“Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!” (Psalm 150:1–6 ESV).
In the totality of man (body, soul, and spirit) praise is perfected. To simply approach acts of praise as an expression of the spirit of man alone is denying the believer the experience of entering fully into the presence of God. Remembering that we are created in His likeness will propel us into expressions of praise utilizing the whole man.
Being in His image and likeness confirms the creative character of God residing inside the follower of Christ. God created all the beauty of the heavens and the earth. Diversity, ingenuity, and beauty express themselves in the uniqueness of nature. In the same way God created each individual with gifts and abilities that further enhance creation. These gifts are revealed through the fine arts, dance, literature, art, and music, to name a few.
When surveying God’s will for the church, we should consider how well we allow diversity to thrust us into deeper devotion, worship, and spiritual growth. Are the arts being utilized within the realm of our individual church ministries?
It is important to understand why the arts are not emphasized in our churches as effectively as they should be. Culprits include, but are not limited to, the change in church culture over the centuries and the current trends in our society toward education and individuality. In the early worship practices of the church world, the arts were paramount in revealing the creativity of God. This fact is revealed by the wonderful art works of famous paintings created by artists like Picasso and Michelangelo. Not to mention the melodies and harmonies revealed in musical compositions created by the likes of Beethoven and Bach. These works were created to bring a sense of God’s presence into the hearts of listeners. Hymns of the faith further reveal the majesty of God as multitudes have sung His praises throughout church history.
In looking at our Jewish heritage, the heritage of our Lord, we see vibrant dance and creative physical interpretation of song and Scripture. Additionally, we see the handiwork of God through inspired writings and literature, poetry, and prose. These are just portions of the beauty of creativity inside the individuals encouraged to express their godly devotion. Is this creativity being encouraged in our people? It should be!
Perhaps the reason the church has not emphasized these gifts is because secular culture took the proverbial reigns. Dance, art, literature, and other creative gifts have, up until now, been taught in schools. For those of us 40 years old and older, we recall music, art, and drama as important parts of our educational experience. But trends have changed. Standardization has replaced individuality as marks of successful learning. Basic education is crucial, but it need not be mutually exclusive from fine arts programs.
“Sufficient data exists to overwhelmingly support the belief that study and participation in the fine arts is a key component in improving learning throughout all academic areas. Evidence of its effectiveness in reducing student dropout, raising student attendance, developing better team players, fostering a love for learning, improving greater student dignity, enhancing student creativity, and producing a more prepared citizen for the workplace for tomorrow can be found documented in studies held in many varied settings, from school campuses, to corporate America”(http://www.katyisd.org/finearts/Pages/importance.aspx).
However, this move toward standardization has diminished the role of fine arts in today’s classrooms for a major portion of American schools. Funding is based on academic performance and leaves very little for artistic mastery. This is our chance! The church can serve to promote individual gifts in our people. This can be realized primarily through mentoring. Your local church has individuals that excel in specific gifts (e.g., woodwork, painting, music, drama, culinary arts). Think of the impact our local churches can have, not only on our own congregations, but the entire culture as we help develop the gifts in our youth. This investment would transcend our walls and stretch into the future.
Let’s take back the arts. Ministries geared toward interpretive worship (dance, sign language, and fluid movement) are not only beautiful and create an environment of worship, but also provide an outlet for individual gifts to be expressed, thus revealing the character of our creative God within our services. Drama is a powerful expression that should not be limited to Easter or Christmas. There are gifted musicians and song writers just waiting for the green light to put their devotion on a music staff or in the words of praise put to music. And the possibilities are endless. Opportunity is key. Recognize these gifts and release those gifted to worship Christ through this medium. Provide a system of ministry that will promote these worship expressions.
When our communities learn of our dedication to the creativity in our members, they will come. Artistic people are looking for outlets to show their gifts and talents. Let the church be that outlet. This will mean releasing antiquated ideas of what is orderly or acceptable. It will require that we grow in our discernment. Leaders and mentors must strive to allow others to excel beyond our own abilities. Think outside the box and let the church be the conduit for gifted people.