Three Questions Before Studying Art Ministry

Are artists born or made? Our culture tends to think they’re born. We put artists on a pedestal while hailing their predetermined genius. This mindset encourages a shallow, superstitious distance, and makes artists seem just weird.

No, I think artists are mostly made.

Mostly. I have met artists who were born a genius, and believe me, they need even more discipline and humility than normal hard-working artists. Thomas Edison said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Research supports this, actually.

It’s what I see play out in real life, too. That’s great news! It means this stuff is learnable. Teachable. Forget the luck-of-the-draw mentality.

What would happen if more people regarded art and ministry as teachable, learnable skills?

Is Art Teachable?

Yes, and more than you think. I’ve personally taught hundreds of people to produce art they never dreamed they could make. God poured his DNA into us, you know; if he’s creative, so are we. Beginner artists are welcome in Art Ministry 101 because yes, art is teachable. I’ve seen firsthand that even damaged or destroyed creativity can come back in a person and be developed to astronomical levels, thanks to our healing, loving Father. The recipe is God’s grace plus a supportive environment. I’ve seen artists go from zero to prolific in three weeks flat.

Obviously, intermediate and advanced artists are also welcome in Art Ministry 101. Each visual art assignment is designed to challenge artists to go deeper spiritually and artistically. Every week is an opportunity to focus on God while getting gritty with the medium of your choosing. Turn up your intensity in a discipline you already love, or tackle an art medium that’s new to you. We have writing components, too, but mostly this course is for studying the principles and relationships of 2-D and 3-D visual art, and the many ways it can usher in ministry.

Is Ministry Teachable?

Yes, ministry is teachable, too. The disciples hung around and learned from Jesus. The word ministry simply means doing “little” things (mini-stry) that make a big difference. In Art Ministry 101 you’ll study practical ways of ministering through the arts. Art ministry can look like:

  • painting children’s faces at a homeless shelter
  • giving art supplies to a family suffering from a grave illness
  • designing backdrops for a Christmas production or Vacation Bible School
  • facilitating therapeutic art in the mountains at a special retreat for survivors of domestic violence
  • hosting a writers’ group at the senior center in town once a month
  • providing watercolors at art tables during church services for your congregation
  • mentoring and providing art internships to visual art students at your local university
  • hosting a Bible study and discussion group for Christian visual artists downtown
  • giving $200 worth of brand new art supplies to an artist recently released from prison
  • volunteering to draw/paint Bible illustrations on canvas during story time in Sunday school
  • painting a mural at the local rescue mission
  • starting a culinary arts group at your church
  • organizing a community mural and art outreach for a mission trip overseas
  • hosting small groups and youth groups in your church art studio to process scripture through art
  • inviting your city to create at Open Studio held in a city park, church building, or art studio
  • creating art on stage during worship services
  • providing an environment where it’s safe to fail in order to foster young artists, heal damaged and wounded artists, and develop creativity in non-artistic folks

These are all examples of  real-life art ministry. At VineArts Boise we’ve done all of the above, and more. But this is merely a fraction, just a speck, compared to all that could be done through visual art in this great big world. There is more waiting to happen.

I don’t know what God has in store specifically for you to do, and maybe you don’t know yet either. But if God is prompting you to love people through art, Art Ministry 101 can serve as a rich training ground.

What Ministry is Not

Ministry is not a program. It doesn’t require committees or high-budget organization. Ministry is listening to Christ who is in you. It’s being sensitive to God’s promptings and obedient to stuff he puts in front of you every day– that’s ministry, and it’s inside and outside of church buildings. Structure and budgets can play a supporting role, but ministry is not about structure. It’s individually and corporately loving the people God places in your path.

As ministry is not structure, art is not technique. A good story is not about sentence structure. Music is not about theory, nor the instrument that produces it, nor the hours of practice it took to be able to execute smoothly. Art and music are about ideas and expressions of beauty flowing from the heart of a writer or musician.

Infinity Times A Hundred: Whoa

Anyone can learn to speak the language of art. Just keep one thing in mind: You’ll never come close to learning all there is to know. Because last I checked, you’re not God.

In fact, here’s what occurs: The deeper you dive into a particular discipline, the more that field unfolds and stretches before you, opening impossibly wider as you move forward in your journey. It’s like martial arts. The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.

This should excite you, not discourage you! It’s art! How fun is that? When you’re 99 years old, you’ll still be busy learning amazing things about your chosen discipline, or at least you should be. And if you work in more than one discipline, your sense of wonder will be multiplied. You’ll never learn it all. Be giddy. Don’t fall into the trap of moping around believing “Everyone else knows everything…” We all begin as beginners, and if we’re humble like we should be, we pretty much stay beginners even while our brains are exploding from all the cool stuff we’re learning.

The D-Word

Art may not be about technique, but technique can help us express ourselves more fully. They call it a “discipline,” and it’s good for us. Writers practice brevity and seek variation and flow in sentence structure. If I wanted to tell a really good story in Spanish, I should probably know more than five words in Spanish. Spend time in art, play in it, know it. You’ll have a much better chance to reflect your heart and mind with real power and fidelity if you do.

So art can be taught, but it gets even better. Your learning of art accelerates quickly the more time you spend learning how to learn, and that learning jumps across into other applications and spills into new disciplines and into the rest of your life. Your art can teach you, and artistic friends can teach you; nature, books, videos, museums and galleries can teach you; art classes can teach you; your hunger to learn can teach you. Play in it. Play! Discipline brings delicious freedom. My illustration teacher used to ask how many of us had the freedom to sit down at any piano in the world and play Beethoven. Dabble and play with joy and passion toward your 10,000 hours.

Wait. How Many Hours?

Ten thousand hours? But what if you’re only on hour number five? Sweet! Say thanks to yourself. You need hour five before you can have hour six or seven. I look back on my own previous art with fondness and gratitude, precisely because I’ve improved so much! If my younger, frustrated self had never bothered to push through hour number nine in watercolor, I would not have experienced hour 900. Always thank the Lord for those first small hours because they are the most resisted and (I believe) the most important.

Because it is really comes down to telling the unique story that’s inside you, and discovering the unique way you’ll tell that story. Too many artists quit before that point. Choose to bless and obey instead. Other artists will see and be encouraged and inspired from your courage, and they’ll choose to bless and obey in their own story, encouraging others. It’s a multiplying effect.

You Are Not Ordinary (Site-Specific)

Do you understand the options for each person’s art and ministry become limitless? Can you grasp that each artist is called into a journey that’s custom-made?

This leaves no room for jealousy, comparison, insecurity, or the thought it’s already being done so why bother? Erwin McManus points out Solomon’s lament of nothing new under the sun was written in a transparent biblical moment of despair and depression, and isn’t meant to be a model of how we should live or think. God’s kingdom is not founded on deflated hopelessness or wry cynicism, but on creativity, redemption, hope, restoration, and on Christ making all things new. As McManus says, “There has never been an ordinary child born on the earth!”

Some still hesitate: “Oh. I saw an artist who’s already doing the thing I wanted to do.” Or “My sister is the artist of the family.” Stop. Really. There can be three flute players in the same family, each with his own music passions, styles, venues, and paths where his instrument will take him. Never limit yourself. We need freedom to pursue the disciplines and methods that compel us onward. We need to practice and be found by our styles that emerge when we fully engage in our discipline. We need to wrestle through our past and lean into our identity in Christ. Our identity and experiences weave themselves into the art we make, religiously themed or not. Hugely different outcomes for everyone.

What incredible variation!– add to that the art of being open to God’s specific plans and encounters with people through art, in various times, settings, and seasons! No two artists have the same calling.

Which is why Art Ministry 101 is personalized for each student. It’s not “5 Easy Steps to Art Ministry.” I teach loads of principles, but offer no program to copy. Art, artists, inspiration, and the Holy Spirit are famously hard to replicate or pin down. Kind of like the wind. This stuff doesn’t really work with templates, steps, or spreadsheets…. God’s art is site-specific.

You are not redundant. So wake up, O Sleeper.

Dear artist: Make art. Keep ministering in small ways as the child of God you are, and letting God multiply it. Embrace the creative work He prepared you to do before the foundations of the earth were formed.

Is Love Teachable?

Our third and final question, and we’e reached the bad news. No class can teach you how to love people. If you don’t already have the capacity to love artists and prefer others, we won’t be able to put that into you. Only Christ can instill gentleness, kindness, and the heart of a servant. A life submitted to Christ turns a heart of stone into a moldable, soft heart that breaks easily for others.

How to love: Don’t be the center of your own universe. It’s knowing what to say and what not to say when someone’s having a bad day. It’s giving a cup of cold water to someone who is thirsty. It’s not being jealous over the success of other artists. It’s setting up chairs before the meeting starts in the gymnasium. It’s listening with compassion to the artist who confides her struggles to you. It’s praying for someone who is downright cruel. It’s letting the new kid show you his sketchbook at church and asking him questions that will light a fire and change his destiny.

Art and ministry are great skills to develop, but only Love will change the world. The focus in Art Ministry 101 is submitting your creativity to the Master Creator and Architect of your life. The world desperately needs his love. 

Warning: There Are People Who Say We Shouldn’t Be Doing Art Ministry

Some who have never done art ministry themselves are insisting art ministry is impossible, and worse, undesirable. They are taking it upon themselves to publicly caution churches against it. Some artists and art leaders today– even Christian scholars and visual artists whom I know personally, whether for reasons of fear, embarrassment, elitism, or perceived loss of control, I’m not sure – are asserting visual art has no place in ministry, and ministry has no place in visual art. At one Christian academic and theological art conference I attended over the summer, two different speakers on the main stage prescribed the view that art and the local church don’t belong together any more than do politics and the church.

Well, it’s easy for me to ignore them because they’re wrong. Such an error is understandable; people can’t see the possibilities with their eyes shut tight. Naysayers don’t ruffle me because I’ve served my church for 11 years in visual art and witness the glorious results. I would even find their scowling and ominous tones humorous – except for all the artists in the auditorium sitting stunned to hear the bad news, mourning it as truth. When trusted leaders preach such hopeless, godless prescriptions to his church, opposing those who hunger to experience the healing and love of Christ through visual art alongside people they love, it’s not right. Such highly educated voices can easily crush hope and possibility before it can take root. I don’t think this pleases God.

So Of Course We’re Going To Do It Anyway

I’ve seen great things with my own eyes and I know art + ministry is a good, beautiful, and true union. And it’s also difficult and messy (like any ministry) which makes responsible training essential.

I’m happy to offer this art ministry course. I love helping people learn from the many mistakes I’ve made, and I love to encourage and equip others in their calling. Let the naysayers nay all they want; negativity is nothing new. As for me and my house, we’re doing this thing.

If this resonates with you, I encourage you to click here and apply for Art Ministry 101. The course begins September 15, 2015 and runs through April. Read details here.

Trust in the Lord with all the creativity he’s given you. May God’s name be praised and glorified forever.