How Pastors Can Support Artists in Their Church

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In this video, Thomas Terry, Ryan Lister, and Brett McCracken provide practical advice for discipling artists and creatives in and through the local church.

The following is a lightly edited transcript; please check the video before quoting.

Thomas Terry: I think the first thing that a pastor can do to support an artist is help to instill the right things concerning their identity. I think the artists in their church, the creatives in their church have a really difficult time concerning identity. Their identity is deeply woven into what they create, what they produce, how they perform. It’s embedded with their performance on the stage. And so when they come into the church, oftentimes that performance-based mentality or that affirmation that is dependent on how good they perform just rocks them. And so what we have to do as pastors is help them to see that you are accepted by God, not because of your works, not because of your performance, not because of how good you are, not because of the critique or the acclaim that you’ve received as an artist, but because Christ has died for you. Christ has purchased you. And so you have to move them from their image being inextricably connected to their artistry to the person and work of Jesus Christ. And so that’s the first starting point to help mature the creative in your congregation and support the creative.

The second thing I would suggest is to not exploit the creative gifts of the artist. I think in a lot of ways many creatives feel a tension with the church because they feel like “I’m only useful because I contribute gifts to the congregation.” Of course, this just reaffirms that performance-based mentality which is giving you a very anti-gospel perspective. So what you need to help them do is say, “We find value in you because you are made in the image of God. And we love you and we care for you holistically. We don’t just like you because you’re gifted, we love you because you are a member of our congregation and so we won’t exploit your gifts. We will help you to cultivate your gifts. We will help you submit your gifts under the lordship of Christ. We will help you to learn what it means to use your gifts for the benefit of other people but we will not exploit them for our own advancement to make our churches look cool and hip and, you know, beautiful.We will love you for the person that you are and we will disciple you. We will mentor you. We will give you an appropriate theological framework to think about your gifts and we will not exploit you.”

Brett McCracken: Do you think some pastors might think, In order for me to relate to the artist in my church, I need to become cooler or learn the music they like and dialogue on that level. Is that something that they need to do? Do artists want that from them? What are kind of the misconceptions that pastors might have? If they’re thinking, Man, I have a hard time relating to that artist, what should they do?

Ryan Lister: I think, in reality, artists are the first people to recognize when someone isn’t being genuine. So trying to be something that you aren’t in front of an artist is keeps them at arm’s length. So really there’s already something establishing a relationship between the two of you, if they’re in the church, and that’s where I would push the relationship between pastor and a creative or a pastor and an artist. I would center it around the work of Christ and the gospel in both of your lives. That’s where I would approach them.

Thomas Terry: I think it’s important to recognize that for the creative, relevance is not as important as the pastor thinks it is. Authenticity is the thing that really connects with them. They want honesty. They want you to be you. They want you to embrace them for who they are. So to be relevant, to somehow engage with them would actually do a disservice to you.

For the creative, relevance is not as important as the pastor thinks it is.

Ryan Lister: Yeah, and on that point also, being a pastor doesn’t mean that you have to self-identify as a creative, but it does mean that you should be trying to pursue excellence in all your pastoral work. So one of the things that will attract a creative to seeing you as an ally or someone that they can talk to or someone who will accept your pastoral work is the fact that you are demonstrating, through the work that you do, creativity, wisdom, that you are applying beauty to everything that you’re doing in the church.

Brett McCracken: Yeah, I think and maybe pastors don’t think of themselves as creatives but really, a pastor is a creative. They are communicating complex, you know, realities, theology, through formats that are communication and art and creativity. So that’s a good point relating on the level of wanting to be excellent and how you go about that.

Thomas Terry: Pastors are storytellers telling the most important story, the message of the gospel.

Pastors are storytellers telling the most important story, the message of the gospel.

Ryan Lister: Yeah, and showing you how to enter in. That’s a creative reality. How do you come into this particular story that the Lord has told us?

Brett McCracken: What do you think about discipleship? How does that look uniquely, with the artist? There are some unique challenges that they face in this area. Artists are maybe traveling a lot. If they’re musicians, they’re on the road. Sometimes artists just have different things vying for their attention. What are some unique ways to disciple those folks in your church?

Thomas Terry: Well, I think you have to start with a foundation in terms of your discipleship that says “You are not your art.” And if you help them to find more value in who they are in Jesus and who they are in the church, then you’re going to create a tie between the artist and the church that is really hard to cut off. And so then the artist is going to want to use his gifts and be in the marketplace using his gifts, but he’s not going to want to do that autonomously or independent of the local church. He’s going to feel this tension. I love using my creative gifts to engage with culture, but I love my local church and I feel it when I’m gone. That’s a foundation that has to be established where you have to help them, you have to cultivate in the heart of an artist an affection for the local church, an affection for community under God’s Word so that they long for it, so that they anticipate it and want it when they’re gone. Because if they don’t have that, then it’s really going to be insignificant for them. They’re going to find satisfaction in the pursuit of using their gifts and putting it on display for other people.

Start with a foundation in terms of your discipleship that says “You are not your art.”

Ryan Lister: Also, we should work to create practical accountability structures, accountability structures that aren’t built out of legalism and keeping you from using your gifts inappropriately but built out of love and pastoral care for the artists in your church. And not only just doing that at a pastoral level, but teaching them to find people in the church that can also come alongside them that can hold them accountable, that can even go with them from time to time, and those who are still home with the families of the artists, supporting them too.