Archive for January, 2021

When I first started envisioning creative arts ministry, I sort of felt like a pioneer. No one around me was doing it (at least that I knew of), there were precious few resources (remember it was the 90s) and I pretty much felt like I was inventing it. Of course I know the Lord was leading, providing me with all sorts of ideas and generally helping me, but in the eyes of men and the church, few people knew what to do with me. Then something wonderful happened. The internet was really coming into its own and part of my day job at the time was to begin creating a website. I took the skills I was learning at work and used them create a rudimentary web site. That was the birth of AMOKArts, and a funny thing happened. I started to meet people all over the world who had similar interests. There were all these little pockets out there that were also inventing art ministry and we started to be able to come together.

I also started to meet others who, while not considering themselves artists, could see how some of the things we were creating would be beneficial to their churches. The pioneers were starting to connect and I for one was feeling a whole lot less weird. Eventually I started getting opportunities to travel and do some workshops and I felt my call expand. I started to create art ministry presentations. Now I just needed to get churches to give it a try, and I became a pioneer all over again. No one quite knew what to expect and I had educate them and get them to give me a shot. I learned a few things.

  1. Start with the young. A lot of the first workshops I got to do dealt with ministering to children and youth. This made sense if you think about it. Many children’s ministry resources have ran arts and crafts element to them so the learning curve was not quite as large.
  2. Get referrals. People like to try what has already worked. When someone gave me a shot, I got them to give me a little recommendation. It’s hard to go first, and it’s much easier to take a chance when you see someone else had a good experience.
  3. Overdeliver. Give your very best every time.
  4. Stay biblical. For goodness sake do not be a false teacher. Someone trusting you with their pulpit is the wrong time to push controversial points. I remember a time when my pastor at the time brought in an actor who specialized in portraying the founder of our denomination. I was excited because I love to see different ways to present the Gospel. The problem is this man keyed in on the idea that our founder was a universalist, and took the opportunity to share universalism. Was our founder a universalist? When I get to heaven, I’ll ask him, but today we are certainly not and that teaching proved very controversial and not in a good way. It was a long time before more creative ministry came into that church.
  5. Have a genre. You’ll have to stick with me on this one. One of the things about being a pioneer is that you are doing something different. It’s hard to describe what hasn’t been done before and if no one knows what to do with you, it’s not likely that they will do anything. When I first started my speed painting presentations one maddening thing kept happening. People would come up to me afterwards, nearly every time and tell me about a chalk artist that came to their church in the 50s or 60s or 70s. It was aggravating to me, but then one day I had a revelation. First of all, I know what I do is somewhat different from the chalk talks, but I’ve been blessed by the ones I have seen and I certainly don’t think I am better than them. Relating what I do to chalk talks gives them a context. I do something different from what they did, but they at least have a similar genre which helps the decision makers have an idea where I’m going. Tried and true is less scary so now I embrace the comparison.
  6. Be a blessing. Do something to bless the people who took the risk. One of the things I like to do is leave the paintings I make behind with the people who brought me in. I love seeing photos in churches and seeing my art hanging in the background. Stay connected with these people as well and promote them when you can. By letting you do what it is that you do, the person in question is investing in you. Bless them as best you can.

The point is, Solomon was right, there is nothing new under the sun. We are not alone. God is with us and chances are, if God is on the move in an area, the odds are pretty high that there is someone, somewhere who is trying to do something similar. Find them and pioneer together. Create your work and put it out there for the world to see and where someone embraces it, give them all the help you can for them to help you. If God is leading you to do it, He will make a way, but that way often involves you faithfully doing the work. Help people understand what you do, appreciate the risk they are taking to let you do it, and do it like you were doing it for God, because the thing is…


Pick Your Hill

Posted: January 30, 2021 in Uncategorized

I had another dream last night. I was speaking at a church that was not my own. They had two pastors, an established senior pastor and a much younger associate. It appeared to me that the senior pastor’s wife was doing little things to put the associate “in his place” and that there was tension that had been ongoing for quite some time. The “last straw” for the associate was when the pastor’s wife gave this young man something to put on his podium that she had made. Now that doesn’t sound so bad, but it was hokey and he clearly felt humiliated by it. It was clear that by now there was a pattern of offense so deep that the young man was ready to rebel. I felt for the guy, but I also knew he needed perspective.

I took him over to a window and pointed to some horses grazing on a little hill nearby. I said “Imagine you’re in a battle. Your army could really use those horses but they’re well protected and you don’t really need them. To go after them is near certain death. You’re leading the charge.” In the distance was a tall mountain. Pointing to the mountain, I said, “that mountain over there is your objective. It too is heavily guarded, but if you make it to the top, victory is certain. It would be nice to have the horses but the risk is high. Take that hill and you may never reach your goal. Which hill do you want to die on?” Then I said, “You can do battle over your offense if you want to, you might even win it, but the distant hill, that’s where the real victory is. That’s where souls get saved and where people’s lives will be changed. Which hill do you want to die on?” He took the decoration and put it on his podium, made a self-deprecating comment with a big smile on his face and that’s when I woke up.

Now you might think that story is oversimplified, especially if you’re deep in offense, but consider our Lord. His earthly life was a near constant battle with people who were trying to put Him in His place. The thing is they didn’t even know His place, but He did. His place was on the throne ruling the universe. Still He pressed on, on toward the hill where victory was. That was His objective. That was where humanity would be saved. That’s where His Father’s will would be done. That was the hill He would die on. He dealt with offense all along the way but He kept His eye on the prize and pressed on. We must do the same.

Pick your hill.

You don’t have to be famous to have critics. Anyone with a social media account has critics. I’m reading the brilliant new book The Practice boy Seth Godin and in it, Godin gives us advice for dealing with critics. He writes:

Most criticism shared in the internet age is useless, or worse harmful.It’s useless because it often personalizes the criticism to be about the creator, not the work. And it’s useless because most critics are unskilled and ungenerous…

You don’t need to hear from anonymous trolls, more do you need to worry at all about the criticism from people who don’t want the sort of thing you make. All they’ve done is announce that they’re not the ones you seek to serve.

But a generous critic? Priceless. The generous critic has taken the time to regard your work, understand your intent and then speak up. The generous critic is ready to be enrolled in your journey, is eager to go where you’d like to take them.

That means you can learn something. And learning something is part of the process.

Seth Godin, The Practice

This is so true. Many creatives will key in on one negative over a boatload of positives. If that negative is from your average troll, they were never really all that interested in what you have to say anyway. Your best bet is to ignore, or maybe even block, otherwise you’ll be distracted by someone who doesn’t care. On the other hand the person who cares enough to help you fix a problem, they are worth their weight in gold. Love them and listen to them.

This book, The Practice, is phenomenal. Check it out.

Cultural Appropriation?

Posted: January 28, 2021 in Uncategorized

As many of you know, I am a big fan of the Canadian Prog Rock Power Trio Rush. I love that band. The other day I was on Facebook and one of the other members of their fan club posted that without the band Yes, there would be no Rush. Now I am also a big fan of Yes, but I kind of see it more as they were an influence on Rush but Rush went in a different direction and forged their own path. Taken to the poster’s logical conclusion, there would have been no Yes without the Beatles, and while I have never been a big Beatles fan, I have to admit there is some validity to it. Further without Elvis there would have been no Beatles and without the African American Blues and Jazz musicians that came before there would have been no Elvis. Of course you can ride that train all the way back to the first musician and to God Himself I suppose.

In the arts, I believe we stand on the shoulders of giants. These heroes of the disciplines that have come before. Lately there has been a lot of talk of cultural appropriation. The idea being that people take credit for the arts of other cultures. I understand what people are saying, but I am a little scared by this line of thinking. It almost feels like people are trying to segregate the arts, and I hate that. Are we really saying that we want to keep art forms with the cultures that created them? Are people really saying that you can only do the music of the people of your culture? Can rap only be performed by African Americans? Since most of the early classical composers were white Europeans are we really saying that it is the domain of caucasians? I sincerely hope this is not the case. I think the arts help us to understand each other. I believe we build on each other to create new art. Wouldn’t it be better to let the arts bridge caps and unify us? Wouldn’t it be better for us to come together and create together.

Here’s an admittedly odd example. One day, I did my Pictures of Jesus presentation. It’s about two hours long and includes nine easels, five live paintings and a lot of story telling. The next day, I returned for another presentation and one of the mothers informed me that she came into her kitchen to find her young child with all her kitchen chairs lined up with paper taped to them. He was drawing and painting on the paper and telling stories. I was thrilled, because I think that is what most artists want. I want to influence the next generation. I want to have other people see what I do and build on it, creating something newer and maybe even better. That doesn’t cheapen or discount me, it allows the work to continue and grow. It is the personification of one of my favorite Bible Verses. Philippians 1:6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. What if God started it, I faithfully did the work. Someone else will take it further, until Christ completes it.

I am not negating the atrocities that have been done to artists of color, nor am I suggesting that we claim their work as our own. What I am begging is that we don’t segregate the arts, but rather that we learn to work together, influence each other, find the works that touch our heart and take inspiration together, and take our creativity to new heights together. Arts can be a great tool for uniting people, and we could use that right about now.

Another D Word: Direction

Posted: January 27, 2021 in Uncategorized

Now before you wonder, I am not going to give you your direction. I can’t do that. That comes after one of yesterday’s D word, Discernment. You seek God, you pray, and act on what you believe God is leading you to. No the direction I am mentioning is a whole lot simpler and applies to absolutely everyone. Very simply, you look at the choices you make in light of your calling and goals and you ask one simple question.

Will this choice take me closer to my goal or further away?

If the answer is further away, turn around and walk, don’t run in the other direction.

Last night I had this weird dream. I was setting up a worship service in a warehouse. There were some really unusual things about the dream, but what I remember most was all the amazing art that was hanging on the walls around the pulpit area. I don’t know if I painted it though in the natural much of it exceeded my current abilities, but when I awoke I had all these amazing ideas for art projects. Part of me wanted to sprint to the studio and get to work, but before I go there, I need to deal with the three Ds.

Is it a Diversion? Diversions can be a wonderful thing. For those of us who really embrace our creativity, there will inevitably be times when we find ourselves stuck. It’s times like these that I will go to a diversion. This is an outside project. I almost always have my sketchbook nearby, I often have a canvas on the easel and a model kit on my table. These are all things I do just for fun. They are all creative, but it’s often a different level of creative, something that will allow me to change my thought process for a little while. Working on a diversion project allows me to re-focus and before long I’m usually getting ideas for my primary project. The side effect of this is, these side projects are also usually in areas where I am trying to reach out and build relationships. They are not directly Christian projects most of the time, but they help me to meet new people as I share the results online. Reading can also fall into the diversion category. I do a lot of reading for my actual work, but I usually have a work of fiction on hand just for the sake of enjoying reading. The upside of this is, reading these stories can help me become a better storyteller, which is essential to what I do. My best definition of a diversion is it is something that while taking me off task and allowing me to refocus, can also be useful to me as I pursue my mission.

Is it a Distraction? Distractions are things that will take me off task and keep me from accomplishing my goals. They are primarily wastes of time. Things like social media, and some television can be huge distractions. They change my mood, upset me and generally hamper my creativity. This can also apply to creative projects if they are taking me off task. Distractions defeat creativity and take me off mission. The difficulty here though is sometimes I use social media a lot to reach out to people, keep in touch, and make connections for my ministry. Likewise too much diversion can become a distraction. Many of these things are not black and white and it can be very difficult to tell a diversion from a distraction sometimes, which leads us to the final D word.

Discernment. Discernment comes from prayer and the Word, but in this case mainly prayer. Will what I am currently doing move me closer to God’s goals for my life (my mission) or will they hamper me from doing what I am supposed to be doing? None of the things I saw in my dream or woke up thinking about doing were sinful. All of them could build my skills and possibly build connections with others, so they are not particularly easy to check off the list and so I must prayerfully consider how God might be leading me to move forward. One of the things I find helpful is alluded to above. I make a list. I record the ideas I have had. That way I don’t forget them in the discernment process. Plus I only have so many hours in a day. I can’t possibly do them all simultaneously, so recording them is key. Some of those ideas may move into the diversion pile, a few may prove to be distractions and some might even be part of my mission. We need to trust that God is big enough to move us in the direction He wants us to go. We need to trust the Spirit to lead.

God is faithful. Even as I was considering which of these projects were which, God brought this three D. concept into clarity and led me to write it down to share with you. None of it was earthshaking. I’ve posted. about all these elements before, some numerous times, but I have not thought to link them together in this way before. I pray it blesses you and moves you toward discernment. We can’t do it all, and we need to finish what we start. I truly believe this 3D process could be a great place to start.

How to Become an Artist

Posted: January 25, 2021 in Uncategorized

I’ve been reading The Practice by Seth Godin and he has really touched on something that I am passionate about. If I were to ask how do you become a doctor or a lawyer or something like that, you would be able to tell me the academic pursuits required, the tests to be passed, and any other parts of the process, but how do you become an artist? I’m convinced it comes down to a four step process.

Step 1. Say you’re an artist.

Step 2. Make art.

Step 3. Share your work with the world.

Step 4. Repeat.

That’s it. Now I know some will balk at this and I am okay with that. Yes you can take classes and get a degree if you want, but what’s most important is that you know who you are, make your art and share it with the world. From that point, you just keep doing it over and over again. That is what I’m doing here, by the way. I realize that some will think I am oversimplifying the process, and may even think I am stupid. I’m okay with that. It’s not for them. I created it. I believe it. I am sharing it with the world. The ones who agree with it are my tribe. The ones that don’t. I love you, but I respectfully disagree. The first step in being an artist is believing you are an artist, from there it’s all about making the art and sharing it far and wide. The people who love it will find it and from there, you just need to keep making art. If you make art and share it with the world you’re an artist and no critic can take that away.

Picasso on Being and Remaining an Artist

Five Star Coloring?

Posted: January 24, 2021 in Uncategorized

But wait, rats aren’t green!

One of the things I readily admit is that I am a work in progress and that sometimes I struggle between two points of view. This is where I find myself today. On one hand I have a loved on who works for a preschool. The chain of which this school is a part discourages coloring books and coloring sheets, asserting that coloring is not a creative activity. I definitely struggle with that. First of all, coloring is fun, plus it develops fine motor skills and in and of itself it is a basic skill that people need to advance in art. To me restricting kids from coloring is akin to wanting kids to make music without knowing how to play the notes, or learning to read and write without knowing the letters.

But the we get to the other side of my conundrum. My grandson is a kindergarten student. One day he started talking to me about something he is being taught in school—Five Star Coloring. There are three tenets of Five Star Coloring (shouldn’t it be called three star coloring? But I digress): Color in the lines, no white spaces and the right colors. To a point I get it and to another point I cringe. I get it, the kids need to develop those aforementioned skills, but it almost seems like they are squeezing the creativity and the fun out of it. Of particular concern to me is the “right colors.” From a purely educational perspective I get it. Leaves are green, the sky is blue… except when it isn’t. Look at a green tree and of course the leaves are green, but with the interplay of the light, you’ll likely see yellows and blues, white highlights and nearly black shadows. One of my favorite nature paintings is one a snow covered field at sunset. In this realist painting, the predominant color of the painting is a gorgeous shade of purple, the snow is nearly completely shades of purple. We all know snow is white, but if we are creating based on what we see, that is not always the case. In art, especially in realism one of the primary skills people need is to learn to draw what they see, rather than what they think should be.

Of course in my work, I am a big proponent of every crayon in the box and I make things whatever color I want. Art doesn’t have a lot of rules, and most of the artists we love the most feel free to break the ones that exist. So where do I go with this. I think we need to teach people the basic skills, and in that regard there is room for “five star coloring.” From that point there are other things that are valuable to know. Things such as color theory, composition, perspective and learning to draw what you see. But all the while, we need to encourage children to experiment and to break the rules. Above all, we need to remember that a small group of students will become professional artists, but all of them can benefit from creative expression, so let’s not choke all the creativity out of them. Coloring is an important skill. Five-star coloring has it’s place, but the happiest and often most successful arts are the ones who learn to color outside the lines and create their own path.

In the arts, rules are made to be broken.

Fear of Failure

Posted: January 23, 2021 in Uncategorized

I wonder how many great ideas were killed by fear of failure.

I wonder how many great lives were never realized because of fear of failure.

I wonder how many great works of art never left the minds of their creators because of fear of failure.

I wonder how many opportunities have been lost to fear of failure.

I wonder how many great inventions never came to be because of fear of failure.

I wonder how many of the world’s problems could have been solved if only people had not succumbed to fear of failure.

I wonder how many people have been lost because what could have saved them was lost to fear of failure.

I wonder how many people are walking around wondering what might have been were it not for fear of failure.

I wonder if God will one day show us what might have been, if only we had trusted Him over the fear of failure.

Today I determine in my heart that the price of the fear of failure is way too high. Today I determine to fail and fail boldly on my way to being whatever it is that my God would have me be. Today I determine that if I fail, I will dust myself off and keep failing until I succeed and I will trust in my God to make use of every one of my efforts whether I see the effort as success of failure.

Failure is one of life’s great teaching tools, because it gives me the opportunity to learn from my mistakes. Failure is not an option in the life of a creative person. It is a necessity, because when we try to do something we have never done before, failure is likely, but it sure beats being stuck in the monotony of doing the same thing over and over again. Realizing that if you do what you’ve always done you’ll get what you’ve always got, trying something new is the only viable thing to do in the face of problems needing a solution. Better to go down swinging than seeing everything as insurmountable. My God is bigger than my weaknesses and if I fail, I determine to fail to His glory.

Today I determine to remember failure is not the enemy. Fear of failure is.

It’s Not For Everybody

Posted: January 22, 2021 in Uncategorized

To make it clear, the Gospel is for everybody. Jesus said that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life and that on one comes to the Father except through Him. (John 14:6) Further Acts 4:12 tells us, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” The Gospel is for everyone and Jesus is for everyone, but your work, your ministry and even your church probably isn’t.

Let’s start with your work. It will not take any creative person very long at all to see that not everyone will like their work. That’s okay, it’s not for everyone. The only way to create work for everyone is to create work that is so banal that no one will dislike it. Of course the downside of that is that one will love it. It is far better for us to do the work God leads us to in a way that pleases Him and us, and then to seek out the people that love your work and give them and the Lord your very best. It won’t be for everyone. Someone else will create what touches them. You be the creative God made you to be. The same can be said for your ministry.

To be clear, if people dislike your ministry because you are straying from the truth of the Word of God, change that today, and yesterday would be better. Any ministry or minister that departs from the Word of God is a false teacher and that is nothing any of us want to be. If on the other hand, there are people out there that don’t like your style, it might be better to be okay with that. There is a ministry out there that will reach that person and there is a group of people God has wired you and gifted you to reach. Be who God made you to be and reach who God made you to reach.

The same can be said for churches. My small country church doesn’t have all the bells and whistles and the cool factor that the mega church down the street might have. There was a time where that really bothered me. I hear people in the church complain about the big churches as if they were stealing members from them. That’s not really the case. The church down the street is not our competition, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ on a mission to reach who they are called to reach. What we need to focus on is who are we called to reach? I remember when I first joined the church as an adult. A loved one asked me a question. “It’s not one of those churches where they get happy is it?” I had no idea what that meant. I do now, and I really kind of like it, but here’s the thing. If every church was someplace where the people “get happy” would there be a place where someone wired like my loved one could meet Jesus? Because they are important, too.

The Gospel is for everybody, and God’s desire is that no one would perish but that everyone would come to repentance. Because of God’s great love, He has wired people and ministries and churches in different ways so that there would be a multitude of different people and ministries and churches to open the doors to everybody. Don’t try to be the person down the street. Keep your eyes on your own paper and do your own work. Then share your work or your ministry or your church with the world. Then just love there people that are drawn in and serve them well.

You’re not for everybody, but God is, so be who He made youth be, do the work He made you to do and trust Him.