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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

United in Worship: Bringing Back the Arts

Written by: on October 18, 2018

William A. Dyrness, professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary and visiting lecturer, invites his readers to walk through the hallowed halls of church history and understand the influence of visual art upon theology. His text, Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue explores the dynamics of culture, generational expression and the interaction of art throughout Christian history.

During the time of the early church, visual art was the heartbeat of countless gatherings. “Once Christianity was recognized (by the Edict of Milan in 313), buildings were built specifically as churches, and they were adorned with mosaics. Moreover, artists were employed to shape furnishings for religious uses, both private and public.”[1] However, during the Reformation, the church started to shift their attention to the Word of God and personal contemplation. This created an ideology of separation within Christian culture – those outside the walls of the church were no longer seen as equal, but a threat.

According to Dyrness, visual art was always present within the sanctuary and paired alongside theology; however, the Reformation caused Christians to view popular culture as a threat to the church, instead of a tool for the church. According to Dyrness:

By the time of the Reformation, fed by streams from medieval mysticism and the writings of people such as Thomas à Kempis, faith had become more specifically ‘personal’, consisting of an inward cleaving to Christ and his promises. This, of course, involved the application of the mind and did not require visual meditation.[2]

John Calvin and Martin Luther’s personal preference towards solo scriptura, led to a theological view of cultural separatism and skepticism. Moreover, the Reformation marred the hearts of countless artisans and silenced their creativity.

The art culture was rebirthed in the early nineteenth century;[3] however, this resurgence did not blur the lines between Christianity and popular culture but created more boxes of separation and segregation for artisans. According to Dyrness:

Artistic practice takes place in a created order that is given its own reality and structure even as it is open to the divine presence. Therefore, a complete understanding of art for the Christian must pay serious attention to the purposes and structures of God’s good creation, both as limitation and as potential for the Christian artist.

Christian artists, therefore, are still constrained to stay within the boundaries of biblical interpretation and theological expression. Dyrness discusses the conundrum of blending both worlds together and asserts that, “Clearly, the Christian church and Christian artists face an immense challenge, both to reach this generation with the gospel and equally important (and vitally related) to rediscover the imaginative richness of their heritage.”[4] This is why the author believes that, “There is no way for the church to interact constructively with contemporary culture without being rooted firmly both in that culture and in the biblical and Christian tradition.”[5] Therefore, one must understand the voice of culture and the theological constructs of the church in order to engage in purposeful conversation. Moreover, art must be the expression of the soul’s conviction – the soul’s connection to Christ.

Dyrness reveals that, “Art is becoming a cultural event, not unlike the rock or film festival. The artist, as a result, becomes a cultural icon, gracing T-shirts and coffee mugs.”[6] Therefore, it is imperative for us to understand the value of artisans and the definition of their work.

This is why churches must utilize creative people to develop their social media strategies, organizational branding and their online presence. Too many pastors find offence in connecting the words marketing with ministry; however, if one does not believe in promoting their organization, they perpetuate the idea that art and Christianity should remain separate.

Judith Glasser revealed that, “Conversations are the social rituals that hold us together, the fabric of culture and society.”[7] Art is part of the conversation. Dyrness warns readers in the very beginning of the text, “It is possible that we might actually win the battle of words but lose the battle of images. And losing the battle could well cost us this generation.”[8] If churches want to be pinnacles of conversion, then they must first be hubs of conversation. Dryness challenges readers to create space for creativity within their organization and give people a glimpse of Christ through the use of visual media.

 

 

[1]William A. Dyrness, Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2001),28.

[2]Ibid., 54.

[3]Ibid., 61.

[4]Ibid., 136.

[5]Ibid., 136.

[6]Ibid., 18.

[7]Judith E. Glaser, Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results (Brookline, MA: Bibliomotion, Books + media, 2014), 14.

[8]William A. Dyrness, Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2001),21.

About the Author

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Colleen Batchelder

I speak at conferences, churches, companies and colleges on intergenerational communication, marketing, branding your vision and living authentically in a ‘filtered’ world. My talks are customized to venue needs and audience interests. My passion is to speak with organizations and bridge the intergenerational gap. I consult with companies, individuals, churches and nonprofit organizations and help them create teams that function from a place of communication that bridges the generational gap. I’m also the Founder and President of LOUD Summit – a young adult organization that presents workshops, seminars and summits that encourage, empower and equip millennials to live out their destiny and walk in their purpose. When I’m not studying for my DMin in Leadership and Global Perspectives at Portland Seminary, you can find me enjoying a nice Chai Latte, exploring NYC or traveling to a new and exotic destination.

10 responses to “United in Worship: Bringing Back the Arts”

  1. Great post Colleen! I loved how you connected the use of art in church to marketing with the following quote: “This is why churches must utilize creative people to develop their social media strategies, organizational branding and their online presence. Too many pastors find offence in connecting the words marketing with ministry; however, if one does not believe in promoting their organization, they perpetuate the idea that art and Christianity should remain separate.” I totally agree, churches could stand to utilize more eye-catching artwork to draw this younger generation in.

  2. Thank you, Jake!

    It seems quite odd to many, but if you look at the branding of churches that resonate with young adults, many of them have great branding and merchandise. If you walk into the doors of any modern mega church, you’ll find a nearby bookstore, fragrant coffee and the church’s logo on varied pieces of merchandise. This is the perfect embodiment of high art becoming accessible to the people. What ways have you seen churches and parachurch organizations in the northwest utilize visual art in their presentations? How has this influenced their audience?

  3. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Colleen,
    I’m curious to hear how you incorporate art/images into your Loud Summit? It seems like this ministry venue would need some powerful visuals?

    • Thanks, Jean!

      Yes. We use multiple forms of visual art for LOUD Summit. We invested in highend production for the first event, which included, lights that adjusted per mood, a smoke machine, motion slides that served as the background to all the worship. We made sure that the summit expressed the gospel in the language of Millennials and Gen Z.

      We also put a lot of emphasis on social media and graphic design. Lynda.com became my best friend during the early years of set up. I took countless courses on social media strategy, brand development and wordpress design. I knew that I needed to learn the lanaguge in order to communicate. The younger generation is highly visual. This is why the majority of our social media team and graphic team are in their early to mid twenties. They love expressing the gospel through this medium. I connect with the team one time per month via Zoom, map out the social strategy, go over the core vision of LOUD and allow them to utilize their gifts to glorify God. It’s been exciting to see LOUD gain a global infuence through the use of art. People are using their gifts and the gospel is being preached.

  4. Shawn Hart says:

    Colleen, I am one of those ministers that hates to associate marketing to ministry…and yet…I also cannot deny that I am the first one to find ways to market the church. We have a website; produce a bulletin; have a Facebook page; I have fair at the booth that I give away advertising junk with the church name plastered all over it. Marketing is inevitable in our world; but I don’t have to like it. Furthermore, I just want to make sure that the efforts to market the church do not somehow become a way of selling out the church in who we are supposed to be.

    • Thanks, Sean!

      You point out that, “Marketing is inevitable in our world; but I don’t have to like it.” This is true. The use of marketing is much like the telephone replacing letters. We lost something and we gained something. We still embraced the telephone over letters because of instant gratification. It was eaiser to communicate; therefore, we picked up the phone to relay a message more than reached for paper and pen. The same is true for social media. Younger people see online communication as a replacement for the telephone. This is the new form of connection. Therefore, churches have the ability to reach millions of people that long to connect by tapping into this stream of influence and marketing their message.

  5. Dave Watermulder says:

    Colleen,
    Thanks for this post! I think some of the quotes that you pulled out were right on point, like this one: “It is possible that we might actually win the battle of words but lose the battle of images. And losing the battle could well cost us this generation.”
    In your work with younger leaders and people, do you find that images are more important than with older generations? Is this a “millennial” thing, or a human thing?

    • Thanks, Dave!

      Images are huge! We just held our first workshop and it took forever for people to sign up for the event. We called potential attendees, emailed them, met with them face-to-face. However, when we sat down and created better images for social media and spent more time promoting the graphics online, we got an influx of people signing up to attend.

      When I email potential churches about an event, I have to limit my word count and increasse my use of graphics. I think part of it is generational, and the other part is lack of patience. We want all the facts without having to read the book. The problem with a highly visual culture is that it influences many generations and creates a need for people to stand out above the noise. Text is noise. I believe that if we want to stand out, then our message should be visual. This will gain the attention of those who are younger and break through the noise.

  6. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Colleen,
    Great post, I could not agree more we need to be able to take advantage of the gifts God has given creatively. We need to put our best foot forward and that means using the creative arts to further the kingdom.
    Thanks
    Jason

  7. Chris Pritchett says:

    Great post Colleen!! Very well researched and thoughtful. You caused me to wonder if the Reformers, in their focus on sola scriptura over/against art, do you think they made an idol of the Bible?

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