Is There a Place for Creative Christians?

Restoring the relationship between faith and art.

When people describe the Church, "creative" probably isn't the first word that comes to mind. This sad truth isn't the result of a lack of creative Christians, but rather, Christians who don't know what to do with their creativity.

Many believers struggle to balance their art and their faith. Some think that to be a truly successful poet, painter, musician or producer, their work must be held separate from their faith. Others may believe unless their song, design, book or film is not littered with overt spirituality, it cannot glorify God. Either way, their art suffers. Is there a third way—a place for Christian artists to embrace all of their callings without sacrificing their creative integrity or their heart for the Kingdom?

RELEVANT recently caught up with a few individuals who are asking this important question. Their artistic endeavors are varied—abstract paintings, documentaries, worship experiences, musical communities—but together they are seeing the rebirth of a creativity that is neither held back nor excluded by the four walls of the Church. Below are some of their thoughts on faith, success and why Christians artists don't have to be bound by labels.

Why creating is like faith:

Linnea Gabriella Spransy

“The way life behaves and the way plants grow are incredibly interesting to me. The ways human beings behave and the possibility of healing is also inspiring to me. I am continually staggered by the ingenuity of God in the world around us. We have so much to draw on. ... The true artist displays to the world a manifestation of the inner meditations of their heart and mind. Being an artist is, in and of itself, an incredible parable for having faith. You’re in this position where you have to step into the unknown without hesitancy, with all of your resources and with every intention of seeing it through, and you know it may be disastrous. ... Community puts us in a place where we can’t hide our worst and our best, and so there’s incredible opportunity for discipleship. In community that is caring and healthy, an artist brings not only beauty and inspiration but also powerful observational skills and spiritual awareness. We can become a source of joy, blessing and the voice of God in other peoples’ lives.”

Linnea Gabriella Spransy is an award-winning painter and leader of the artist community at the Boiler Room. She has her M.F.A. from Yale and has had exhibitions from Brooklyn to China. You can see some of her work at her site: linneagabrilla.com

How the Church can benefit from creativity:

Whitney George

“A friend of mine, Marty Taylor, says it best. He says, 'Before Godcreated man, He created a beautiful environment for man to worship in.'The way he approaches it, and the way I approach it would be the sameway: Large-scale production can create a beautiful environment forpeople to worship in. Do I think it's absolutely necessary? No, I don'tthink we have to have it in every case. Production and art can haveprofound impact in a lot of things. ... I think art can connect on a lotof different levels. The difference between a lot of Dreamworks animated films and Pixar animated films. The Dreamworks films are smaller, lessbudget—honestly, just less art; I think most of them are terrible, Ireally don't like watching them. But Pixar puts all this extra moneyinto making each film, all the extra effort, and when there's heart andsoul behind it? It works. My opinion is that when there's real heart and soul and it really is good art, it can connect whether it's big orsmall. I completely recognize that there are cities that wouldn't handle what we're doing, but where we're at it's working. It's similar toPixar: They say that they make movies that they love, I make servicesthat I would want to go to.”

Whitney George is the creative director of Church on the Move in Tulsa, Okla.

Why success as an artist doesn’t always look like you think it does:

Chad Johnson

“The focus is asking how we can connect the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people in the world who have been burned by the Church or burned by their Christian experience or burned in some way. What's the smallest way of us going: 'We want to treat you with so much honor. We want to treat you with so much respect and so much love'? It's an opportunity to remind somebody they are loved by God, and that's a whole lot harder to communicate via a website or anything else. Really, the thought behind it is there are people in the world who need to know God paid such a dear price for them, and how do we communicate that? How do you really raise up a follower of Jesus in an artist? There's so much distraction, and the world speaks so loudly to artists. Our challenge is just, don't worry about the business component—worry first about the Kingdom. Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Chad Johnson is the founder of Come&Live!, a nonprofit mission organization that joins hands with artists and “musicianaries” to provide guidance, direction and accountability.

Why a Christian artist doesn’t have to make “Christian art”:

Nathan Clarke

“I did five years of campus ministry, and when I was leaving I had the opportunity to take a [video editing] job. I really liked it because I could engage with ideas, engage with stories, but in a way that allowed me to work really closely to a story, or a topic, or a person, or a profile and then leave it and move onto the next thing. ... I have no fear of judgment by my Christian peers. I actually feel more fear about judgment from the secular that this is just another piece of Christian propaganda. Ultimately, I wanted to create a piece of art that would be taken at face value, that would be judged because it's a piece of art, not because a Christian created it or didn't create it. I believe God has made us to create things—that's what I want to do. I just want to create something that causes people to stop, to think and maybe to consider their life a little more deeply. If I've done that, I'm pretty excited.”

Nathan Clarke is the founder of Fourth Line Films and the director of the award-winning documentary Wrestling for Jesus.

When art gets in the way of the story:

Blaine Hogan

“There's some really phenomenal mediums that may appear to be very entertainment-based. But the question I have to ask is, 'Did the medium serve the content?' I think what starts to happen is that once we get into these realms of needing 3D in our churches or holograms in our churches, people aren't asking why except for the sake of relevancy. It happens when we don't think of the story before we figure out how we're going to tell it. My goal is to tell the most incredible story ever. We don't start with a turntable and projection and say, 'OK, now we have these things, what are we going to tell?' I think that is the biggest thing that gets in the way. You can use whatever you want to use, as long as you have a really great story that you want to tell first. I think what ends up happening is that the medium trumps the message because we want to be relevant, we want to be cool, we want to fit in. I just don't care about that stuff. We've got the greatest story ever told; we just don't tell it that well usually.”

Blaine Hogan is a former actor and the current creative director at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago

41 Comments

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Journey In Prayer commented…

"Drawing" close to God through prayer and art:
http://pinterest.com/pin/50665...

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Kade Young commented…

Wow, I struggled with this for quite some time. As a creative who went to a ministry training school, I graduated, confused as to where my part is in the church. I don't quite fit into the box that has been made for ministers, but I have recently been reassured that my gifts are meant for ministry - it just looks different than it did 20 years ago. Thank God that he can still use us 'out-of-the-box' creative peeps!

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Anonymous commented…

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Daren Sirbough commented…

Great questions are raised here. I'm not sure if the Church can fully handle the art of an individual. Some works I believe are meant to be shown in different settings. There's a difference between a song of Devotion and a song for a Congregation. Both have the design of Worship on them, but one is more accessible to the masses. I think where we as Creative Christians get confused is the place for the art. As a member and leader of a church though, I believe we need to be more embracing towards art that is a bit abstract. Perhaps the lack of the embrace has caused us to Disciple "Cookie Cutter" Christians because we are only given a certain type of message or level of Appreciation to the things of God. And then there's the differences between expressions of the church and the outcome in the individual, but that's another story.

I'm saving this to my bookmark so I can continue reading this at another time. I've really enjoyed the read. Thanks for sharing!

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Eric Copeland commented…

This is a problem in the church. No doubt about it.

We say we want creativity, but really, we just want people to serve and sing and play the worship songs with smiles on their faces. Harried worship leaders don't always have the time, or pastoral OK to be creative or encourage creativity each week.

I think that flows from the top. (Not God, the Pastor ;).

So what do we do? We need to encourage creativity among the lay folks who would love to stretch out, but have never been given the green light to do so.

Remember the 90s? Remember when the creative, early "seeker" services were introducing people to a church with bands and not just organ and piano? Remember the fun, artistic services?

We need painting from the stage again!

We need drama again!

We need dance again!

We need original songs and cool unique arrangements again!

How did we get to this stale world of worship we now have?

It's funny, because WE built this. Our generation demanded a new church in the 90s. We wanted something more than just 3 hymns and a sermon.

And now here we are just 20 years later and what is the modern church?

3 standard worship tunes and a message.

Sad.

Bring back the creativity!

EC

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