Churches Urged to be More Artist-Friendly, Transform Culture

Hundreds of pastors, church leaders and artists will gather for the first Church and the Arts conference to learn how the Church can reach out to artists and encourage them to transform culture in a biblical way.

"Transforming Culture: A Vision for the Church and the Arts" stems from the sense that too often pastors do not know how to connect with artists or nurture their talents to advance the kingdom of God.

"A journalist name Steve Turner noted that when Time magazine compiled a list of the 100 most significant people in the twentieth-century for art and entertainment, there were only five who have shown any public sign of the Christian faith," co-organizer David Taylor, arts pastor at Hope Chapel in Austin, Texas, highlighted to The Christian Post.

Taylor said the lack of Christian artists in mainstream society and his realization that pastors were not invited to discussions about art and culture sparked the idea for the conference.

"Our overriding desire is to inspire a movement among pastors and artists to lay hold of God's great purposes for the church," conference organizers stated. "We wish to encourage a more theologically informed, biblically grounded, liturgically sensitive, artistically alive and missionally shrewd vision for the arts."

The symposium, which is being held Apr. 1-3 in Austin, Texas, seeks to be a platform where pastors and artists can have an opportunity to learn and to be in conversation with each other. The three areas of concerns are: art and worship of the church; art and the community of the church; art and the mission of the church.

"It is not an option for the church to ignore the arts or the effects the arts and the media are having upon people," Taylor said. "It is shaping our imagination and the way we see, the way we understand truth, the way we perceive what is beautiful, and the way we see our relationship with one another."

"If the church doesn't have a presence – an intelligent, thoughtful, winsome, gracious and even prophetic voice – then people are getting shaped in all kinds of wacky ways," he added.

Congregants are not neutral minds waiting to be shaped by the pastor, he noted, but their minds are already shaped by the media.

According to the Center for Screen Time Awareness, the number of 30-second commercials that the average child views in one year is 20,000. Moreover, a recent Barna study found that the average American spends 20 times more hours with the media than in religious activities.

"So we as the church, we need to release our communities, including the artists in our communities, to be agents of grace and transformation in the culture of all arts," Taylor urged.

He observed that pastors generally are not given any training on how to care for artists, and that the majority of artists do not feel at home in most churches.

"I think we as pastors need to listen and ask ourselves what does it mean for us to care for this flock of sheep," said Hope Chapel's arts pastor. "Pastors are gatekeepers – they let things in and keep things out. If we inspire a pastor for aesthetic renewal it can open doors not only for a new kind of artistic activity in the church, but also the kind of discipleship that artists need to become mature agents of grace in the culture."

But Taylor noted that the conference also hopes to remind artists that they have a responsibility to the people viewing their artwork.

"When you (artists) make something and it is viewed by another person, you are affecting them," Taylor said. "You may be affecting them for great good or great evil.

"When you are making art for public consumption you are in the business of shepherding other people's souls so keep that in mind. It is not just about self-expression."

Some of the seminars that will be featured at the upcoming conference include the use of visual arts in the church; scripture-telling and the art of theater; spiritual formation of artists; blended worship: "preserving the old, releasing the new;" art and evangelism; cultivating the imagination of the congregation; and a biblical basis for the arts.

Leaders attending the conference include: Christopher Mitchell, director of the Wade Center at Wheaton College; Erik Lokkesome of Walden Media; Colin Harbinson of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization; and Rory Noland, author and music director for 20 years at Willow Creek Community Church.

"We're not going to solve everything in one conference, but our hopes are high that this is really the beginning of a long-term conversation where we are talking to people all over the world," said Larry Linenschmidt, co-organizer and executive director of the Hill Country Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

Some 500 to 600 people are expected to attend the conference, including those already registered from more than 20 states and five countries. Seminaries that will be represented include Dallas Theological Seminary, Fuller Seminary, Regent College, and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

On the Web: www.HillCountryInstitute.org