Category Archives: Leaders

Second Things Second

I frequently hear questions like these: “In the big scheme of things, are the arts really all that important? If I really want to help people, shouldn’t I become a missionary or pastor or doctor or firefighter, rather than a dancer?”

“What difference do a few paintings make in a world threatened with starvation, injustice, and eternity separated from God? Maybe if a play shares the gospel it can be an evangelistic tool, but isn’t a musical comedy a gigantic waste? Aren’t there better ways for me to spend my time, or my church’s money, than on the arts?”

These are good questions, and they’ve been asked by many people, in the arts or about the arts, particularly as it comes to how we use our resources (money, time, and energy). And they’re not just asked by Christians. Arts organizations that are competing with social services for grants ask themselves every day, “Is making art in an affluent city for affluent people really more important than building housing for AIDS orphans in Africa? Than feeding the survivors of natural disaster or war? Than rescuing people out of sexual slavery?”

Christians have the added question of “Is what I’m doing really more important than saving souls?”

My answer? No. It isn’t more important, if survival – both physical and spiritual, through a saving relationship with Christ – is what the arts are “competing” with.

But is it a competition? Is survival our only aim and anything that doesn’t contribute to it is inconsequential? Or is there a role for the arts in our world that is vital – life-giving – and justifies investment?

Three questions come up in this dilemma:

  • Are we all supposed to be focusing all of our resources on survival needs?
  • Do we have the capability to meet these needs?
  • What happens after we’ve met survival needs?

Are we all supposed to be focusing all of our resources (money, time, and energy) on survival needs?

If the answer to this question is “yes,” it seems to discount the individual gifting, calling, and opportunities we receive from God.

Certainly we are all supposed to be focusing at least some of our resources on the physical and spiritual survival of others. Scripture tells us to serve those in need, give generously, and share our faith – no exceptions. If I walked into a town full of starving people, and had the capability to give them food, but instead said “Now I’m going to perform for you a dance about food,” that would be irresponsible.

We artists need to push ourselves to serve others’ physical and spiritual needs, outside of and in addition to our preferred art-making practice. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard artists say, “My art is my ministry,” as though simply showing up in the studio every day met their obligation to the human race, and to God.

Yet “we have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us” (Romans 12:6). My friend Molly has the gifting, calling, and opportunity to give financially above and beyond the capability of many others. Molly believes God has pulled her out of art-making for a season, to work a well-paying job so that she can give to others in ways that would make a real impact on their ministries.

Molly gives naturally. It’s who she is. If I decided Molly’s way was the only way I could serve God and humanity, and I tried to emulate her – without the benefit of what God has given Molly – it would be an awkward fit, at best. At worst, it would keep me from serving God in the way he uniquely constructed and called me to do.

God is sovereign. We have to assume that how he made us, where he put us, and what he’s given us to work with all add up to a vital and empowered role for us, to work alongside him in his kingdom.

And we need to help meet survival needs in whatever ways we can, whenever we’re needed. This will require sacrifice. It won’t be easy to do both.

Do we have the capability to meet these needs?

Some of that capability may, again, be in the areas of gifting and opportunity. Or it may simply be in what we have in our hands at the moment the need arises.

If I have no food to give when I walk into the starving town, but do have a dance about food, then dancing is what I can do for the people there. And, perhaps, after I’m finished dancing, I can help the people look for food. Or, perhaps, the dance will help the people think differently about their need for food, or help them creatively meet that need in some other way. Or it might just give them a few moments of joy, and a reminder that beauty – and therefore hope – still exists even within their desperate need for food.

Again, God is sovereign. If the person he sends into the starving town is someone with a dance to give, but no food, God has a reason for that.

What happens after we’ve met survival needs?

If I walk into the starving town, and I have both food and a dance to give, certainly I should start by giving the food to the people. First things first.

Then what happens? Second things second. I dance.

Once the most urgent physical and spiritual survival needs are met, all efforts after that are Second Things. And Second Things are important, too. Second Things are the things we’re living for.

If I had both food and dance to give a starving town, and didn’t give them the food, it would be irresponsible. If I had both food and dance, and didn’t give them dance, it would be unloving.

When a mother sees that her child’s survival needs are met, what’s the Second Thing the mother wants? She wants her child to thrive. To make friends, to be content, to get an education, to look forward to the future.

When we share our faith, we want to give someone access to eternity through salvation, and give him a vision for what that eternity will be like so that, between access and entry, he can live differently with eternity in mind.

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?” (Luke 11:11)
“You prepare a banquet for me, where all my enemies can see me; you welcome me as an honored guest and fill my cup to the brim.“ (Psalm 23:5)
Fish = First Things
Banquet = Second Things

Second Things are a preview of the paradise that is to come.

Most often, in less extreme situations than my starving town, First and Second Things are co-laboring in a duet entwining life (vita) and vitality. Sometimes a dance is needed more than a sandwich.

God created the world and humankind, and shared with us the task of cultivating his creation, and using it as raw material for creations of our own – of making it thrive and thriving within it. Then sin put our very survival at risk. What was the simple and easy reality of creation, completed by God, is now the complex and difficult reality of survival, requiring our daily effort. And yet our “cultivator” role hasn’t changed. We must be – survive – in order to cultivate and create. Yet cultivate and create is what we were designed by God to do.

And second isn’t a bad place to be. Just ask a silver medalist. So if we feel diminished, unimportant, because we’re not “first,” perhaps we need to ask ourselves what (and who) that’s about. Instead, as Second Things workers, let’s delight in our role as servants of God’s original purpose for humankind, and cultivators of one another’s thriving. In our church ministries, we shouldn’t have to choose between First and Second Things. The blessings of God are abundant enough for both!

So, yes, if you really want to help people, become a missionary or pastor or doctor or firefighter. Or become a dancer or sculptor or accountant or waiter or whatever God has created and called you to do. We all need each other.

Editorial Note: This Article was reposted with permission of the author and this an other articles can be found at Church and Art Network.

luann jenningsLuann Purcell Jennings is the founder and director of Church and Art Network. She is a veteran of more than twenty years of arts leadership, as a theatre director, administrator, and instructor; and in full-time church ministry, including six years running the Arts Ministry of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (NYC). Luann has studied arts leadership at New York University, Columbia University, Lincoln Center Institute, National Arts Strategies, and University of Tennessee (MFA).

An Interview with Luann Jennings Church & Art Network

In preparation for our upcoming workshop I was able to interview Luann Jennings of the Churchluann_jennings & Art Network.

How did you get interested in the connection between faith and a career in the arts?

It was the very first thing I thought about when I started to understand what Christianity was all about, because being an artist was my primary identity then. I wasn’t ready to give that up. I had already been working for several years as a theatre director in Atlanta, when I first heard the Gospel in a way that started to make sense to me. I had “hit bottom,” emotionally and spiritually, and realized that nothing I did or tried or ran after made my life feel meaningful. My life was all about me – and I knew me, so I knew that some terrible disconnect was going on there. There had to be something better than a life built around someone so flawed.

I stumbled accidentally into a Bible-teaching church, Intown Community Church in northeast Atlanta. That’s a funny story in itself, which I won’t go on a rabbit trail to tell now. But after listening in church for a few months, getting to know some people there, and attending a seeker-friendly Bible study, I found myself nearly ready to profess faith in Christ. I met with my pastor (Bob Cargo) and asked him, “If I do this [become a Christian], will I still be able to direct the plays of David Mamet?” Mamet is known for the poetic genius and ear-blistering quantity of profanity in his plays – and I had recently had some success directing two of them. So I was already wrestling with two of the biggest questions that artists who are Christians face: What am I “allowed” to do? And, will I have to give up any hope of worldly success? My pastor replied, “Well, I don’t know who David Mamet is, but you’re just going to have to take it on a case-by-case basis.” That was the very best advice I could have been given then, and I’ve repeated it to others many times (without the David Mamet part). I got to hear early on that there’s not a one-size-fits-all, or a one-situation-fits-all, way to be a Christian in the arts.

Thank goodness, no one ever told me that it wasn’t okay to be a Christian in the arts. Frankly, if anyone had, I don’t know if I would have ever put my faith in Christ. Why would I want a Savior who wouldn’t want a theatre director? And why would I want a Creator who wouldn’t want my creativity? I didn’t discover until years later that many, many artists had been made to feel that they had to choose between their faith and their creative gifts. A lot of them landed in New York City, far from God. I got to hear their stories as God drew them back to himself through telling them a different story about the value of their art to him.

How did you end up in New York City? 

God brought me here, although I didn’t realize that at the time, of course. I thought – as I tend to do – that I was making a decision that would be good for my life. I’d been working a “day job” in the worship and music department at Intown Community Church for seven years at that point, and had started my own theatre company on the side, FirstStage. We’d produced thirteen shows in four years, and we were tired. Plus, the two people I’d started the company with, Jen and Mike Tamborello, were expecting their first child, so we decided it was a good time to take a year’s break from the theatre.

I came up with a great plan to permanently get out of that church ministry day job and work full-time in theatre by opening my own acting studio. So I enrolled in a nine-month program in New York City to learn an acting technique that I planned to come back to Atlanta and teach. I had absolutely no intention of staying in the one place I swore I’d never live. Well, what God had planned for me was (1) marriage, to – I kid you not – the first single man I met here and (2) a continued life in ministry, in NYC. But I didn’t know either of those yet. Through networking, I got a day job working at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, in their worship and music department, while I took my acting class on nights and weekends.

Around the same time, Redeemer was founding an innovative new ministry department, the Center for Faith and Work. Their pastor, Tim Keller, had long realized that people who came to NYC to “make it” in their professions often struggled with integrating their faith with their work – basically, with understanding the real meaning of “vocation,” or calling. I knew that CFW’s new every_good_endeavor_sm2_thumbdirector, Katherine Leary, was interested in creating programs for artists, but wasn’t an artist herself. So I approached her, and became the second staff member of CFW. And Redeemer’s Arts Ministry was born. Redeemer had programs for musicians through its music ministry, had programs for musicians through its music ministry, but nothing for visual artists, dancers, writers, filmmakers, etc. So that’s what I did for six years. I like to claim that Tim Keller’s new book, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work is dedicated to me. Really, it’s dedicated to the staff of CFW, which I still consider myself (historically) part of.

Why did you leave Redeemer and start Church and Art Network?

Once again, God brought me here. During my time at Redeemer, I became very interested in professional development for artists – an emerging field often called arts entrepreneurship and leadership. Whereas great books, sermons, organizations, and other resources were out there to help artists think well about their work theologically; no one was really helping artists incorporate their faith into the practicalities of being a working artist.

I’ve seen so many talented artists get discouraged and quit, when a few new skills and some adjusted expectations might have given them the tools they needed to continue on. If our work as Christians, in this world, is to build God’s Kingdom and “renew culture,” then culture is not served by artists who aren’t working.

It doesn’t sound terribly spiritual – or terribly artsy – to talk about economics and marketing and business strategy. But they are “the law of gravity” in the arts (if you want to know what that means, come to the workshop). If a bunch of Christians got together to build a bridge, we wouldn’t expect to just know what it was we were supposed to do, or expect that God would wave his wand and make it all miraculously work out well. If the bridge collapsed, no one would say, “Well, I guess it just wasn’t God’s will for a bridge to be there.” Yet that’s how many of us artists have approached our creative work – we haven’t done our homework then blamed God when it didn’t work out. Or, we’ve refused to participate in the ways of the larger marketplace and have created our own Christian arts subculture, which might be okay unless we want our work to have impact outside of our own community of Christian believers.

cropped-blog-header2So that’s what I’m working on now, and what I started Church and Art Network to help do. C&A’s mission is to “engage the church with communities through the arts, and engage the church with the arts through arts leaders” – and through arts entrepreneurs. I consider entrepreneurs to be leaders, too (again, come to the workshop to learn more). It’s exciting to be thinking and talking about something so new, and I love sharing it with others and sending them out with new tools to use in their Kingdom work.

But the most important question is: Do you miss Atlanta?

I sure do. Especially on days like today when I look out my window at snow on the ground. I’m really excited to be there in March and see dogwoods! And do you know what these people charge here for barbecue? It’s criminal.

If this has spurred you interest in learning more about the Arts and Faith, I encourage you to join us at the Art Talk and Artist Workshop at St Paul’s Presbyterian Church.  More information about this event is found on our previous blog. Atlanta Arts Network Presents: Art Talk and Workshop March 15-16