Does Your Plant See Art as Mission?

How do we shine light into a culture that’s often so dark?

Plant See Art as Mission

Music and art have been near to my heart for years. I think this is partially because I used to play in a band and teach at a music store. While I know I am not alone, my list of channels on Pandora includes some of the most unusual and eclectic material. A fun day for me is to visit the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Kentucky, travel the blues highway in Mississippi or walk slowly through the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York. I like to read musicians’ biographies and art history. And I spend a good deal of time watching guitarists (mainly instrumental) on YouTube. Such are my interests.

Any believer is quick to recognize that the world of music and the arts (in all of her expressions) is a very dark place. This is nothing new. Evangelicals have known this reality for a long time. And we also know this dark place has great influence across the nations.

Yet, in view of such knowledge, I have been troubled at the church’s response to this world. While there are a few examples of healthy engagement, much of the last 60 years could be summarized as:

  1. If you are a believer, then express your art in a Christan venue to other believers (and the few unbelievers present).
  2. If you are a musician (who is a believer), then we will encourage and support you if you produce music for worship gatherings and Christian radio stations.

Now, there is most definitely an important place for the believer to practice his or her art in a Christian venue. I am very thankful for praise and worship music, Christian record labels, and Christian radio. Several of our members write and record some of the music we sing on Sundays. I strongly encourage this use of gifts and talents for building up the Body.

But why is the Christian context the expectation for believers in the arts? Do we expect teachers to teach in a Christian school? Do we expect mechanics to practice in a Christian garage? Do we expect librarians to work in Christian libraries? Doctors in Christian hospitals? Astronomers in Christian universities? Politicians in Christian governments?

I recently had the honor of meeting some professional artists who were swimming against the tides—the tide of the unbelieving culture and the tide of the church culture. You see, these artists were intentionally placing themselves and their art in the unbelieving world as a vocation and platform for the gospel. One was a ballerina in a ballet company. The other was an independent hardcore band. They loved Jesus. They saw themselves on mission with His Spirit. They were intentional about being in non-Christian venues. They were making a Kingdom impact in the kingdom of darkness.

If we know such a world is so dark, then we know the light of the gospel is absolutely needed there. It is time we cast vision, equip, encourage and provide accountability for artists in our churches to leave the gospel ghetto and go to the highways and hedges.

What if our expectations shift from sending our artists deeper into the Christian subculture to sending them to the lost world? What if the exception becomes: Christian artists should primarily express themselves in Christian contexts.

JD Payne
J. D. serves as the pastor of church multiplication with The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. He has pastored churches in Kentucky and Indiana, and served for a decade with the North American Mission Board and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of several books on the topics of evangelism and missions.