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Does Your Church Welcome Artists?

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The first book I read was One Fish, Two Fish by Dr. Seuss. He masterfully used nonsense words and rhymes, but the illustrations captured me the most. The fanciful creatures and scenes created first in Dr. Seuss’ imagination became real in his illustrations.

The Illustration of Creation

When our wonderful God created, His words brought all that we know into being. Through His power, the world was formed. Light as we understand it came into being. He intricately formed the swirling galaxies and the orbiting solar systems, and His perfectly pronounced sentence created flowers in all their beauty. What remained was the illustration. The Holy Spirit relayed the words much later, dictated to God’s servant Moses.

I often wonder if the words God shared with Moses were the actual words He used. Do we know what the words God said sounded like, how He punctuated the sentences of life? Only the visible illustrations remain of our Master’s creativity and artistic brilliance, but these illustrations speak volumes. The Psalmist tells us, “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps. 19:1). In Romans 1, Paul writes that God’s invisible qualities can be clearly understood from what He has made.

Extravagant Worship

This creative aspect of God’s character is also on display in the place of worship He gave to the Israelites. As God instructed Moses on constructing the Israelite’s mobile worship center, I’m astonished how much He involved art. He gifted Bezalel, Oholiab, and others with the ability to make the Tabernacle into an ornate, beautiful worship space.

Alliance International Worker Sarah Jones (right) talks with two visitors to an exhibit at Gallery2, the former gallery run by the team in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Eberhard Koll)

The curtains and coverings were rich in color with golden clasps and embroidery. Pure gold covered the furniture of worship, which included angelic figures, flowers, branches, and blossoms. Precious metals were also found in the courtyard. The priest’s garments showed the work of stonecutters, engravers, and weavers. Even golden bells and pomegranates adorned the hem of the priestly robe. Hebrews 8:5 tells us the earthly tabernacle was just a copy and shadow of the heavenly tabernacle. This earthly imitation was a space filled with art and beauty.

This investment in beauty continued throughout the history of God’s people. As Solomon carried out the plans for the temple, even the pillars had artistic garnishments. Throughout the Middle Ages, churches invested in architecture that encouraged transcendence. Art represented scenes of worship, often mixing the pain of life with the joy of praise. Michelangelo’s depiction of Creation in the Sistine Chapel, his Pieta, and his David; da Vinci’s The Last Supper; the depiction of Christ Crucified by Velázquez; and countless other works of artistic masters have influenced and impacted how we think and feel about certain biblical characters. Their art stirs our emotions, questions our devotion, and awakens wonder.

The Fullness of Worship

Art is a core part of the way God has always been worshiped because it is part of how God instructed His people to worship. Can we become so enamored with art that it becomes dangerous in a church setting? This is certainly possible, just as any imbalance in the usage of spiritual gifts in the Body of Christ and poor theology about how those gifts work are dangerous. Equally tragic, however, is the absence of gifts in the local church.

Often our embracing of the sensibilities of the enlightenment has led us to inadvertently remove illustration from our houses of worship. In many of the evangelical Protestant churches I visit there is an absence of sacred art. We rarely have stained-glass windows, intricate wood carvings, or paintings of biblical scenes that portray anguish and suffering alongside scenes of redemption and beauty.

An art piece by Co. Co. Segeltuch (Photo by Eberhard Koll)

We have chosen to be aesthetically clean with simple furniture and a functional platform. We have often chosen to present a truth without transcendence, a lengthy novel without illustrations. We are the poorer for it.

In the average worship service, our emphasis has become much more concrete. Our focus is on the written and spoken word, with a secondary focus on music, which some could argue is a form of performance art.

But the surroundings we worship in often fail to encourage us to lift our eyes higher through architecture that encourages transcendence. In these settings, our emotions are not impacted by beautiful or stimulating art.

We have lost the lasting impact that images can have on our souls. We have a wealth of written sources both ancient and modern. On the balance scale of sacred art, ancient sources heavily outweigh contemporary ones. This also leaves our worship experience unbalanced.

The Church can reenter the fullness of worship by allowing its artists to illustrate the story of grace. This must not be done with clichés and hollow subjects but in a beautiful and honest way that adds a depth of life to the experience of the gathering of the saints. The ability of art to speak to our emotions can help the Church complete the narrative, adding visual components to the written and spoken message.

Flourishing Artists

Many of our churches ignore the gifting of the artists in their communities. Over the past several years I have been blessed to serve in Berlin, Germany, and have directed an art gallery as part of a partnership with a local church plant. As I share in U.S. churches this year on home assignment, I have been overwhelmed by the artists in every congregation who speak with me. They want their gifts to be used but are not always sure how that can happen. Some of them are almost artists in secret, feeling that the church has historically condemned their gifts.

Mike Picconatto and his team host monthly devotional evenings at Café Impuls in Berlin. (Photo by Eberhard Koll)

Recently a woman spoke so lovingly of art after a church service that I asked if she was an artist. She stammered out a no. Then she corrected herself and said that she should not be so nervous about introducing herself as an artist. The next day she gave me a beautiful card with a copy of her work on the front as well as two smaller copies of her works.

Perhaps churches need to start having an open dialogue with the artists in their congregations, asking them how they envision using their gifts for God’s Kingdom. The church can invest in art, commissioning works for PowerPoint backgrounds, prayer rooms, and entryways. They can create worship experiences in which art is a recognized part of the service.

Francis Schaeffer brilliantly describes what he calls minor and major themes on this topic in Art and the Bible. Just as music has minor keys that invoke emotions of sadness and major keys inspire joy with their beautiful harmonies, great art must make use of both the minor theme of our fallen world and the major theme of redemption.

If you are a Christian artist, please continue to hone your craft and help us emotionally and visually engage with key themes of our day. Help us understand the darkness of our world and the joy of salvation. Don’t let us hide from our troubles but remind us of the redemptive power of the cross and the impact the Church has when it is truly salt and light.

New great works of art will begin to illustrate the reality of God’s redemptive work to a new audience. In our increasingly visually driven world, we need new illustrations of God’s redemption reaching into a broken world to make all things new.

FROM ISSUE: May/June 2018, Vol. 153 No. 3, Pg 24, “Art and the Christian”

Active Artistic Ministries

In post-Christian, post-modern Europe, Alliance international workers are incorporating art into their ministry at multiple sites. Here are a few examples from two European capital cities.

Every third Friday of the month Café Impuls, the events café Alliance workers in Berlin, Germany, have partnered with over the last 10 years, holds an artistic worship night. The goal of these gatherings is to help people decompress from the week through creative expressions in art and writing.

During the creative worship sessions at the cafe, instrumental music plays in the background. A photograph or painting is projected on a screen, and several reflection questions are written on a flipchart. An array of art supplies are set out on each table—quality paper, pens, pastels, colored pencils, and more.

Although this arts-focused evening struggled to gain traction in the community, those who attend say they are refreshed by the invitation to use their artistic talents in worship.

The Genesis Center, run by Alliance workers in Paris, holds many events incorporating art and worship, For Easter, artists from the local church created pieces depicting events of the Passion Week, which allowed participants to walk through the last days of our Savior's life on this earth. This event also served as a starting point for discussion at the Good Friday service.

These ministries inspire people to use their creative skills both in worship and to lead others into deeper discussions about faith. We've found that giving creative people an opportunity to use their gifts in worship is even more important than hosting a formal gallery for artists.

—Mike Picconatto

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