(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
Art 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
Art 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.
- Pastors 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.
- Pastor 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.
- Pastor 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.
Chasing 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.
by Makoto Fujimura
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.
Re-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.
The 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.