A good friend of mine emailed me he following article, which is located at:
“I confess, I did it.” This confession was so remarkable that every newspaper in the country carried the story of Dan Leach’s confession. Leach had gotten away with the perfect murder. The motive was simple. His girlfriend was pregnant and he wanted no part of it. The Houston coroner had ruled her hanging as a suicide in the absence of any evidence pointing to foul play. In an interview with Associated Press the Houston detective assigned to the case said, “Dan was very, very meticulous. It was very well-planned and well executed.”
What was it that caused him to confess to a sin and a crime that no one could prove he committed? What could possibly be so compelling that a guy would rather tell the truth and face life in prison than continue to live a lie? What was it that caused this spiritual transformation in Leach’s life? The answer—it was art created by a Christian artist that changed Dan R. Leach’s life forever! It wasn’t that he didn’t know the story of Jesus death and resurrection. And it was not that he couldn’t give you the right answer for why Jesus died. It was after Leach experienced Mel Gibson’s artistic vision of the last 12 hours of Christ life on film that he contacted a spiritual advisor and said he wanted to come clean. He then walked into a Houston police station and said, “I confess, I did it”. This is just the most publicized example of how great artists and good art can impact lives for the mission of Jesus; but what I believe is the beginning of things to come.
Here is what the church must not miss—art is the language of experience. Artists were created by God to speak to the hearts of people. In the modern era we needed to take risks on scientists to speak to our heads and give us apologetics with a clear rationale for truth. But in the postmodern era we must now take risks on artists because they are the ones that can speak to our hearts and create the experiences of truth we so crave.
U.S. News & World Report recently conducted a survey and asked people, “What was most important when it came to choosing a church, synagogue, mosque, or temple to attend?” The response was fascinating. By a margin of almost 3 to 1, respondents chose “an individual’s spiritual experience” (69%) over “doctrines and beliefs” (24%) as the most important part of religion. “Spiritual experiences” were chosen over “doctrines and beliefs” by both non-Christians (73%-15%) and Christians (69%-26%). I don’t believe this survey is telling us that doctrines and beliefs aren’t important to people; I believe it is telling us that people come to those beliefs in a different way than they have in the past. People are looking for transcendent and transforming experiences to confirm what the belief.
The church needs the people who are gifted by God to create and facilitate these spiritual experiences—artists! The church needs musicians, vocalists and actors. We need painters, dancers and graphic designers. We need videographers, producers, directors and filmmakers. The church needs artists!
So, how do you attract artists? How do we create church cultures that are attractive to these people who are able to create and facilitate these spiritual experiences?
Artists Need a Risk-Taking Environment
Art by its very nature is about risk-taking. Art is the risk of expressing in song, dance or on canvass what you feel in your heart or hear in your head. And much of the church is still afraid of the risk that comes with the arts. So, we relegate the arts to certain seasons like Easter and Christmas. We curtail their creativity by making sure they deal with only certain stories (again Easter and Christmas). Or we tolerate it from our children or even our teens. Why? Because arts and artists are too risky! What if we make a mistake? What if we cross over the line?
For the last several years at Community Christian Church we have made a shift to what we call, “experiential worship”. Experiential worship is not letting emotions determine truth, but it is allowing people to come to an understanding and an experience of truth through both their head and their heart. Experiential worship is created and facilitated by artists.
Experiential Worship Example #1: One weekend our topic came from the Ten Commandments, “Thou Shall Not Kill.” Our artists made the entire service a full-on murder mystery. They had different participants on stage become suspects for a staged murder. The audience had to pay close attention during the service for clues and then vote who did it at the end. Each suspect had different motives, like speaking really cruelly to the victim, or telling someone else they wish the victim was dead. That whole experience made an excellent set-up for the teaching time on how we can kill with our words and attitudes.
Experiential Worship Example #2: Our artists created a Celtic worship time, complete with giant drums, violin, Irish flute and Irish dancers. We celebrated through this inspiring sequence of music, singing, hand-clapping and finally dancing. After a long period of applause, we returned to finish with the song “We Will Dance,” emphasizing “from every tongue, and tribe and nation, we will join in the song of the Lamb.” The whole sequence was based upon what worship will be like in heaven. It was a risk … but it turned out awesome!
Not all of our worship experiences go that well. There was the one time we had a fire on the stage and it got so out of control that all the smoke nearly suffocated everyone. We have had people leave early and wonder “what in the world was that?” So, yes we have made mistakes and yes we have crossed over the line. Following Jesus is more about taking risks to reach the lost than it is about never making a mistake. These spiritual experiences would never have occurred without artists using their gifts or without an environment that says we are willing to take risks.
Artist Development Must be Intentional
I believe there are two areas of focused development that are absolutely crucial to the future of the church. The first is leadership development and the second is artist development. Why leaders and artists? It is the leaders that will lead your groups and teams of 4-16 people. It is the artists that will lead and facilitate our large group worship and celebration service that will include hundreds and sometimes thousands. So, at Community Christian Church we have been very intentional about the development of artists.
Formal Artist Development
The idea of a School for the Arts came to me several years ago when I heard about a Rock
School sponsored by a local music store. Rock School was designed for the person who once played in the school band or maybe a garage band, but now that you are an adult you don’t have a way to connect with other artists. Once signed up they would take a guitar player and put him with a bass, percussion and a couple vocalists and they would be a band. They named their band and the music store had instructors that worked with them to develop a music set they could perform. At the end of the semester and weekly rehearsals instead of a recital they had a rock concert. The store rented out a small auditorium complete with sound, lights and smoke machines. Everyone invited their family and few friends; and with about 7 or 8 bands they ended up with a crowd of a couple hundred people! Next, they brought in the local cable TV to add some hype for the concert and everyone got to be a rock star for a night! I loved it! I began to imagine what if a church sponsored this and then was able to use the best of these musicians?
I shared this dream with Rachel Carroll and she loved the idea and wanted to be a part of it. So under her leadership a little over three years ago we started the CCC School for the Arts. The School for the Arts now offers lessons for the Bassoon, Clarinet, Flute, Guitar, Oboe, Percussion, Drums Piano, Saxophones, Trumpet and more. You can take Voice, Acting, Painting, Playwriting, Stage Presence, Intro to Photoshop or Web Design and more! The School for the Arts currently has over 300 students and is now self-supporting. We believe so much in this idea that we are building a $2 million facility that will be our Children & Arts Center.
Informal Artist Development
Part of our philosophy at CCC is that we never hire people who are just artists. You may be thinking, “hold it, I’ve just read 1,000 words telling me that our church needs to value artists.” We only hire people who are both leaders and artists, or perhaps a leader with a love for artists. It is these leaders that make sure that we constantly apprenticing or shadowing. Apprenticing and shadowing is our informal artist development process.
At one of our celebration services recently, you would have heard the worship leader say during a transition, “for the next chorus I’m going to have my apprentice Ryan come forward and lead this song”. Then, the person who you thought was singing back up and playing the guitar came forward and lead just one song while the more experienced worship leader backed him up. That kind of experience is invaluable for the developing artist. This kind of shadowing happens with musicians, producers, actors, tech people and more. This highly relational and informal development is crucial for raising up artists.
In the last 6 years Community Christian Church has gone from a one location church with two services and 800 attenders to a multi-site church with six locations, fifteen services and about 4000 attenders. Why are all these people coming to CCC? One reason is that we are willing to risk it on artists who facilitate spiritual experiences where people find their way back to God. And the only way we could provide that many worship experiences every week is our willingness to risk it on artists and being intentional about developing them.
Dave serves as a resource for other churches and leaders seeking to expand through multiple church sites and provides visionary leadership for the NewThing Network (www.newthing.org).