Category Archives: influences

Sharing Your Suffering: 3 Things

A little more than 5 years ago I was afflicted with a disease that causes constant pain. The skin on my feet, hands, and parts of my legs hardens and constricts the muscles and joints. The constricted tension causes the nerves around those areas to become inflamed. This disease also causes sinus blisters in my nose that sometimes restrict breathing and cause relatively frequent migraines. In short – this disease thing stinks. Sometimes I have a limp, sometimes I can’t see straight, sometimes I just hurt, but it is always present with me. A silent thorn digging into my body with extreme patience and fury.

Like most people, I don’t like to admit weakness. I can be a proud man and want to be strong. So I seldom let people know that when I am in pain. I’ll smile and push through the pain, letting people forget that I am the way I am. I’ll try to hide my slight limp. I’ll squint my eyes or look down at the ground in order to keep the bright lights from hurting my head. I know that I’m not the only one who does this. Many people hide their pain from those they love. Whether it is physical pain or emotional, people don’t like to show real pain. But why? Why hide it? Perhaps, if they forget I have this affliction, maybe I can forget too? Maybe if they can’t see it, it will hurt a little less? Maybe I am afraid to burden them with my own trails? I know not why we hide our afflictions from the people we love, only that we do. So here are three things that result when we try to hide our brokenness and three things you can do to change that.

Results of Hiding:

  1. When we hide our affliction, we are robbing ourselves of grace. The grace of God covers us and His grace is, indeed, enough. However, in His infinite mercy, God has given us a tremendous support system to dispense grace in this life. The community of the faithful is to be a group in which we can bear our burdens out in the strength of a group that share a common love for one another. So, to hide our pain is to forego this benefit from the community of faith.
  2. When we hide our pain, we deny others the freedom to express their own pain. No individual thinks that they are perfect. No matter how arrogant a person may be, there is not a person who genuinely believes they are perfect. The problem is that people often think other people are perfect. Sin has taught us to think that other people are better off than we are. Sin causes us to think that other people are perfect and we need to be perfect as well. But, people need to know that you are not perfect. People need to know that it is ok to be broken. They need to see it modeled. When you share your brokenness with the community, you are granting the community permission to not be perfect. They will follow your lead.
  3. When we hide our failures, we fail to grant grace to others who are struggling as well. Being a perfect person helps no one. They will not see Jesus if you are perfect. Rather, they will see Jesus if you are broken. The reality is that: when you are perfect, you are passively sending a message to those around you. You are telling them that they cannot be imperfect. Yet, when you are being redeemed by the working of the Holy Spirit in your life, then people can see the victory over the failures. They can see that broken people can be rescued. Sometimes the best thing you can do is prove that you aren’t good enough.

What to Do:

  1. Admit your frailties one to another. It is not earth-shattering to know that if you will admit your struggles, others will too. But be prepared. Honesty also brings criticism. You must be prepared to grant grace to those who will not grant it to you. Perhaps they’ve not yet learned to give up perfection. Be honest about your pain. Sure, no one can hurt or think less of you if they don’t know. But no one can help you or encourage you either. Further, you may find out that you are a source of strength to others because of your brokenness.
  2. Live in open and honest community with others. This is basically a restatement from number 1, but a necessary one. You need other people. Introvert, extrovert, or whatever. You need people. God designed us this way and you must take advantage of it! Living in honesty community with others is difficult. It means when you ask someone, “how are you?” you really want the answer. When someone asks you, you are honest in your response. Brothers and sisters should not leave things to lay unanswered. Instead, believers seek reconciliation, restoration, and love with one another. This is honest community. Sometimes it is frustrating and difficult because we hurt each other, but it is always grace giving and the result is always love.
  3. Submit to the wisdom of others. When I was first afflicted with my disease, it was rough. I often had to use a cane to walk and found it difficult to accomplish tasks that I was assigned. I was working on a house for a missions group with a team of about 20 and my foot was essentially useless. On my crew were two students who knew my stubbornness and knew my own weakness. They insisted that I sit when I was limping, and that I stopped working when they saw I was hurting. After the trip I spoke with a doctor who told me that they probably saved me some severe nerve damage because they forced me to sit. Since then I have learned to trust those who know me. They know my weaknesses better than I do, so when they address something, I listen.

Maybe you don’t have a disease or struggle with something that causes you physical pain. There are still struggles you deal with. Depression, anxiety, dark feelings, and the like are all too common among believers. Yet, I believe if we are honest with one another, we will often find victory over the darkness. Though the struggles will not necessarily disappear, you can find greater victory by engaging in the community of faith.

Are there any tips you would add? How do you deal with struggles?

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Just short encouragement.

This is mere short encouragement for you today.

Christians are defined by their love for one another (John 13:35). Today, let these scriptures inspire you to love well:

  1. Be at peace with one another (Mark 9:50),
  2. Love one another (John 13:34),
  3. Be devoted to one another (Rom. 12:10),
  4. Live in harmony with one another (Rom. 12:16),
  5. Cease to pass judgment on one another (Rom. 14:13) ,
  6. Accept one another (Rom. 15:7),
  7. Instruct one another (Rom. 15:7),
  8. Greet one another (Rom. 16:16),
  9. Serve one another (Gal. 6:2),
  10. Carry one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2),
  11. Be patient, bearing with one another in love (Eph. 4:2),
  12. Be kind and compassionate to one another (Eph. 4:32),
  13. Forgive one another (Eph. 4:32),
  14. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19),
  15. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph 5:21),
  16. In humility consider one another better than yourselves (Phil. 2:3),
  17. Teach one another (Col. 3:16),
  18. Admonish one another (Col. 3:16),
  19. Encourage one another (1 Thes. 5:11),
  20. Spur one another towards love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24),
  21. Cease to slander one another (James 4:11),
  22. Cease to grumble against one another (James 5:9),
  23. Confess your sins to one another (James 5:16),
  24. Pray for one another (James 5:16),
  25. Clothe yourselves with humility towards one another (1 Peter 5:5).

4 Ways to Encourage Your Pastor

I recently sat with another pastor who lamented exhaustion in his ministry. He was discouraged about the growth of his people and I felt deep sympathy for him. We’ve all been there. All pastors and church leaders feel the weight of discipleship of their people and all of us feel like failures at some time on some level. I began to think about the ways that I am encouraged by SGF and their faithfulness. Pastors need encouragement sometimes… So I thought I’d line out four simple things you can do to encourage your

pastor. Here goes:

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1. Read your Bible and think deeply. Your pastor wants you to grow. Spiritual growth is done through study and engagement of Scripture. Basically, your discipleship is just that: yours. It is not dependent on some program, pastor, or community to push you to be a faithful disciple. While a good church, pastor, or community can aid in your growth as a Christian, your own personal discipline is not dependent on those aids. It is yours. Work hard and own it.

ben-white-292680-unsplash2. Attend church. I have a saying whenever someone apologizes for missing church. I say, “Its ok, we don’t take attendance.” I mean that! I think most pastors mean that. At SGF we don’t take attendance. We don’t judge your spiritual progress by your attendance at a particular worship service, meeting, or program. Our church seeks to measure success by asking the question: “are people growing to be more like Christ?” That being said, there is one easy, sure-fire way to encourage your pastor: attend. When someone attends faithfully, I feel tremendously encouraged. They don’t have to do anything else. Even though I am not critiquing their spiritual growth by their attendance, it still brings me great encouragement for them to simply attend. It tells me that the church matters to them. It tells me that they want to be a part of the community and enjoy gathering with us. Even if they do nothing else, a faithful attendee encourages my heart. So, attend church and your pastor will feel respected and loved. Attend… it’s that simple.

manki-kim-51020-unsplash3. Get out of your comfort zone and talk with other people about Jesus. When an athlete plays a sport, the competitive nature of his or her teammates propels them to work harder and make themselves better. I remember when I was in high school, one of the other point guards and I would have free-throw competitions. He and I would stand next to each other at the foul line, taking turns shooting until one of us missed. I remember the excitement of the challenge to be better. I remember the urging of the team around us. I remember feeling encouraged and strengthened to do better each time. I wasn’t trying to beat my teammate, I was trying to do better… to BE better.[1] It is the same way for your pastor. The more evangelical you are with your neighbors, the more he will feel convicted and propelled to share Christ in his own life. He is not trying to beat you in competition, he is trying to become a better disciple. When one of my people shares a story about their evangelistic encounters, I feel inspired and pressed to do more in my own efforts to spread the gospel. So get after it! Then share your stories of success and rejection with your pastor.

alexis-brown-82988-unsplash4. Disciple someone. Make the effort to know others deeply. As the pastor of a small congregation, I feel a great deal of responsibility for the discipleship of the people. Fortunately for me, our church is designed such that there is a built-in opportunity for meaningful conversation and relational engagement: we eat lunch every Sunday after church. To be clear, not everyone stays for lunch and this is in no way required. Eating lunch after church is simply a way to connect with people who may otherwise not get any discipleship. At these lunchtimes, I’ve witnessed as people speak with each other and have deep, meaningful conversation. Watching these conversations go one step further is a delight! When I hear of a member connecting to another person outside of Sunday lunch, I am ecstatic! When I hear of two or more people in my congregation getting together to learn and grow together outside of events, or when I hear of the text prayer needs that are being met, or when I hear of members loving and serving each other, I am overjoyed and relieved. You see, when the Church begins to disciple itself and not depend on the pastor alone, then “church” is working the way its supposed to work. So, make a regular meeting time with someone, work your way through a study with someone else, or just call other people from the church to pray with and for them. Do the work of discipleship and let your pastor know you are doing it.

I hope this list encourages you to love and encourage your pastor well! I wish every pastor could have the same experience of encouragement from their people that I do with SGF. If you want to encourage your pastor, try some of these things. Do you do anything additional to encourage your pastors? Let me know in the comments.

[1] My max free throws in a row was somewhere around 150. The guy I shot with usually won, but we were pretty neck and neck.

Finish the Book! 3 tips to becoming a reader and a list of where to start!

“Leaders are readers!” – Harry Truman. Leaders read books that engage their mind and challenge them to be better. Likewise, good pastors read books. Books about theology, history, practice, church ministry, and the like flood the desk of a good pastor. Good pastors will try to read a variety of books from a variety of perspectives and they will strive to understand viewpoints that are well beyond their personal opinions.

I can remember seeing the library of a particular pastor I had come to admire. He had three small rooms lined wall to wall with books, categorized according to topic. In addition to the walls lined with books, he had free-standing shelving that filled the empty space with more books. He was asked how many of these books he had actually read. He casually said, “Every book, cover to cover. With the exception of the reference works and commentaries.” The reference works and commentaries lined one wall of one of the three rooms. Then, pointing to a stack of about 10 books, he added, “Oh! And that stack on my desk. I’m reading those now.” Such a wealth of knowledge had made him a powerful pastor whose knowledge was used by the Holy Spirit to touch the hearts of all he came in contact with.

Contrast the aforementioned pastor with a particular pastor I knew in seminary. Having found him in the library, I asked if he had completed the assigned reading for the class. “Sure. I mean I got the gist of it.” Slightly appalled I asked for clarification. His response: “Oh, I didn’t actually finish the books. I mostly just skimmed them until I got the idea.” I didn’t understand! I was unaware that we could just skim a book and say we got the material down. Over the next few weeks of coursework, my friend began to fall behind in the class discussion. His lack of knowledge began to show and his ignorance of the subject matter drove him further and further into unengaged silence in the class. I cannot help but wonder the effect that failing to finish the books that are designed to equip him for the ministry has had on his pastoral ministry.

Don’t get me wrong. Many pastors are descent pastors in spite of not being strong readers. They love people and engage well. However, one cannot help but wonder how much more powerful they would be if they were disciplined readers. Reading is a matter of training your mind. I am assuming that most pastors are reading their Bibles in significant measure. If that assumption is wrong, then those pastors need to leave the ministry. In addition to the Scripture, pastors would benefit from reading other books as well.

I was not always a reader. I preferred a ball and a hoop on a blacktop over a book in a chair. Yet, God drove deep into my soul the understanding of my own need for discipleship and the wealth of spiritual discipleship available to me in books. As I began to pastor I started to realize that godly men had laid their souls out on page for me! So I began to read the works of Ravenhill, Edwards, Spurgeon, Tozer, Piper, Bonhoeffer, and Murray. I experienced in those authors words that have accelerated my spiritual growth. So, read dear brother! Read! If you are not a reader, here are three tips for getting started.

  1. Finish the book. There is nothing more tragic than reading 3/4th of an author’s labor only to quit near the end. Finish the work! If you have ever read the likes of AW Tozer or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, you know that the last chapters are paramount to understanding their efforts. Tozer particularly tends to put his greatest and most passionate applications at the end of his works. Read to the end, or you may deprive yourself of the best part.
  2. Vary your reading. I try to read one book that is an easy read (usually about ministry practice), one book that is a heavy read (usually theology), and one book for fun (often a book I’ve already read). In this way, I’ll feed myself a well-rounded diet of thought. Further, vary your perspectives. Read the heretics. Even if you spend the whole book fighting with them, read them. As a pastor, you will find it invaluable to be able to explain to your congregation members why you disagree with prominent authors. Do not be afraid of the heretic, they are here to sharpen you.
  3. Start small. I sometimes find myself reading 4-6 books at a time. If you’re not used to reading and engaging texts, don’t do that. Start small. Read one book at a time. Make your first work something easy but engaging. I’d suggest something from the Christian living section of your bookstore. As you get your feet under you as a reader. Read something heavier. Perhaps a puritan? Maybe something by Tozer? Go ahead! Dive in! But start small.

If you are not used to reading consistently and finishing the whole book here is a short list of books to get you started. I’ve broken them into four phases to kind of stair step you into reading larger more weighty works. Hopefully these help.

Phase One: Tuning your mind to enjoy reading spiritual material.

  1. Crazy Love by Francis Chan
  2. More than a Carpenter by McDowell
  3. Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron
  4. The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer

Phase two: Learning to engage deeper (a little).

  1. Don’t Waste Your Life by Piper
  2. Basic Christianity by John Stott.
  3. Knowing God by J.I. Packer
  4. Dug Down Deep by Joshua Harris

Phase Three: Moving Towards personal practice

  1. Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster
  2. The Bravehearted Gospel by Eric Ludy
  3. Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
  4. Absolute Surrender by Andrew Murray

Phase Four: Enjoying the journey of reading for worship.

  1. Heaven by Randy Alcorn
  2. The Holiness of God by RC Sproul
  3. Living in Light of Eternity by KP Yohannan
  4. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

3 Things to Incorporate in Worship: Reasons for art as worship part 4

tim-marshall-76166-unsplashThe tears streamed down my face as I sought for reason. My mind, racing, was not able to process the mercy set before me and my heart offered no reprieve from the overwhelming emotion welling up inside me. I could not comprehend the feelings and despair within my soul. The expression of my heart could not be explained in a simple paragraph. I needed an exposition that resonated with the soul and not just the mind. I needed a psalm that would cross the divide of the intellect and provide a glimpse into the soul. I needed God’s creative expression. I needed Him to speak to me in art.

G.K. Chesterton asserts that “poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger [of madness] does lie in logic, not in imagination… The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.” –Chesterton’s Orthodoxy

slice-of-heaven-horizontal-abstract-art-jaison-cianelliG.K. Chesterton, no matter the historical accuracy of his claim, makes a good point. It is in poetry and art that we are lifted to heaven. It is the imaginings of God’s glory that set us free to soar upon the wings of the unmerited favor of God! When we face those moments of despair and find ourselves in deep need of a vision of God’s glory, logic and reason often fall flat. In these moments of tremendous anxiety and difficulty, God offers a balm for the soul through art. The expressions we find in art lifts our soul, causing us to ascend into the heavens – where we can engage the presence of God beyond the trappings of the earth. Art has a way of exalting the human frame to otherwise unattainable heights. Art has a way of answering the desperate longing of the soul for expressions beyond reason and logic.

 

In light of this profound reality, I’d like to suggest three things you can add to your corporate and private worship.

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  1. Poetry draws the hearer to engage. It requires mental energy. In this way, poetry is difficult. Yet, the same difficulty required in order to engage with poetry is also fueled by the very same activity. As a worshiper invests their mind in the activity of poetic engagement, so the mind is raised to new heights and the soul is given the fire of deep and abiding joy! So use poetry… not merely as an illustration for a sermon or as a delivery system for an ideology. No, use poetry in your worship. Read it aloud, encourage your people to write and share it, make strides to sculpt and craft your transitions in a poetic manner.yannis-papanastasopoulos-586848-unsplash
  2. There are members of your congregation that do not sing. There is a silent, underutilized expression that rests in the heart of someone in your congregation. Free their expression to exalt the Most High! Encourage members to produce artwork and then give them space to display it. As you do this, you will see your people engaging the Lord and each other in a new and liberating way. Further, you will give voice to the hearts of some of the most profound theologians in your church. Not everyone sings, not everyone gives speeches… some have another unique ability to express themselves.
  3. Opportunities for verbal praise. Occasionally in our congregation, we will ask our people to verbalize something about God or prayers in short sentences. For example we will say, “let’s proclaim the greatness of our God! Speak out something glorious about Him.” Then someone will say something like, “Lord You are merciful!” and someone else will follow, “Lord You are mighty!” So the praise begins to echo around the room and individuals praise openly. This is a powerful aid to the worship of the soul.

God has given you many creative outlets to incorporate in worship. Any I missed that you would encourage!? Put them in the comments, I’d like to stretch more.

For an example of poetry and art that can be used in worship I have attempted to journey within this reality through these two works:

ReCreated_4Re-created; a poetic walk through the gospel of John. This is a poetic exegesis of the Gospel of John. It is the fruit of a two-year journey through the Gospel.
If you’d like to order this work,
it is available at Amazon.com here and at Lulu.com here.
For a specially discounted copy, comment on this blog with an email address and I’ll send you a link.

The Bird’s Psalm:
TheBirdPsalmcover85kdp copyThis is a short poem with sketches of a bird that is the result of my own personal worship times in the course of 3 days.
available at Lulu.com for $4.80 here
and at Amazon.com for $6 here

The Pastor’s Role in Art as Worship. Reasons for Art as Worship, pt. 3

(This is part of a series. The first two installments are here and here.

Pastors have a great many tools by which they can serve, teach, and love their congregation. Preaching, prayer, writing, one on one counseling, hospitality, acts of service, leadership, administrative tasks, etc…  All exist in the toolbox of the pastor for the sake of accomplishing the equipping of the body of Christ. In many modern churches, preaching is the primary tool that is used to engage the congregation and is often supplemented by blogs, writing, and activities designed to aid in discipleship. Pastors are adept at these tools and we frequently use them in powerful and meaningful ways. In our modern church, the pulpit is used mightily and songs are frequently used to enhance the ministry of the pulpit. Yet, there is another tool that the Christian community appears to have forgotten. That is: art.

Art as worship is not new

ricardo-gomez-angel-367741-unsplashArt is not a new tool in the discipleship of Christians. Francis of Assisi, Jerome, and even Luther recognized the power of art for the discipleship and worship within the Church. Ancient churches were covered with stained glass, paintings, and statues that were used to instruct and inspire! In Christian history, art was used to magnify God through worship, teach people of His great character, and even evangelize those who do not know the truth. One cannot study art history without recognizing the dominant themes of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, the day of judgment, and the creative power of God. Art was used to teach, inspire worship, heal, and even console the believer in times of turmoil. Yet, in modern churches, we have reduced the use of art to backgrounds on a screen or environmental lighting.

Art is a tool for worship

markus-spiske-378490-unsplashArt can be a profound tool that can provide a balm to the soul of longing Christian. To gaze in wonder at a piece that is designed to glory in the character and nature of God, or to wander through a poem that challenges the intellect and engages the soul, or to rejoice in the motion of a dance that tells the story of redemption can engage the soul on a level that a sermon of solid conversation cannot. It cannot because it lacks the freedom to uniquely engage the audience without explanation. A freedom found in most clearly in works of art. Two people can be moved in completely unique ways by a piece of art. One can see the beauty and majesty of God in the rendering of a landscape while another can be deeply moved by the courageous-loneliness of a tree within the field of that same landscape.

The Pastor’s responsibility to utilize art.

The pastor of the local church has a profound responsibility in discipleship of their congregation. We are commissioned to love and train the souls of people. We must use all the tools afforded to us and sometimes that means stretching ourselves beyond our ability or preferences. In order to do this, I believe pastors must re-shape the way we think about our role. We must begin to understand our role within our congregation to include: pastor as creative artist, pastor as curator, and pastor as conductor.

  1. tim-wright-506560Pastors as Creative Artist: If we are to teach our people to utilize art in worship, we must model it. You don’t have to be a good artist to model a striving to utilize art in worship. Especially in your personal worship. Draw pictures, use visual aids when you teach, read poetry, exhibit a thirst for material that challenges the intellect and soul without blandly explaining every aspect of itself. Art engages through mystery and expression! As you strive to engage the Lord beyond words, your soul will be strengthened and your ability to lead your people to worship will be enhanced. It might be difficult to do, but your congregation will benefit from the artistic/poetic soul that will result through engaging them on a level beyond their own ability to verbally express themselves. Show them that they can create worship beyond words! Strive to model art as worship through your own efforts.
  2. dev-benjamin-219172-unsplashPastor as Curator: Pastors must curate art as worship. So you can’t paint, draw, or write poetry, and rhythm and message of dance escapes your ability. If you desire to use artistic expressions to teach your people, engage your people in worship, or provide some salve to the soul of your brothers and sisters, then stretch yourself by studying and curating a volume of art that engages the soul. Study art! (Some recommending readings are at the end of this article.) Collect a compendium of poetry, artwork, and performances that exalt the name of God in powerful ways. Then, when your people are in need of inspiration, healing, or teaching, you will have more than just an exposition. You will have an aid to your exposition that will inspire them to worship beyond your ability to verbalize God’s character.
  3. radek-grzybowski-74331-unsplashPastor as Conductor: While you may not be a competent artist, you are surrounded by people who are. I say that in utter confidence, you ARE surrounded by artists. You must enable them to express themselves. You must conduct the worship of your congregation by utilizing the gifts of your people in worship. A conductor does not play every instrument. The conductor directs the combination of the various artists to make one expression. Likewise, the pastor needs to find creative ways to combine the expressions of the various members of the congregation to display Christ! Dig deep into the expressive talents of your people. Equip your people to engage their souls in worship to God! Even if you don’t understand art and it does not resonate with you. It resonates with someone in your congregation!

Pastor, you are a talker… I get it. I’m a talker too. I preach and I value preaching. I engage the Lord through expository sermons and classic hymns of the faith. I like to read weighty theological books and sermons by old dead preachers. And still, I must recognize that my congregation is not going to be solely comprised of people who respond to reading a theological treatise on the impassibility of God or the theologically rich hymns of Martin Luther. There will be some who engage beyond words. They paint, draw, ponder, dance, create, and provide a richness to worship that is valuable and necessary to the empowerment of your congregation and the engagement of a lost world. Stretch yourself! Pastor, this is not about you! Get over your hang-ups and conduct worship, curate volumes of great art, and create expressions of art for your congregation. They will be stronger Christians because of it and you will engage the lost world on a level you would otherwise fail to realize.

What do you think? Is there another role that the pastor can play to help engage the congregation in this unique way? put it in the comments.

chasin francisChasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale by Ian Morgan Cron 

Chasing Francis is an excellent fictional story about a mega-church pastor who leaves the ministry and is forced to re-evaluate ministry in the face of changing paradigms. He goes on a journey in which he learns about Francis of Assisi and rediscovers what church is.

Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for Our Common Life by Makoto Fujimurafujimura

Culture care is an excellent treatise on engaging culture beyond mere words. Many bemoan the decay of culture. But we all have a responsibility to care for culture, to nurture it in ways that help people thrive. Artist Makoto Fujimura issues a call to cultural stewardship, in which we become generative and feed our culture’s soul with beauty, creativity, and generosity. We serve others as cultural custodians of the future.

ReCreated_4Re-Created: A Poetic Walk Through The Gospel of John by J. Novis Elkins

Re-Created is my own offering to exemplify the gospel through artistic expression. It is a book of poetry intended to be read alongside the gospel of John. As the reader walks through the Gospel, it is my hope that they will encounter Jesus in a fresh and powerful new way.

Letters and Papers from Prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

In his letters and papers from prison, Bonhoeffer expresses the value of art in worship. He wrote poems and hymns while imprisoned and models for us the artistic soul of a Christian in captivity. That is a soul that can never really be held captive by anything other than Christ.

piperThe Misery of Job and the Mercy of God by John Piper

This book was my first introduction to the pastor’s use of art to shepherd and teach. Piper lays out a fantastic example of how to utilize poetry and art in worship. It is worth your time and labor to engage with poetry. John Piper is not an artist. His poems are simple and easy to access. He is a pastor who models the use of art in the ministry.

Reasons for Art as Worship pt. 2

This is part 2 of a series on art as worship. You can find the first one here.

Before I begin, I’d like to clarify: I am not talking about representations or images of God in this article. That is a necessary debate, but not one I am going to undertake at this time. This blog is about utilizing artistic expression in worship. Images of God is a different subject. For a full discussion on that topic, see J.I. Packer’s wonderful work: Knowing God.

As stated in the first article of this series: modern church culture has diminished the value and beauty of art. That is not to say art does not exist in churches or is not utilized. Many churches have embraced performance arts and strive to create atmosphere through lights, worship backgrounds, and décor. However, few have sought out how to engage and lead their congregations to worship in and through art. Yet artistic expression offers the pastor/leader a powerful tool to engage and shepherd the congregation. As I see it, there are at least four different reasons art could benefit our worship.

logic-vs-emotionFirst, art has the ability to engage mind and heart simultaneously. When a person truly engages with art, the mind and heart are both engaged. Art has a special way of conveying emotion and expression that can be interpreted by the viewer. The interpretation is seldom directed, though good art delivers a clear but profound message. Artworks (both performance and static) are observed, seldom explained, and invitational. Good art invites the reader to interpret as they observe. As such, the observer must enter into engagement with the work. Indeed, the Psalmist exclaims God’s greatness through admiration for The LORD’s art in Psalm 8 (c.f. Psalm 92, 102, and 143). When we consider the “work of the hands,” our mind are called to think about what the work communicates. Our heart must search for the application of the work. We find ourselves engaging with the work and responding accordingly. We become the interpreter of the effort and thereby engage in worship.

togetherSecond, art offers an expression that is unique and can express the heart of the individual in a powerful and deeply personal manner. From the artists’ perspective, the production of art allows for individual expression of worship. All people are different. All people are given different gifts (c.f. 1 Cor. 12). A brief study of the tabernacle will reveal that there were many artisans God called and empowered to build and design the tabernacle (Exodus 36). Think about how powerful it would be if churches empowered the artists in their midst to produce art as an act of worship! We would add yet another method to worship the Triune God. We are a vast and multi-talented cast of worshipers! Worship should not be restricted only to those who sing and speak. Local churches ought to reflect the talents that God has given in praise to His name.

Third, art offers a mode of expression that engages senses differently than merely singing, speaking, or listening. In a typical church, there is music and speech. If your church is wealthy enough to add graphics and lighting, there will also be some supportive artistic expression. Graphic arts and setting the atmosphere for worship are valued to some degree in some churches. However, they are seldom considered an act of worship in themselves… only support to worship. It is my contention that churches should think deeply about the art they produce and consider going beyond simply utilizing worship backgrounds. Produce art that can hang and be observed and engaged with. There was a time when even the windows of our churches were efforts to praise God! Produce art that is performed and can inspire the soul. When someone sings, the hearer and the singer are blessed with the beauty of the music, the meaning of the words, and the joining in the song. So our hearts and minds are engaged through our ears and voice. We can do more. We can engage through sight, smell, and touch as well. Art can provide an avenue in which to do that.

DSC00132Fourth, art allows for new corporate expressions of worship that can be blended in a tangible and powerful illustration of the Christian life. When I was a student pastor I used art as an instructional tool to teach students about corporate worship. (You can read those articles here: part 1, part 2.) Painting a large canvas together is a unique way to teach about worship and to train your people to worship well. It stretches our sensibilities to engage in worship with these unique means. We serve a great and transcendent God! Our worship should stretch us. Artistic expressions that stretch us are powerful opportunities for worship.

Art is beautiful in its uniqueness and presentation in a way that no other expression could be. We should produce art as worship for the sake of praising God through beauty. Artistic expressions in our congregation ought not to be diminished but heralded. We must raise the bar for worship. There are expressions that are tremendously powerful and that can ignite the soul that are being under-utilized because we have become artistically illiterate. This can change and our congregations will be the better for it.

If you would like to examine some stretches in worship, I have a few suggestions:

natashas book

First, check out my friend Natasha Miller’s work. She has written a devotional journal that is accompanied by music. The work journal itself is beautiful and the music that accompanies it is inspiring. You can purchase her work here.

 

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Second, I wrote a book of poetry through the Gospel of John. The poetry and art are my attempt to worship the Lord through artistic expression. You can find it for purchase at Amazon or at Lulu.com.

Finally, I would encourage you to examine the works of Makoto Fujimura. His art will certainly stretch you. A word of warning, his work requires that you linger and let your eyes settle on it in order to adjust to the layers and beauty of the piece.

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O, Christian… Stretch! Stretch yourself in this way, you will be more powerful as a worshiper if you do.