Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of W. David O. Taylor 's recent book, For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts, (Baker Books, 2010).
Early in the church's history, Christians created art that glorified God and drew people closer to His Son, Jesus Christ. From Michelangelo's sculptures and paintings to Bach's symphonies, art helped pull people both inside and outside the church into something bigger than themselves, and shaped the culture in ways that encouraged them to pursue faith.
Today, however, too many churches neglect the arts, squandering opportunities to present the Gospel message in creative ways that draw people closer to Christ. If your church invests resources in the arts, you can create sacred art that God can use to reach out to others in powerful ways. Here's how:
Look beyond usefulness for art's true value. If you think that art must have a practical use to be valuable, you're missing out on its real significance. Just like worship, art's value goes far beyond whether or not you deem it useful for your own ends. Art brings people into contact with the pain and play of life in fresh ways, helping them to learn more about themselves, other people, and God. Art is valuable even when it's not practical because it shows that God's grace will penetrate any situation in this fallen world. Art matters because it reveals more about God to the people who encounter it.
Let art deepen your congregation's worship. Art can be a powerful means for people to strengthen their covenantal relationship between God and themselves. Different types of artwork can help the congregation worship in different ways. A dance can help illustrate a story that the pastor is preaching so people can understand it in more tangible ways. A song can help the congregation express their sorrow and concern about an injustice in deeper ways than they could by simply talking about it. People can look through art to perceive something new about God's beauty, love, and grace. Art can show people new facets of God than can break the idols people have made of Him in their imaginations and discover more of what's true about Him.
Recognize the difference between success and significance. Artists often pursue their work even without financial payments or acclaim from others, because their work isn't just a job - it's a vocation, a calling from God to which they seek to be faithful, even when they're not considered successful from the world's perspective. Everyone in your congregation can follow artists' examples of faithfulness by pursuing the callings God gives them - whether or not their work is deemed successful by others - and trusting that God will use their work to fulfill His purposes.
Use art to make abstract concepts more tangible. People in your church can understand abstract spiritual concepts more if those concepts are illustrated through art in concrete ways. Create art that illustrates your church's sermons through details made out of everyday materials such as fabrics, wood, and glass. Use beautiful, artistic materials to help tell the story of who God is and who the people in your church are as you worship together, such as banners that proclaim a particular message or silver Communion goblets that shine with a glorious radiance. Let art help your congregation see, hear, smell, touch, and taste biblical truths in fresh ways that break up clichés about faith and lead them to discover more about Christ. Let art inspire people to pursue Christ with passion.
Encourage the artists among your congregation to do their best work. Identify the artistic talents that people in your congregation have, motivate and give them opportunities to develop and use those talents, and coach them to mature so the art they share with others will produce good and lasting results by changing the lives of the people who encounter their art. Let your church be a safe place for artists to take the risks they sense God calling them to take and to learn how to glorify Him more and more through art - both inside your church and outside around your local community's secular venues such as galleries, cafes, publications, and open microphone events.
Distinguish good art from bad art. Good art inspires people's souls, but bad art can actually hinder their spiritual journeys if it presents inaccurate impressions of God. Bad art can display such qualities as garishness, superficiality, cheapness, and triteness. Good art stirs people's senses and points them toward God as the Creator whose qualities are somehow reflected in artistic creations.
Invite the Holy Spirit to speak through art. Pray for the Holy Spirit to speak through the art that people in your church create, so that, together, you can discover more about each other and God. Notice what the Holy Spirit reveals about God's grace to you through art, and thank Him for it. Then let your gratitude motivate you and others in your church to reach out to the surrounding world with art, to represent Christ to people in society and inspire them to seek Him themselves.
Adapted from For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts, copyright 2010 by W. David O. Taylor. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Mich., www.bakerbooks.com.
W. David O. Taylor is an entrepreneurial artist, advocate, and author. He holds a ThM from Regent College and served for eight years as the arts pastor of Hope Chapel in Austin, Texas. He's currently pursuing doctoral studies at Duke Divinity School.
Publication date: October 28, 2010