Kingdom-made: Church and the Arts

When we were in Orange County a couple of weeks ago, we visited the church that several of our friends work at/attend, ROCKHarbor. Every year they hold a large Easter service at the Orange County Fairgrounds. This year during the service the ROCKHarbor dance team performed a Stomp-esque drama of the biblical story: creation, Fall, sacrifice of Christ, resurrection and new life. I must say that I had never seen anything like that done in the church, and it spoke to me even more than some sermons I have heard. You can watch the videos on YouTube (though it was much better in real life):

This got me thinking about using the arts in Church, and even how Christians in general approach the arts. From my experience, if a church uses the arts at all it is in one of the following ways:

  • realistic (somewhat cheesy) paintings of Jesus or other biblical characters
  • 3-5 minute comedic skits right before sermon
  • distracting background images behind the words to the music
  • high school girls dancing with ribbons
  • movie nights showing “Left Behind” or “The Passion of the Christ”

Usually, when churches try to add drama or some other art form, it comes out rather forced and seems more uncomfortable to watch than convicting.

So let me just get to the chase: it seems to me that churches that have artists should use them, and churches that don’t have artists shouldn’t try to force a particular art form into the service. ROCKHarbor has a lot of professional dancers…that’s awesome! And it’s even greater that the church has equipped them to play such a major role in preaching during the service. Yes, that’s right. I firmly believe that that performance was a sermon.

How did we get to this point when church services were made up of 20 minutes of music and 40 minutes of preaching? I’m not criticizing, just wondering. I don’t see any kind of format for church services in scripture, but somehow, we just expect that music and preaching is what makes church.

“What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.” 1 Corinthians 14:26

The early church seemed to use every member of the body to contribute to their time together. Now, certainly, this would be impractical of a church of 100+ people, but the concept is there. Everyone has some gift of God that they can use to impact those in the church.

“Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” Romans 12:4-8

God has given us all different gifts. Shouldn’t it be possible to use those gifts in worshiping God? A visual artist can create an image that honors the Father or makes others think in a new way about Him. And I don’t think that painting/graphic/sculpture/photograph has to be something a realistic image of Jesus. It could be a leaf, a prism, an abstract. I think that a visual work of art or a dance or a drama or a song (with or without lyrics) could be just as much of a prayer as speaking words with your head bowed and eyes closed.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men,” Colossians 3:23

Some churches don’t really have a whole lot of artists in their body, and that’s okay too. Those churches can worship in other ways:

  • a mother making a cake with her little ones and taking it to someone who is sick or struggling
  • the congregation cleaning up a local park
  • meditating on creation
  • meditating on a scripture passage
  • washing each others’ feet
  • eating a Passover meal together
  • writing poetry to or about the Father

All of these can be worship, or even a sermon, just as much (maybe more?) as a Vineyard praise song or a time of preaching. Certainly everything must be grounded in scripture. And scripture points us to the gifts that God has placed in each one of us.

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