My post on Monday made an argument for why the church needs art and the benefits of supporting the artists in our midst. Today, I want to look at the issue from the other side and discuss why artists need to be involved in a community of faith. I know this will ruffle the feathers of those artists who disdain the restrictions and limitations that can come with associating with one particular church. Yet, as beings made in the image of our Creator God, we need to be part of His people for three reasons: to be functioning members of the body of Christ as spoken of in the New Testament, to be nurtured and guided on our spiritual journey, and to find a place where our art can be practiced, challenged, and grown.
One of Paul’s most-used metaphors for the Church is the body of Christ (See Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 3; Col. 1), and as Christian artists, we must accept that we are part of this body. Just because we do not like how the body is being run, does not give us the right to leave altogether. Christian unity is vital for the Church, and we must join with our brothers and sisters if we want to show the world what it means to be Christian. If we are living in community, showing love to those inside and outside the church, then anyone who comes looking to the church for answers to spiritual questions will be met by a richer example of the full life that Christ offers.
This is not going to be easy. Churches have their drama, just like any other group of people; we are still living in a fallen world, after all. But if we can work at our relationships, talk through our differences, and let our needs be of less importance than the needs of others, then the body can function with amazing love and purpose.
This talk of community may sound exciting to some, but to many, the world of an artist is an often-solitary realm. Painters can spend hours alone, unwilling to show a piece to anyone until it is finished. Songwriters need the space to explore the music they create before it is first performed. Writers are rarely great conversationalists while they are enthralled in their work. As I write this blog, I sit alone in my house, drinking decaf coffee with my back to the world outside. We need time by ourselves to sift through our imaginations before we can bring the gold to the outside world.
But this aloneness can become loneliness very quickly. The church, however, is a community that meets regularly, giving a reclusive artist an excellent excuse to meet with others on a regular basis. Weekend services, Bible studies, women’s retreats, and men’s ministries allow us to connect with other human beings and realize that we are part of a greater whole. Joining with others as they celebrate, mourn, question, doubt, live, and worship, is a great part of what it is to be human. By seeing the world through the eyes of others, we can gain a better view of the bigger picture, for our own sight is limited by the experience of only one life.
It is this shared experience that gives us the final reason to join with others in worshipping God: we are given a place to grow as artists. Gaining perspective on the lives of others will enrich the work of an artist before he or she even begins their next project, for it is in communicating the universal truths of our existence that art becomes memorable. A church can support an artist while the physical and emotional roller coaster of artistic creation takes its toll. It will be there to celebrate the victories, and to help clean up the failures. The church is also a ready-made audience for an artist, and better yet, an audience that wants its artist to succeed. This kind of crowd is far more rare in the secular world.
It is also in this congregational setting that our art can undergo the hard work of growth. Criticism is the constant companion of an artist, and this truth will not go away in the church. Yet listening to the opinions of our critics can push us to greater and greater works of art. We may also find mentors who can help us train well, and ensure that we stay within the light as we explore the truth of a fallen world. If we push ourselves to create better art, to both glorify God and to uplift our brothers and sisters, then we will find that the results will gradually become more and more stunning. The church can give us this opportunity to push.
Too many artists have left the church because the church has not recognized the value of the artist, or because the artist has not recognized the value of the church. In reality, both artist and the church need to realize that they need each other. The life, beauty, and power that an artist can bring to the body cannot be found anywhere else. The opportunities for spiritual and artistic growth that a church can provide to an artist should not be discarded or forgotten. For when these two groups, often at odds, come together to worship and glorify the God of all Creation, real beauty is found.