How Pastors Can Inspire Artists
If artists of faith are going to thrive, we need to know how pastors can inspire artists. Beyond sermons with pop culture references, and hip clothing, we need something systemic that is anchored in Scripture. As pastors, we need to understand what the Bible says about the arts and understand how God’s word relates to artists today. As a pastor and an artist myself, I wrote this to help my fellow pastors understand how much you have in common with the artists in the pew and how you can connect God’s word to their world. Whether you are wondering how pastors can inspire artists on their worship team, or artists in the mainstream, this article will help you discover the pitfalls and principles of ministering to artists.
The Problem Facing the Church
A real problem facing the church today is the reality that too many creative children in the church grow up and leave the church. From movie moguls like George Lucas (creator of Star Wars), to pop stars like Katy Perry, far too many gifted men and women grow up within the church, but leave because they never see the connection between the imagination and creativity of God and the art they feel called to create. Or they fail to see how they can use their gifts in the mainstream and glorify God. This is not because the God of the bible isn’t creative. It isn’t because the God of the bible doesn’t care about art and artists. It is because we have missed the passages in scripture that speak profoundly to artists, and we have forgotten what the early church fathers understood about beauty and imagination.
We have lost sight of what inspired C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien to write epic stories that inspired millions. But, the good news is that God is still inspiring great artists, and God always uses his ministers to speak powerfully to the creatives in the pew. The question is whether we will be faithful to understand what has been lost, and to nurture and inspire the creative and artistic among us.
One reason we have this problem is because seminaries focus on godly training in hermeneutics, systematic theology, and many other disciplines including the understanding of the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. I remember some of those days fondly, and some of them as exhausting. Regardless, the problem is not in what they did teach, but in what they did not teach. Most seminaries have no teaching on how God gave us the gift of creativity, how the beauty of art points people to the beauty of God, and which artists in the Bible are significant for understanding the role of art in God’s economy. The reason is that the leading theologians for the last several centuries were largely modernists. It is no fault of their own. It was the water they were swimming in. It brought great strides in emphasizing logic and systematic theology, but also lost sight of the artistic, the creative, and the beautiful within God’s plan.
Finding the Common Ground
Pastors and artists are not so different. I remember having dinner with several pastor’s whose spouses were artists. What was fascinating was how similar these two different vocations are. Consider these 5 ways in which the artists you seek to minister to are very much like you:
1) Both of you craft a work of art to share with the public
2) Both of you struggle with the desire for approval and the pain of rejection
3) Both of you long to use your gifts to influence others
4) Both of you as Christians, seek to glorify God as faithful people in a changing culture
5) Both of you struggle to find your identity in Christ, instead of in your performance
Don’t Try to Be Cool
Don’t try to be cool in order for artists to like you. Just be authentically who God called you to be. Artists value authenticity, and the more successful they are, the harder it is for them to find. People all around them are vying for their attention and adjusting what they wear, and what they say so they are in the ‘in crowd’ with this famous artist. I remember a friend telling me how one man would change from his Nike shoes to Yeezy’s before going to visit Kanye West at his house, just because Kanye created the brand Yeezy. It is ridiculous. Even Kanye called him out for it and told him to wear whatever he wanted.
Don’t try to be hip, just be who God called you to be. Famous creatives who are serious about their faith don’t want a pastor to be a fan, they want their pastor to be a person with godly counsel who is not drifting with current fads and trends, but who is anchored to the timeless truths of God’s word. They have enough groupies and people asking for favors, money, autographs and access. They have enough people trying to look cool and act cool. Be the one person in their life who is more enamored with Christ than the fame of anyone in their congregation.
Don’t Assume and Don’t Abuse
When I moved from New York to become an executive pastor at a church in West L.A. one of the first changes I made was to pay the core musicians on the worship team for their talents and time. Back then it was only $100/week. It wasn’t as much as they make somewhere else, but it was enough to communicate to them we respect and value their gifting. Sure, there are many that are happy to volunteer and that is great. But don’t ever presume that because someone in your church is a fantastic musician that they should play on the worship team for free. I have heard too many stories of artists who have felt taken advantage of by the church in this way. Every worker is worthy of his or her wages. This is why we pay pastors, accountants, secretaries, and yes – musicians. The side benefit is that your worship will be much higher quality, and be a more attractive worship service to new people.
Remember it may not be about the money. Artists need to be fed spiritually too. It can be exhausting traveling on the road, performing night after night in the theater or working in the studio all week. Recognize their need for a sabbath. They may have a world class voice, but they may also have a deep need to simply be loved, and to take communion in humility that week, rather than be highlighted, and asked to perform.
Learning to Love the Artists in the Pew
The first step toward any effective ministry is a heart of love for the ones you are ministering to. You don’t have to go far to find compassion for an artist or professional creative. This is because you, as a pastor, face the same challenges. Like an artist crafting a work of art for a gallery, or a film producer finishing a film for the theater. You have spent a great portion of your time using your gifting and training to create something new every week. You stand before your congregation seeking to capture the imagination of God’s people with their need for Salvation, and to point them to the beauty of Christ.
As a pastor, you use every creative choice you can imagine. You adjust the volume, inflection, and tone of your voice to emphasize what is important. You utilize storytelling to help those listening to see more clearly what the Bible is communicating. You edit and re-edit your sermon, longing to offer your best to God, and longing to be faithful to feed His sheep.
The reality is that you, as a pastor, are just like the artists in your church. You spend countless hours creating a fresh presentation and delivering it live in front of dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people. Your passion to do this every week and your fear of failure are the exact same challenges faced by the artists in the pew. They do have unique challenges, but this core dynamic of the creative life is the same.
Christ as Creative Communicator
Christ is our model. He used parables and metaphors to capture the imagination of his audience. His approach matches that of the Old Testament tradition of epic stories and the elaborate poetry. This is because God has always used stories to capture our attention and to help us understand His love for us. In order to honor God, we should utilize the same principles Jesus did as he taught in parables.
Pastors, Not Entertainers
I know some pastors will be uncomfortable being compared to entertainers. To be clear, we are not entertainers, and we should never seek to become an entertainer. Our primary goal as ministers of the gospel is to preach Christ. Our aim must be to point people to Christ rather than leave them with a fascination with our communication skills. This is where you are unique from your friends who are professional singers and performers. Yet, we cannot ignore the tools of communication. Ignore the principles of effective public speaking, and your ministry will never reach the people God has called you to reach. He gave you not only the gifts to read and exegete His word, but also the gifts to communicate effectively to His people.
The Medium is the Message
Every seminary has a preaching course for one reason: it requires training to become an effective preacher. We cannot offer to God that which cost us nothing. (2 Sam 24:24) As my old preaching mentor Steve Brown said, “if your preaching is boring, you are implying that God is boring.” That would be tragic. As Marshall McLuhan’s stated, “The medium is the message.” Your delivery is an unmistakable part of your message. Whether you wear a fine Italian suit and tie in a megachurch, jeans and sneakers in a New York City theater, or khakis and a Hawaiian shirt like my Calvary Chapel friends, you and your sermon delivery are always part of the message. This is true of your clothes, your tone, your pacing, and your demeanor. Just as we see the Apostle Paul’s personality coming through in his own writings, God allows your personality to come through when you preach. Your oratory skills and your illustrations are just a part of what God wants to use in your preaching.
The One Biblical Passage about Artists to Start With
The number one passage you should be familiar with if you are going to minister to artists is Exodus 31:1-5, and the story of Bezalel. He is the first person “filled with the spirit of God,” he was commissioned by God on Mt. Sinai, and his artwork was used by God to communicate God’s character and love for His people. If you have never heard of Bezalel, you can watch our video on Bezalel HERE. He is a character in the bible with profound implications for Christians who are artists. Consider here the word of the Lord from Mt. Sinai:
“Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— 4 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 5 to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. 6 Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you: 7 the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law with the atonement cover on it, and all the other furnishings of the tent— 8 the table and its articles, the pure gold lampstand and all its accessories, the altar of incense, 9 the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, the basin with its stand— 10 and also the woven garments, both the sacred garments for Aaron the priest and the garments for his sons when they serve as priests, 11 and the anointing oil and fragrant incense for the Holy Place. They are to make them just as I commanded you.” (NIV)
This passage is the essential passage for understanding art and artists in God’s economy. This is the only time in the Bible where God is giving specific directions on how to establish a Godly nation, a Godly people and a Godly culture. Within that context we find God taking time to call an artist to play a critical role in establishing the visual culture of Israel. This artist, Bezalel, was called to create the Ark of the Covenant, the priestly robes and so many other items.
When God Commissions Artwork
When God rescued His people from slavery in Egypt and sought to create a new nation, He started by giving them the law, and we are all familiar with the Ten Commandments. But from the same mountain, God commissioned artwork to be made by the artists he called for that work. If you consider that the book of Exodus is really about how God transforms His people from people living in slavery to a nation that worships Him in spirit and in truth, it is profound that one third of the book of Exodus is describing artwork. This is not accidental.
God, in His great wisdom, took a great deal of time to describe the artwork, the priestly robes with golden thread, the priestly breastplate with precious gems embedded in it, God’s incense, the anointing oil and many other items. Why did God take such pains to command all these beautiful things to be made when His people were nomads with no homes, gardens or stability? God did it because these visual symbols pointed to the very character of God, their redeemer! This was the template that would be used for future temples, including the awe inspiring Solomon’s Temple.
How God Used Drama and Art
God utilized artistic expression to communicate effectively to his people, because He designed us to inspired by stories, by the pageantry of the feasts, the visual symbolism of the priestly robes and the entire sacrificial system. Some people think God was finished with such symbolism when Jesus died and the veil to the Temple was torn. But God didn’t stop using the power of drama and symbolism. We still are called to “tell the stories” to our children, and to share the testimonies of God’s people as we gather together as God’s people.
The Drama of Communion
We are also commanded to use the symbolism of communion today, as we follow his Christ’s call to celebrate the Lord’s Table, and partake of the body and the blood. These physical symbols, and the practice or recalling the story of Jesus betrayal, death and resurrection are commanded by God because it helps us remember what we tend to take for granted.
These physical acts, and visual symbols remind us God’s love for us, and the doctrines associated with His love. This is powerful for us as humans made in the image of God, precisely because God designed us to be inspired by stories, and symbols. This is part of what is so meaningful about the sacraments in the church, and why we take them seriously.
Our God is not a dualistic god who only cares about the spirit and bemoans the physical. God gave us a physical creation, gave us physical bodies, and became incarnate himself. All of this demonstrates the value of the physical and reinforces the value of the symbolism we use when take communion.
If you want to minister to artists effectively, I encourage you to examine this text in Exodus 31 and ask God to reveal to you what principles will help you inspire the artists in your pews. The text is there, but so few ever take the time to preach on this text, even though we take a vow as a pastor to ‘preach the whole counsel of God.’ If you want more resources on this, I cover this passage in depth in our Arts and Entertainment Institute. We have four hours of content unpacking the significance of this passage for artists, the church, and the culture.
Conclusion: Identity in Christ
Our calling as pastors is to point all of God’s people to Christ. This is true for the lawyers, doctors, students, and artists in your church. Just as you strive to find your identity in God’s love for you and not the size of your church, so artists must find their identity in Christ and not in the number of their subscribers on YouTube, records sold, Box Office receipts or the awards and golden statues they accumulate. As the apostle Paul reminds us, it is all rubbish. (Philippians 3:8-10)
If you sit and fellowship with other pastors who are honest, they will tell you they want their family and their congregation to love their sermons and applaud their bible studies. This is because, just like any artist, you poured so much of yourself into that sermon. I remember going to lunch with a guest preacher after church on Long Island where I was a pastor. The visiting pastor was confident he preached a great sermon. He turned to his wife and said, “how many great sermons do you think were preached today?” His wife of 30 years turned to him and replied graciously, “One less than you think.” She loved him enough to be honest. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” (Proverbs 27:6).
It is your privilege to lead artists to the cross, and the empty tomb. If you are honest about your own desire for approval and applause, and you preach the gospel to your own heart, you will have something beautiful and healing to offer to the artists facing the same struggle.
They may have tremendous gifts, but their heart is in need of the gospel just like every other man and woman in your church. May we all, as ministers of the gospel, be faithful to minister to every person God brings into our fold, and may our sermons inspire artists to stay connected to the church because they feel understood and inspired by God’s word and God’s people.
Copyright © 2021 Joel & Michelle Pelsue. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.
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