7 Reasons Artists Should Leave the Church | Matt Tommey

Engage Art | Artist to Artist, Faith, In the Know, Reflection & Growth | September 1, 2023

Have you felt it?—… an insular suffocation that leads your heart to say, “I can’t stay in this rut any longer! There must be more for me.”  We all go through these seasons of yearning for a bigger pond to swim in or a new adventure to pursue. What if God is behind this restless discomfort? What if the Holy Spirit is calling you to step out of your comfort zone and into the marketplace with your creativity?  

Artists of faith often feel a lot of pressure to keep their gifts within the church instead of sharing them with the world. Donating your time and artistic contributions in service to the church is a beautiful act of worship. But sometimes, it goes too far. Some leaders even encourage Christian artists to walk away from professional or financial opportunities, to “lay them down” or sacrifice them so the artist can “best serve the Lord.” 
When you look closely at that message, the thinking behind it doesn’t hold up. It’s like saying it’s not godly to get paid for your creative work or that the only way to serve the Lord is within the context of the local church.  
That mindset does not make sense. We serve the Lord whenever we steward the gifts He gives us—not only within the church but everywhere the goodness and beauty of God’s Kingdom can be a blessing. Consider the parable in Matthew 25:

Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone. He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities. He then left on his trip. The servant who received the five bags of silver began to invest the money and earned five more. The servant with two bags of silver also went to work and earned two more. But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money. After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money. The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, “Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.” The master was full of praise. “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!” [. . .] To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away.

Matthew 25:14-21,29

As my friend, the late Jack R. Taylor used to say, “I’m not anti-church, but I am pro-Kingdom.”
Here are seven thoughts I hope will give you the courage to step into the vast, beautiful, freedom-filled place God has made for you within the culture.

7. Institutions Typically Breed Insulation
While every Christian artist needs to be relationally connected to other believers for the spiritual health of themselves and the community, they must resist the temptation to withdraw from culture and thereby lose their voice within that culture.  Involvement in the broader culture informs our worldview and allows authentic relationships to develop. Institutions breed insulation; relationships birth relevance.

 6. Variety Informs Our Art
Artists must continue to fill their hearts and minds with great art, music, writing, life experiences, and beauty. The Holy Spirit draws from this beautiful reservoir within you as everything you’ve seen, heard, felt and experienced becomes raw material from which to create. Are you seeking more creative depth and spontaneity in your art practice? Then seek out more experiences, build your skills, and deepen your connection to your spiritual source. The more an artist enlarges their capacity, the more opportunity they have to create with God.

5. Worship Can Happen Anywhere 
God lives in the spontaneous worship expression of His people—not just in church services. Worship can and should happen everywhere as people offer their hearts and creative expression to God. In that context, all creative expression is an invitation from the artist to God to release His power and presence in and through their art. And the studio becomes a sacred space set apart for co-creating with God. 

4. Called to Go and Tell
As preached and modeled by Jesus, the Gospel of the Kingdom has always been a “go and tell” message, not just “come and see.” Every place artists put their feet—and artwork—they carry the Kingdom. We are transformed as we create in His presence while at the same creating works that carry His transforming presence to the world.

3. Artists are Cultural Prophets 
Artists are prophetic messengers to culture, designed to release the light and life of God in places that need it the most, using a fresh perspective and an artistic language unfettered by traditional religious jargon. God uses artists to challenge, encourage, edify, exhort and even provoke. Remember the old adage, “If good preaching and good singing were going to change the world, it would have already been done.” People everywhere are hungry for an encounter with God, and artists are uniquely equipped to translate the Truth of the Kingdom through creative expression.

2. Build Up the Whole Pond
The local church can often be a valuable space for artistic ministry and spiritual expression of artists. That said, God most likely has a purpose for your gifting that extends beyond the doors of your church into the public square. No single space is intended to be the be-all and end-all as a venue for all your creative gifting. Have you ever heard the adage, “Impression without expression leads to depression?” Believe it! The creative gifting in the Christian artist community can and should bless and build up the church—but its audience is more extensive than that; it’s in the marketplace and culture in general.

1. Receiving Provision Through Design for the Assignment
God wants artists to live sustainably. If He has given you the ability and opportunity to make a living from your passion—what a blessing! Consistent financial provision allows artists more time and freedom to hone their skills and focus on the artmaking journey. Artists of faith who bring their art to the marketplace connect with buyers who will gladly invest in creative expression—as long as the artwork speaks to them. For everyone in the Kingdom, God releases ideas that generate money in the marketplace to create our provision in line with our unique design for our specific assignment. Once you fully embrace who God has created you to be, you can freely pursue all God has created you to do while resting assured He wll provide all you need.

This article was originally published by Matt Tommey in 2020 and is adapted with his permission from https://www.matttommeymentoring.com/. Matt Tommey is an artist, internationally-known Christian speaker, and the author of 7 books who is passionate about helping artists thrive spiritually, artistically, and in business. He is a mentor to artists around the world through his Created to Thrive Artist Mentoring Program and also hosts The Thriving Christian Artist Podcast. Find more resources from Matt at https://www.matttommeymentoring.com/artmentor.

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