Tag Archives: Gospel

The Idol of Perfection in Worship Arts

Worship-Leading-630x419Every Artist and Creative must struggle with the tension between perfection and process!

Perfection,

  • the creative moments in worship where music and text fit together and connect with the worshippers;
  • the times when playing music flows from the heart and its more than notes and verse;
  • when everything falls into place.

Process,

  • when you realize that you have just sung through an entire set of music,
  • including readings and prayers to find that you have been thinking about something else entirely;
  • those times where frustration over the people you work with sours the whole experience of music;
  • that time when that worship service you plan gets pushed aside for another idea that you really think is void of all creativity.

I don’t know about you but I’ve been realizing that most of my time as a worship leader is process.  I have been thinking about the times when I pursue a different goal than Jesus. My commitment isn’t to the team of people God has given me to work with but rather I pursue ways to get my own needs met!   When I consider how often I struggle for approval from others, looking for value in my work, or seeking security and safety through doing a great job I see how often I try to get these needs met in my job and thru people rather than learning that my needs are ultimately met by Christ.  I have acceptance, value and security because of what He thinks of me and what he has done for me.

Developing a Team approach to Worship Arts is important for the worship leader as it directly addresses our tendency to hold all the responsibility for worship on our shoulders.  When I realize that I am better when I have a team, I am then able to see the process of creating and producing worship services as the result of what we do together.  I no longer take criticism as a personal affront but approach feedback as a way to help us work better together.

Perfection is something I see as an idol connected to my need for acceptance. Instead of seeking acceptance from my performance, I see that Jesus and He alone is the perfection I need.  In his perfect life and obedience to His heavenly father, he gained merit that I can’t attain.  For perfection is needed to be able to live in harmony with God.  I also can’t make up for my mistakes before God.  Just as a note played can never be recovered, my sinful worship, my love of self, my obsession with approval with others shows me my heart loves those things more than I love God.  That is sin.

So by realizing that Jesus lived a life of perfection and is perfectly accepted by His Father, never sinning and perfectly doing everything right I see the answer.

When I become a Christian by embracing the message of the gospel, I find that Jesus Himself died so I would not be punished for my sin.  He also lived perfectly so I would not have to do everything perfectly to have credit and acceptance before God.  The gospel not only frees me from punishment of sin, but I also am freely given all of Jesus goodness.  So as I am “In Christ” I am not only forgiven I am blessed! The father looks at me now and sees my work, and sees it as a father looks toward his son.  He can say “good job, lets work on that, and maybe you can try it like this.”

By believing these two things and living by faith each moment, I can stay in the process! I can leave perfection to Jesus.  To allow myself and others room to fail.  To offer forgiveness to myself and to others by the same grace I get from Jesus and my Father!

Maybe this will help you as you continue on the journey!

Buddy

 

Holding on to Hope

Hope is sometimes hard to hold onto in this life.  It isn’t always an easy process.  There have been seasons where I have tried to write our my feelings in a song but have been at a loss for lyrics.  The situation I was in was so complex that it was hard to express in words.  At those times I have found that the music itself was a better medium for my heart than lyrics.  I think that my creativity is sometimes directly tied to hope.

Hope

So if my ability to create is so connected to hope what is my hope tied to? I’m realizing that my ability to look at the world with hope is directly related to how I view my relationship with God and His purposes for my life.  Many in my circles talk about “preaching the gospel to yourself.”

That might seem a strange place to begin when creating art (for me music and lyrics).  But the truth found in the “gospel” can provide clarity and perspective.

Understanding that God has chosen to pursue me in love is the beginning of hope. For when I was “dead” spiritually He loved me.  In Jesus death He has freed me from the penalty of sin and and given me freedom in Jesus’ resurrection. Not only that but as a Father he has adopted me as a son, and now I am no longer a  slave to sin.  This is the gospel message I have learned to preach to my heart.

A lack of hope in my life leads to self doubt, pessimism, and powerlessness. In the moment I forget the gospel these issues begin to surface.  It is actually the gospel that is the cure for these Hope killers!

The cure for Self Doubt

When I doubt if I have anything to offer and words on a blog like this seem to be lame, I remember that I am no longer a slave to sin but a “son” of God.  I am loved dearly because Jesus was willing to die for my selfish heart.  I no longer have to doubt my worth because it is no longer defined in what I think of me.  What matters is what God thinks of me!

The cure for Pessimism

When I begin to think that nothing matters, nothing will ever work out, I’m going no where, the gospel message brings me back to another truth, God saved me for a purpose!  He has brought me out of darkness to light.  He has revealed that I was re-created to serve and love Him. I have been re-created and am being renewed to be part of something bigger than me, that He is in charge of! I no longer have to worry and be a pessimist.  God is in control.

The Cure for Powerlessness

Instead of feeling powerless the gospel changes the way I pursue my work and calling.  For where I might have looked for strength in my ability and self will, I remember that once I was powerless.  I had power in my self but not the kind of power that comes from God’s Holy Spirit dwelling in me.

When I wonder what this looks like, I begin to think of the disciples hiding out after Jesus had died.  They were pessimistic, they were powerless and had plenty of self-doubt.  But Jesus appears in front of them having first risen from the dead and shown Himself to two women at the tomb.   Soon the Holy Spirit would come and fill them with power to do His will.  They would preach and see 1000s of people turn in faith to the true Messiah Jesus.

For the first time they have Hope and it came in the good news that Jesus has overcome and not has given them purpose and a calling.  What they would do as followers of Christ would have eternal impact.

So What?

So what does this mean for my creative work?  The gospel gives me perspective that changes the way I look at everything!  Hope doesn’t come from my experiences, but rather hope comes from understanding what Jesus has done for me and what Jesus is calling me to be for Him.

When I remind myself of the truths of the gospel, I have real hope.  I have a storehouse of resources for communicating about my life, the world, my relationship with God and others and taking these ideas and creating music and lyrics.

So how do you deal with a lack of Hope in your life? How does it hinder your creativity?  How might understanding the gospel help you have true Hope?

If you are interested in learning more about how the gospel changes everything, consider reading Putting Amazing Back into Grace by Dr. Michael Horton, (the first chapter is here in pdf and you can order the book online)http://www.whitehorseinn.org/putting-amazing-back-into-grace.html

This WDA Pocket Principle is also helpful in reminding us of our Security in Christ. http://www.disciplebuilding.org/2013/05/31/security-in-christ-wda-pocket-principle/

 

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