Todd Goranson and Steve Rooks spoke during a breakout session titled “Evangelism in the Arts” at The Gospel Coalition’s 2019 National Conference in Indianapolis. In this message, they addressed the efficacy of arts as a tool for evangelism, arguing that art has its own way of conveying and portraying the beauty and complexity of God’s creation. It also provides a vehicle for reaching individuals, who might not be inclined to visit a church, with the message of gospel grace.
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Steve Rooks: Father, thank you again for your goodness, your grace, your mercy and your truth, Lord. We pray that Father, all that’s shared today would just expose that, Father. Thank you for this opportunity here at the Gospel Coalition just share your heart, Father. We pray that not only for this meeting here but for the other meetings that have been gathered this time that there will be times where we can really just explore all of the things that you want to say, and our hearts will be open and we just, again, yield this time to you in Jesus’ name. All right, here’s Todd.
Todd Goranson: Good afternoon everybody. We’re grateful to have you joining us today for what we hope will be a good discussion afterwards as well. Here at the Gospel Coalition, we realize you have lots of choices for your breakout session, so we’re glad that you were here today with us. My name’s Todd Goranson, and I’m a professor of Music at Messiah College, where I teach applied saxophone and bassoon and also music theory and some other coursework, some jazz ensembles. I’ve also served from 2017 to 2018 as term as president of the Christian Performing Artist Fellowship and the Masterworks Festival. That’s a connection that Steve and I have, Steve Rooks. I’m very honored to share the stage with him today. He’s a professor and chair of Dance and the resident choreographer at Vassar College. He’s danced with the Martha Graham Dance Ensemble for over a decade, including serving as their principal dancer, and he’s also been involved with the Masterworks Festival.
Todd Goranson: For those of you who are wondering, are the arts effective in evangelism? If there’s any concern or if you’re wondering whether the answer is going to be yes, we’re going to assert that yes, there definitely there, take care of any tension anticipation there. Any suspense? Yes, that’s the short answer, but we’ll elaborate here a little bit. Obviously, I imagine anybody who comes to a session like this is aware that the performing arts and the visual arts are a means of worshiping God and a effective and beautiful and unique way of doing that in of itself. But they also can have a unique role in revealing and presenting gospel truths to both the artists and the audience or consumers or whatever term we want to use for the people that are there viewing or listening or participating as an audience member.
Todd Goranson: Art has its own way of conveying and portraying the beauty and the complexity of God’s creation. It also provides a means for reaching communities and individuals with the message of the gospel who might not be inclined to walk into a church on Sunday morning, or to actively seek knowledge or relationship with Christ. Now, this is obviously a broad topic that we could talk for well over 40 minutes up here from the stage, and I actually have notes here in front of me to guarantee that I don’t go on talking for hours on end and make us late for the next session. Usually, when I’m up on a stage and I’m not holding a musical instrument, I’m lecturing on means of coping with performance anxiety. How many of you are folks who are musicians or artists in some performing arts capacity? I’m just curious. Lots of you, Okay.
Todd Goranson: The primary phobia that psychologist talk about when they call the universal phobia is combat, because 98% of people have a phobia to combat. I find that an interesting statistic because that means that 2% don’t. But the second one, and depending on which study you look at is between 75% and 80%, is of speaking or performing in front of a group of people. I think it was about three years ago I was talking to a lecture hall full of about, was a conference room of about a thousand people on performance anxiety down at Texas, and I started out by saying, “Whew! Wow, there a lot of people here. I’m so nervous.” Literally, I saw several people get up and start heading toward the door. I was like, “Kidding. Please, please come back.” I’ll watch out for that one.
Todd Goranson:I like to talk about two distinctly different mission fields. Of course, there is overlap here, but in the time that we have the two primary mission fields that I’d like to look at for evangelism in the arts, and those two fields are the artists and the performers themselves, as well as the community at large. When we talk about evangelism, I think we can just boil it right down to the great commission. Matthew 28:19 and 20. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and of the son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Todd Goranson: Discipleship is about relationship and as artists or people involved in the performing and visual arts, we need to be sensitive and available to the Holy Spirit as those relationships become possible. Now, I’m going to be talking about things that are potentially problems, but this means a lot of opportunity for us, so hopefully you’ll hear the opportunity part and not the struggle part in of itself. Looking at the first of the two prongs of the mission field, we have the aspiring Christian artist, musician or dancer. This is an area of great potential for outreach largely because of the inherent challenges that are there. Not going to give a big long history lesson, but in short from a historical perspective, for many centuries the Christian church was at the forefront of artistic creation. The arts, just Western culture in general, the church was at the forefront. From the 20th century onward, secular culture has generally been at the forefront in innovation and patronage, as well for the arts. As a result, ministering to young aspiring artists, both those who are walking with Christ and those who were not, it’s a massive mission field.
Todd Goranson: In the 21st first century church, I think it’s safe to say that it can be a really complex mission field. Young Christian artists receive a myriad of different conflicting messages at times from the church and from the secular world regarding their work and sometimes the validity of their artistic pursuit. Bruce Ellis Benson, who’s a professor of philosophy at Wheaton and author of Liturgy As A Way of Life, Embodying the Arts in Christian Worship stated, “The difficulty that the Christian artist faces is the expectation of Christian community and the artistic community that they will almost inevitably clash.” Is there a lot of artists in the room? I imagine that some of you have felt this potential clash or conflict, perceived or otherwise. It can leave the Christian artist sometimes feeling very much caught in the middle.
Todd Goranson: Further adding to the precariousness of the Christian artist position in the church, you go onto the Internet you can find multitudes of articles that will either just question the value of arts in the church, or if you throw the word excellence into the conversation, “Poooh!” I wasn’t planning sound effects, but I have a nice big microphone up here, things can get really problematic. I was talking with Steve earlier today about a research paper that I wrote a couple of years ago. I dove in to all of the wonderful things the Internet had to offer and found numerous articles, web blogs and of course, social media posts by Christians or about Christian artists that asserted either that striving for excellence in the arts within the church is unnecessary, is incompatible with serving with humility, or my favorite, irrelevant.
Todd Goranson: I found the dancers and visual artists can face even greater marginalization within the church as many individuals or denominations disapprove of dance or visual art in any worship context. I found that this is frequently based on the premise that because either can easily become idols that they should not be employed in the worship of God. However, if we use that same approach, we can make … we’ve shown as a church and as people who live in a sinful world and in deal with sin in our lives we can make virtually anything an idol. If we take anything that we could create an idol out of and we throw that out of the church, it doesn’t really leave us with much because our idol could be success, it could be health, it could be our family. These aren’t necessarily bad things in of themselves.
Todd Goranson: I lived in Texas for 10 years. If we threw out the air conditioning from our church because some people made an idol out of air conditioning when we had those 90 days in a row of a hundred degree temperatures, I think we will all suffer and I don’t necessarily think that it would be on point. Obviously, music personalities, any of these other concepts can become idols, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to have them stricken from the church. Steve and I, as I mentioned, share a connection in that both of us have worked with the Christian performing artist fellowship in the Masterworks Festival. It’s a ministry that started back in 1988 and presented its first summer festival in 1997.
Todd Goranson: How many of you were at the session last night? Okay. Those of you who heard the orchestra that played the Saint-Saens Oregon Symphony, Symphony number three and also played during the during the hymns heard members of the faculty and current and former students alumni of the festival. This festival is a four-week festival that takes place every summer. Our new home is in Spartanburg, South Carolina. I want to talk a little bit about the model here for reaching into the lives of young artists who are Christians or of sometimes young artists who are just open to being at a Christian festival. Again, four-week festival, in addition to performing music, theater and dance at a high level, the young artists are brought into fellowship into mentoring relationships with mature Christian artists that teach at top universities in North America and playing in top orchestras.
Todd Goranson: Several of the students, a lot of the students are very well-grounded in their Christian faith when they come to this festival, and some are simply open. One student that I talked to a couple of years ago said, “I’m not bothered by the fact that it’s a Christian festival.” “Well then, we’re glad to have you here, that’s great.” We have Bible studies every evening that are comprised of a mix of students and of faculty members who are able to help guide the studies, but we like them to be student-led. Some of the rabbit holes that these Bible studies go down are absolutely wonderful. If we ever need to steer them back week, we can be there but frequently we’ll get feedback at the end of the festival where they’ve made this incredible music. We get big theater performances and the feedback we got is that their favorite part of the festival was the relationship that they built with a member of the orchestra, a member of the faculty in the Bible studies, which is incredibly exciting for me, personally.
Todd Goranson: Last year, we had at least six people who came to the festival who either made a first commitment or recommitment of their life to Christ as well. Faculty giving feedback that they leave feeling more encouraged and energized and ready to go out in a world that is frequently not as receptive to the gospel as we’d like. Particularly within, I can’t speak directly into dance, but in the secular music world sometimes it’s very hostile toward sharing a gospel message. Any opportunities we can have for building up our young people to be bold when they leave, it’s a word that I hear a lot from students, “I feel emboldened”, that’s really exciting.
Todd Goranson: As an aside, talking to students even yesterday and over the course of the summer, the feedback I get from a lot of the young people that I teach at Messiah, so I work with a lot of a young Christian artist there as well, consistently they say that they feel the evangelical churches can be doing a better job of providing opportunities for young artists to be using their gifts to serve God within their home church. Twenty years ago, we were talking about this earlier today too. I remember hearing a lot of conversations about wanting to make our church or making the church relatable to young people. Now, the language that I hear constantly is they just want something authentic, and the word authenticity finds its way over and over again.
Todd Goranson: Students ask me regularly particularly when they’re trying to find a church at Messiah, whether talking about moving forward into college because with Masterworks we have a lot of very talented high school students, undergraduate students and some graduate students who were moving on, they asked three questions. Where can I go to hear truth preached even on the difficult topics? Two, where can I go where I can sing some hymns sometimes? Doesn’t seem like so much to ask. Frequently, from musicians, particularly in my little pocket in central PA, why wherever I go to church is the music cranked up so loud? Isn’t it strange that the musicians are saying or complaining that the music is too loud? It’s hurting the sound quality and I can’t hear myself sing.
Todd Goranson: I’d love to see the evangelical churches of our country consistently be a place where young performing and visual artists can have their gifts and their talents be used on a regular basis. I threw the word excellence out there. while we seek after excellence in most areas of our lives, excellence can be a really contentious word when talking about arts in the church. Obviously, excellence can’t be the ultimate end for what we’re doing. If we’re seeking excellence in the arts, and it’s not, if it’s about us and it’s easy and certainly, I’m not just speaking for myself, it can be really easy in the moment or over periods of time to make using our gifts more about us than about God.
Todd Goranson: Obviously, listening to a deeply impactful piece or witnessing a brilliant dance performance is not going to immediately lead somebody to a personal relationship with Christ. There is more that has to happen there. However, there is an appeal to something that is truly beautiful and truly excellent and reflects the image of God in that way. For the believer and the non-believer alike, mediocrity is not particularly attractive to us. But that doesn’t mean that we should treat excellence as something that is dangerous or elitist or something to be marginalized or avoided within the church, because I believe that that’s counterproductive to our mission for reaching people through the arts. The Bible certainly points to people who are talented artists who are being equipped and used by God.
Todd Goranson: Bessel L, whose skill as an artist, was used by God in creating the amazing Tabernacle, David’s own skill with the lyre obviously very important. [Canoni 00:17:40] gifts as a singing worship leader in the book of Chronicles. The book of Chronicles does not say he was a horrible singer so God put him in charge of leading. It really doesn’t. You can look it up but you can just trust me, I’ll save you the flip through your phone, yeah. Within the culture at large and certainly within the arts community, excellence is a currency of credibility that is deeply important to young artists as they’re coming through in learning their craft. We can leverage this currency of excellence for kingdom purposes.
Todd Goranson: If I, instead of being a musician and a music educator, if I was in a law firm and young lawyer and I’m really struggling right now to figure out balance in my life and how to be successful and how to deal with all this paperwork, I’m probably not going to seek out the least successful junior partner in the firm to figure out how to sort this all out, to figure out how to make this work, to ask, “How do you do this and how do you seem to be finding joy in what you’re doing? How do you have this great relationship with your wife? How do you make this all work with all the stress?” Obviously, finding a way to do those things you’re going to seek out somebody who seems to be successful in of themselves there.
Todd Goranson: I’d like to talk just briefly about Phil Smith. He is somebody that for 35 years was the principal trumpet player in the New York Philharmonic, and somebody who has been a role model for a lot of non-trumpet players. I’m a saxophonist and bassoonist, so I know every trumpet joke there is, particularly since I have four professional trumpet players in my extended family. Phil was the principal in the Newark Phil for 35 years and leveraged his skills in a secular art form to reach a lot of people both within the arts and outside of it, because he doesn’t make any delineation between what he does vocationally and his walk with Christ. He’s been a fantastic model in that non-believers and believers alike will pay money to come to one of his seminars. He does clinics and guest residencies 20 or 30 every year and come to just listen to what he has to say because he’s one of the greatest orchestral musicians of the last 50 years.
Todd Goranson: Interestingly enough, several years ago, CNN presented a 10-part series on musicians of the New York Phil, and I’d like to read to you … I’m going to say this again. This is a CNN article. I’m going to take a moment to read this. My trumpet playing is absolutely God’s gift. In the beginning, this was a life choice of mine, but that was only because I was too dumb to know that it was a calling. Each of us has specific gifts. Each of us has specific roles to play, to lift people up and to point to God Almighty. One of the roles of being a Christian is to tell people about what Christ has done for you, what Christ means to you, because of my role as principal trumpet for the New York Philharmonic, I get a big opportunity to go out and mix with young kids to challenge them to lift them up and say, “Keep going, work harder.”
Todd Goranson: It’s politically incorrect to talk about one’s faith but you can’t live a life without a faith in something. Our kids are being told by the world it seems, “Don’t worry about your faith”, and I’m out there saying, “No, you got to think about what you believe, in whom you believe why you’re here. Are you just here by some quirk of your mom and dad’s unification? I don’t think so.” My faith is a relationship with Christ in my heart. If you got that song in your heart, it’s got to come out. It’s a part of who I am, I can’t help it, I have to talk about it. But it’s going to come out of my living too. The truth of what I say, hopefully, is expressed in how I live with gentleness, peace, joy, love, kindness, compassion. This is a CNN article, folks. As a musician, it’s going to be expressed in your music and in how well you play.
Todd Goranson: I don’t believe God is into giving high seas per se, I think you have to practice, but I do think God can put a sense of calm, and a sense of peace and allow you to play the best of your ability. The article closed with, there’s no greater place for missionary service than in the arts. Arts is an expression of the heart of God’s gift and the missionary duty here is to say, do you realize where your gift came from?
Todd Goranson: Clearly, not all of us are going to have a big of a stage or a mouthpiece as Phil, but I personally witnessed in secular orchestras, chamber music, I’m a jazz musician as well, just how the Holy Spirit will put you in positions where there are people that are ready to talk and ask questions, and frequently not the people that I most expect are going to want to have those conversations and seeing as a result of being available to talk to people and remembering that music is for God and music is for people, music is not the end in of itself, watching people have their lives transformed by Christ. I realized I have talked too long, so let me talk about the other prong here real quick.
Todd Goranson: Evangelism and ministry, very important to an audience as well. As Christian audiences, we often talk about performing for an audience of one performing for Christ. Obviously, our performance can and should be an act of worship. That being said, we don’t want to ignore the fact that we have all these people in the audience, and music and the arts are a gift from God, and we’re allowed to use these to reflect God’s grace God’s greatness, his creativity and his creation. Sharing that beauty, whether it be simple or really complex is central to the role of the artist. Again, I don’t feel like I have to convince this room full of people that music and the arts can really impact people in an intimate and to touch people in a way that other things might not be able to accomplish.
Todd Goranson: But I will say that we have an opportunity to either have culture change the gospel or have the gospel impact culture. When we’re presenting great music played by people who have a heart for the Lord, it gives people an alternative to some of the really damaging things that we’re seeing that are mainstream culture now. I remember NPV in the 80s, and I remember thinking, “Okay, so there’s some sketchy things in the 1980s”, and then flipping around the television now, the culture is there, the question is, do people have options to find things that are God honoring or not? That’s an opportunity that we have as Christian artists is to fill any potential cultural vacuum with something that is spirit-led and that could skillfully reflect truth, beauty, and God’s redemption force in a fallen world.
Todd Goranson: With Masterworks, something that we try to do is make music available for everybody. We are in our new home in Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Our weekend concerts present … it’s called the Masterworks festival, so we present Masterworks, but beforehand, we all pray corporately on stage and we’re aware the people will see that coming on when they come in as an audience and that’s great. We open with a word of prayer and we close the concert with an invitation to folks to stay around if they want to while we’ll sing hymns and praise and worship things, and some people stick around and check things out. We have a lot of curious people about, “these seem like professional musicians”. We see the audience grow from weekend to weekend as the word gets out, and having that opportunity to minister to people, who might not be aware that the Masterworks Festival is a Christian organization until we get there, is a real privilege.
Todd Goranson: I’ll pass off the mic here to Steve in just a second. Returning to the comment about students approaching me about the evangelical church, I play a lot of gigs where people hire me to come in on one rehearsal or two rehearsals to play amazing music at churches around Pennsylvania in the mid-Atlantic. My wife is a wonderful flutist as well. We frequently have this conversation, why is it that the churches that tend to be the ones to bring us into play this great music are the ones where they’re probably going to follow up with something that’s really nice and inspirational and doesn’t point to the gospel of Jesus Christ in any meaningful way? Wouldn’t it be great, isn’t it something to aspire to, that the church is where you’re most likely to go and hear the truth and the gospel of Christ in the way that we can be transformed through his blood? What if those were the places that we’re presenting great art, great dance, great music to the people and using that to draw them to the church and closer to Christ?
Steve Rooks: Certainly appreciate all that you were sharing Todd. You took some of my scriptures away. No, no, I was kidding. Just to tag along on one that you mentioned, the Masterworks Festival, I think, is one of the greatest music festivals ever out there, but also particularly for the believer artist. I had the opportunity of being involved with them for well over a decade, probably 15 years, and to go there and choreograph and the vision that Patrick Kavanagh had for the arts, I just think, has been exemplary and I’m so glad it is continuing on.
Steve Rooks: I really feel impressed to talk some contextualization of what’s going on currently as artists and in evangelism because there’s a lot going on. It’s not all dismal lack of opportunities there’s some great things happening, I think, particularly now in the culture that we have, this post-Christian culture that we’re living in right now. It’s really important to understand and be effective in sharing a faith. One of things that’s in the handbook that was given out was that one of the goals here this week is the contextualization of the gospel and connect it to all of life. If that’s the serious mandate that we follow we really have to get a sense of just what this culture is like and and how as artists that it can work with the whole notion of evangelism.
Steve Rooks: There was a Barna study that recently said that, it was saying the top, they had the top 10 cities that were post-Christian in America, and eight out of the 10 are in the Northeast. I live in the second, number two on the list. The culture that we are speaking to right now is very, very different than it was in 5, 10 years ago. In order to do that, we have to be really effective in what we share. I do all that to start with this quote that I’d like to read from a man named Colin Harbison. He actually came to speak at the Masterworks Festival one year, but he’s a brilliant writer, a brilliant author, but he also has a passion for the arts. I would put him in the category of some writers like Schaefer, when I just miss his notion of the importance of being significant as artists in our present-day culture, but I want to read this quote just to start off with.
Steve Rooks: He has a website or a ministry called Stoneworks and it’s a global arts initiative. This is what he says. At certain times in history, the arts have played a strategic role in the life and mission of the church and Christians champion artistic endeavor to the glory of God and led the way in artistic innovation and excellence. But at other times, Christians abandon the world of the arts, seeing it as broken and spiritually-bankrupt, they went into self-imposed cultural and artistic exile. The neglect of the imagination has deeply impoverished the body of Christ for too long. The church has marginalized the arts and failed to articulate a theology that makes room for the creative gifts God has given for his glory and for our blessing.
Steve Rooks: There’s probably never been a time in which biblical understanding of the arts is more needed by the church than at our present visual and image oriented postmodern culture, #Instagram. During the past few decades, there has been a global renewal of interest in the arts and the imagination amongst believers. We must build a highway for a new generation of gifted Christians, so they will not have to fight the same battles as earlier generations did. We must help them identify and remove the stones in their lives in the church and in the culture that would cause them to stumble. We must mentor young artists and encourage them to exercise their creative gifts with excellence and to the glory of God, like the ancient Hebrew musicians who wept over the ruins of Jerusalem, we need to weep over the brokenness of our world and the distortion of the arts. Only then we will understand the need for God’s work of restoration.
Steve Rooks: Just a little bit about myself. Becoming a dancer was not my idea. I wasn’t a little kid with dreams of dancing on the stage, dancing was not in my life at all. I took karate, I ran track. I got to college, and started my studies there, and what happened was there was a performance of this company, Dance Theater of Harlem, it was coming to Dartmouth. I had no interest in seeing, it was dance, who wants to see dance? But I remembered, he says, “Come on, come on, Rooks, you got to see it. You got to look at this performance. Let’s go, let’s go.” Someone got me a ticker and I went.
Steve Rooks: Let’s talk about the trends in the power of art. I sat there just unmoved and then the curtain went up and I went from this position, sitting back to here. The entire concert, I was at the edge of my seat, and that’s not hyperbole, that’s exactly what it was, and afterwards I remember trembling I said, “I have to experience this.” I don’t know what just happened but I know I have to experience this. It wasn’t that I was going to become a classical ballet dancer, but in a fell swoop all of these things were being eradicated in my process. For one thing, I didn’t think that was something accessible to me, dance, especially seeing a predominantly African-American troop, so there was a cultural connection as well. To see men moving powerfully, all the stereotypes of dance move being shot out the window.
Steve Rooks: But then there was this other thing that I couldn’t put my hand on I understand now was God’s wooing, but there was some transcendent power in this. I’m not talking about sensuality. There was something powerful in this art that was, and I knew that I had, in some way, experienced in my life. I left school and tried to do my own career path, I was going to grad school a little bit, but then I was taking dance classes at night, and ultimately, to make a long story short, someone saw me, they compel me to go to New York. I went on a whim, I didn’t realize I had a talent. I’ve only been dancing a year you but I got a full scholarship at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center, and then three years later ended up dancing Martha Graham.
Steve Rooks: More importantly than that, before I got in the Graham company, I had an encounter with Christ. What was overwhelming was that what compelled to come to that place was this overwhelming love for me, and this acceptance of me as a total package, not only Steve the person but also Steve the artist, and why not? But I didn’t find that reception though unilaterally within the body of Christ. I think what happens a lot of times as an artist, whether as a musician, a dancer, whatever is that there’s three responses as an artist and a believer, there’s three categories. It’s not that one is, two are wrong and one is right, or they’re all wrong and they’re all right, it’s just these are typical responses as an artist that comes to faith. One is, if you’re an artist you come to faith, you’re sometimes told to leave that. Now that you’re a Christian, leave that, you don’t be drawn to the world, you need to work on your faith.
Steve Rooks: At that time I was coming up, there were a lot of dancers and models and actors in New York that were getting saved. Some of the pastors were really encouraging them to lay their craft down, and they did, a number of them did. For some of them, it was this decisions that they did not regret and for many it was very tragic. Again, that’s not a judgment at any way to disparage the leaders but they were doing it to try to help these young people but they really didn’t feel that the arts could be a safe place for them to go on with faith. That’s usually, that’s one response that tends to happen.
Steve Rooks: Another second responses that you want to just make an adjustment to what you’re doing, so if you’re playing the flute, it’s okay to play the flute but play the flute in church. Or if you’re dancer, it’s okay to dance but make sure you do it in a worship service in a church that permits that. The whole notion of doing some outside of that just might not be what God wants for you. I remember people would come up to me with all kinds of visions. Sometimes they’re like, I really feel brother that it might be good idea for you to maybe step out from the company or even start your own school. It could be a Christian school, a Christian dance school. They meant well, but it didn’t resonate with anything that I felt God was doing in my heart at that time.
Steve Rooks: I think sometimes we feel that’s the remedy, so it would be something very specifically connected with a specific area of ministry. Again, for some, I’ve had some friends that did follow the path and they’re very happy today and they’re doing great work. But again, that wasn’t something that resonated in what I felt God was doing in my life. Then there’s a third category I think defines this and it’s for persons who are really called to excel in the art as an agent of transformation and to do it excellently. I really felt that that’s what God was calling me to. My whole career has been in the secular world as it were. I danced in New York and these companies, I teach at Vassar College, that’s where God has placed me. I know that it’s been a placement.
Steve Rooks: But I was also in the process of coming to a reality, I realize there were other artists and that’s what I want to talk about that the artist that have also feeling this call to be agents of transformation in our culture. During the time that I was, as a young believer, I met some incredible Christians who were doing Broadway shows. Some were writers and whatnot. We would oftentimes get together for some projects just as an outreach in the city. One was a Bible study that we had every wind Wednesday called the Unbroken Chain. It was led by the Ben Hardy and we did that for a number of years. Another was the Great Day Chorale, which was a wonderful core group. We’re able to get together and do productions, ended up actually doing one at Carnegie Hall. Again, just as an idea of an exposé of our arts. We did a thing called Giving God The Glory which, we rented out a theater in New York, the Beacon Theater, and just did a number of professional artists gather just to, as an outreach is the word, just to do this performance for the city.
Steve Rooks: It was a unique time in that there were people getting together and they really felt that that part of their calling the way to best reach a city like New York was through the art. In the course of time, there were other relationships that’s developing. I want to speak about a few that I really feel are on the forefront of this whole notion of reaching our culture through the arts. One is Randall Flynn. Randall Flynn is the artistic director of Ad Deum Dance Company in Houston. If you don’t know about it, look them up on Facebook, look up the company, they’re amazing. Randy was a [inaudible 00:38:52], a very similar background with mine, he was a professional dancer. Then he had an encounter with the Lord, he surrendered his life to Jesus, and he actually went to the process of becoming an ordained minister. His thoughts, as in most at that time, was that, “Okay, I’ll leave dance alone and I’ll go to something really authentic for Christ.”
Steve Rooks: But his pastor just really believe that he was neglecting his calling, and that he was neglecting a whole audience that he was going to be able to reach because he had a specific gift, and encouraged him to stay with it and then just to actually open up a dance studio. There’ll be a whole group of people that you will be able to reach that probably won’t go to church. He opted to do that and thank God he did. Over the years, he’s ended up traveling all over the world and he’s developed one of this largest companies in Houston now, the Ad Deum Dance Company. What sets them apart, not only is the message and obviously a strong faith, but there’s a level of excellence that’s undeniable. Even if there are people who are resistant in the message, initially, when they see these dancers on stage, they shut the house down.
Steve Rooks: It’s become a currency which allowed them to play at the Miller Dance Festival and they’ve even come to Vassar College to perform. What was interesting about that was that I was doing this evening work and I’m having Ad Deum Company perform part of it, and the word got out that it was a Christian dance company. There was a lot of eye rolling and, “Oh my gosh, what’s this going to be like? Here comes mediocrity.” There was [inaudible 00:40:22]. Then, to have the company come and perform, and for lack of, just really overwhelm the audience, before midnight that night, and I had never gotten responses from the chair of our department, but from the chair of our department and even the Dean of the Faculty, they were saying how impressed they were with these artists. It was hard because what they were doing, the level of art and the power of the message was palpable and transforming. Randall Flynn and the Ad Deum group is really a group you should know.
Steve Rooks: Another one is Project Dance. I also have a handout here that has a listing of these as well, you can grab it on your way out. Project Dance was initiated after 9/11. It was founded by a woman, Cheryl Cutlip. She was a dancer as one of the Rockettes in Radio City Music Hall. She just had a burden as we all did and we’re all living in New York, like a burden for the city. It was so broken after the attack. We were trying to think, what’s the best way to reach out? What can we do? We knew that Cheryl had access to studios at the Radio City Music Hall and we all wanted to do something. She had this crazy idea, why don’t we ask permission to shut down part of Times Square and just do a dance performance?
Steve Rooks: Lo and behold, she did. She approached the city and we got a permit, and we shut down part of Times Square and an all-day dance concert, which also included dance Masterclasses for the artist that perform, but it was just to love on New York and was done by believer artist and we were able to and dance the art form, just to really love on the city, have workers there that we were able to share the gospel. It was something that went so well that actually they were invited to do it again. It’s been going on nonstop since then, but in addition that, it’s exploded internationally. Now there’s Project Dance Manila, Project Dance Taipei, Project Dance Lima, Calgary, Atlanta. There’s going to be one in Chicago, Costa Rica, and many, Sydney, Australia, and again, with the same premise that the arts, because it’s so transition they can speak to people.
Steve Rooks: I want to speak about the Project Dance in Paris that’s going on. The platform that they perform, it’s the same place where the terrorist bombings occurred. Project Dance is setting up right at the place where there’s so much mourning and weeping for the city. The first one actually happened the summer right after those attacks that happened at Place de la Republique. They’ve continued to go there for every year since then. You’ve looked at videos of it and you see people watching because sophisticated audiences they want to see art, and if they see that they’ll stay to listen. You seem they’re staying for hours. It’s not uncommon to see them lingering in a station just asking the questions and wanting to know more because they see something that’s transcended all of their intellect and their resistance, this is something powerful here. That’s Project Dance
Steve Rooks: This other group, the Culture House, that’s in Kansas City, Missouri. It was started Jeremiah Mona Anna. It started in a small little dance studio and it’s ended up being one of the larger cultural institutions in Kansas City. They’re very, very clear on their mission, their world view of what they do is Christian, but they all with the highest level of dance classes, drama classes, music classes, whatnot and they recently ordered opened up an enormous facility in [Olathe 00:44:07], and they’ve been there for years. They’ve created a work called The Underground, which is the story of Harriet Tubman, and it’s been used as an instrument to bring the whole community together, to bring people aware of our history, but also of the healing that can come to reconciliation. Again, all this from a biblical world view.
Steve Rooks: A number of ballet companies that have come up, some of you are probably familiar with Ballet Magnificat, which is the largest classical ballet company, Christian company in the US expanded by Kathy Thibodeaux, who won the silver medal in one of the international ballet competitions, they’ve been going on for years. There’s other companies as well, Ballet 58 are doing a great work now in the Chicago area. Again, what’s so impressive is they’re getting favor in the community, not so much initially because of the message but because it’s just so good. Ballet [Fabe 00:45:02] has done a version of the Messiah, and recently, the community has allowed them to open a dance center there in the area and it’s they’re growing as is Ecclesia Contemporary Ballet from Killingworth, Connecticut. They just recently performed down a Duke at the Duke School of Divinity. The Link School in Troy, Michigan, which I actually happen to be on the Board of Directors.
Steve Rooks: We’ve been able to join artists to come in and work and to train … competitions in Italy, Youth American Grand Prix. Right now, we’re on the verge of starting what we hope to be the first professional Christian classical ballet company in the Detroit area. I’m sharing all that not to just to celebrate but just to understand that God is moving. There’s a whole underground of people who feel called to the arts, who see the power of it, know the potency of it, and they’re making the decision at a young age. I go to [inaudible 00:46:09] now and teach. There are young, young Christians, 11 years old, who when you talk to them they say, “You know, I really want to grow on this and then I hope to open my own school.” They’re strong in their faith, they’re really connected with the Lord. It’s not just so when because their parents have drugged them. They really, at a young age, are making this decision, and they want to use it as a means of drawing people to Jesus.
Steve Rooks: HB Charles said something this morning, he said it twice and I thought it was particularly compelling. He said, Jesus is willing to cross any barrier necessary to reach the loss away. What I liked, he said it twice and it just really stuck out to me because I think that’s the challenge that we face as artists or even people who want to understand artists, that the notion of how we reach and who we reach has morphed, and we really have to think about being effective. That’s going to mean sometimes big messy things. It’s risky to say, to trust that an orchestra concert or a dance performance can be used as a tool for drawing people to the message of Jesus, but it can be, and we have to be willing to trust that.
What was so nice about the film that we saw last night about Tia’s testimony, if you saw that last night. Discipleship and evangelism is a messy deal. It’s going to mean some mess. It’s going to take some time, it’s going to be uncomfortable, it’s going to involve risk, and we can’t be afraid of that. As artists, for the artist that are here, I wish you all God’s blessings on whatever he’s called you to do and in whatever arenas, and don’t be afraid of it. It may not always look like what it’s look like before because people are, and you usually were there, generally looking for something authentic now.
Steve Rooks: I teach at the Liberal Arts college and they scrutinize my life, as they should, but they want to see something authentic, they want to know if this faith is real. It may take you in areas that you might not ever thought about going at before. One of the ways is that if you’re not really connecting the arts, but a great way to think of doing it is just supporting the artists in your congregations and in your home. You might have kids that they have a dream of being a dancer one day or they want to be a screenwriter. I have one mother talk to me, her son just wants to just be a screenwriter. She’s just “Oh, I don’t know about Hollywood, you know Hollywood”, and I’m like, the rules don’t change, you have to be grounded in the Lord in whatever career you decide to do.
Steve Rooks: I think we’re worried about the risk factor because there’s such as proliferation of darkness in the arts, but we have this opportunity to go and uphold truth, and we can’t be afraid of that and it does involve risk, and it can be messy, but it’s not something that we didn’t necessarily need to back off. I think it might be nice even the next two minutes to have any questions. I don’t know if there’s a lot thrown out there but we we can just ask, yes.
Todd Goranson: I have a cool one. A book that I’ve worked with and I’m pausing for a second because I’m really hoping that the author’s name is going to come to my head, Heart of the Artist.
Steve Rooks: Rory Noland.
Todd Goranson: Thank you. That’s one that I’ve worked through with some students, and I find that it’s both authentic and accessible to use our words there.
Steve Rooks: The other one is actually by Patrick Kavanagh. It’s maybe hard to get, it’s called “You Are Talented” by Patrick. It’s great, actually wrote one of the many endorsements in it. Shameless plug there. It’s a great book because he deals with the whole spectrum of being an artist, not just playing in the New York Philharmonic but someone who’s called to give violin lessons in their basement. It really, I think it’s a great book, a great resource for that. There’s many others but those two, [inaudible 00:50:17] is the one I was going to say.
Todd Goranson: Risk is inherent when you go out in the arts because we deal with sometimes being center stage and so ego can can be an issue but also there are some pretty dark places that you can go in the secular arts, … use and this and that, being grounded with a few friends that’re willing to have the difficult conversations, people who are of faith, I think, for me was key in my younger years having a couple of people who had been in the arts for longer than I was and who are willing to ask questions about, what’s your motivation for this, Todd? What direction are you going in and why? Have you thought about this.
Todd Goranson: Yeah. There are a few people that I probably owe, like the long, belated thank you letters to, for people that could help keep me grounded in my faith in making sure that I wasn’t veering off a particular direction because here’s this great opportunity, but I might be compromising a little bit about what I’m about because there … at least in music, there are lots of opportunities to do that, to I’m going to go play that show because it pays really well, but the subject matter is really iffy. Those are a couple of thoughts.
Steve Rooks: I want to go back to saying that the rules don’t change. I think if you decide to become a lawyer or anything, the necessity of being in fellowship and being in the word, that never changes. I think also, but it’s important as artist is you realize what you’re going into, because I have, I’m going to be honest, I have seen some well-meaning believer say, “I’m going to go here, and I’m going to win this dance studio to the Lord, and then going off. Their heart is right, so I’m not making fun of that, but I don’t think they’re really taking a large picture of the context of our culture now and how imperative it is to be in fellowship.
Steve Rooks: I did like, just counting, I think I did 23 European tours with the company. I was in the studio all the time. I’m very thankful I went to a very strong church and had praying people that were right alongside me, and that [undergirded 00:52:39] me to have that walk. Also, it’s making sure that you’re called to do that, because going and winning a dance studio to the Lord is a great idea if you’re called to do it. Again, I’m not assuming this person was, I’m just saying that it’s really boils down to being in a place where God’s call. Those whom he calls he equips. When you’re in that circumstance, then you really have this vision, make it certain that you’re in the word of God, that you’re in prayer and you’re in fellowship.
Todd Goranson: I think it’s probably the same if you’re an investment banker or anything else. There are a number of stereotypes about everything there. In music theater, it has its own set of stereotypes. I don’t know that we’re going to be able to individually be able to impact the entire world as far as addressing those stereotypes, but how you live and how you walk in Christ can impact the people that are immediately around you who were making those wrong assumptions. We were talking earlier today about when I was in my early 20s and really focusing on as a jazz performer. I saw an article about a man who had been saved from the world of jazz. I’m performing in this medium because I’m rebelling from God, I’m all of these other things, that’s what the perception is of some people there. that perception is bigger than I am as an individual, but how I walk with Christ is something that we have control over. If people are paying close attention, they will see that you’re not a stereotype, they’ll see you for who you are and for what you walk.
Steve Rooks: Always living in who God says you are rather than what other people.
Steve Rooks: Okay. This is going to sound risky. We were doing an outreach in Lima, Peru. This was a Project Dance venue, and I can say this because it’s true. The presenters felt that they wanted just to open up the performance to anyone in the dance community, so that could be the Christian dance group here or could be x, y and z. It was a real broad-spectrum and it was a really risky undertaking, but I’m glad they took the risk even though it was a nailbiter watching them perform. But afterwards, the dancers were so thankful for the opportunity to perform and they were thanking and they said, “Hey!” They were able to have a conversation and say, “Hey, can we pray with you?”
Steve Rooks: You see this group that had just presented, it was pretty from a dark place, but what was redemptive of it was the connections they will make with believers and to get prayer and actually been at least introduced to Christ through that. Again, it was risk, because obviously, there’s a lot of people who want, it catch themself aback. The benefit, I thought, outweighed that risk, ultimately. That’s just one case.
Todd Goranson: You’ve been waiting for a little while to ask a question.
Todd Goranson: Steve’s like, “You take that one, Todd.” You saw the body language? He was almost out the exit right there. I don’t have any empirical data to support this, but I think that, and rightfully so, that the evangelical church has been wary of things that are just all emotion, that are there to entertain and whatnot. The arts have a capability of entertaining, but there’s so much more, there’s so much more there. It is a way of reaching us, impacting us, surprising us, capturing somebody who is sitting there anticipating that they’re going to be bored and all of a sudden they’re captivated.
Todd Goranson: We can find problematic art really easily whether it be visual art, performing art, music. But as to the why, my wife quoted me a few weeks ago on something that I said where they’re talking about just throwing everything out. I, apparently at some point said, “I don’t know, sweetie. There’s a whole lot of baby in that bathwater.” I think that that’s what sometimes happens. We have this gift from God that is sometimes twisted, perverted, marginalized, this or that and so to be safe, we should just probably let this all go. I think if I were going to sum it up all in a nutshell, I think, to an extent, and again, this is a generalization. There are obviously evangelical churches that are really engaged with arts in different, exciting, innovative ways, but I think in general, it’s a baby bathwater thing.
Steve Rooks: We could probably take one more? One more and then we have to close down.
Todd Goranson: I think with churches that are grounded in solid beliefs, they’re not going to change drastically all of a sudden, and I think that that’s a good thing for a lot of reasons. I think that with a church body that is discerning, if they are introduced in baby steps to the value of what the arts can do to impact people within their congregation or without, in meaningful substantive ways that I think that we can change. I don’t think it’s an overnight thing, nor necessarily would it be, but look for opportunities to present something that they haven’t experienced before. I know that sometimes in churches that have contemporary worship, just bringing in a choir to do something chorally for a few minutes, people are astonished, “I liked it. It spoke to my heart. What if we did that several times a year?”
Todd Goranson: Sometimes it’s little things like that where they say, “Wow, this really does have value, but they’ve been missing it from their spiritual diet for so long that they don’t recognize that it’s a value.
Steve Rooks: We got to close down.
Todd Goranson: Okay.
Steve Rooks: We have to close. If any of you want to stay … but thank you so much. You want to close with some prayer?
Todd Goranson: Sure. Lord God, we thank you so much for having this opportunity be in fellowship and just focus on you. We pray that your work will be done through the artists that are here in this room, Lord, and that you will all be discerning and patient and loving and find ways to use the gifts that you’ve given us, and to support others in doing this, so that we can reach people to help bring hearts, lead hearts to you Lord and create disciples, so that we can put on your full armor, Lord, and fulfill the great commission through these gifts that you’ve given us to enrich our lives, Lord, and to worship you. We pray all these things in Jesus name, amen.
Steve Rooks: Thank you very much, guys.