There is a marvelous set of posts over at Q Ideas answering the question, “What Can Artists Teach the Church?” The answers to those questions consist of five responses–three posts and two videos–all brief, but powerful. The landscape of the discussion is broad, but I want to funnel it down to something very specific and apply the discussions to worship leaders/pastors.
I’ve discovered in my own journey that we church leaders often narrow the scope of artists’ vocations in relation to churches. I’m thinking mostly, but not exclusively, of artists who are Christians. Thoughtful worship leaders recognize that their unique role–as artists themselves–is to be a bridge-builder for other artists who often feel alienated from the center of a church’s body life and puzzled as to how their gifts contribute to the body. It may be that some of our best personal ministry will be to artists, because we in some measure understand and empathize with the unique gifting and makeup of artists.
That said, I want to share five gleanings from these Q posts about how we can minister to artists:
1. Worship leaders can encourage artists to participate in church life outside of the center of their vocation. Alissa Wilkinson says, “I tend to think that artists, especially working artists, ought to think about ways to support their churches that don’t have as much to do with their vocation. I’ve heard from professional musician friends that working in the nursery, where nobody cares who they are or how great their last album was, is a rich and humbling experience.”
2. Worship leaders can help artists deal with a very real part of their existence: failure. Perhaps more than most, artists live under the weight of “you don’t measure up” and “you’re not good enough.” Their very work, by necessity, is constantly critiqued and evaluated by others, and their own self-imposed standards bear down on their shoulders every day. Offering artists (not to mention everyone else!) room to confess their sins in worship acts as a great pressure-release valve to the weight of the voice of “law” in the life of the artist. Artists, like everyone else, need to confess their failure and inability. When we offer artists room in our worship services to confess, we allow for a big part of their existence–failure–to be acknowledged in the context of the gospel. Wilkinson observed that confession helped her be honest with herself.
3. Worship leaders can encourage artists that they have something to teach the church. Wilkinson observed three things that artists can teach the church:
- That formation happens through practicing (and failing)
- That sometimes our bodies lead our souls
- That we can be comfortable with mystery
4. Worship leaders can encourage artists that their wisdom about empathy can be a great gift when imparted to the church. Nate Ridson’s post emphasizes how “art is one of the best teachers of emotional intelligence–which, at its foundation, is empathy.” Art often asks (even demands) that its receiver step outside of himself or herself to think about or experience something from another person’s perspective. Artists often think deeply about being in other people’s shoes, because the reception of their art often dictates that these things be thought through. In short, artists are good at shoe-swapping, and they can help teach the Church the art of empathy, which is at the center of the biblical idea of love (think of the Incarnation).
5. Worship leaders can encourage artists that their wisdom about listening can be a great gift to the church. Justin McRoberts commented that “nothing is more essential to the practice of art than listening. Before anything is made, before materials are chosen, even before inspiration can take hold, listening must come first.” We modern American Christians do a really poor job of listening. Because the gospel is essentially something proclaimed, we’ve let that idea go too far, and we’ve become anemic listeners. Artists are often expert listeners; they’ve earned honorary doctorates in hearing and exegetic people and culture. They deserve our ear so that we can learn better how to listen to our world.