Archive for the ‘church art ministry resources’ Category

(The following is an excerpt from The Imaginative Church Workbook, coming soon from AMOKBooks.)

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a million times (and that is only a slight exaggeration)—people lamenting the consumer mindset in the church. I lament it too, but I completely understand it. Before I could preach, before I knew enough to teach, I was a consumer and the reason was simple. There was nothing (or at least very little) for me to do. I wasn’t called to preach yet, teaching was off the radar, and I had no musical skills, either vocally or instrumentally. Preaching, teaching and music, I call them the big three of church involvement, and I had none of them. Further, I wasn’t gifted in any of the mechanical things that needed to be done, I was bad with finance and I didn’t yet have the Spiritual maturity for any type of leadership position. Basically all I felt qualified to do was to show up and try to worship. Now those formative years were crucial to me and I look back on them very fondly, but my involvement was really limited.

I’ve shared my story in several of my other books, and don’t want to belabor it here, beyond to say, I went from the person described above to a pastor/artist/speaker/author who has ministered all over the U.S. and written books and ministry resources that have been used all over the world, largely because someone got imaginative. A pastor found my gift of art and showed me through a very simple project that my gift was useful to the church. Once I knew that, I began to look for and invent ways to serve, because I could see something I already enjoyed and did well was useful to people i really cared about. Everything that I am doing today can be traced back to a single moment and I am convinced I am not unique. People want to know that they matter, and that they’re useful and this is a huge blessing of the imaginative church. You can show people they matter. You can get them involved and you can help them find ways to make a difference.

By the way, there is a really cool side effect from all of this. You will end up with willing fulfilled servants who will find meaning and purpose in the Lord and His service. They will be able to do all kinds of new and different things that will open doors to the church for many and expand the reach of your church in amazing ways. You’ll turn consumers into contributors (in the truest sense of the word), and the Gospel will spread.


In today’s second part of this post, I want to look a little bit more of the relationship between risk and trust.

The relationship between risk and trust cannot be overstated. As an example, in my traveling art/speaking ministry, can you guess which speaking opportunities are the easiest to get? Give up? The easiest opportunities are in the places I have already been. The risk of bringing a guest speaker into a church is pretty huge. I make the wrong move or say the wrong thing and the pastor’s phone will start to ring. I made the mistake, but I am gone. He or she has to deal with the fall out. Once they see they can trust me, and they know I will do a good job and bless the people God has given them to serve and entrusted to them, bringing me back is easy. The risk is diminished. We have to deliver and we honor God first, and then the person who took the risk.

That first project is hugely important. It is your chance to prove yourself faithful and if you prove yourself to be faithful, I cannot guarantee thing will go any further, but I can guarantee that if you are not faithful, closed doors are likely to stay closed. Do what you can, offer your gift to God and trust Him. He will make a way. Sometimes humble projects open greater opportunities.

One more thing, be appropriate. Know your audience. There’s a reason all the animals are smiling on the ark in the nursery mural. It’s because the mural is for children. Is it realistic? No, realistic is people clawing at the door of the ark before sinking under for the third time, but children aren’t ready for that. Give your audience appropriate content for the situation and environment you’re in.

One of the key functions of this ministry is helping the church to embrace creatives and creativity. Occasionally though, I feel the need to remind creatives how to end up being embraced. This two-part post from my upcoming book, The Imaginative Church is designed to that end.

He is well known in Christian art circles and he is brilliant, one of the best artists in this realm. He’s worked with international ministries and some of the most influential churches in the U.S. He’s kind of a hero of mine, but on this day I was a little disappointed. He was doing a live-webcast and he started talking negatively about how churches only want to use artists for the obligatory Noah’s Ark Mural in the church. He went on to talk about the ways churches misuse artists and he had some great points. Churches do need to treat their creatives well and value their services and talents, maybe even demonstrating that value financially. (Supplies are expensive, people, and the majority of us as artists are not rolling in cash.) My fundamental disagreement was with the Noah’s Ark Mural comment. Here’s why I think he was wrong, at least on that front.

My first reason was sentimental. My first art “job” in the church was painting a backdrop for Vacation Bible School. While that’s not exactly the same, I believe it’s comparable and the end result of that one project was everything I am doing today. That one little project was transformative, and I have no doubt that God used it to change he course of my entire life.

The second reason is even more important. I see this even more clearly now that I have lived on both the artist and the pastor sides of the aisle. The arts (especially the non-musical arts) in the church is a risky thing for the pastor. He is taking a risk and that risk could be substantial. The reason why is pretty simple. There are a lot of people with a lot of strong opinions in a church and the arts are subjective. When the pastor wants to empower you to use your gift to serve the church, he is taking a risk with the rest of the congregation. This is why that entry level project is so important and how we handle it matters.

Chances are, your first project will be one with less risk. Often this will be found in the children’s area. Most children’s ministry resources are visual based and artistic, so to use images and stories is a little safer there. The pastor is walking a bit of a line here. He or she is opening a door for you and giving you a chance. He or she is giving you his/her endorsement to the rest of the congregation an that is no small thing. The best thing we can do is look the project over carefully and count the cost. Does it fall within your skill set and can you accomplish what is set before you? Now, to be clear, it may not be exactly what you want to do, or the most fulfilling thing you’ve ever done, but understand it is an open door and it may lead to more opportunity, and the opportunity to do more of what you want to do.

So let’s say you decide to take the pastor up on the offer. The next step is to deliver. Remember Colossians 3:23 “Whatever you do, work at it with your whole being, for the Lord and not for men, 24because you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as your reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving… This is key and crucial. There is no such thing as “good enough for the church” as in “Well it’s not my best, but it’s good enough for the church.” Remember, we always are supposed to offer our best to God. While you’re at it, remember the risk your pastor is taking on your behalf. If you’ve ever over-delivered, now is the time. Also, deliver on time. Meet your deadline or “die” trying. Take care of the building, keep the mess to a minimum and make the most of the opportunity.

Further remember the risk your pastor is taking on your behalf and listen to them. You don’t know the pressure they might be under, so give them what they ask for. Your pastor is in authority over the church for a reason and when we work within the context of the church, we need to come under that authority. We give them what they ask for and if you have a different idea, run it by them before your start. The general rule is earn their trust, get more creative freedom on the next project. Even better do something so amazing that the congregation gets excited about your work.

As you may or may not know, in addition to all the art and creative work that I do, I am a pastor at a church here in Pennsylvania. As such this is one of the busiest times of the year, working through the Lenten season coming up to Easter. This year in addition to the Biblical teaching I am doing, I am creating short videos for my congregation (and the rest of the world, via YouTube) about the traditions around the holiday. I thought I would share this with you as well.

I created this video after wondering, why does Easter seem to fall on a different day every year, and deciding to share what I found. I hope you like it.

I made this video a couple years ago, but it’s still relevant. Functional Saviors are the things we trust in when we should be trusting in God. This video contains a sampling of those things. In our day where our culture seems to trust everything but Christ, this video bears repeating.

I should comment here that I made this during the Obama administration and so it features a quick picture of President Obama. It was not meant as any disrespect of him. I was merely stating that from the time the Israelites decided to be led by an earthly king rather than God all human leaders have been trying to do a job that only God can do. The crown was too big in the says of Saul, through the days of Obama and to the current time. It will remain so until the perfect King Jesus Christ returns. There is only one Savior, everyone and everything else will fail us, and to trust in anyone or anything else to save is, in fact, a form of idolatry.

Forget functional saviors and trust in the One true Savior, Jesus Christ.

Is there ever a time to crush someone’s creative dream? Well the answer to that question is yes, and no. Let me explain. Have you ever watched American Idol? Now not after it’s down to the live shows when everyone is good. No I’m talking about the auditions, especially in the early seasons when they showed a lot of the most untalented people. Some of these people were frankly delusional. They thought they had talent, everyone told them they were good, but any listening person saw they were not even close. They left the auditions either crushed and devastated, flipping our angrily, or determined to try again next year.

I was one of these people. No I never auditioned for Idol, I was already too old for that when the show came on and by then I had had my rude awakening, but I did play in a band once, for about two weeks. I was a bass player, well sort of. I stank. I couldn’t even tune my own instrument, but that didn’t matter, I wanted to be a rock star and someone once told me I could do anything I put my mind to. They lied.

Here’s the thing, you can’t do anything you want to do. You can do anything you’re designed to do. I was not created to be a musician and maybe someone should have crushed my dream. Heck somebody did. I found out our rhythm guitarist was asked to take over on bass, essentially pushing me out. Thing is it was the best thing anyone could have done for me, but it was painful.

If I had worked my tail off, all day every day I might have been able to become a nominal bass player, but who wants to be nominal? Should we crush someone’s dream. On one hand, if we don’t, sooner or later someone will, and they might not be so kind about it, or worse we’ll continue slogging away in a fantasy, when we could be creating a great reality. I tend to shy away from dream crushing because art is so subjective. If I’m Bringing Sexy Back would have been Justin Timberlake’s first song, I would have crushed that dream and fast. It’s awful, but the NFL and a lot of screaming fans seem to disagree. What I like instead of dream crushing is something I call loving redirection. When someone found my gift of art and redirected me toward it, especially when related to ministry, I thrived. I found my niche and I am happier today than I have ever been. I’ve had so many dreams in my life, and a lot of them got crushed, but some of those things simply had to go, and others had to happen to build my skills to position me.

Failure is a great teacher, and a great guide. If you see someone trying really hard at something but the aptitude isn’t there, don’t crush them. Instead look for the good in them and give them the opportunity to succeed.

It’s called loving redirection. It’s good leadership and done well it benefits all involved. Pass it on!