s art has lower ambitions. It serves a good purpose, but it’s not timeless. If you do want quality timeless art, you’ll have to hire a professional or a very gifted amateur.

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  • Christian artist

    I’m a successful artist, writer, and musician in the secular arena. Or I should say I was. When Christ apprehended me I was in a near-death experience after years of substance abuse in “the scene” had landed me in the hospital.

    Now, as a mature Christian, I must confess that I bristle every time I hear the name of Francis (or his son Frankie) Schaeffer brought up as if he were the final arbiter and apologist for Christian artists. He isn’t. I couldn’t disagree with him more.

    99.9% of artists (and all creative types) are profoundly bent on expressing S E L F , when the Bible tells us — in direct contrast — to CRUCIFY the flesh and the lusts thereof. That soulish, fallen nature cries out for a soapbox in the form of the arts (and in many other avenues), and God will have none of that. “No flesh shall glory in His presence.” “All the earth and the works therein shall be burned up.” Adios to all of the paintings in the Louvre, the Hermitage, the Met, etc., etc. Good-bye to all of the films of Alfred Hitchcock, David Lean, Jean Renoir, Orson Welles, Sergio Leone, Fritz Lang, F. W. Murnau, etc., etc. Bid farewell to the compositions of Igor Stravinsky, Bela Bartok, Mussorgsky, Debussy, or your favorite pop icons like the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, etc. It will all be destroyed. What will we lack without all these? NOTHING. Theirs are are all deeply flawed works. Christ is perfect; Christ is complete. When born again believers stand in His presence on that Day, they shall see Him as He is, and they shall be(come) like Him. There will be an incredible expansion of knowledge, understanding, power, beauty, etc. The very best of the secular, earthly arts will pale in comparison to what the least saint in the kingdom of heaven will be able to accomplish. Leonardo da Vinci’s work will look like kindergartener’s crayon scribbles by contrast.

    “Every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of lights in Whom there is no shadow of turning or variation.” Everything worthwhile was, is, and ever shall be found in the Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

    So much for soulish, self-aggrandizing art; it will be destroyed by and by.

    It is very rare, these days especially, to come across art that is genuinely ANOINTED, that has the stamp of God upon it, His breath of life in it, and His seal of approval upon it. COMMERCIALISM (the love of money, folks; that’s what it is) is a cancer that has permeated the arts, and the commercial Christian realm is one of the worst of all as it, be it crassly, craftily, or naively, COPIES WHAT THE WORLD DID YESTERDAY, AND SELLS IT TO THE SHEEP TODAY. So much for being the head and not the tail. Wake up, apostates! Most of such “art” makes any real man or woman of God want to VOMIT. Don’t even get me started on CCM.

    “Not my will, but Thine be done.”

    Do you really mean it, Christian artists? If you’re walking with God, then you will inevitably come to your own personal Gethsemane (“oil press”). When the squeeze is on, will you cave in to that which pleases the fallen nature, the world, and Satan? Or will you come to a place of emptying so that GOD can FILL you and give you His heart, His mind, His good and perfect will? Spirit-filled, Spirit-led believers and the fruit thereof, including in their (art)work, are wonderful and have a touch of the eternal in them, a hint of things to come in that new and perfect world populated with “the spirits of just men made perfect.”

    Time is almost up. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

    • David

      I think you would appreciate this post based on what you said here…

    • Paul Ellsworth

      If I may, there seems to be a flaw in your reasoning. Your basic argument appears to be that art down here is flawed, and will be destroyed eventually, so therefore it’s essentially worthless. Correct me if I’m wrong in my summary there. :)

      Now, I tend to agree with your “self-aggrandizing” – though judging what is that and what isn’t is going to be more difficult than simply stating that some or even most art is that.

      That said, I take issue with the “it will be destroyed, so it is worthless” statement. All creation will be “renewed” because it is flawed and cursed. That beautiful, 100 year old tree outside your window? Cursed. It’s going to “burn.” But are you really going to claim that it’s worthless?

      What about the stars? The “heavens” that declare the glory of God *even in their cursed state*? Are those all worthless, too, because they too will be remade?

      If this were taken to its logical extreme … *everything* I produce and even say is quite possibly flawed, because I am not perfect, thus what I produce is not perfect. But does that mean it’s worthless? Useless? I hope not. I do not think God thinks so, as He accepts my worship, flawed as it is, because of Christ.

      “It is very rare, these days especially, to come across art that is genuinely ANOINTED, that has the stamp of God upon it, His breath of life in it, and His seal of approval upon it.”
      Two things. First, what are the qualifications for art being anointed, stamped, approved, and breathed in by God? That is a pretty tall order. How do you know if a given painting or musical piece is all of those things?

      Second… why “these days especially?” It seems that the art you’re looking for can only be produced by real, true believers in Christ. Are you saying that there used to be more saved people in the past?

      My gut feeling is that you’re looking for a cultural or artistic stereotype that is “Christian” looking. The problem with this is that *we* are stuck in our own culture and have a hard time appreciating things outside of what WE like… yet God will be and is praised by people from many, many, many nations, many tongues, many tribes… many cultures.

      “The very best of the secular, earthly arts will pale in comparison to what the least saint in the kingdom of heaven will be able to accomplish. Leonardo da Vinci’s work will look like kindergartener’s crayon scribbles by contrast.”
      That is quite true. But it does not logically follow that, therefore, we should just stop what we do here on earth and wait until we’re perfected. My witness on earth is flawed and imperfect; my praise is flawed and imperfect; my worship is flawed and imperfect. I am not holy like God. Yet, God appears to take pleasure in my sanctification and obedience, flawed and imperfect as it is, and commands me to worship Him, flawed and imperfect as that is. Yes, of course, I know this is possible because He sees it “through” Christ; but would not my attempts at worship and glorifying Him through art also be?

    • Mark

      @ Christian Artist, nice to met you, I thought I was alone in here.

      Take the art money down to the orphanage.

  • Tracey Rolandelli

    Hopefully this link works. Here is a recent photo from my church, where the fresco and icon art is continuing. Though some people might enjoy this.

  • Christan artist

    @David – thank you! Nice article.

    @ Paul Ellsworth – “essentially worthless”? No, legit art here is of temporary value; it can and does serve a purpose. I’m just saying that we shouldn’t cling overmuch to what we know will burn up. “We carried nothing into this world, and it is certain that we will carry nothing out,” the Word tells us.

    Why “these days especially”? Because, “evil men wax worse and worse,” and this verse is truer now than before. The moral climate is far worse now than it was 100 years ago. Even sinners didn’t parade their wickedness, but operated in dark corners. Now even ‘innocent’ girls run around half-dressed, profanity is ubiquitous on television, film, radio, internet, etc. Need I go on? We had SWEEPING REVIVALS in the Edwardian and Victorian era. Not so now. Where are the Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, John Wesley, Charles Finney, C. H. Spurgeon of this generation? God help us! Even Billy Graham – who was a compromised ecumenist who nonetheless had a strong Gospel message – said, “If God does not judge America, He owes Sodom and Gomorrah an apology.”

    The cup of iniquity is full. It is very easy for the western Christian to become like a frog in a pot of water that slowly turns to a boil, not noticing what is happening until it is TOO LATE.

    When the disciples marveled at the beauty of Herod’s temple Jesus (Matthew 24) Jesus would have none of that. He said, “Not one stone would be left upon another.” “That which is highly esteemed among men is abomination with God.”

    If you do your homework, you’ll see that the first century Christians condemned the theatre (plays). The Greek word for actor is “hypocrite.” If you research old issues of MOODY MONTHLY magazine and THE SUNDAY SCHOOL TIMES (the leading evangelical Christian publications of the early to mid-20th century) you’ll find that they consistently condemned Hollywood and the movies as earthly, sensual, and devilish—and that was back in the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s—what many (even of today’s Christians) refer to as Hollywood’s “Golden Age”(!). The real soul winners stay away from what one contemporary man of God referred to as “the hog trough of the world’s entertainment.” If you want to dull your senses, then, yes, be drunk on (and “inspired” by) worldly entertainment.

    Remember, only EIGHT PEOPLE were on the ark in Noah’s day when God destroyed the world. How many will be in the rapture? Jesus said, “When the Son of man comes will He find faith in the earth?” Jesus spoke of ten virgins; five were wise, and five foolish. All virgins. All blood-bought Christians. All given a lamp and oil. But five were foolish, and took no oil for their lamps. God help them! They were not ready in their time of visitation from the Lord.

    We must be ready.

    I love good art (and music, literature, film, etc.), but it’s WAY down the list of priorities. Lives are at stake, mine included. Is it well with our souls?

    • Paul Ellsworth

      I will ask again, but slightly differently. You commented about art that is “genuinely ANOINTED, that has the stamp of God upon it, His breath of life in it, and His seal of approval”
      Can you describe this? What’s it look like? How do you know if it has these things? What are some examples? Can I produce it? Do Christians universally like it? Is it possible for there to be that kind of art that you don’t like? Do you have biblical support for there even being art with these qualities?

      “I’m just saying that we shouldn’t cling overmuch to what we know will burn up.”
      I agree with this. Materialism is rampant and bad. I totally agree. Art != materialism.

      “The moral climate is far worse now than it was 100 years ago.”
      By the logic that we are using … then I can pinpoint 100 years ago and conclusively say, as you do with now, that they were worse than the Romans.

      I don’t think the Scripture you quoted means that it is a single, steady, never-going-down line. Increasingly as “the day” approaches? Certainly. But pinpointing one point in time and using this verse to say that thus, 100 years ago, people were better? I disagree.

      “Not so now. Where are the Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, John Wesley, Charles Finney, C. H. Spurgeon of this generation?”
      Have you looked for them? Are you honestly trying to say that there are no great men of God in our day? That there are no Christians that God is using?

      “God help us! Even Billy Graham – who was a compromised ecumenist who nonetheless had a strong Gospel message – said, “If God does not judge America, He owes Sodom and Gomorrah an apology.””
      I wonder what Paul thought about the Romans. I think this is a highly presumptuous thing to say. Billy Graham does not know the mind of God, the judgments of God, nor the ways of God. This sounds more like Jonah, who didn’t want to go to Nineveh because he was worried that God WOULDN’T judge them, and he thought they DESERVED judgment. Does America? Of course. Do I? Yes. Thank God that He is gracious. Saying that God owes someone an apology for being patient or long-suffering is … presumptuous.

      “The cup of iniquity is full.”
      This you know? How?

      “When the disciples marveled at the beauty of Herod’s temple Jesus (Matthew 24) Jesus would have none of that. He said, “Not one stone would be left upon another.” “That which is highly esteemed among men is abomination with God.””
      Are you trying to say that if ANYTHING is esteemed among men, it MUST be bad? I’m not sure this was Jesus’ point.

      “If you do your homework, you’ll see that the first century Christians condemned the theatre (plays).”
      Okay …

      “The Greek word for actor is “hypocrite.” If you research old issues of MOODY MONTHLY magazine and THE SUNDAY SCHOOL TIMES (the leading evangelical Christian publications of the early to mid-20th century) you’ll find that they consistently condemned Hollywood and the movies as earthly, sensual, and devilish”
      Okay … so far, I have the early church and two publications as an authority?

      ‘—and that was back in the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s—what many (even of today’s Christians) refer to as Hollywood’s “Golden Age”(!).”
      I am under no delusion that Hollywood, or humanity, was “clean,” ever. Including 100 years ago.

      “The real soul winners stay away from what one contemporary man of God referred to as “the hog trough of the world’s entertainment.” If you want to dull your senses, then, yes, be drunk on (and “inspired” by) worldly entertainment.”
      You have not articulated what “worldly entertainment” is. For the record, I do stay away from what I believe worldly entertainment is, because I believe it is displeasing to God to be entertained by what He hates. Can I watch a movie with death in it? Yes, just as I can read a book with death in it. If I am entertained by people getting killed … that is a different question.

      Last thing. As Christian Vagabond commented, you seem to be assuming that good art comes from “Christian” cultures. Let’s put aside for the moment art done by non-Christians and just deal with art done by Christians. Given:
      * The Holy Spirit (unchanging)
      * The Word of God (unchanging)
      * Salvation (the same as 100 years ago!)

      Why should a Christian today not be able to produce something just as … good … as 100 years ago?

  • Christian Vagabond

    A couple of thoughts, Christian Artist:

    First, the spiritual merits of a given artwork has nothing to do the moral climate of the age it was created in. Faithful believers have existed throughout history, and those who created art in depraved cultures aren’t therefore more likely to be creating depraved art. .

    Second, there is no objective means to measure the sinfulness of a given age. Our modern media makes sins more public and easily broadcast, but that doesn’t mean that more sin is taking place. Plus the age you praise was rife with hatred, racism, misogyny, and violence. Cities are safer now than they were 100 years ago. There are fewer wars than there were 100 years ago. And lets not overlook that the moral climate of 100 years ago saw the emergence of nazism, communism, and both World Wars.

    Third, I noticed that while you’re quick to point out the art forms you condemn, you’re hesitant to name the art or artists worthy of praise. It’s easy to see why. Once you start naming praiseworthy artists, one must put the artist’s life under the microscope to determine the intended meaning of the work and the spiritual beliefs and lifestyle of the artist. If your assumptions of the artist or artwork fall short in any way, you end up looking foolish. The same goes for artists you condemn if the art that turns out to be praiseworthy. So what you’re left with is the same thing we all rely on: personal tastes.

  • Ann Boyer LePere

    Thank you for this commentary! I’ve been a professional artist for 30 years and things are improving for visual artists in the Church. More so in urban settings, though. Recently I gave a breakout session at a coastal NC Christian Women’s Retreat. Thrilled to have a platform to cover all the topics you covered. Please continue to keep the arts discussion alive and in front of the Church.

  • Tracey Rolandelli

    Here is a link to some of my liturgical sketches that I made from church, thought folks might enjoy:

  • Christian Artist


    You wrote: “Cities are safer now than they were 100 years ago.”

    Speak to your grandparents (if living) or others of that generation. They unanimously speak of leaving the doors UNLOCKED to their houses; born again believers of that generation recall warmly how prayer was still in schools, and the Bible was regularly read in schools. There was a general knowledge of God’s Word in secular society, and the restraining power of the Holy Spirit in western society – after all of those great 19th (and early 20th) century revivals I mentioned – was in great evidence. It is easy to do internet research on current statistics and the shocking rise in heinous crimes in the U.S. alone: Detroit, (eastern) St. Louis, Camden and Newark (NJ), and many other cities are FAR WORSE now than they were 100 years ago.

    You wrote: “I noticed that while you’re quick to point out the art forms you condemn, you’re hesitant to name the art or artists worthy of praise. It’s easy to see why.”

    No, you are merely assuming. Rembrandt van Rijn’s personal life was rife with tragedy when he disobeyed God’s Word, but he knew Whom to turn to, and often did. Rembrandt was also the first Baroque painter to actually use Jewish models in his Biblical paintings (unlike the Catholic painters of the Renaissance, Baroque, and subsequent eras). Frederic Edwin Church often glorified God in his landscapes (“Heart of the Andes,” e.g.).

    If you want to scrutinize a life well-lived, look into that of E. J. Pace. He was a missionary, pastor, and traveling evangelist who used his drawings in support of the Gospel. Masterful pen-and-ink work, and well known (and well-used) in his generation. He loved Jesus Christ with all of his heart, and was utterly given to seeing people saved, delivered, sanctified, and empowered for service. Dr. Pace was the hero of Phil Saint (a Wheaton alumnus, by the way) who in turn heeded the call to missions, and who likewise made a very wise use of his artistic gifts in service of the Gospel. Yes, I challenge you to give a THOROUGH look at the lives and work of Pace and Saint; they ran a straight race, and, by God’s grace, finished well—examples to us all.

  • Christian Vagabond

    Well, just by looking at Rembrandt’s bio a few things pop up. First, he didn’t belong to a church, and given that his mother was Catholic and his father Dutch Reformed, for many evangelicals this would raise concerns, particularly if Rembrandt embraced Catholicism.

    The bigger issue though was his relationship with his maid.She was summoned by the Reformed Church and charged with “the acts of a prostitute with Rembrandt the painter, to which she pled guilty. He never formally married her.

    As for crime. Statistics trump the testimony of the elderly. . Cities were very dangerous in the early 1900’s. Crime rates peaked in the early 90’s and have been going down ever since. 2012 saw NYC’s lowest number o f murders in its history. So if you’re going to stick by your claim that crime rates are proof of depravity, then you’d have to say that our world is much less depraved than it was under Reagan or George HW Bush. What’s interesting to me is the implicit value system you’re using. Most people would prefer to have a community without segregation than one where they can leave their doors unlocked.

  • Christian artist

    @Christian Vagabond

    You wrote: “What’s interesting to me is the implicit value system you’re using. Most people would prefer to have a community without segregation…”

    You are inferring something that isn’t there. The two exemplary artists whose lives and work I invited you to examine were missionaries to people groups entirely different from their own, racially and culturally. My closest friends and co-laborers in Christ are likewise racially and culturally diverse, and I greatly enjoy our fellowship. With the love of Jesus Christ in our midst it is a clear witness to all that His kingdom transcends culture and every national or ethnic boundary that man – or the devil – may attempt to erect.

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  • Carey D

    Wow. I love this thought-provoking article, and anyone that knows me would know that I agree with its sentiment whole-heartedly. (I make my living as a musician). That being said. . .this list may be placing an unrealistic expectation on the average church. A LOT of people don’t “get” art, much less the complexities and layers of Christian art, which integrates passion and faith. Again, props to the author and his points — I think it’s good food-for-thought (in an “in a perfect world” kind of way). I just think in our fast-paced (and often non-reflective) society, the burden is not on the church to “get” artists, but is rather on the artist to create work that is so good that it “demands” a place in our consciousness.

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  •;Also,CIVAnetwork caroline harnish

    Thank You for taking a stand!! I’ve experienced all of these & more!! This is a very readable article, well done! Share this with all the artists you know who love Jesus!!

  • Dan Baker

    Thanks for this article. We got hit with a lot of that nonsense when we tried to fundraise for our last film. We were trying to create a sci-fi film that could double as a ministry tool to be used in Youth Groups and summer camps. Church leaders were almost outright nasty to us a few times.

    Even people that should have ‘gotten’ us, like a ministry that operates at sci-fi/fantasy conventions, condemned the idea of a sci-fi film that didn’t directly and explicitly deal with the gospel…and our story was inspired by CS Lewis’s The Great Divorce.

    That felt like a blow to the gut.

  • Dave

    “Treat the arts as a window dressing for the truth rather than a window into reality. See the arts as merely decorative or entertaining, not serious and life-changing. “‘Humour’ artists by ‘allowing’ them to put work up in the hallways, or some forgotten, unused corner with terrible lighting, where it can be ‘decoration,'” David Hooker told me.”

    Clearly the author intends us to believe that ‘the arts are an actual window to reality’ and that that window is important to the Gospel (serious and life-changing) in some way.

    It seems to me that the only really serious and important life-changing thing is to know God, to serve Christ, and to glorify and enjoy Him forever.

    I thought the Bible taught that there is only one way that folk can hear the Gospel and that is through the teaching of His word – not our visual, musical, or dramatic interpretation of His word, but the teaching and preaching of His actual Word – which is the Bible.

    If we have a Gospel to bring to the world, then that Gospel better be the very Word of God and nothing else.

    If there is value in the artistic that might be best kept as entertainment within the Church but definitely NOT as a means of presenting the precious Gospel of Jesus Christ since He has already given the only vehicle for that purpose.

    • Violetta

      I understand your point about people not knowing how to be saved unless they receive complete, accurate information about how to be saved, but I am perplexed at your very narrow definition of teaching. People can learn the alphabet from singing puppets, how to assemble a lawn chair through comic-book-style illustrations, and which character traits to prize the most through a cherished novel. Why would teaching the Gospel be so different? In fact, when I think about it, I have never personally read the Bible: I have only read the interpretations of English translators. Pretty much every communication system I can come up with relies on the interpretation of the communicator to some degree or other, and all have plenty of room for distortion on behalf of communicator and audience. A poorly written play and a poorly written sermon could equally mislead truth-seekers about the Gospel, although they may be more inclined to accept the sermon at face value. (It would be ideal if everyone in the world could just read the Bible in its original languages, though I don’t think that will ever happen in real life. Not to mention it doesn’t protect against each reader’s misinterpretations and cultural biases.)
      I am equally perplexed at the dichotomy you present between an unattainably pure vessel of the Gospel and mere entertainment. Yes, it is by far the MOST serious and important life-changing thing to know and serve Christ for eternity, but a lot of us also experience smaller serious and important life-changing things. A mountain might be infinitely small compared to God, but it’s still pretty big compared to those climbing it! I can attest that God once enacted a very significant change in my life, many years after I got saved, through the life and work of a musician I never met. (This wasn’t even some long-dead hymn composer; he was contemporary and fairly mainstream.) A birth, a death, a romance, a heartbreak, an epiphany that changes the way a person relates to God, a realization of a vocation, even a first exposure to a formerly familiar topic from the fresh perspective of an artist: Many things can be tools of transformation, for better or worse.
      It is also in this unaccounted gulf between entertainment and Scripture that I find my own calling: I live in the United States, where the majority of people have heard some or all of the Gospel but don’t care. I think they should hear, in familiar and accessible terms, on familiar and accessible territory, why it matters to THEM. There is a popular Christian fiction series that comes to mind which exemplifies this problem, quoting enough Scripture and depicting enough salvation experiences to give people an idea of how to get saved, but not going as far as to demonstrate why that might possibly be a good idea. People accept the Gospel for a variety of reasons, sometimes decades after first hearing it. I think it’s a valid pursuit to bring those reasons to the attention of the public.

      • Dave

        Hello Violetta,

        Sorry, I did not realise you had replied to my post until now. I am not attempting to be overly trite, but God’s Word disagrees <>:

        14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never <>? And how are they to hear without <>? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are <>? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So <>, and <>.

        ‘Preaching’ in this context and grounded in the etymology of kaiusontos is heralding; a proclamation; an announcement.

        Other means of bringing the gospel to unbelievers are purely secondary and inferior; good for entertainment and building up and affirmation etc.

  • Dan Baker

    It’s funny to me that the Church is constantly up in arms about the negative effect the arts (film, painting, music, etc…) has on our society; how it’s messages are so pervasive, how violence and sex infiltrate our minds, often through subliminal means…yet when the artist stand up to use the arts to advance the gospel, suddenly the arts have no value or power.

  • Cathy Feeman

    There is one more that I actually heard a pastor warn other pastors about, and that is not to use artists for the churches own motives (or what they can ‘do for the church’). By that he was referring to throwing the arts into the big bag of PR tricks, not valuing the artists themselves but perceiving them as a sort of novelty that could be used to market the church to seekers. Many fall prey to this kind of thinking in an unconscious way, I suppose because the church, in general, just hasn’t put the arts (and most secular occupations for that matter) into their grid of valid life pursuits and callings. Great article, I really enjoyed it!

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  • Michael Daley

    Until this Article, I really never thought about Art nor Artist in the Church. Reading the article has open my eyes and now I can see.I now have na awareness, and agree that the church has not embrace or promote artistry the way it should. Every church should look for ways and means to use art as a tool, to help propagate the gospel of Chris.

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  • Kitt

    There is one more thing he could add……..

    Christian colleges and universities NEED TO HAVE MFA PROGRAMS that are NOT dependent on secular financial resources or dominated by secular artistic influence! Christian artists are not making art with the same humanist ideals that secular institutions push, support and advocate. Rather, their work is a form of worship, teaching, and/or evangelism. These are the artistic ideals that need to be supported by the church!

  • Tom Pfingsten

    Thank you for taking the time to poll these artists; it was convicting and encouraging to read their responses. I have felt this way about Christian music for a long time — the most successful musicians are not always the ones making the music that most glorifies God, aesthetically. I’ve spent many hours debating with folks who don’t see aesthetics as a spiritual value, but then turn around and complain about the church’s inability to affect the culture.

    As a writer, one of the arts that I deeply wish would improve and receive more support from the church is poetry. Most Christians are either afraid of it because they think it’s too emotional, edgy, self-gratifying — or they think the height of poetic virtue is a sing-songy rhyme about anything positive. It’s easy to despair. In fact, I may be pointing several friends to your post out of desperation. :)

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    I completely understand the sentiment of the article. It reminds me of the forward to “Jubilate” by Donald Hustad entitled “The Pilgrimage of a Schizophrenic Musician.”
    For 30 years in Worship Ministry frustration has been the name of the game, so I write and create things that will never see the light of performance or usage in the situations where I serve the local church.

  • Short Little Rebel

    Hi. I like this article but it was so full of art ‘terminology’ that I couldn’t figure out what you really want. What are some pragmatic, real live kind of things we can ask Christian artists to do? How do you address a Christian artist when you want something done for your church? I think many Christians are afraid of the art community because it can’t be trusted. In this, I am referring to artists who put Christ and crucifix into urine. You get my point. We are afraid that if we give an artist carte blanch, they will abuse it and put something frightful up, which we are then supposed to pay for. How can we trust an artist to explore the greater questions of life without receiving something depressing, uninspired, insulting or even blasphemous? THAT is the question. And based on the behavior of the art community lately, I think it is a fair question.

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  • Matthew Lankford

    This article seems to bemoan that artists are squeezed out of the church. My observation tends to be that the opposite is the case. Case in point: millions or billions of “pictures of Christ” form the church’s concept of Christ. Sadly, the Second Commandment, which forbids making images of the Lord, is usually either forgotten or jettisoned from the Bible by some. Fujimura is one iconodule (quoted in the article) who falsely believes images to represent the Lord can greatly glorify God. Let’s remember that the Bible says we are not to think that the Lord is like art or an image made by man (Acts 17:29). And much less are we to change the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, to birds, or four-footed beasts, or creeping things (Romans 1:23-25).

    “Seeing, they do not see.” (Luke 8:10)

  • Andrew

    Just a quick note. Maybe it was mentioned above but there are so many comments I don’t have the time to read them all. :)

    In an article about appreciating art, the image in the article has no source or photo credit information. :)

    I’m sure this is an accidental oversite but one that should be corrected in an article about artists and their value.

  • D. Leigh Piatt

    I’m the president of a Christ-based arts center, Hope Center Arts in Jersey City. We produce 40 events a year-plays, concerts, art exhibitions and we have our own in-house academy with enrollment of 130 students. This article hits the nail on the head on every count. We need to reclaim the arts within the church. We need to learn how to properly disciple artists producing well-rounded Christians, with strong biblical foundations. And we need to champion their ability to be a voice to the culture for the things of God. I work with literally hundreds of artists and creative people. It’s challenging but well worth the investment. Thank you for this article, you are one of the few people that understands the challenges of the christian artist – well said! – Leigh Piatt/Hope Center Arts

  • Andrew Kercher

    The largest discouragement for Christian artists is a retread of an ancient aberrant quasi-Christian worldview (a false doctrine, or lack of truth) that seems rampant in Evangelicalism, that does not see the mystery of the Incarnation as central to the Christian message: God became flesh. If anything leaves us asking more questions than giving us simple, trite answers, it is this great mystery.

    That speaks volumes of the value and dignity of humanity, made in the image and likeness of the Deity. The material stuff of nature is not some kind of necessary evil in which we live and move and have our being (a gnostic view of the world), but it has become the stuff of divinity (the Christian view of the Word, the coeternal Logos), whereby we may become partakers of the divine nature through Jesus Christ Who is now in union with the Church.

    You cannot separate Christ from the Church anymore than you can separate Christ from his humanity which he took from the Virgin Mother without a father or from his deity—God from God, Light from Light—begotten from the Father without a mother. We see our issues in postmodernism as a new paganism, but these are all tried-and-true issues dealt with in the early church and addressed by the Creed and Councils.

    Sometimes we have answers that open up to us more important questions.

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  • Wes Roberts

    Outstanding article. Thank you! As a leadership mentor, it’s been my sacred privilege to mentor some sincerely remarkable artists. This will be an article I will use in my work around the globe. Again, thank you.

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  • Lori Biddle

    My position in the local church is Director of Creative Arts. Although I’ve been described as creative – my title more correctly describes me as someone in love with God’s creative, artistically gifted people. I LOVE artists and am completely intrigued with their minds and how they communicate with and explore God.

    Despite our ministries dedication to creativity and uniqueness – within the local church their are still some boundaries especially being in a small non-creative community that I just can’t break through. Although we try over and over!

    What I’ve discovered in our ministry is how artists love to be included in the community and loved and nurtured and affirmed. They call me ‘mom’ as I lead the musicians, technical areas of the ministry as well as all the artists. I LOVE them more than I can ever tell them!

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  • Willie Smith

    I have to agree with your article about Phillip Ryken’s observations regarding how churches discourage artists. I am 54, have just graduated with an Associates in Graphic Design from Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Online Division, and cannot get work with any Christian organization.

    I have run into this attitude at a lot of churches, as though being an artist is some sort of unspoken sin. Even the community at large here locally treat us artists as though we are lower than dirt. I feel as though I have wasted a lot of time and money for nothing. I have since quit going to church altogether, because I feel as though I am not welcomed there.