Is the Church Where Creativity Goes to Die?

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Is the Church Where Creativity Goes to Die?

A talk by Ryan Lister and Thomas Terry


The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy. 

Thomas Terry: We began talking a lot about creativity and theology. And as we were talking about it, we began to see that there was some serious problems. I’ve been a creative since I was 12 years old. I first started doing music and writing lyrics as a 12-year-old. It was kind of an escape for me. I came from a very broken home. And so, art and creativity was very much a means of expression for me. I was saved around the age of 18 years old and never was discipled, but still always remained a creative. I really struggled as a young, creative Christian in my church, especially when I was not discipled. And for a long time, I allowed for my creativity and all things associated with creativity to drive me.

So, I wasn’t so much leaning on theology or the authority of Scripture. I was just more like doing what all artists do, just living off of feelings. This feels good to me. This feels right. This looks right. This expresses itself in a way that resonates with me, so, therefore, it must be true. And it wasn’t until some men came alongside me and began to disciple me. I was around 25 years old where I began to flourish as a Christian. I began to see the beauty of God’s Word and its authority. And I began to see and appreciate the beauty of his church and this multi-textured, multifaceted picture of God’s people from all different cultural backgrounds, and denominational backgrounds, and generational backgrounds, all working together as this one body. It was this picture of this body, and I fell in love with God’s Word and with theology as a creative.

And so, I spent most of my time in the later part of my life attempting to disciple and minister to creatives. And so, when we started talking about this disconnect between theology and creativity, and the church, and beauty, we just really jelled. And we decided we would do this campus conference. We found it to be very fruitful in terms of young creatives exploring and trying to reconcile this tension that we decided we would put together a book. And so, that’s why we’re here this afternoon. We wanna talk a little bit about the problem. The problem with creatives and the problem with the church. There is a lack of trust on both parts. The creative has a significant amount of distrust for the church, and the church really has a lot of issues with creatives. And for many reasons, they would be right. There’s a lot of things to be concerned about.

But what we wanna do is focus on how we can maybe find some reconciliation between the two, maybe give you some practical steps. And so, that’s our hope this afternoon is to walk you through some of these things. And so, what we wanna talk about first is why does this matter? Why does this matter? I wish the PowerPoint worked because it was so beautiful.

Ryan Lister: Yeah. It is great. It is great. Yeah. Again, it’s wonderful.

Terry: Yeah. So, why the church should care about creativity, even the animations I had working, man. So why this matters. First thing is mission. Why this matters. This is the culture that we live in. Our culture receives and learns from creativity. Whether you realize it or not, creativity is the language of the culture. Beauty is the new apologetic. Some years ago, people used to rely heavily on presuppositional apologetics so where truth determined everything. Well, we live in a culture where beauty determines everything. So, it doesn’t matter what is true or what’s absolutely true. If it’s painted beautifully, that wins the affections of the people. Creatives are the ones who create culture. And all you have to do is just look at pop culture, and that’ll reveal it to you. Creatives create culture.

And so, there is this conversation that is happening among creatives all the time, but this is happening outside of the church because the church is not engaged in these conversations. The church, in many ways, is still thinking in these old-school categories of just absolute truth. Now, these are good categories. Truth is beautiful, absolute truth is right. But the church is not talking about beauty, and therefore, it’s missing out on what the culture is engaging with and wrestling with. Submission. That’s why this matters. And then two, discipleship. Many of us are pastors in this room, many of us are leading ministries, and so this is part of your shepherding responsibility. It’s our job as shepherds and leaders to help creatives submit themselves and their creativity under the Lordship of Christ.

So, healthy Christians make healthy creatives. It’s part of our responsibility, is to teach the creative how to use their gifts, one, to glorify God. Two, to use them within the context of the church. And three, use their gifts to engage culture, okay? Part of our responsibility in terms of discipleship is helping the creative to assimilate in culture, but not be completely absorbed by the culture, okay? So, that’s why these things are important. So, mission and discipleship, okay?

Lister: Yeah. So, I mean, many of you are here. I’m sure for a specific reason that you are thinking of these categories. Maybe you are a creative trying to understand your place in the church. Maybe you’re a pastor trying to understand creative places in your church. So, what we wanna do is just sort of draw out a few of the problems for things that the creatives are thinking in your pews as well as, if you’re the creative, what pastors are potentially thinking about you. So, these are gonna be a bit on the ends of the spectrum, and we’ll find things in between. But we just wanna give you, because we have a limited amount of time, we wanna give you both ends of the spectrum there.

So, how the church critiques the creative, okay? So, this is thinking about it from the pastoral standpoint, or from the churches’ standpoint and how they look at creatives today. One way to think about that is they see them as the money changers in the temple, okay? Think of them as the money changers in the temple. What we mean by that is that the creative, what the church sees is that the creative wants the church to be their showroom and gallery for their own pride and their own display of artistic gifts, okay? So, they see themselves…the church sees them as money changers. That they’re just using the church sort of as that groundwork. We have text here that we would put up here. I think you’re probably…yeah. I think you probably understand this background, so I’m just gonna keep going so that we can get through more and maybe get to your questions along the way. So, that’s the money changers.

So, again, we’re thinking about how the church thinks about creatives. The other side is they see them as prodigals, okay? So, the creative are the ones who take from the church. Take from the church, and then they leave the church. They leave the church in pursuit of their own self-glorification. So, they use the church as resources, use that grounding and then they take off, and they never come back. Or they are on the outside of the church, and they begin to critique it out loud with all their followers who they have led astray, okay? So, again, this is, you know, on the larger ends of the spectrum, but this is oftentimes what we’ve heard in conversations with other pastors as they’re trying to think through what a creative is and why they have a problem. This is their critique.

Terry: And in some cases, they’re absolutely right.

Lister: That’s right. So, you have…I mean, yeah.

Terry: So, as a young artist in the church, I would see the same pattern, and it still happens today, where you have the creative comes into the church, or the artist comes into the church, the church provides for the creative an audience. And this might very well be their first time exposed to an audience, this open audience, the church. And then the creative takes from that audience and all the benefits, sometimes financially. Sometimes, you know, encouragement, esteem, accolades, and then the creative begins to realize, “Well, man, I’m flourishing as an artist. I’m outgrowing this very small community or this audience,” and they begin to walk outside and seek out other opportunities to put their creative work on display. Then the creative ultimately begins to turn against the church saying, “The church doesn’t provide for me what I need as an artist. They’re very limiting, and they have all these constraints on me.” And so, what ends up happening is that the creative ultimately walks away from the church seeking to find more significance, more meaning, something more satisfying or relevant in different audiences that are outside of the church. So, the critiques can be a legitimate critique.

Lister: Yeah, I mean, everything with regard to the money changers.

Terry: Yeah, the money changers, I can understand why the pastor’s feeling this way, but there is a perspective from the artists that also makes sense to me. The artist doesn’t quite understand the difference between the stage and the sanctuary. So, the creative spends most of his time doing what? Entertaining people. He spends his time on the stage. He is constantly performing for people, working to receive a claim for what he’s doing. But when it comes to…in the context of church, it’s really hard for them to delineate between, is this spotlight time or is this dim light time? Am I to play the background because I’m so used to playing the forefront? They’re used to entertaining the audience, and so this is a genuine critique. And one of the things with the artist is the artist is unintentionally becoming what we would call a glory thief. They’re taking God’s glory because they’re finding satisfaction in receiving the glory as a performer within the church walls. So, it’s hard for the artist to reconcile these two things. So, I get it from their perspective, but I also understand the critique. It can be a legitimate critique.

Lister: Yeah. And as we think about what creativity is, one thing to keep in mind is that creativity extends to artist. But it also extends to pastors too, so we don’t wanna just say artists are the only people who we’re talking to in here. So, thinking about glory thief and these kind of ideas. I remember doing youth ministry a long, long, long, long time ago. Long time ago, thinking about after like giving this amazing speech, which I’m sure was horrible, blowing all these students’ minds. I remember walking out thinking, “Man, I did a really great job.” And, you know, that wasn’t the point. That wasn’t the point at all. And so, as you think about it, I mean, your creativity. Yeah, we probably cast this most in the idea of an artist, but it’s also for pastors. It’s for pastors’ wives. It’s for everyone struggling in the church to deal with this concept of stealing the Lord’s glory. All right, so that’s the churches’ critique of the creative.

Now, here’s the thing. The creative, I mean, the church doesn’t get off scot-free either, okay? So, this is from, oftentimes, from the pews at the church. Now, this is the creative sort of lobbying its critiques at the church itself. So, probably the sort of the visual that a lot of times comes to bear is the idea of the church is a bunch of Pharisees when it comes to my creativity. They’re a bunch of Pharisees. So, what we mean by that is that the church is making up all these rules that aren’t necessarily in line with Scripture that is trying to kill my creative gifts, okay? So, we hear that when we talk to creatives.

Terry: Don’t listen to this. Don’t listen to that.

Lister: Are you telling them not to listen to me?

Terry: Well, yeah.

Lister: Yeah. Okay. It’s fine.

Terry: I mean, when I first became a Christian, I was saved in a small church. And they’re really sweet people, and I love them for sharing the gospel with me. But they didn’t quite know how to file me because I was like, this hip-hop kid just rapping and, you know, all that stuff. And so, I remember distinctly, maybe two, three months after I became a Christian, they told me that hip-hop is of the devil. And, you know, all the things that I was doing in terms of using my gifts was satanic. That freaked me out. I was like, “Okay, well, I don’t wanna do devil music.” So, I sense what happened here is instead of investing in me and helping me to redeem this gift that God has implanted in me with words, and melodies, and symmetry, and all of these things, they just kind of boxed me out and said, “We don’t get it. We know that there’s some evil connected to that, but we just don’t want anything to do with it.” And I think of how much more I would have thrived in the context of this congregation if they would have just helped me to redeem this gift that God has given me. So, that’s what we mean by that.

Lister: Yeah, and so, you have this Pharisaical issue, but you also have a second one, and this takes a little bit of thinking through. But they see the creative is saying, “You know what? You guys are a bunch of idolaters. Because what you’re doing is you’re using my gifts, you’re making my gifts an idol on which you’re building your own platforms.” So, they begin to see the church or the pastors as people who are actually exploiting their gifts, taking what the Lord has given them to use for the church. And it’s not necessarily that the church is using it for the Lord’s glory. They’re actually using it for their own personal gain. And so, that’s another critique that we’ve heard.

Terry: Yeah, it’s interesting that the exploitation of gifts only really works when the gifts benefit the church, right? So, you typically see this in design, or PowerPoint, or video, the things that makes sense. Those are the gifts that really get exploited among creatives. But this idea of idolaters, it actually is this kind of cult of personality. It’s this attritional model. Says, if I just have these creatives in my church, and I get to use all of their creative gifts and their aesthetic, well, then we’ll be known as a very hip and relevant church. And so, we can use the creative as a vehicle to attract people to our congregation. You know, and the creative feels that tension, feels the exploitation of that, feels used in many ways and passed over. Like, they’re not investing in them as a whole or the totality of the person, you’re only taking from my gifts so that you can prop up, you know, this attractional model church.

Lister: Yeah, so those are the problems. Those are the problem so what we wanna do is we wanna respond and talk about how Christ actually has reconciled this relationship between the two. We wanna say that the gospel is big, it’s powerful enough to reconcile us to God, and it can reconcile us one to another from the church to the creative, and the creative to the church, okay? So, just a couple of ideas here that I just want to sort of build out for you. The first idea is Christ work, His very work in the Gospel is actually creative work. It’s creative work, okay? So, oftentimes, I mean, so I’m coming from a very lectern-based world, library carrels. You know, stacks of books. And when we talk in the seminary about what the gospel is, and what salvation is, we talk about it in terms of forensic, legal justification, all these categories. And very seldom do we think about it within terms of beauty and creativity, and what Christ has done.

But when you get to your Bibles, you see that this is an element. So, it’s both and. It’s not either or. It’s both, and that forensic work is beautiful. And so the Lord is after all of us, and so Christ work is creative in that sense. So, just to give you an example…Christ, let’s see. Do you have…yeah. So, this is where the PowerPoint would have been really, really helpful.

Terry: Oh, well.

Lister: Go up. There you go.

Terry: Up here. Look, I can even make it bigger.

Lister: Yes, you could. It doesn’t matter to them. Just read that. Read that verse.

Terry: Oh, okay, okay. Ephesians 2:8-10. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing. It is the gift of God not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, crafted, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

Lister: So, Christ work there, that idea of being his workmanship is building off that Greek word, poema, that we are created. He is creating us. He is designing us. It’s a word where we get our term poem from. So, what we see is that Christ work is about redesigning us. It’s about recreating us. It’s about bringing that creative element, creative work into our lives by remaking us. So, Christ’s works to redesign our hearts. Ephesians 4:24, “Put off the old self.” And then verse 24, “And to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God, and true righteousness and holiness.” This is what Christ is doing. He’s creating you. He’s creating you in His own likeness. There’s a new self that He is making within us. So, Christ is redesigning our hearts. He is doing creative work, and just think about what Christ breaks in the world to do. What does Christ come to establish? What’s he talking about consistently in the gospels?

Woman 1: The new creation.

Lister: The new creation. Yes, absolutely. And what is that breaking in? What does he call that consistently? He is the king of a kingdom. He’s coming to build a kingdom. He’s coming to be an architect, to design something, to recreate the world, to bring that new creation in. This is what He is about, establishing a new and better kingdom. So, Christ’s work is creative. So, what He comes to do is tied to a creative reality. And secondly, Christ’s work, His creative work reconciles all things. So, that work reconciles all things. And what I want you to hear in this is that when Christ comes to save us, he doesn’t just come to save our heart or our soul. He comes to save every aspect of who you are. And that includes your creativity.

So, oftentimes, we in the church, including myself, we sort of short change, or we pigeonhole sort of the power of the gospel. What I wanna say is that the power of the gospel is bigger than the ways we oftentimes think about it. So, Christ reconciles everything including your imagination and including your creativity. That’s huge for a creative to hear. A creative typically does not hear that in the church. It feels like we’re talking a totally different language than those who are sitting in your pews coming from the world from this bent.

But if you can say with Paul that Christ has reconciled all things, including the way you do your designs, the way you think about the world, well, then now you have someone who is given to following God and giving God glory to everything that they do. That Christ’s work extends into every aspect of your life. It comes after your arts. It comes after your art. It comes after your work. It comes after the way you think. So, what you’ve done is you’ve established a baseline for, hopefully, we’ll talk about this later, just further discipleship. Like this is what Christ is about. He’s after all of you. He’s after all of you. So, Christ reconciles your imagination. He reconciles your creativity. Everything is His now.

I mean, think about what the gospel is as a whole. The Gospel isn’t a tract like an evangelism tract. It doesn’t come to you with all these sort of catechized statements. It comes to you how? I mean, how do you hear about the gospel? Yes, you. I don’t know your name. Oh, yes. How do you hear about the gospel? What…

Woman 2: Someone has to tell you.

Lister: Someone has to tell you. And how do they talk about it? They tell you, yes, truth, propositional truth. But where did they get that? From their Bible. They get it from a story. They have a drama that they’re pulling you into, okay? The story of what Jesus has done and accomplished in the world is your story now too. You’re pulled into that. So, even the way you talk about the gospel is important as you try to think about how to cultivate a space and a place for creatives to engage the gospel in their framework. Now, let me just take a second here and just put up a protection here. And we can talk about this more when we get into the Q&A, but please don’t hear us saying that the church is solely for creatives. That’s not what we’re saying.

The church should not be an art gallery. It’s not the same thing. All we’re saying is this is a cultural conversation going on that you just need to be aware of, and that there are people in your churches now who are thinking in these categories. Just to be…if you walk away from this talk as pastors or people who are ministering to people in churches, and you just have a new awareness of the fact that people are thinking and doing strange ideas, then we’ve done our job, I think.

So, we want you to see that Christ reconciles your imagination, He reconciles your creativity, and Christ is reconciling all the world, okay? So, that’s a very specific topic, creativity, and imagination, because he’s reconciling all the world. What God is doing through Christ’s work is He is reframing, restructuring, redesigning everything including the theater for the very drama He’s making. So, picking up on Calvin, the world being a theater of God’s glory. What Christ comes to do is to redesign that, to remake that so that this drama is not done when you die or Christ returns, it continues on into eternity. So Christ’s reconciling work extends to your creativity and the things you do in this world that last. All right, so that moves us into…please, please, please. What does that move us into?

Terry: I don’t know.

Lister: Yes. Those are good points. No, that was good. Go back, go back. Yeah. Not only is Jesus redeeming or reconciling our creativity, Jesus is for your creativity, okay? Jesus comes to make sure, and establish, and reestablish your creativity for the glory of God, okay? It’s for the glory of God and for the good of the world, okay? So, you see that in sort of a vertical dimension, Glory of God and a horizontal one out to the rest of the world. So, just a couple of quick points, because we really want to get to sort of some practical things here. Not that this isn’t practical, but we want it sort of land in your churches a little bit.

So, creativity for the glory of God. Just real quick. This is what we mean by that. God does not want or need your art. He just doesn’t. He doesn’t. He wants all of you. He wants you and everything about you. He wants it all under His rule and reign. He wants to be the king over all aspects of you, including your creativity, okay? Now, let me just say this, this is more than likely. You can correct me if I’m wrong here, but this is probably the biggest issue creatives in your church face. Many of them are in the church saying, “This is really, really good, and I’m happy to give God all of these things. But if you could just let me have my creativity and my creatives space, then I think that’s a good, good deal.” So, let me just sort of rewrite the covenant I have with you, right? So, that you can have these aspects of my life. I’m just gonna keep this creativity over here.

Now, that’s a human issue. It’s not just a creative issue. We’re all doing that in our lives, right? Pastors, you’re probably struggling with that or have struggled with that in the past. There are some things you don’t want to submit unto the Lord. With the creative, it’s oftentimes their art. This is my sphere, and I wanna keep God out of it. What we wanna say is no. For your art to actually be good, to be transcendent, to be connected to something bigger than yourself, which is actually what a lot of artists are trying to do, you need to connect it to the glory of God. It needs to be connected to the one who is your maker so that your creativity actually has a basis, it has a grounds, it has a reason, it has the answer to why, okay? All right, so God is not against your creativity, but He is over it. He is over it. This idea of sort of finding freedom and submitting your creativity to the Lord, okay? Finding freedom and submitting your creativity to the Lord which, I think, we’ll touch on a little bit later.

The second point is…so we have creativity is for the glory of God, and creativity is for the good of the world, okay? This is that horizontal straight. Here’s what happens. I think when these two are together, I think it breaks or helps break the idolatry of your creativity. What we oftentimes do with our creative work is we begin to make it to bring ourselves glory, okay? Or we begin to make it because we’re trying to impress someone out there.

Terry: Which, again, is about you.

Lister: Which is again about me, and how that makes me feel. So, if we connect it to the good of the world as well as to the glory of God, then we are saying that we are putting this out into the world, allowing him to work through it to bring about good things in the lives of those it touches. So, it doesn’t necessarily serve me, it’s actually serving you. It’s serving the audience, and hopefully, that is connected to bringing glory to God. Creativity is not a selfish act in this framework. You know your gifts, and the church is an expression of God’s creativity for our good. So, what…here’s a great place for the church and the creative. How do you know whether you are gifted as a creative person?

How do you know if you have a particular gift that the Lord can use, and where do you find that out typically? Well, hopefully, you’re finding it out in the church. There are people around you saying, you know, “You are not very good at talking to people. You have social issues, right? Maybe you should be doing other things, right?” What we wanna say is the church can help us give an estimation for our gifts, so where they should be like and encourage us in those gifts along the way. So, that’s where, for the good of the world, that Church actually helps you think through what your gift sets are so they can go out into the world itself.

Terry: Yeah. So, what we can do as leaders, and pastors, and shepherds, what we can do. Here are some practical ways that we can put Christ’s beauty on display. Disciple creatives. Disciple them. Here’s a list of some things that the creatives in your church struggle with, and here is where discipleship can help, okay? So, discipleship will help remove anxiety surrounding their art. Number two, it allows them to exercise their creative gifts without pretense. Three, it keeps them from the tyranny of comparisons. This is huge. Number four, it puts the critic in perspective as well as the audience. Number five, it removes their creativity from the center of their identity. Now, that is massive for the creative. The creative is always searching for identity in their creative work.

Lister: And that’s what discipleship is getting after. It’s trying to put you in union with Christ so that everything that is yours is tied to Him. He is the one who has rights over it. He is the one who is changing that and transforming that.

Terry: It resets their motives and gives them a barometer to keep them in check. Number seven, it induces worship and joy before, during, and after the creative process. It’s helping them to find fulfillment and satisfaction in what they create genuinely. Number eight, it ties their production to eternity rather than just this present time and space. Number nine, it gives them an honest and grace-filled perspective of their work and others. And finally, it makes them both responsible and reliant on the spirit at the same time, right? So, this is what discipleship will help do in the life of a creative, okay? And so, here are four ways in which you can disciple creatives, okay? And if we had the keynote, it would have been fresh because you would have seen, like, the way we worked it out. But it’s all good.

So, this alliteration, exercise, equip, empower, and encourage, okay? Exercise. This is more so on the pastor or the ministry leader. See, pastors and teachers ought to be practicing creativity, whether that be from the pulpit, or from the lecture hall. They should be practicing creativity because this has the most, possibly the greatest encouragement to creatives. It gives them a real-time application of how to do their creative work. If they can see the pastor, or they can see the teacher exercising what they do from a creative space, this gives them the freedom to do the same thing, okay?

Lister: And this doesn’t mean that you’re up there painting a painting while you’re doing your sermon. That would be really, really hard. One, and you might…yes, yes. But it’s doing what Paul does, okay? So, you guys have probably been inundated, and you’re probably saturated with 2 Timothy, right? So, just let me just read a little section of what Paul’s doing in 2 Timothy in a creative way. So, Paul is not just after throwing words at you. He actually wants those words to resonate and to pull pictures into your head, so it lands. So, again, it’s that reconciliation of all things. He’s wanting you to hear the truth, but he wants you to see it. He wants you to smell it. He wants you to see it in all different kinds of all the different senses, okay?

So, I am being poured out as a drink offering because he’s already working this metaphorical type language, right? “The time of my departure has come, I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.” So, Paul is giving you images to demonstrate his perseverance to the end so that it sticks with you. It resonates with you. It’s all throughout 2 Timothy. I have a whole sheet here that I can read to you, but, again, you’re probably saturated with 2 Timothy.

Terry: The thing that people miss about the apostle Paul is he is very much a poet. But if you’re only looking at it from a very didactic perspective, Paul just has these really long run on sentences, you know. But when you look at it from a poet’s perspective, from a different vantage point, it actually is beautiful. Paul is amazingly gifted with words. His wordplay, his reiteration. He’s beautiful. So, he’s actually doing what we’re asking you to do is to exercise your creativity when you preach, and when you teach.

Lister: And let’s just say this, this is really hard. It’s really hard for one reason. And so, this is me from, unlike on the inside of a seminary, we don’t build that out for you well. We don’t help you to see that. So, hopefully, what this is doing is it’s sort of pushing you to sort of stretch those muscles a little bit. And it’s just really, really hard to process things in this category sometimes, but that’s okay. That’s good.

Terry: Yeah, equip. Teach the creative in your congregation to submit their creativity. And not just their creativity, but like what Lister was saying, the totality of the creative. Submit it all under the lordship of Christ.

Lister: Yeah. So with regard to that, what we want to help people see is that when you are submitting yourself to Christ, you’re actually submitting yourself to freedom. If you think about the way artists work or way creativity works, how do you get better at what you do? You don’t just sit there, right? Play video games, and then you’re just gonna be amazing at being a concert pianist, right? I mean, how do you gather that? How do you take that? How do you become better?

Congregation: Practice.

Lister: You practice, right? You practice. And so what we wanna be doing as pastors and as other creatives in the church who have a conception of the house, we wanna help them grow in their theological disciplines too. We wanna help them show how these things aren’t juxtaposed, but they’re walking alongside each other. They actually serve one another. So that as…what obedience in Christ can do is actually build up and encourage, and even make your creativity better.

Terry: And this had huge implications for me. I mean, I remember I told you before I was discipled, I was a very liberal Christian because I had no theological framework. But then some men came alongside and discipled me. They began to equip me with theology, with a submission to God’s word, and it actually did quite the opposite. Everything I was afraid of was that, ah, that’s gonna be so restricting, and it’s gonna place boundaries on me as an artist. But what it actually did is it opened me up into the transcendent. It opened me up into this cosmic space where I had a bigger palette, a bigger canvas to work with because I had an appropriate view of who God was. Before, I had a very small and shallow view of God. He was disconnected from my art. But by people discipling and equipping me, my art began to flourish. I began to find greater satisfaction in the things that I was creating over against just making things for the critiquing, or scrutiny of the culture.

So, number three, empower. Think creatively about doing this in your context. We don’t know all of your contexts, but it requires for you as leaders to think creatively of how to empower the artist in your congregation. So, for example, in my church, we have a designer. He’s very gifted, and he saw like our old like church logo and website. He was like, “That’s stale.” And I’ve never been one to, like, impose my aesthetic preferences on the church. So, I’ve always just been like, “It’s off limits. If it’s gonna look junk, it’s gonna look junk, you know.” But I empowered one of the members in our congregation to kind of take ownership of it, and he explored it in unique ways that I would have just never imagined. He just thinks differently than most of the people in my church. And then you have people in my church, we’re not a very hip church. Maybe a few humble beast guys, but mostly just people who are just lay folks. Just not very creative.

Lister: Super gifted.

Terry: Super gifted. But with Eliazer doing like some of the design work, and painting, you know, using photography to draw people’s attention, draw them into tell this narrative, people in my congregation were just overwhelmed. Like, this is beautiful. And so, that happened by way of just empowering and saying here, “You, do this work to the glory of God and for the good of His people, and let’s just see what happens.”

Lister: And here’s a transition point in that. So, it’s how Thomas’s eyes are open to that reality. But all we’re asking you to do is when that person comes up to you and tells you that your website is stale, is it?

Terry: Both stale and junky.

Lister: Yes, if it’s stale and junky, when that person comes up, don’t either one, get offended or two, see this…

Man 2: I made it.

Lister: That’s right. I made it in ’88, right? Yeah. So…

Man 2: I did the logo in Microsoft [inaudible 00:40:21].

Lister : It says under construction still. Yeah. Like, don’t get offended and don’t just say, “Okay, here’s just another creative trying to bully his way into my church or trying to take over.” See that as an opportunity for discipleship. What they’ve done is they’ve actually walked into your office or walked into your study or come up and gotten coffee with you, and that’s relationship time. It’s time for you to say, “Let’s do it, but let’s do it together.” And so, now, you’ve got a relationship with this person who is gonna do more than likely great work for your church. But even more importantly, you’re walking alongside them helping them see how what they’re doing in the church is connected to the gospel. That’s massive. That’s massive, yeah.

Terry: And that doesn’t mean you just, you know, you have one creative in your church and he’s kind of all right, it doesn’t mean you just give them free reign, right? That means you walk with them and you help them to explore beauty. You do comparisons with them. Look at this…you know, you create a mood board with them. Allow for him to be impressed by the mood board and become inspired by it. That’s walking with the creative. So, yeah. And then finally, encourage. This is huge. And just like we talked about, encouraging the artists will help him find massive freedom in servanthood, right? Men in my congregation that I disciple who are hyper-gifted, the first thing I do is I get them serving in different ways. I get them flexing other muscles because what I want to instill in them is a posture of servanthood. Because that’s where they’re gonna find freedom.

Because you have to disconnect all the things that have messed up their identity. So, take, for example, a performing artist who spends all of his time performing for people, performing for people, performing for people. Well, that has huge implications. They come into the church, and then you just helping them to perform for people. That’s almost antigospel, right? What you wanna help them find is your identity is not in your work. Christ does not accept you because of how good you are. Christ accepts you because he’s called you to himself. He’s made every provision necessary for you. And so, you wanna reshape their paradigm, their way of thinking. And so, that comes by way of encouragement, encouraging them to use other muscles, the totality of them. So, I tell dudes that are like, I mean, these guys are amazingly gifted at music. And like, you need a vacuum. You gotta vacuum. Legit.

Lister: Yeah, stack chairs.

Terry: Stack chairs, right? And then eventually move them over to soundboard [inaudible 00:43:15]. And then after a couple years, you bring them on the stage. But what you’re doing is you’re actually cultivating life, and you’re working on their heart. And I think they might not see it that way in the beginning, but if we circle back to the beginning, the exploitation of the artist, they’re gonna love you and appreciate you more for being concerned with the totality of them, you know. Some of these men are like, “All I’ve ever known is people using me for my gifts. I get the same thing when I perform in clubs and bars.” Perform for me dance, you know. You know, do your song, play your guitar, but in the church, I feel like I’m part of this family. You know, and I say this all the time to these guys. When I go home, like I’m not rapper Thomas at home, right? I change diapers. I vacuum the floor. I make the beds. I take the kids for walks. You know, I do all of those things.

And that’s what we should be instilling in the heart of an artist. That will help them flourish as an artist because when Lister talked about, you know, all of our artwork being for the glory of God and for the good of people, you teach them how to serve in other aspects, you’re helping them build a muscle of my art is not my own. My art is not my own is for others. They see their creative gifts the way that the Bible tells us and instructs us of our spiritual gifts. And I do think creativity is a spiritual gift, right? I don’t think it’s relegated to these few, you know, six or seven…you gotta go to hospitality. You know, you could be creative, and that’s your spiritual gift. But you’re helping them use it for what it’s intended for, to serve other people. Great question. Let me pray for us.

Lister: You pray for us.

Terry: Okay, I was gonna pray. Father, we do thank you for the ways in which you call for us to be creative. We thank you that you’ve made us in your image to be creative. I pray oh, Lord and God that you would help us to put it in its right place, that we would do all the things that we do with our hands, and with our minds, and with our imaginations for your glory. I pray God that you would stop us from doing things that give us glory, that you would help us to play the background, that you would help us to lay in the cut and put the beauty of your gospel on display and not interrupt the beautiful message of your gospel and your glory. Help us, God, to do the hard work of reconciling the church and the creative. Help us to disciple well. Help us to disciple from the right place, with the right motives, with the right heart to seek first the creative spiritual maturity, and flourishing. Because we know ultimately if we get to their heart, we can get to their art. So, help us do that, Lord. We pray in Jesus name, Amen.

Lister: Amen.

“Whether you realize it or not, creativity is the language of the culture. Beauty is the new apologetic. . . . We live in a culture where beauty determines everything. It doesn’t matter what is true; if it’s painted beautifully, that wins the affections of the people.” — Thomas Terry

Date: October 17, 2018

Event: TGC 2018 West Coast Conference, Fullerton, California

You can listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition podcast here.


Find more audio and video from TGC’s 2018 West Coast Conference on the conference media page.