More Hindrances to the Flow of the Divine
In Part Six, we dealt with the hindrance of pride. From the root of pride comes other deadly things, things that rot the soul of the artist and disqualify him and his work as a tool for the Holy Spirit. For example:
By “provincialism” I mean territorialism, owning the positions we are given as if they were little kingdoms, protecting them against all rivals, defending their borders, classifying people as either enemies or friends of the realm, and all such ungodly behavior. The Christian artist is a servant, not a ruler. He serves the church, the work, the story, the text, the character, the design, and above all: the truth.
Being ambitious about doing God’s will in God’s way and in God’s time is good. Evil ambition, however, is a pragmatic, political, posturing for advancement at all costs, stepping on those who get in our way, heedless of the worth of others, demeaning all who dare to think differently, to look different, or to question our authority. Christian artists are servants of the King of kings with a commission from Him. We can rest in our calling. He does not have to put one artist down to advance another.
There are things the Christian artist must be angry about: deceit, oppression, injustice, prejudice, and evil systems. That righteous anger needs to surface in Christian art. However, too often instead we see anger springing from injuries or injustices suffered by the artist. If these injuries have never been healed by the grace of the Lord Jesus, if forgiveness has never been granted to those who abused the artist, then his art may be touched by an anger that is not for public consumption. His art may be the cry of a wounded soul for a healing touch from God. While this art has a place in the healing process, it is a hindrance to the work the Lord has appointed the artist to do. He is stuck; unable to finish and move on.
Let me explain by this testimony. My daughter was admitted to a public high school for the arts in Tampa as a student in creative writing. At poetry readings, her life and her work stood in sharp contrast to most of the other young writers and their work. Most of the other students read poems full of pain and anger toward their parents, the government, anyone within range. Jennifer’s work came from a different place altogether. She wrote about pain, grief, and injustice too, but from a standpoint of a healthy soul and spirit. Because she was not hurting and unhealed, she could observe life with more objectivity but with no less passion.
Now, the therapeutic poetry of the wounded soul is a good thing. But in the power of the Holy Spirit to administer the healing grace of the Lord Jesus, the Christian artist can be healed of these things. He can forgive and go on with life. His experience may color his work, but without bitterness and anger, he will sound a warning against such abuses and point the way to a source of healing.
I will give another example. In the early 1990’s I became embroiled in a political situation (“church politics”) with another staff member. I was manipulated and deeply wounded but took the blows for the sake of the Body of Christ, considering it “the fellowship of His sufferings.” (Phil 3:10 ) Over the next four years, I sought healing from the Lord. I believe the process was completed in that time and I took the position at Suncoast Cathedral in 1997.
In the first Christmas play I wrote, the story involved a shepherd who had risen to the ranks of a scholar in Jerusalem only to be betrayed, stripped of all his influence, and sent back to tending sheep with his brother. He was one of the shepherds to whom the angels appeared. At the end of the play, the leader of the wise men invited him to his home country to lead his people to true worship. He lost everything through “church politics” and had it all miraculously restored. Auto-biographical? Yes, but without malice or anger, and with a solemn warning and a promise of restoration. My wounds affected my art, but I wrote from the standpoint of having been healed, not from an open wound.
The Church of the Twenty-first Century Christian Artist
Where can the Christian artist go to live this exciting life of creative faith? There are two broad levels of Christian art: professional and amateur. These two groups have different needs from and expectations of the local church.
- The professional may need to simply worship, pray, hear the Word of God, and fellowship with his brothers and sisters and not perform his art for the church. If art is ministry, then every day of his life is spent in ministry. He needs fellowship, discipleship and a place to worship, not another place to work. I have had the joy of having professional symphony players in my church. They were free to play or to not play in our orchestra without guilt. If they chose to play, I excused them from weekly rehearsals. I explained my reasoning to my volunteers and they understood.
- The needs of the amateur artist are quite different. He makes his living elsewhere and comes to the church to exercise his art. He needs fellowship, guidance, structure, opportunity, projects worthy of him and his valuable time. He needs a pastor/teacher/friend and a sense of deep appreciation and a deeper sense of mission.
United Arts Ministries
All of these people need a system of organization from the church that affords them the opportunity to express themselves with others of complementary artistic skills. (Bethel Arts, Carolina Christian Arts, Cathedral Arts, Capitol Christian Arts)
These organizations were divided into four divisions:
- musical arts,
- theatre arts,
- visual arts, and
- literary arts with a leader over each division.
The leaders of the divisions became a supervisory council.
- Christmas and Easter musical theatre productions were total efforts to band together all the arts to tell the Jesus story to our community.
- Divisional ministries were the next level of artistic endeavor: concerts, art exhibits, publications, and dinner theatre productions.
- Each of the divisions is also encouraged to provide fellowship opportunities and training events for current and prospective members, keeping the next generation of artists firmly in mind.
The arts must be hand-delivered from one generation to the next.
However the artists of a church are organized, the structure needs to be characterized by a particular climate, one with two dimensions: devotion and creativity.
- Without devotion the arts are dangerous.
- Without creativity the church is sterile.
A Climate of Devotion
For the art of the church to be different from the art of the world, the hearts of the artists in the church need to be different from those in the world. When the artists of the church are united around the will of God, the glory of the Lord, the ways of the Kingdom, in other words, when they work and relate together in a climate of devotion, then each one can enter the Spirit-led and Empowered life I have been writing about.
A Climate of Creativity
The other characteristic I mentioned is just as important—a creative climate. Artists who are Christians need an open atmosphere:
- Things are not always done the same way.
- Innovation is welcomed. It is alright to fail at something.
- Grace is administered freely.
- The benefit of the doubt is not a rare commodity.
- Seasons are honored so that rest is built into the system and lines of authority and business systems make room for artists and their creative processes.
- An individual’s creative process is respected, even if not understood.
Maintaining the Flow of the Divine
The Bible makes it clear that artists have a place in the Kingdom of God, indeed, that the Holy Spirit Himself helps them create by inspiring them with dreams and visions, guiding their craftsmanship as they work, and then signaling them when they are done. History reveals that artists have had an unsteady role in the church, sometimes in favor, sometimes not, and subject to revivals and purges. Experience for this writer has proven to him that the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christian artists can ensure consistent and powerful ministry.
Reason demands, then, that the local church engage the artists within her in the work of the ministry by providing an organization that features a climate of devotion, where all art is created for the Lord and a climate of creativity which is always open to the new idea and the fresh approach. I believe this will be one of the chief characteristics of the church in the twenty-first century.
Featured Image By Hunter Newton
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on stevephifer.com