Artistry, Excellence, and the Mission
What is the role of artistic excellence in a local church’s “production”?
On 1 side you have people who pour tons of cash into the “production” of the message, making it as good, or better than, what comes out of Hollywood or New York. Usually, their rationale is that a) God deserves our best, and we ought to make things that display Him as “glorious” as possible; and b) in order to effectively communicate with the world, we need to approximate the medium other messages travel on.
On the other side are people who invest little to nothing in the “production” of the message. Their rationale is usually something like: a) According to Scripture, God does not use glitz and glamor to spread His message, He uses the plain preaching of the Word and the astounding lifestyles of His church; b) realistically, we can’t compete with the world on that front, and it is poor stewardship of our resources to try to do so, especially when so many are suffering, starving and without the Gospel around the globe.
I think you can go out of balance either way. At the Summit Church, we’ve ended up with what I hope is a proper balancing of both. The bottom line is this: We love glorifying God in art, but think that God has given the church an urgent mission, and all things, even good things like art, ought to be seconded to that mission.
Thus, we believe in the principle of ‘good enough.’ We do what is necessary to effectively communicate the message, and nothing more, believing that the real power of our ministry is in the preached word and in the changed lives of people in the church. Jesus did not win the world through a marketing campaign, He died on the cross and His Apostles preached His message and planted churches.
Good art can be an end in itself. God created us to glorify Him in art, and when we do so, we fulfill His purposes in creation. However, our desire to produce good art must be balanced with the fact that God has called us to leverage our resources for the spread of the Gospel. Thus, our (a local church’s) desire to produce good art should be balanced with the urgency of the mission. To make a flawless, Hollywood-video about starvation in Ethiopia is a good thing… to use that footage to motivate people to give their lives to do something about it is the best thing. As a church, is it possible that sometimes our devotion to good things keeps us from pursuing the best thing? I think it is. Thus, as a church, we have decided we will almost always second the desire to produce good art to the urgency of the mission.
We also know that just as a good communicator will often intermix stories and illustrations to help his audience grasp what he is saying, so communicating to audiences in this day means that you have to take into account how people hear messages. Here again, the point is not the production, but the communication of the message. The art of the production, in light of the 1 mission given to the church, ought to be seconded to that mission.
Each individual Christian must hear from God how he or she is best to use their abilities in service of God’s kingdom. Some may sense that God’s specific calling on them is to put more energy and time into glorifying Him in a particular artistic project. That may be the role God has given them in glorifying Him, and I can’t judge them. I don’t say that as a cop-out, but as a recognition of the marvelous diversity of the body of Christ and our freedom to follow the Spirit and our consciences in it.
I also know that each church must ascertain how best to reach its own community, and that it is not helpful for us to judge 1 another in this area.
But this is where we’ve ended up as a church… we do spend money on production and art, but only as is necessary to communicate the message and propagate the mission. We know that, at the end of the day, the real power is not in the medium, but in the Spirit and the Gospel.