Each year hundreds of artists make the move to a major city to pursue their ambitions in the arts. This opens the door to a lot of unsolicited advice: “Be sure to have something else to fall back on.” “Give yourself a time limit after which point you should move on to something else.” “Beware of losing your morals in the theater.”
But rarely will you hear someone say: “Moving to New York? Get ready for a spiritual awakening!” or, “Hey, you should check out this great church there!” Can you imagine if the churches in New York City or Los Angeles or Chicago became so engaged with artists in the city that being an artist there was inextricably tied to questions of faith and calling?
On a crisp, autumn morning this November, I met in the loft space of the Neighborhood Church in the village. Sitting around a breakfast table with artists and pastors from various churches in the city, we talked about how to serve the growing number of artists in our congregations and communities. One pastor wept as he testified to God’s faithfulness in making a place again for artists in the church, and explained that he himself had once been an aspiring painter but quit after he became a Christian. At that time, there was no one to help him integrate his faith and his work as an artist.
That morning over breakfast we recounted the names of early contributors to art and faith dialogue: Francis Schaffer, Madeline L’Engle, Hans Rookmaker, Calvin Seerfeld, Colin Harbinson, Nigel Goodwin and many others who helped to build a bridge theologically and relationally for artists to find a home among Protestant, evangelical churches. We sat together in awe of those who came before us and prayed for the reconciliation of artists and the church. The rapidly growing number of artists in the churches of major cities and the lay leaders equipped to serve them gives hope to the vision of Gospel renewal in and through the arts.
The Church has a unique message of hope for the artist. Through the hope of the Gospel we understand that our artistic work, not just our bodies and souls, could one day be purified and included in the new, eternal city of God. This belief in the eternal significance of our earthly work and bodily life gives the people of God a unique opportunity to speak into the hearts of artists about the one topic that concerns them most—the issue of calling.
Artists, like all people, want their lives to matter. Their work is an expression of their life. Even in an era in which a sense of hopelessness and meaninglessness tends to pervade much artistic expression, I contend that all artists sense or long for an eternal significance in their life and work. One doesn’t have to look far beneath the surface of many contemporary artworks to find this resonant longing. Perhaps the artist’s struggle to make sense of a world that seems caught between the dreaming and the coming true is one way in which the Spirit is working to renew the frayed fabric of culture.
It is truly a unique time in which the Church could play a major role in the shaping of many artists through their relationships and experiences in the evangelical churches of major cities, the cultural centers of the world. The intentional inclusion and care of artists that is becoming commonplace in churches around the globe is laying the foundation for a movement of the Gospel in the arts community through a network of churches that will engage, equip and mobilize artists with a renewed sense of their callings. Let’s pray for the artists that God will bring, and the churches that will receive them.