Spontaneity vs Craftsmanship image

Spontaneity vs Craftsmanship

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I don’t think that the evangelical church in the UK is doing very well when it comes to the arts.

Yes, there are some (still painfully few, but some) Christian artists who have a voice into our culture. Sadly though so often these guys have either removed themselves from church altogether or are succeeding despite their churches, not because of them.

And I’d imagine that there are probably churches who have cracked this one and are moving forward in leaps and bounds, but there aren’t as many as you think. And you won’t necessarily be able to spot the churches simply by looking at their Sunday services. You see, just because we have more people painting in times of worship doesn’t necessarily mean we’re discipling artists to have an influence in our culture. The opposite may be true.

I’ll explain what I mean…

In many ways, the churches I’ve been involved with have been pretty creative places (these churches, just to clarify, would fall largely under the multicoloured umbrella of charismatic Christianity). There would be spontaneous songs exclaimed in times of worship, on occasion people would perform short dance pieces, I even remember someone once bringing a prophetic mime in a meeting. And the creative momentum is growing. Now, it is not unusual, as I mentioned, to find people painting on huge canvases during church meetings. Occasionally, the ‘psalms and spiritual songs’ of Ephesians 5, may even include the odd rap or spoken word piece.

Just to be clear, I in no way want to cast aspersions on these innovations. I myself am known to regularly partake in at least one of the creative contributions above (I’ll let you guess). At the same time though, we need to understand that art is a tricky thing to define and what artists mean by ‘art’ may not be the same as what is meant by that word in church circles. When we also recognise that churches need to understand artists before they can serve them properly, it should become clear that there is no room for complacency in this area.

There are a whole host of distinctions that could be explored. For example, the distinction between process and end product (church art often valuing the former over the latter, most artists doing the complete opposite) or between function and authentic expression (church art being very concerned with tight pre-specified goals for artistic projects, most artists finding such prescriptions creatively stunting). However, I’d like to simply explore one in this post, and that is the different emphases that are placed on spontaneity and craftsmanship in the church and outside of it.

My experience would be that churches value spontaneity but have very little understanding of the importance of craftsmanship when it comes to the arts. The reason for this is often because the shop window church meeting so often sets the tone and expectation for people in that church. In a charismatic church service, someone could quite happily bring an impromptu outburst inspired by an immediate encounter with God. People love that stuff! However, if someone reads a poem they’ve pre-written, maybe with a far higher level of skill, there is often suspicion that they are veering over the precipice into performance and self-elevation.

I struggle with this on a personal and theological level. I often get the impression that some Christians read the Psalms (or for that matter Isaiah, Ezekiel or Revelation) and presume that these complex pieces of literature were knocked off in a moment of Spirit inspired ecstasy (or misery in the case of most of Jeremiah).

Bezalel and Oholiab, believe it or not, had most likely picked up a hammer and a brass panel a few times before the Spirit anointed them in Exodus 31. You’d imagine that one of the reasons David was summoned to perform in King Saul’s palace (1 Sam 16) was because he’d reached a level of technical excellence belying years spent not just watching sheep and wrestling huge wild animals, but putting time into learning a musical discipline.

When I read the Bible, I don’t see spontaneity highlighted as an end in itself. In fact, the Bible itself seems to value craftsmanship, in that a large number of its books are works of art, written by artists of formidable skill who God used partly because of the large amount of time they had put into their respective crafts up to that point.

Churches will not welcome and nurture excellent, culture-shaping artists unless they have a similar respect for craftsmanship and understand that artists need time to do this.

Time meaning years, not hours.

The painter who doesn’t have time to help with the Christmas service because they are trying to perfect their representation of the human eye must not be a source of frustration. The young person who wants to do an art foundation year instead of a voluntary year for the church is not necessarily apostate. The life group leader who is stepping down because they want to work on their novel may not be a clueless dreamer trying to shirk their responsibilities. These people may well just be learning their craft.

That’s a good thing. It shouldn’t just be tolerated. I’d argue that we need many more people like this in our churches.

Obviously, there is much more to say on practically how churches can be more effective in welcoming and discipling artists, but hopefully for some this can be something of a conversation starter.

If you’d like to continue this discussion, you can follow what Sputnik is up to through @sputnikmagazine. You may also want to check out the brilliant creativeartsnetwork.co.uk, based at New Community Church, Sidcup, to see a group who have moved well beyond the theory in all this.1

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