By Jim L. Wilson
Worship Arts Pastor,
SugarLoaf Community Church
Favorite media: music
Who is the author of creativity? Who gave us our very definition of color,
depth and texture? Where did the concept of variety come from?
Our Creator is so creative! He's implored every tool to illustrate his overall
plot. He's created such vivid characters and allowed such a dramatic unfolding
So why shouldn't church be the most creative place in town? What's more
important than the story we have to share? What's the limit of tools we should
use to communicate it?
Programming is a big part of what I do as the worship arts pastor of our north
Atlanta church. I've often defined what I do as creating environments where
people can connect with God.
Creating these environments is more than just imitating what mainstream
culture deems "hip and cool" and claiming it as a "ministry" in the church.
It's more than providing entertainment. Our creativity is an honest expression
of what God has done for us and what He means to us.
I believe it's very appropriate to see the body of Christ as a beautiful
palette, a glorious collection of tools created by God to speak His truths
through all the senses.
I never could have envisioned the creative elements God has brought to our
church through His people. Our worship is as diverse as the group that's
gathered. We've painted, danced, weaved, sung, sculpted and blown glass to the
glory of the Lord. This list may sound a bit random but it's our language, our
corporate expression and it's beautiful.
God's truth stated so uniquely through worship is received by both
Christians and non-Christians. Believers find it fresh-experiencing God in a
new way-and those who are seeking seem to open up to the God who is the
Designer of all Creation.
Pastor Steven Pace thought of a unique way to launch the new Southern
Baptist church: with a Broadway-style production of "Godspell," the rock opera
based on the gospel of Matthew. The musical would offer them the opportunity to
share Christ in a unique way, and it would show the community that this is a
church that embraces the arts.
"We knew that it was a way of reaching those who would not attend a church
service but would come to see a Broadway musical," says Pace. "We also wanted
to reach out to non-Christian actors in the area-half the cast were
non-Christians. By the end of the production they all had accepted Christ." At
least three of the cast members have gone on to study theater and are cultural
missionaries bringing light to an industry that desperately needs the
The church's production helped them add to their core group, but it served
another function as well-embedding creativity deep into the DNA of the church.
A year later, about 40 people gather each week for a worship service that
includes drama, movie clips, music from musicals and other forms of art.
"The arts belong to God and were created by Him for His glory," says Pace.
"We live in a media-driven society, so we need to reach people where they are
and bring them to where Christ is. If that means putting on a Broadway musical
or painting in the middle of a service-or in the middle of town-then let's do
In the dry desert of Tucson, Arizona, worship at The Crossing doesn't begin
at 6 p.m., as the posted time says-it begins the minute people begin
transitioning from the hot desert air into the cool sacred space. People arrive
early, meander over to the café, order their first latte or chai of the
evening, and begin rubbing souls with others who are gathering to take another
step in their pursuit of the God who is pursuing them.
Inside, torchiere lamps and candles provide enough light for navigating the
room, and artistic images are projected onto the screen. The band points the
way toward the Father with a long music set. After five or six songs, the
church takes an intermission to grab another cup, relax, reconnect with an old
friend or make a new one.
One of the pastors, Sean Benesh, a church planting strategist for the North
American Mission Board, takes a seat on a stool and engages the minds of his
listeners. "I've been accused of being too philosophical and heady in my
speaking," Benesh says. "I love to get people thinking." Art can do that,
Most days Benesh spends his message time taking the congregation deep into
scripture, but every couple of months he guides them through an expression of
worship that connects the people of The Crossing with congregations throughout
the ages. On those weeks, the focus of the service isn't the music the band is
playing, the words the pastor is speaking or the art projected onto the
screen-it's the bread and juice sitting on a table with candles. People come
when they are ready, some kneeling and praying before they take the Lord's
"There's nothing like watching a 19-year old student worship God in singing
and then come up and pour out his heart before God in the Lord's Supper,"
Worship doesn't conclude with the final prayer. After taking the bread and
juice, the people share a meal
together. "The Lord's Supper is not the Lord's snack," Benesh says. "It's about
eating together, remembering Christ's death and experiencing community."
In Los Angeles, the people of Mosaic gather for a worship experience that
includes drama, music and dance. While Pastor Erwin McManus preaches, artists
work on sculptures and paintings in the audience. McManus doesn't refer to the
artists during his sermon; they aren't props or visual illustrations. In a way,
their activity is incongruent with the sermon. They aren't there to illustrate
or inform-their function is simply to inspire. According to McManus, witnessing
the creative process helps put the audience in the frame of mind to hear the
Creative church services can be earthy and multi-layered. They don't use a
painting or a poem to illustrate a point, or a drama as an element of a
progressive presentation; instead, they weave several layers into a
multi-sensory experience. The music, the art, the lighting effects, the sermon
segments and the visual props form a tapestry that prepares the congregation
for an encounter with the One who created everything-the Creator Himself.
Design Specialist, NAMB
Favorite media: mixed media-water color,
graphite, pastels, etc.
Art has been my first love for as long as I can remember. God gave me art as
a means of responding to Him and as an outlet for my emotions. I always knew
what I wanted to do with my life and God allowed me to pursue that.
As an adult I felt God calling me to use my art in full-time ministry. While
I was at seminary God gave me a vision for Drawing to the Rock. This ministry
allows me to communicate the truth of God's Son in a creative way. I use
drawing, painting, drama and music to create an artistic experience that will
draw people to Jesus Christ. I'm worshipping when I'm on stage. Quite often I
get so wrapped up in my own personal worship that I will start crying and
drawing at the same time.
My primary intent is not to sell my art, but for people to see my paintings
and ask me questions about the content and about the message I'm hoping to
communicate-which is the gospel. I want to create images that start
conversations about spiritual things. In addition to the performance part of my
ministry, I feel called to reach out to the arts community through fine art.
I've begun building relationships with artists, gallery owners and people who
love art. I hope one day to start a church that will reach this artistic
community. I want to create an environment that welcomes those who've been
labeled as "weird" because of their artistic expression. I'd like to offer them
a place to express and share their creativity while learning about the
I'm excited about this new revival of art in the church and reaching out to
people through artistic imagery. The arts are not only a form of worship but
also are a vehicle to share Christ with nonbelievers.
I feel privileged to be able to use my artistic gifts to worship God. I'm
thankful He gives me opportunities to use my gifts to glorify Him.
For more information about Kerry's ministry visit www.drawingtotherock.com.
One Sunday night the people of Westwinds broke an extended fast during a
service built around the theme "Hungering and Thirsting for God." Worship
leaders intensified the hunger pangs of their people with the smell of baking
bread and the sight of fast-food commercials playing on small monitors located
throughout the room.
The worship service included poetry, photographs of desert scenes projected
on the big screen, several sermon segments and music. The songs used phrases
like, "I'm desperate for you" and "We are hungry for more of you." The reason
for incorporating these elements was to create an environment where people
could experience God. The service was a metaphor: just as we have hunger pains
for food, we also have deep spiritual cravings that only God can fill.
"Worship experiences are 'moment collections' we design to increase the
incidences of bumping into the presence of God," says Ron Martoia, the founding
pastor of Westwinds Community Church in Jackson, Michigan. "We hope we're
creating moments where people can't help but experience God."
Churches are using the arts more and more to share Christ with nonbelievers.
Why? Maybe it's because some people aren't "word" people who are looking for
reasons to believe or principles to follow-they are "image" people who long to
synchronize their souls with God's will through beauty, rhythm and intuition.
They prefer the "picture" to the "thousand words."
Certainly, God uses the spoken word to speak to His people. He also uses
painting, sculpture, poetry and other forms of art to whisper to them, reaching
them through the inherent power of creativity, pointing people to Himself, the
But, really, does it have to be either/or? Is it possible for a church to
utilize words and art to usher people into the presence of God?
The art might create an ambiance for the words, or the words may create a
context for the art to impact someone's heart. Which one upstages the other
isn't the point. The art doesn't exist for itself and neither do the words;
both elements are signposts that point to Christ.
To put it another way, both are tools God uses to speak to people. Beauty
and truth don't have to be antagonistic toward one another. The one prepares
the heart for the other. When done right, words and images partner together to
instruct and inspire. The arts can be creatively compelling and powerfully
persuasive in proclaiming the gospel.
At first glance, using a Broadway-style production to launch a church or
having dramatic presentations, video, painting and sculpting in the auditorium
may seem a bit strange, even out of place. But it's the absence-not the
presence-of art that's the historical aberration. "The 20th century is unique
in human history," says Barbara Nicolosi, director of Hollywood-based Act One,
which teaches script-writing and other movie-making techniques to Christians
who aspire to be part of the film culture. "It was the only century in which
the arts and faith were separated and considered antagonistic."
Throughout much of history the use of art as an expression of faith wasn't
the exception; it was the rule. Michelangelo's classic painting on the ceiling
of the Sistine Chapel of God and Adam, da Vinci's "Last Supper," Botticelli's
"Adoration of the Magi," and Raphael's "Epiphany" are cultural icons with deep
ecclesiastical roots. The reasons have to do with cultural realities as diverse
as economics and literacy.
In the first 1500 or so years of Christianity, when few people could read,
it was the Church that had finances and the vision to commission artistic
renderings of Bible stories, which were displayed in houses of worship ranging
from grand cathedrals to modest chapels. In short, churches were the first art
museums. After the Protestant Reformation, a greater emphasis was placed on
refining doctrine-putting ideas onto paper and letting words do the work of
pointing to the Creator.
As evangelicalism flourished, so did the notion of emphasizing the authority
of words-or better, the Word. And, as the ability to read became more
widespread (and so did books), churches became less dependent on "telling the
old, old story" through artwork such as paintings, tapestries, stained glass
and sculptures. Worshippers could read the Bible stories for themselves- and,
indeed, the evangelical movement encouraged it.
So, although historically evangelicals have been more prolific with the pen
than with the brush, can't our churches welcome visual artists back into our
ranks? If we do, perhaps we'll see a proliferation of art that magnifies our
Artist, Sugarloaf Community Church Duluth,
Favorite media: oils, acrylics and mixed
Art is universal, and like any form of creative expression, art is a
reflection of the soul-good and bad. We use art to commemorate, to communicate
and to punctuate our innermost feelings. The secular world makes use of art,
but too often perverts its expression. Why would we not, as the church, allow
artists to use that creative passion for its original intent-to glorify our
For years I made a living as a graphic designer both in corporate settings and
as a freelance artist. It's only been in the past three years that I've
returned to fine arts, specifically painting.
Three years ago, God gave me a vision for artists of all disciplines using
their gifts as worship. We see this quite frequently with vocal and
instrumental applications-even with interpretive dance. God showed me that the
visual arts can be as much a part of the worship service as any of the more
familiar creative expressions. So, with the encouragement of the worship arts
pastor at my church, I began a creative arts ministry. The mission of this
ministry is twofold: 1. Artists will use their gifts as an act of worship-a
genuine expression of a growing relationship with God. 2. We will reach out to
the arts community to demonstrate that the arts are welcome and nurtured at
Sugarloaf Community Church and that artists have a place to express their faith
and grow in their relationship with Christ.
The driving question behind whether or not we use the arts as part of our
service is: Does it speak to the teaching for that day? In other words, what is
the take-home point from the teaching, and how can we communicate it in a
creative way? We don't use creative elements just to have them. We strive to
use them only when it truly communicates the teaching. This approach requires a
high level of support from our pastoral staff in order to plan and communicate
in advance so all aspects of our worship are in harmony.
My goal is to utilize every aspect of the arts in our worship services-from
fine arts to graphics, from interiors to aesthetics, from performance to
audience participation. We have
involved writers, drum circles, painters, sculptors, glass blowers, dancers,
actors, graphic designers,
carpenters, interior designers, videographers and gymnasts in our worship
services-all to communicate God's Word.
When I paint during one of our services, I feel I'm doing what I was created to
do. Much like a vocalist who skillfully sings or an instrumentalist who
passionately plays to exalt our Lord, when I am visually interpreting music, I
am shouting praises to Him with color.
As any believer does, I long for a community of people who want to connect, who
vulnerability and who share my passion for service. I serve my Lord in the same
way anyone else serves-art just happens to be my tool.
Churches that bring the arts back into the church are welcoming artists and
art-lovers, too. "The ability to express faith and love through dance, through
music, through painting is a gift from God," Nicolosi says. "If we say to
artists, 'you have to be a word person like the rest of us,' they won't have
the means to express what's in their heart, so we shut them down, make them
depressed, isolated and, in the worst cases, bitter."
For years, the Chamber Singers of University Baptist Church in Houston,
Texas, have performed classical music as an outreach to the community. "We feel
that people will come to this event who won't come to a regular church
service," says Matt Marsh, associate pastor of worship.
Recently, he expanded the outreach ministry to include an exhibition of fine
arts. In an art gallery environment, University Baptist set up dozens of areas
to exhibit paintings, sculptures and photographs of local artists. Marsh's goal
was to allow the artists in his church to use their talents while reaching out
to the unchurched people on their campus-inviting them to a neutral event "to
get them through the door."
"I feel strongly about the arts," Marsh says. "The church is a great home
for the arts."
Make no mistake, these 21st century churches aren't trying to be hip or
culturally relevant; they are leveraging the culture. "Our goal for using art
at Mosaic is not to be relevant ultimately," says McManus, "but to cause
culture to cause artistic people to say 'Wait a minute, where is this new way
of expressing artistic creativity coming from?'" And when they come to see the
art, they encounter God.
The local church has the opportunity to become centers of cultural change.
Art in its various forms has a major impact on our society. The church can have
a major impact on today's culture by encouraging Christian artists to use their
God-given talents to glorify God and share Christ in an environment that
desparately needs the good news.
The arts can help people discover, experience and demonstrate the
transforming power of Jesus Christ. Whether it's watching a musical or dramatic
performance, participating in a creative worship service, or enjoying a
sculpture or painting, something happens when people's creative juices are
primed by the arts-their hearts open up to their Creator.
Dr. James L. Wilson is the pastor of Lighthouse
Baptist Church in Seaside, California, and the online editor at
freshministry.org. This article was adapted from his book, Future Church:
Ministry in a Post-Seeker Age (Broadman & Holman 2004). For more info visit
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC