Art and the Church

The Church needs art.

I was sitting in our staff meeting the other week and we began to talk about yet another organization that wanted Evergreen’s support for their upcoming praise night. In my time on staff at this church I have received many letters, emails, and phone calls asking for our church’s support of some sort of praise/worship night. All of them had an admirable goal of revival or organizing some age or ethnic demographic for the cause of Jesus. Now don’t get me wrong… there’s nothing evil about praise nights. I have participated in, organized, preached, and even led worship at my share over the years. But when our staff was discussing this most recent request, I kept thinking… “Really? Is that the best the Church can do?”

And then I started thinking about art.

I thought of how art pushes us… how it challenges us to think… to look at situations from a different perspective… to appreciate that which we’ve always overlooked. I thought about how art makes people more creative… how it highlights culture… it awakens people… it births ideas…

Art brings life.

Perhaps this is why the Church has always talked about the beginning of all things in terms of “creation” rather than “manufacturing.” We recognize that humanity and the world we live in is more a work of art than the building of a product.

Throughout history art has been a way to express the entire spectrum of human emotion and experience. It has also been an integral and important part of the Church… to communicate biblical narrative and express the devotion of God’s people. The making of the ark of the covenant, the ephod, even the temple were works of art. When the early church emerged, those first generations of  Christ followers drew depictions of biblical accounts on caves and within the Roman catacombs. In later centuries, as we all know, art was a hallmark of the grand churches of both the east and west.

Michelangelo’s Pieta
Rublev’s icon of the Trinity

So back to the praise nights.

The Church has ceased to be known for its art. And perhaps that is part of our problem. Maybe the reason the Church always seems to be 2 steps behind the progression of society is that it has lost the fresh springs of its former creative juices. Artists have left because the Church has forgotten how vital they are to the movement of God’s people. And with less and less creativity, we’re reduced to only repeat the only thing we seem to know how to do.

Praise nights.

I, for one, think we can do better than that. Maybe if we can find a way to integrate more art into the life of the Church, it will help us to think more creatively and effectively.

Lalo Garcia. I learned more about theology and people in one afternoon with this guy than from some of my seminary classes. I kid you not, this guy can teach a course on homiletics (preaching) at the seminary level using only his experience as an artist. His stuff is without a doubt, sacred art.

As I have been thinking about the publishing of this post, I attended the Mako Fujimura exhibit at APU. When I was there, I ran into a senior pastor of one of our sister ABC churches – Ken Tang-Quan of Palos Verdes Baptist. He said something that night that affirmed what I have been thinking about (way to go Ken!). He said that he didn’t necessarily understand all of Mako’s modern art pieces, but what he did appreciate was that it made him think about he and his congregation can be more creative in ministry! EXACTLY. Ken TQ hit it on the nose. We don’t have to “understand” every piece of art to appreciate it. But what the church does need to appreciate is how creativity is Godly.

Makoto Fujimura… another artist/theologian. The night he spoke to us, he gave a better sermon than most of us pastors could have delievered.

As Mako Fujimura said to us that night, “Everybody is an artist.” We need to appreciate how those with more of this gift can help the rest of us see things in new and different ways… so we can do things other than praise nights.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a call to erase praise nights.

It is a call to add to our palette of colors.

We have yet to see the full potential of the people of God, unleashed to imagine new ways of pouring out love onto this planet and its inhabitants. What would happen if we let people dream and try new things?

Is creativity dangerous? Absolutely.

So is the Kingdom of God in the hands of artists and creatives. Unleash them and see the divine beauty they capture in their art.

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