There is a phenomenon in churches today—yes, yet another one.  The arts and worship.  I’m hearing about it, I’m experiencing it.  I am even teaching it.  And I am worried about it, a bit.  I suppose we are “a ways off” from church leaders completely usurping it, because focusing on the arts in worship is still a subculture.  Well, maybe not entirely a subculture.  We’ve done the arts in worship forever—it’s not a new phenomenon, entirely.

But we haven’t really TALKED about the arts and visual art in worship in my lifetime, that I remember, up until about the last 8 or 10 years, it seems to me.  I first remember hearing about “worship and the arts” at a Willow Creek conference about 6 years ago.  And in the last year I’ve heard about the arts and worship a LOT.  Now we talk about it as a great tool of communication, and THE WAY to reach postmoderns.  So, this phenomenon is gaining momentum.

That’s why I’m worried.  I am worried because I don’t want to write an article that is some sort of pedantic preaching about how YOU should USE the arts because it is what is WORKING TODAY, and it is what is GOING to work in the 21st century to bring people to CHRIST.  AMEN.  That posture wouldn’t be very true to art OR the artist.  But I fear that people will do that anyway, like a formula, like a program.  I don’t want to be a part of that.  But it may happen.

So, I am going to try to focus differently.  What is it about art that is Godly? Who is the artist?  What is it about art and the artist in each of us that is so important to the pathway to wholeness, to finding Jesus in this crazy world in which we live?  What is it about art that transcends time and space and era, and just speaks?

Modern Images of Jesus Christ -


Todd is my son.  He is 17, and an artist.  Visual arts. (If you want to see some of his artwork, head to my website:   The other night, he and I and the rest of our immediate family (dad and brother/husband and other son) were watching the news.  There was a powerful story about a traveling photography show that depicts racism, showing photographs of lynchings and hangings and burning of African Americans, in the south, during the time of much racial tension and hatred.  Todd wondered why this was being presented at art museums, since it was so horrible that it couldn’t be art, because art is beautiful, said he.  Aha, maybe mama can still teach this strapping young lad a few things after all…

Art isn’t always about beauty.  Art is sometimes simply about the truth.

Art tells a story.
Art isn’t always about beauty.

Art is sometimes simply about the truth.
Art tells a story.
Art is creative, and expressive.
Art gets at what is inside someone.
Art brings the inside outside.
Art makes you internalize what you perceive.
Art begins conversation, and dialogue.

Stephanie Bowman:        Outcast —                                


Art originates from pain
Art originates from pleasure
Art is controversial.
Art is creation.
Creation is art.
Creation is AN art.
God’s creation is art.
God’s creation is a thing of beauty.
God’s creation is filled with drama.
God’s creation includes people.
God’s people do wonderful things, sometimes.
God’s people do horrible things, sometimes.
Art can speak to the beauty and the horror in ways that mere words cannot,
Art is music, drama, dance, paintings, photographs, video, poetry…
Art is the language of the soul.
Art makes you experience feelings.  It evokes a reaction.
Art keeps revealing new things, because art expresses nuances.
Art makes you see yourself in ways that mere words cannot.

Yes, Todd, those pictures we were talking about are aptly suited to art museums.

The Artist

I’m an artist too.  A musician.  Todd gets it from me, from my side of the family.  He is a lot like me.  He is volatile, sensitive, strong willed—peaks and valleys, dramatic, expressive, intense.  He is enraptured by beauty, and by the painstaking work of someone who took the time to create something.  He sees injustice and feels the pain of it.  He has not yet used his art to say that, though he will some day.  For now, he is clever.  He is able to express things that make you go, “Hmmmm…”

He has to mature.  His art will help him do that.  It will help him move along the pathway toward understanding.  And when he gets to that place, I hope that he will not be marred and held back by the controls of a world that doesn’t want to be transformed.  I hope that he will still be free, and be able to say what he thinks through his medium.  I can’t wait to see what he really thinks.  Art is the expression of the artist.  And it is an expression that is not eroded by dogma, thereby letting the soul of the artist speak with power.


The artist is a student.
The artist is a teacher.
The artist is always growing, always changing.
The artist is always leading, always showing a new direction.
Even when the artist only “paints the present,” it is a new perspective.
The artist is a contradiction in terms.
The artist is difficult.
The artist is touchy.
The artist is sensitive.
The artist is vulnerable.
The artist is a perfectionist.
The artist is strong.
The artist is passionate.
The artist is authentic.
The artist is struggling to find a place to be.

The artist is struggling to be accepted.
The artist is struggling to be heard.
The artist is struggling to be free.
The artist is soulful.
The artist sees many things.
The artist pays attention to detail.
The artist values beauty.
The artist finds beauty in a variety of places.
The artist creates and expresses for the sake of creation.

God is an artist.
God is vulnerable, authentic, soulful, powerful…
God sees beauty in many things.
God sees beauty in me.
God sees beauty in you.
God sees Jesus in me.
God sees Jesus in you.
Jesus is the fulcrum of God’s creativity.
God releases the artist in me and in you.
Jesus is the artist in me and you.
Jesus is seeking to flow free.

In some ways, I believe the artist is in all of us.

Worship and the Arts

The artist in a human being is sacred space.  God lives there, in the midst of the struggles of life; the tugs and pulls that try to tear us down, that need a medium to be shared in order to be able to address them.  The artist seeks a journey of expression, to find a place in this world, to establish a foothold.  The art that the artist develops is a way to move through the journey toward wholeness and peace.  The very PROCESS of creating is a way toward spiritual maturity.  For God will guide the artist along the artistic pathway; God redeems the darkness every time it finds its way into a limerick or a palette.  There’s the beauty, and it transcends the forces of life that try to hold it back…

Artists are uniquely gifted to express a life journey in language that gets at the depth of it all.  Their art can confront and confound the most guarded individual like a saber, cutting through the layers of hatred and boredom and pride and folly to bring that individual to a fuller understanding of self.  The artist is like a midwife, unearthing the shards of their own and another’s past, and providing a space where God and human can meet.  And when a person is taken into the depth of a soul experience through the artistic expression of another, there they too can find their own artist, and the God of Jesus, who is waiting to be experienced.

Modern Images of Jesus Christ

And when they experience God, and know the heart of compassion that awaits their shame, they will begin the journey to express the love of Jesus to another lonely artist that is still hiding in another heart.

And that is how I experience the interplay between the arts, the artist and worship.  In a sense, the artist is not only one who has a talent, but is also a metaphor for one who endures the pain of life.  I don’t know a single adult human being that doesn’t suffer, do you?  We experience tremendous loss in life, most of us resist change, and even the most even-tempered of us has to deal with the disparity between highs and lows.  This is the human condition, and it is the condition in which people find themselves when they come to a location we call public worship.  Real art is borne out of this “stuff” of life, and real worship occurs in the midst of it, freeing the artist within to praise The One who loves her beyond all distraction.

And real art is not canned.  It is not a program or the latest rage to bring people into the church.  Don’t use it like that.  Let it be what it is, an outgrowth of the human experience that finds a blessing from the Almighty.  Encourage THAT in your people, not for the sake of growing some numbers or for doing what everyone else is doing because you don’t want to be left behind, but for the sake of the artist that seeks the artist that seeks the artist—that seeks the Artist.  Encourage the art and the artist, and watch Jesus transform a broken heart.    It’s God’s masterpiece…