A Vision for the Arts
Dr. James Emery WhiteJames Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
- 2014 Jul 21
*Editors Note: Before he left on his summer study break, the director of the Arts team at Mecklenburg Community Church (Meck), Kristina Gray, asked Dr. White if he would tape a message for a gathering of artists they were planning later that summer. Unscripted and in a single take, he shared from his heart in a way that ended up deeply moving the arts community at Meck. We thought you would enjoy reading the transcript of what Dr. White recorded.
Kristina asked me to bring a word to you, as part of the arts team, and left it wide open for whatever I wanted to say. But really to encourage you and let you know how much I appreciate you and…so…that was an easy assignment.
You know, back even before Meck got started one of the aspects of the founding vision was that it would be a community of artists and that the arts would be celebrated, would be put forward, would be used.
There was an old, old, old song called “Why Should the Devil Have all the Good Music?” and there is a sense where the church used to be the patron of the arts. All the way through the Middle Ages and such.
And then somewhere along the line we kind of got screwed up and we began to give the arts back to the world. And the church got stripped of it and it became just four walls and a Bible.
Well, four walls and a Bible is fine but we lost all of the arts: we lost dance, we lost music, we lost painting, we lost the aesthetics that are done with lighting and sound. We lost the arts – it’s like we gave it away.
And yet the arts are arguably (in terms of film, video and all that) the strongest way to convey a message to our world today. More so now than ever.
In my book, The Rise of the Nones, I talk about how there’s a shift (and I’m not alone in this) in our culture back to the Medieval in some ways. In the Medieval era people were spiritually illiterate, paganism abounded, they were biblically illiterate; and because of that, there needed to be new ways to reach them.
And so what you find in the great cathedrals throughout Europe is extensive use of stained glass. And when you see the stained glass it tells the story – sometimes all the way from creation through the end of time. Because that was the only way people could “get it.” And I’ve argued that I think that the arts today is the stained glass of the church.
You tell the story in a way that people who are spiritually and biblically illiterate “get it.” Through video, through a song, through light, through dance, through drama, through…well the arts are almost limitless.
That’s how it’s gonna happen.
And I tell you, you sneak past the defenses of the heart a lot quicker and easier than I ever will. And the other thing that you do is that even if that’s not the task at hand for that particular day or service, by the time you get through doing what you do collectively, I’ve often likened it to moving the ball all the way down the field to the 2 yard line. And then when I get the ball at the 2 yard line almost any idiot can score from there.
And so you’re the ones that moved it down the field that far. And I so appreciate you.
And I’ll tell you something else that I love about our team: I travel a lot and I see a lot of artists, a lot of named artists, and it can be disillusioning. And I’ve been in a lot of churches and seen what the artist community is like; and I’m so proud of our team. So proud of how Kristina has led and others have led but here’s what I love:
We have always valued character over talent.
Now, I would put our talent against anybody. But that’s not what matters most to us. And so when I can be sitting there in a service or rehearsal, and I see somebody at a camera or somebody singing a song or somebody in a sound booth and I know they walk with Christ;
…and I know they have a character of humility;
…and I know they’ve got a towel draped over their arm;
…and I know they gave up time from work or whatever to be there;
…and I know that when they’re singing those words or doing whatever it is that they’re doing that it’s sincere and authentic;
…and when I see somebody doing drums;
…and I know that they’re drumming for Jesus;
…I mean, I know it;
Oh my gosh.
That’s what really makes something anointed. That’s when I think that God gives it a special dose of His presence. I think it’s one of the reasons we’re growing so fast and changing so many lives. It’s why you can walk out of every baptism service and you can see all those people being baptized and you can feel like that’s the fruit of your labor.
Because it is.
It’s the fruit of all of our labor and nobody’s more important than somebody else. I mean the person who’s fixing the sound or on the camera or doing the lights or putting up the chairs are just as important as the person singing the solo or doing the guitar rip.
And the other thing I love about you is that you know that too. It really is a team. It’s community.
So…I’m proud of you. I’m so glad we’re doing this together. So glad for the creativity and the freedom we’re all giving each other. And so glad that God is honoring it by changing so many lives.
So that’s all I really have to say. But I for one, am really proud of you. So thanks for letting me talk.
James Emery White
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.