Art as Ministry?

Note to readers: Due to outside work constraints I’m going to be publishing blogs at a different rate this summer. I’ll keep writing posts and I’ll keep posting them on various social media, but I’ll be writing a blog every other week instead of every week from June 1st until September 1st, 2016.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled program… 

Is art like ministry?

That’s a difficult question. On the one hand, sometimes seeing art as ministry makes you so concerned about the message you can’t make truly good art – you get badly written novels with good messages, mediocre worship music, not to mention the notorious Christian film industry. But I’d like to argue that art is a little like ministry, they’re both vehicles individuals can use to influence people.

As I’ve struggled to find my place is as an “artist” (i.e. a writer) who’s also a Christian, one idea from ministry work has really helped me. I attended a Youth With A Mission training school last year where I listened to a lecture by a missionary named Graeme Hackworth, who worked in India for over twenty years and teaches at YWAM schools all over the world. Graeme argued that there are two basic types of discipleship, with some differences in how they are carried out. Based on Graeme’s teaching and my own experience, this is my explanation of the two types:

Type 1 – Outreach: telling people who are not Christians about becoming Christians

Type 2 – Mentoring: helping existing Christians become better Christians.

Both kinds of discipleship are necessary, and they often mesh – most Christians will do some of both in their lifetimes. But once you get into full-time ministry, you discover the environments you work in with each type is different and what works in one doesn’t necessarily work in the other.

First off, mentoring usually has faster results. If you’re practicing Type 2 ministry, you’re working as a pastor, a counselor, a position where you help people who are already Christians deal with their struggles. Jesus described hearing the Gospel as having seeds planted in you (Matthew 13) – in mentoring, those seeds have planted, sprouted, and you just have to tend the plant. Consequently, mentoring tends to bring results which look really good on paper.

If you’re practicing Type 1 ministry on the other hand, you’re working with non-Christians who probably don’t understand the Gospel, and showing them why and how to become Christians. You are planting and watering the seeds, then waiting for those seeds to sprout. Which can take a while. You’re going for long-term changes, ones which may not happen for decades.

My mother, who has been a missionary longer than I’ve been alive, commented once that she’s rarely met with people and immediately showed them how to accept Jesus. She has met a lot of people who she helped understand a spiritual concept better and they became Christians later – or who she showed how to accept Jesus after other people had explained the Gospel to them.

Secondly, many people in outreach work have to be bi-vocational. Some countries which really need the Gospel – ones with anti-Christian governments or large non-Christian populations – don’t issue missionary visas. So, if you want to go there you need to have a second profession (teaching, trade work) to use as a conduit to reach people.

Even if you aren’t doing outreach work in a hostile country, secondary jobs just make it easier to meet and reach non-Christians. After training at the YWAM base where I met Graeme, I spent two months helping missionaries in Mongolia – a former Soviet satellite country which didn’t have any Christians thirty years ago. I noticed that almost every missionary we worked with had some kind of job (tree farming, running a foster home, owning a business) which gave them a space to meet non-Christians on a regular basis.

My father does missions work with the U.S. military and he’s been able to enter and leave U.S. army and airbases with no problems for years. Still, several years ago he joined the Army Reserves and gained a platform to reach people he couldn’t before.

Finally, people in outreach work don’t get to be as stringent about how much sin they experience around them. I don’t mean to suggest that mentors are more sheltered, because obviously that isn’t true. But when you’re in mentoring, there’s a certain dynamic in play: people are coming to you for help. All kinds of Christians come to pastors for help, but even the most broken believers understand that it’s not proper to curse or make sex jokes around a pastor. When you’re in outreach work you have the reverse dynamic: people don’t come to you, you go to them. This means going to the places they frequent, tolerating their non-Christian values and behavior, and trying to empathize with their struggles even if you don’t agree with them. I’ve talked with and listened to stories about missionaries who work with Tibetan Buddhists, occultists, and homeless drug addicts; they have to put themselves in situations most of us would find uncomfortable on a regular basis.

About now some of you are probably thinking, “Well that’s interesting – what does this have to do with art?” I think this has a lot to do with art, because this gives us a whole new way of looking at Christian artists.

Some Christian artists make art that encourages Christians to be better followers – authors who write Christian fiction (Francine Rivers) and musicians who write worship music (Steven Curtis Chapman). This is kind of art is mentoring.

Other Christian artists make art for secular audiences but the work has spiritual themes – authors who write mainstream novels which have spiritual themes (Dean Koontz) or musicians whose music communicates spiritual ideas to secular people (Bono). This kind of art is outreach.

Both of these kinds of art are vital, and if we don’t value them both we are missing half the story. More than that, we’re missing half of the mandate Jesus gave us to reach the lost.

Sources:

The Holy Bible, New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005. Print.

Cover image source:

https://www.colourbox.de/bild/3d-zeichnung-kleine-menschen-mit-einer-staffelei-farben-und-pinsel-bild-2649600

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