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.

perpetual tension

If you read a lot of blogs, you’ll notice that some people are really creative with the title of their blog. One blog I occasionally read is called “Already Been Chewed.” It is a graphic designer’s blog and the title comes from the fact that this particular artist gets much of his inspiration for his new creations from what other people have already created. Pretty clever!

Well, I decided it is time to officially change the name of my blog from “my blog” to a more catchy title–one that captures my purpose for blogging. So, from here on, this blog will be known as “perpetual tension.”

Strange name, right? Well, let me explain…

Allen, our lead pastor at Immanuel, and I were talking one day and I was mentioning to him a tension I was feeling between our serious need for new audio/visual systems in our worship center and the fact that there are people in our own backyard who don’t have food or gas heating in their house. He told me he thought that we probably always want to feel that tension. That’s when the concept of “perpetual tension” came to my mind.

Think about it. As a Christ follower, there is the perpetual tension of being in the world but not of the world. (John 17:14-45). That is a tension that will not go away until Jesus comes and takes us out of this world.

For me, there are a number of “perpetual tensions” that I have been facing lately. I spent nearly 7 1/2 years in a more “attractional” church setting. The goal of an attractional church is to attract as many people to the church with great music, great teaching and great programs. The primary strategy for evangelism in this type of setting is to invite unsaved people to the church so the paid professional can share the gospel and the person gives their life to Christ. If you’ve read any of the previous entries of my blog, you know that God began to stir a discontent in me for that type of church.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is what is often called “missional” or “incarnational” church. In this type of church, the emphasis is NOT on the corporate worship gathering or a facility. Instead, the emphasis is on equipping people to live as missionaries in their communities. However, when the pendulum swings too far this way, it can easily become an angry movement that wags its finger at anything perceived as “attractional” ministry. Having a church-owned facility or even full-time staff members can even be vilified among some hard-core missional circles.

A few weeks ago, I read a wonderful blog post by a missional church leader. In his post, he shared the thoughts of a missionary who had visited one of their services. The missionary recounted the warm and intimate environment and found it refreshing that the worship time was led by one guy on an acoustic guitar with a simple sound system instead of the mega-production that occurs in many large attractional churches.

Immediately, I felt the tension building within me. I want that type of environment!–intimate, casual, free-flowing, authentic, not over-produced. That was what I experienced for 6 months as we helped start browns mill church. But then God called me to a church of 400 people and a 1200 seat worship center and the intimate, casual, free-flowing thing just doesn’t seem to fit. Can a church with more than 50 people be missional even though we have full-time staff members and a 66,000 sq/ft facility?

Perpetual tension is the answer. It looks like my world will be one of forces pulling me in opposite directions. On one side will be the external pull toward “attractional” with a worship band, multimedia presentations and new audio/visual equipment. On the other side will be the internal pull from my heart toward “missional/incarnational” where we put a higher value on equipping people to live like Jesus during the week than producing a great show for people to enjoy.

What perpetual tensions are you facing? Post a comment and share it!