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A Church for Artists (Part Two)

Preface

I’ve been dreaming a lot about the Church & Her artisans. About creators, like me & like many of you, who serve the Church faithfully. Who have a passion for the “liturgical arts.”

But I’ve also had a growing dream for the many artists who are in the Church but who are not wired to create for Sunday morning (& who honestly don’t need to.) There are many different types of artists in the Church, all with different motivations & agendas. And my dream is for a Church who comes underneath all of Her artists & cares for them well.

This article is a continuation from Part One. So read that if you haven’t already. And forgive me if all of this isn’t clear & well-developed. I’m still processing much of this. =)

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III

One of the quickest ways to shut down any given artist at my church is for them to be asked to create. And for a church full of artisans, this must be navigated quite delicately.

Why? Because sometimes asking an artist to produce subtly implies that the artist is a commodity. And it reinforces the narrative of this Age of Utilitarianism (Jeremy Bentham) that says your value is determined on your ability to produce.

This is a problem in the Church today.

The moment an artist tells a pastor what he/she does…that moment is pivotal. The pastor has a choice: to either see that artist as a fellow disciple, or as an ornament to decorate his church production. The artist also has the same choice to make. And the problem I sense is that we value art over the artist.

Mature artists do not want to be defined by what they do… but by who they are! So when they are constantly asked to do things FOR the church, it can quickly burn them out.

I’m so thankful to be a part of a Church that does not see me for what I do … but for who I am. And while I do jump in & serve from time to time, they are not dependent on me to “produce” every week. And if they ever sense me become too identified with my art, they will gently nudge me away from serving. They give me space. They let me breathe. They let me BE. And this is what my soul needs!

Many other artists have a problem with finding their identity in what they do & not in who they really are. Those of us who struggle with this may feel insecure & worthless when we aren’t able to produce & create. We have no idea what it means to simply BE; we think “being still” is unproductive. So we fill our schedule with work. We hustle. Because it’s never enough. And as soon as our ability to work is taken away from us, we turn into lost souls who are searching for our identity. And sometimes I wonder if the Church feeds this mentality in subtle, unintentional ways.

What we do is not who we are.

And if you are the type of creator who creates all week long & needs Sabbath rest on the weekend, then be aware of this & create boundaries. Talk to your pastors about this. And pastors, be aware of these types of artists in your community. The best way to care for them is to not ask them to create something for you. Value them for who they are, not what they can do for you & your weekend production! If they are to do something special for Sunday morning, let them come to you on their own terms, in their own time. And please, do NOT think that they are not using their gifts “for the Kingdom” by not creating art for Sunday morning. The Kingdom is MUCH MUCH bigger than our weekend services!

The Church must shift its posture if great artists are to come out of it.

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IV

Imagine a tree.

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This is the image that God has whispered to us at Journey.  This visual is helping us know how to nurture our community of creators.

Each artist is a branch. Some are large & far reaching. Some are small & parts of other branches. Some reach the sky, touching the sunlight. And others are close to the trunk.

Our whole church family is the tree. The community, leaders, what we do on Sunday morning, our Villages (small groups), etc. is the trunk & the roots.

Spiritual nutrients flow from the Word through relationships. We soak up the Living Water. We grow in the Light. We are strengthened through the storms that bend & bow our community.

Like a tree planted by streams of living water, which yields its fruit in its season. And its leaf does not wither…

For some churches, the art created is like the fruit on the tree. (Spiritual fruit comes in many shapes & forms, by the way.) If you want to see how healthy a tree is, look at the fruit it produces. If the fruit isn’t healthy, it isn’t the fruit’s fault but the tree’s. And the tree needs tending to. (read Michael Gungor’s “The Crowd, the Critic & the Muse”)

But if a tree is unhealthy & not bearing fruit, we cannot import fruit from another tree & tack it on as if it were our own. I see too many churches doing this…bringing in fruit from the outside & pretending that the tree is healthy, when in fact, it is dying. This is when it becomes all about “show.” And this can lessen a church’s degree of authenticity.

Take away the facade & tend to the dying tree! And scatter what seeds you can while there is still time. But don’t tack on fake fruit & act as if all is fine. Recognize your own branches that can bear fruit; tend to their health; they long to be grafted into the rest of the tree.

My worship pastor Brett Mabury shares some thoughts –

As I’ve shared with you before, some of the branches are closer to the trunk – I see this symbolic of where their lives and art are touching others – our Villages, Student Ministries, Journey Kids, the Sunday Gathering, our local schools, markets, retirement villages, local galleries, etc. “Some reach the sky & touch the sunlight.” This reminds me of how exposed those artists are who are stretching out further – our eyes are perhaps more drawn to this part of the tree too – like those artists with notoriety. I think of how much those branches have to flex and move when the storms come – it is not an easy ‘placement’ for the branch on this part of the tree (but so important). If a branch is detached from the trunk and its essential root system, it cannot survive. 

Coming back to where the tree is planted… more significantly, the tree as a whole will die if not planted in the right place. The elements that gives the tree life is found only in Christ – His created soil, sun, water, etc. So the tree must be planted in Christ and filled with His Spirit – our Living Water. 

When a seed is placed in the ground, it needs good soil, sun, water… How sad when the church environment asks the artist to plant seeds in their life without providing these vital ingredients. The soil they are being asked to bury seed in (which is always a cost) is dead. We need shepherds who provide an environment of love for our artists to be planting their seeds of prayer, surrender, service, trust, vulnerability… then we will see the landscape change around us. We will see the artist, through their life and art, ‘speaking’ beauty into the soul of man – a reflection of the beauty they have already experienced in community.

Every church is different. We come in all shapes & sizes. Some of us will have more artists amongst us than others, but never is one church more important because it is more “artistic.” God may choose to work through the arts in a unique community, but creativity is not a requirement for living in the Kingdom. So while this conversation is focused on churches who do have artists in their midst, I want to be mindful & encouraging to those communities who don’t see themselves as very artistic.

“He said to me I was a tree in a story about a forest, and that it was arrogant of me to believe any differently. And he told me the story of the forest is better than the story of the tree.” ~Donald Miller

As the divide between the arts & our faith lessens, we need to have conversations about what it looks like for a church to care for its artists. Not to treat them more special…but to know how to uniquely pour into them & not constantly take from them as if they are a commodity.

Church…pour into your artists. And they will pour back into you. But don’t let it stop there. Let’s be a Church that releases its artists…to bring Beauty into a broken world….to shine Light into the darkness…to usher in the world that ought to be.

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(I found this article called “How to Discourage Artists in the Church” very insightful.)

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THE LUMINOUS PROJECT

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This discussion is one of many that we have every May at The Luminous Project.

LuminousProject is a contemplative movement & space for our souls to catch up to our bodies. It’s the intersection where Dreaming, Thinking, Communion, & BEing meet.

Ian Morgan Cron will again be our spiritual navigator for #Luminous14. Mark Pierson (The Art of Curating Worship), and some of my favorite artists will be joining us as well. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be announcing more and more presenters!

What some friends say:

“The LuminousProject provided a safe room, a deep breath, and a taste of absolute beauty.” -Gary Molander

“Luminous was like a breath of fresh air for my soul. The opportunity to participate in things like silence and reflection at an event is so rare these days and was just what I needed.” -Tom Read

“Luminous is a deep breath, a place of Shalom, where stillness, art, and conversation nourish the soul and enliven the mind.” -Sheila Mullican

Luminous is one of my favorite events of the entire year. It’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely for a particular tribe who are dreaming about the the arts, worship & the future of the Church.

I hope some of you can come join us!

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Registration is OPEN with limited spots available in each pricing tier.
There are only 40 spots available each pricing tier for Individuals and 40 for Groups!

Rates go up Oct. 1.

Once each level sells out, more registrations will only be available on the next level. We only have 220 total spots available. Go HERE for more info and to register today.

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