The Church & The Arts
Food for thought-
As a pastor I think a renewed emphasis on the arts in our churches can be a very good thing or a very bad thing. It all depends on whether the “art is the answer” crowd and the “art is weird” crowd can find some common ground around some common sense.
1. We must allow art to be art. Sometimes Christians make the mistake of thinking that for art to be valuable it must share the gospel or try to point people to Jesus. Such an approach usually makes for bad evangelism and bad art. Art is valuable because it can be beautiful and full of truth. We should not expect art to communicate in the same way that discourse does.
2. Art is valuable, but so are a lot of other things. Christians don’t always know what to do with art. We think, “Is there really any value in a beautiful dance or a hard to follow poem?” But done well, the fine arts can inspire us, comfort us, disturb us, and cause different parts of our brain to start firing. Art reminds us that “usefulness” is not the measure of worth. But art is not a god, nor is it God’s favorite major in college. There is nothing intrinsically better (or worse) about being an artist than being an accountant, a computer programmer, or a cashier.
3. Art can do some things, and it can’t do some other things. Christians often struggle with art because it can be so ambiguous, so open to interpretation. It doesn’t traffic in propositions. It encourages us to think, but also to feel. It forms more than it informs. In this way, art can “teach” us about our God who is creative and mysterious. But being an engineer can “teach” us about our God who is orderly and knowable. God is a big God and lots of things and lots of vocations can display his diverse excellencies. We should not make the mistake–and I’ve heard this often–of thinking that “the poets, the artists, the story-tellers, they are the ones who can really teach us about God.” Well, yes, they can. But so can grocers and garbage collectors.
4. Our worship should strive for artistic excellence, but our worship will inevitably be “popular” and propositional. I’m always telling our people that we want “undistracting excellence” on Sunday morning (thanks to John Piper for the phrase). I don’t want us to think that mediocrity is a spiritual virtue. Every church will have different capabilities, but the goal is to have excellent music, excellent sound, and excellent instrumentation, just like we want excellent preaching. The worship service is not usually the time to give little Timmy a chance to play his scales on the piano. It is an opportunity for those who labored hard at a craft to serve God with their labors.
But, on the other hand, churches need to realize that the goal of the worship service is not to display the talents of artists. The ultimate goal is for the congregation to be edified and to worship Jesus Christ to glory of God. This means that the music must be fairly simple for hundreds (or thousands) of untrained people to sing it at the same time. It also means that our worship services will deal with truth in its propositional forms. I don’t want people leaving worship wondering what the point was. I don’t want them exploring different interpretations. I want the message to be crystal clear. In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul argues for shared intelligibility in corporate worship. We aren’t looking for individualized worship experiences. We want maximum clarity, which means we won’t apologize for being heavy on words and light on other kinds of “art.”
5. Churches can learn to welcome artists, but artists should not expect the church to be an art gallery. As I’ve said, the church has a history of supporting the arts. There is something unique about the visual arts (I’m thinking of painting, banners, murals, photographs, etc.) that are well-suited for inclusion in “sacred space.” It’s hard for a mortgage lender to show his wares throughout the church, but with art it can be done. If there are talented artists in your church, consider finding the appropriate space for their work to be displayed and “spruce up” your church.
But artists need to realize that the church is not an art gallery. They need sensitivity to realize that not every piece can be used, and the humility to hear “thanks, but no thanks.” Some art does not fit the context or mood of the church. Some arts gets dated. Some of it is distracting. And some of it isn’t very good. Besides all this, unless we want to return to a Christendom model of church, it is unlikely that the church will ever be able to support (at least financially) the arts as it once did.
6. Artists can help us see our idols, and artists have idols of their own too. Bankers may idolize money. Moms may idolize their kids. Academics may idolize the intellect. Pastors may idolize preaching. Artists can idolize self-expression. What’s more, we can all be wrongfully proud that we don’t bow down to other people’s idols. Good art can help strip away pretension and pragmatism. Good artists will always be humble about their own limitations and besetting sins. And good Christians will always be eager to see truth and beauty wherever they can find it.
Change Agents: Arts & Entertainment
As change agents, we are called to change culture. This starts by small acts of influence growing on a daily basis. Begin influencing yourself, then your circle of family and friends, then on an organizational and community level. You’ll son find yourself to be profound influencer. It’s important to be intentional about your level of influence.
Sociologist Randall Collins explains, “Civilizations have been defined by a very small percentage of cultural philosophers.” He makes a very interesting conclusion: “Even if we add the minor figures in all the networks, in all of the civilizations, the total is only 2,700. In sum, between 150 and 3,000 people (a tiny fraction of the roughly 23 billion people living between 600 B.C. and A.D. 1900) framed the major contours of all world civilizations.”
So, what does it take to be effective an effective change agent? It starts by recognizing your role in the seven mountains of culture.
The Entertainment Industry is plagued with compromise, temptation and ego. If God is calling you to take a step in this direction of any level, understand where your battles will lay. Here is one piece of wisdom that comes form someone that lives in this industry.
Blessings - ATKOG Ministries
But why are we so susceptible to the influences of mass media in the first place?
In detecting the reasons as to why we are so consumed by entertainment, Christina Anker, Media Analysis teacher, specifically points to the fact that viewers are often not critical or analytical of what they encounter daily on the their TV screens or in their music, instead engaging in a passive activity devoid of any active, analytical judgement.
“I think the very nature of entertainment suspends our critical judgement as viewers,” Anker said. “And because entertainment can so easily consume us, I think we believe [its messages] because we like it, whether that’s movies, or music, or a video on Youtube.”
From a psychological perspective, it also seems that conformity and the need for approval may be important factors in our tendency to be so consumed by mass media. According to Brandt, the images and messages we see in our daily entertainment are often reminders of the idealistic beauty standards that we may feel pressured to adhere to in order to “fit in.”
“Modeling, conformity and the need for approval are strong motivating factors; we all want acceptance and external looks is the first outward sign we give to others,” Brandt said. “We are inundated with images from the media hundreds of times per day—and these are constant reminders of how beauty is defined.”
Also noting the pervasive role of media in our daily lives, Anker specifically highlights the gossip culture that is often prevalent in celebrity tabloids and magazines. Pointing to popular magazine spreads such as the ‘who wore it better’ contests, Anker notes that such messages can often fuel negative competition between women over their beauty and appearance.
“[Celebrity tabloids and gossip magazines] give the message to women that fashion and beauty is a competition,” Anker said. “And what message does that send, then, to females trying to emulate those stars? Well, it’s not building collaboration, it’s not building sisterhood, and it’s not building bonds between women.”
Recent attempts by the media to have more positive influences, however, have suggested that sending the correct, appropriate message is often more challenging than it seems. In attempting to empower one type of body shape or appearance, often what occurs on the flipside is the shaming or neglection of all the other “types” that don’t look that certain way, Velding said. Pointing to recent pop music such as Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” as an example, Velding indicates that while the song intends to celebrate “curvier” girls, it also may unintentionally shame other body types in the process.
“I think we’re definitely better [with positive messages of beauty] than we have in the past, but I don’t think we’re completely there yet,” Velding said. “They’re still enforcing some sort of standard while trying to say, ‘be yourself.’”
As kingdom ambassadors we have a responsibility to perpetuate the message of love, forgiveness, kindness and hope. Be who God created you to be and if your calling is Arts & Entertainment then allow God to guide you down that path and remain a light in the world of darkness.
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