Embracing the Arts, for the Love of God

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by Scott McElroy

Imagine if the local church became the place in culture to experience creativity, beauty and transcendence.

It is possible.

Hundreds of years ago, churches were in many ways centers for these experiences, leading millions to experience God's presence through art and architecture. After the Reformation, Protestants largely abdicated that role. Now many churches are once again moving in that direction and beginning to develop creative arts programs that foster connection with the Creator.

Interaction with the arts and creativity is unavoidable in our culture. The average person encounters performances, music, and visual and media arts daily, even hourly. Most churches would like to become more fluent in the use of the arts in order to communicate truths about God more effectively. That's a worthy goal. God designed the arts to hurdle our barriers, slip past our intellect, and penetrate our hearts and souls with truth and insight. But God values the arts and creativity for reasons beyond their usefulness. God loves them because God is beauty and creativity (Ps. 19:1; 96:6). Whether God's beauty and creativity are expressed in nature or through the arts, embracing them enables us to more fully appreciate God's personality and presence.

Throughout Christianity there are signs that a sort of new renaissance is rising, a Holy Spirit-initiated movement to integrate the arts and creativity into churches. This movement has the real potential to revive and rejuvenate our congregations, enhance our understanding of God and bring the body of Christ closer to maturity. And looking outward, the movement is finding new and creative ways to engage the culture with spiritual art—not as propaganda but as an authentic expression of faith, love, truth and identity.

There is a movement afoot to find new and creative ways to engage the culture with spiritual art—not as propaganda but as an authentic expression of faith, love, truth and identity.

Christians of all traditions are noticing that God is sparking a renewed interest in the arts in their communities. Pope Benedict held a historic art summit with hundreds of world-renowned artists in the Sistine Chapel as part of a goal to "rekindle the special historical relationship between faith and art," saying it was the first of many arts initiatives. Major evangelical organizations like Youth With a Mission (YWAM), Operation Mobilization (OM), Campus Crusade for Christ (CRU), the Navigators and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship have recognized the ability of the arts to communicate across barriers and have developed arts training and outreaches. The international Lausanne Movement (founded by Billy Graham) produced a brilliant manifesto on the arts called "Redeeming the Arts." The explosion in the use of music, electronic media and drama in Protestant and evangelical churches has been quite significant, and now more churches than ever before have added visual arts galleries to their buildings. Many charismatics are using the arts as vehicles for encouragement, teaching and prophetic messages during their services and outreaches.

The first substantial wave of this movement lapped into many churches in the mid-1980s in the form of contemporary worship music, swelling into a flood in the 1990s and 2000s. Within 20 years, music in many churches completely changed, and the majority now have at least one service where contemporary worship music is featured. Whether you prefer hymns or newer music, you must admit that this shift has enabled new generations to find relevance in their worship experience and opened the door for thousands of musical artists to create and play for God's glory.

This renewed interest in the arts goes beyond the church's attempts to stay relevant or find creative ways to win converts. In fact, many see it as a key ingredient to the foretold preparation of the body and bride of Christ (Eph. 5:26), as well as a shift in the way the church influences the world as an agent of redemption and a force for good.

Scott McElroy is an author, speaker, arts advocate, voiceover artist and visual artist. He is the author of Finding Divine Inspiration: Working with the Holy Spirit in Your Creativity and the director of the New Renaissance Art Movement, which hosts the Creative Church Conferences in Boise, Idaho, and Indianapolis, Indiana. He also serves as Director of Arts at the Vineyard Church, Indianapolis, as well as with the Vineyard Arts Community, USA. This article is taken from chapter 1 ("A Renewal of the Arts and Creativity in the Church") of Creative Church Handbook: Releasing the Power of the Arts in Your Congregation by Scott McElroy. Copyright 2015 by Scott McElroy. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515, USA.

Related reading:

Beyond Words by Tegan Brozyna
In Protest of the Protestant Art Ethic by Tegan Brozyna

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