arts in the church

The title of this blog is “Perpetual Tension.” I gave it that name because life as a believer is one filled with tension–hopefully, a healthy tension! It is a tension that is seen throughout scripture and modeled by God Himself. Tensions like Jesus being 100% God AND 100% man; the tension between justice and mercy; the tension of being in the world but not of the world. There are many!

Another tension that I’ve been dealing with over the past 5-6 years is the place and role of arts in the church. I have spent 19+ years in full-time worship arts ministry. It is what I have been trained to do. It is how I make a living and provide for my family. It is something I have always loved to do. Until recent years.

Like many, I am moved by beautiful music. A well-played pipe organ can give me goosebumps. I love hearing an orchestra play and crescendo with a timpani roll. The tight harmonies in country music make me want to sing backup in a country band, and the sound of a black gospel choir belting it out makes me want to stand up and shout! Believe it or not, I’ve experienced all of these in church. I’ve had some absolutely fantastic musical experiences within the context of my full-time worship arts career.

There’s only one problem. About 6 years ago, someone came up to me after a worship service and said, “The reason I come to this church instead of my last church is because the band is so much better here.” Those words still echo in my head. Suddenly, all of the joy I had taken in crafting incredible musical and worship moments in church drained from my soul. And it’s never really come fully back. I’m not sure it ever will.

Commonplace in most churches is now the strategy of attracting people to our worship services with the best music, the best teaching, the best programs, the best facility, the best ________. Like I heard someone say, Jesus said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” What did we do? We made a really nice pool and now we just ask them to come swim in it

Here is my tension: What role do the arts play in a consumeristic culture? How can we utilize the arts in an excellent way without contributing to consumerism in the church? Where is the line? A well-executed electric guitar solo is acceptable but really awesome moving lights programmed by a talented lighting guy is over the line? Should we even care if worship arts contribute to consumerism in the church?

I am a very driven person. Inspired by the life of Dr. Jerry Falwell, I want to make the very most of the one lifetime I have been given. Love him or hate him, you have to admit that Dr. Falwell made a significant impact with his one lifetime. I don’t want to spend my life just entertaining Christians on the weekend. I want to be a part of a disciple-making movement! I want to be a part of expanding God’s Kingdom and seeing people who are far from God come to know Him and begin to be used by Him to reach others. I don’t want to stand before God and hear Him say, “Kevin, you put together some pretty cool worship environments, but I wish you had invested your talents in what really mattered most to me–the making of disciples.”

So, there it is. This is probably the biggest tension I am currently wrestling with. I don’t know if the joy I used to get from leading great musical experiences in church will ever return. And I’m not even sure it should.

half-time speech vs. game day

I’m a big sports fan. I love just about any sport–except NBA basketball. Sorry! I just don’t get into it. In my opinion, you could put 2 minutes on the clock, 100 points on the scoreboard for both teams and see who wins. That’s about as much time as I care to give to a pro basketball game! NFL football is definitely my favorite sport and I still cheer on my hometown team–the Minnesota Vikings. Since I spent 8 1/2 years in Atlanta, I also follow the Falcons and now that I’m in Detroit, I follow the Lions. It’s a little tricky because Detroit and Minnesota are in the same division!

In many sports, the half-time speech by the coach is a big deal. If your team is behind, it’s the coaches chance to address the weakness in the game plan and to boost the morale with a little “you can do it!” speech. If your team is ahead, it’s an opportunity to celebrate–a little–and pat the team on the back with a “way to go!” and “keep at it!” speech. The half-time speech can make or break the game. How many times have you seen the momentum of a game shift after half-time? It was probably due to a well-executed half-time speech.

I think it’s time to start looking at our worship services on Sunday as a half-time speech instead of game day. What do I mean by that? Well, I’ve been in ministry almost 20 years and for much of that time, I served in churches that approached Sunday as “game day.” Some even went so far as to say that every Sunday was like the Superbowl (no pressure!). Think about it–where are most churches resources allocated to? Usually, Sunday morning. From staffing and programming to budgets and buildings, Sunday is game day. We even judge the success of our churches by counting how many “fans” show up and how much money they put in the collection plates.

To take the analogy further, we have hundreds, sometimes thousands of people showing up to watch the paid professionals do what they get paid to do. They are the spectators and if their “team” isn’t performing to their expectations, they might find a new “team” to go watch. Or if the “team” on the other side of town plays cooler music during the “game” or has a nicer, newer “stadium,” that “team” gets their attention.

Unfortunately, most of our American churches are set up this way. There is a co-dependent relationship between the paid professionals and their spectators. The spectators are dependent on the paid professionals for their spiritual nourishment and the paid professionals are dependent on the spectators for their paychecks and position. This has created rockstar mega-church communicators who are idolized by their congregations. In the worst scenarios, this can lead to pastors with over-inflated egos who begin to believe their own press. When this happens, the situation can be extremely dangerous. All too often, a leadership failing is right around the corner–moral failure, embezzlement, abuse of power, etc.–and the church is decimated as a result.

That’s why we need to start looking at Sunday as the half-time speech instead of game day. The real work of the Kingdom comes as God’s people scatter serving as His Kingdom ambassadors where they live, work and play on Monday through Saturday. When we gather for the half-time speech, we can celebrate God’s movement in and through His ambassadors and be motivated to go out and do it again!

What about you? Do you look at Sunday as game day or as a half-time speech? How would it cause you to live differently if you viewed Sunday this way?