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Tim Keller writes,
The Church needs artists because without art we cannot reach the world. The simple fact is that the imagination ‘gets you,’ even when your reason is completely against the idea of God. ‘Imagination communicates,’ as Arthur Danto says, ‘indefinable but inescapable truth.’
…There is a sort of schizophrenia that occurs if you are listening to Bach and you hear the glory of God and yet your mind says there is no God and there is no meaning. You are committed to believing nothing means anything and yet the music comes in and takes you over with your imagination. When you listen to great music, you can’t believe life is meaningless. Your heart knows what your mind is denying.
We need Christian artists because we are never going to reach the world without great Christian art to go with great Christian talk. (July 11, 2017 Facebook post)
How can we harness the power of the human imagination…toward the Gospel in multicultural contexts? Today, artists around the world paint some broad strokes for us.
“teach art to future Christian teachers.”
Teach art to future Christian teachers who in turn will reach young people in schools with a great education and Bible study. We offer this opportunity at the Rafiki Foundation in ten countries in Africa.
We have nine teacher-training colleges established to equip African nationals to be Christian classical teachers. All of them need to be taught art during their three-year college experience. We can use artists!
–Karen in Florida, who has served with Rafiki Foundation in Nigeria and several other countries for 26 years, and is currently the Executive Director.
“Use art to reach the unreached.”
-Ken, webmaster of Mission Resources.
“Make sure you’ve got other qualifications, too.”
Missions needs people with a diversity of talents and training. The arts, business, health care, education, and other areas all provide avenues into people’s lives and opportunities to share Christ.
If you have a unique ministry like art, but don’t think of yourself as a minister or leader–others might still see you this way. Local Christians will usually assume you are some type of church leader; a church is paying you to be there. And unless you make all your money from selling art, non-Christians will wonder how and why you are living there. I’ve seen this on the field.
These realities shouldn’t keep you from pursing a valuable ministry like this! But see yourself as a missionary first, an artist second.
-Eric, who has served in missions for five years in the US and Singapore and currently serves with Joshua Project.
“Artists have so much to offer. but you might find it hard to get plugged in.”
Much of today’s evangelistic communication relies on preaching, relationship building, or acts of service. But to approach missions and evangelism wholeheartedly and strategically, we should not rely on just a few approaches. What about music, drama, and the visual arts?
The Dude You’ve Never Heard Of
Faith and arts have a long history together. Bezalel is arguably a third-tier character when it comes to contemporary Bible knowledge but this artisan was the first person recorded in Scripture to be filled with the Holy Spirit (!). He was tasked with construction of the Tabernacle–and making it stunning to behold.
Need a refresher on the character of Bezalel and his sidekick Aholiab? Take some time to read Exodus chapters 31 and 36. His story illustrates how God values the beauty of the created world and inspires human beings with the ability to imagine and craft remarkable things.
Art Is about Communication
Ask a group of 100 people to define the fine arts. You’ll get 100 different answers.
But at its core, art is all about communication. It can communicate quietly, in a still-life of a bowl of oranges, or boldly, like a band at a music festival. It can communicate in culturally controversial ways or present ideas peacefully. Art can be reduced to propaganda or presented as pure emotion. Art speaks.
Christians living out the Great Commission are all about communication too, communicating Christ’s love to other people. Some of these people respond to quiet acts of service, while others are moved by passionate oratory. Some will gain the most from reading, and still more will be intrigued or inspired by a well-composed song, painting, or sculpture.
God has given artists the ability to say things in ways non-artists can’t.
Using Art Skills in Missions
While mission opportunities for fine artists may be hard to find, this has been changing in recent years. Other arts opportunities are presenting themselves following the trend in music and drama skills.
Some mission organizations seem very willing to incorporate artists into their short-term or long-term teams, even if they have no job descriptions or official positions for artists. (See a list of organizations with art outreaches below.)
They may recruit you to do something else; I had multiple offers from organizations to help market handmade goods made by people groups they worked with. Bonus: Seeing your skills at work generates ideas in your teammates for even more opportunities.
There are way more opportunities today than there were a few years ago. But they’re still hard to come by. In my own life, I hear from global workers seriously interested in having artists assist them. They’ve spoken of commitments ranging from a few weeks to a couple of years. Communication fizzles out after a few emails, though, and the doors seem to close, despite my interest and the fact that I already have a base of financial support. So I’m still looking.
I haven’t given up, and I hope you won’t, either.
-Paul Nielson, artist, arts catalyst, and mission mobilizer
“This practical handbook combines real life stories with tested methodologies to create a new paradigm for the role of the arts in Christian ministry and mission. Taking It to the Streets provides a historical perspective and theology for understanding the transforming power of the arts, a vocabulary for discussing the arts outside the sanctuary, and creative methods for turning faith into action in society.”
Though not targeted specifically toward overseas missions, Imagine paints a picture of cultures transformed for Jesus Christ by the irresistible impact of authentic, relevant, complex, risky art.
Organizations to check out:
ACT is an umbrella nonprofit for artists without a ministry home. They help artists with administration and logistics, as well as providing networking opportunities and encouragement, because “Today’s cultures listen better to artists than to preachers.”
“AWAM combines artistry with ministry to affirm, equip and release artists to bring the message of hope to the nations of the world.”
“Focusing on the world’s least reached, our network of artists create space for people to be moved by God’s beauty.”
**Cru also has a number of arts-related summer missions opportunities to dip your toes in.
Got ideas about sharing Jesus through the arts?
We’d love to hear from you. Comment below.
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