Why Artists Need the Church (Part One)

Why Artists Need the Church (Part One)

This is a guest post by Mark Altrogge. Mark is a pastor at Saving Grace Church in Indiana, PA.

My wife Kristi and I found ourselves on a Caribbean cruise she’d won in a contest on the Pittsburgh Christian TV network. The cruise featured Christian bands doing concerts every evening. Well-known Christian musicians were everywhere during the day – on deck, in the restaurant, at the pool, most of them hanging out together and having little to do with ordinary folk. I didn’t blame them though. I figured they needed a break from having to talk to fans all the time.

The ship made stops at island destinations along the way and passengers boarded small tour buses to see the local sights. In San Juan, Kristi and I were assigned to a bus with about 8 musicians and a band manager. Sadly, they didn’t have much interest in talking to us but my wife was able to engage one of the young women in conversation. At one point Kristi asked what church they were a part of, to which she replied, “We don’t go to a church. The band is our church.”

It wasn’t the time to explore what the young lady meant by her statement. But I’ve thought about it over the years. I think it reveals an attitude many artists have – they don’t really need the church.

I’m not sure where this attitude comes from. Maybe it’s because much of the time creating things is a solo pursuit. Sure, plays and symphonies, movies, are performed by groups, but it was a Shakespeare or Tennessee Williams who wrote the play or a Beethoven who wrote the symphony. Van Gogh painted alone in the fields. Michelangelo had no one with him atop the scaffolding as he painted the Sistine Chapel for 4 years. One source said that he wrote to his father, “I have no friends and don’t want any.”

My wife has said she believes I could be happy living alone on a desert island because I’d fill my time painting and writing songs, to which I reply, “Who’d cook for me?”. She never laughs at this as loud as I do.

Artists tend to be independent. I’ll paint whatever I like, thank you, and I don’t really have to answer to anyone. I’ve got my own style. And bands are often on the road a lot which makes it difficult to tie into a church. “The band is our church.”

But artists need the church. Just like plumbers, athletes, bankers, chefs, teachers and farmers. I may not need the church to tell me how to mix Pthalo Blue and Titanium White. But I need the church to better know and love Jesus, so the word of Christ can dwell in me richly as my brothers and sisters teach and admonish one another singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs together (Col. 3:16). I need the church to teach and show me true beauty. I need the church to help me keep my work from becoming an idol.

Here are a few thoughts from a pastor, painter, and songwriter on why us artists need the church. (More to come in the next post).

Artists need pastors to teach them and model Christ for them.

“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Tim. 5:17).

“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:1-3).

Just like all Christians, artists need pastors to preach and teach God’s word to them. We need pastors who will care for our souls. Pastors who can set examples for us in how to trust God’s word, endure, obey, be humble, love others, and so much more.

Artists need to be encouraged and to encourage others

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:12-13).

We need brothers and sisters to exhort and protect us. To help us fight unbelief and the hardening deceitfulness of sin. Once in my early days as a Christian, I dropped out of the Bible study I’d been going to with my friends. Until they all sat me down and lovingly confronted me. “Mark, why aren’t you coming to the Bible study?” “I don’t like the new teacher’s style I said. I liked the previous guy better.” My friends told me I needed the teaching even if I didn’t care for the delivery. They were right. I returned, came to appreciate the teacher, and greatly benefitted from his teaching. I needed friends to exhort me.

Artists need fellowship with people who are not like them

It’s so easy to want to hang out with people who are like us. Others who share our love of abstract art or jazz or acting. But we need to learn to love those who are not like us. To love bankers and biologists. To love those with different interests. We really need to learn to love other sinners like ourselves. To love those who sin against us. To love the weak, the immature.

“Therefore welcome [or, accept] one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7).

In college I only hung out with my fellow art majors or the guys in my rock band. I was essentially surrounded by people just like me. When I became a Christian got thrust me into the midst of a church of people who were much different than me. What was especially different was that I began hanging out with older Christians, as well as people my own age. And these older believers accepted me – though I had a beard and long hair and usually wore a black t-shirt and jeans to the prayer and praise meeting Sunday nights.

I’m so grateful for the diversity in our church. Blue collar, white collar, college students, old folks (hey, now I is one!) – well, “older” folks. We’ve got farmers, administrators, homemakers, and filmmakers in our church. I love it! My life is so much richer to be in fellowship with others not like me.

Artists need to look to the interests of others

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).

The arts provide a huge temptation to do things from selfish ambition and conceit. We can crave the attention and admiration of others. Before Jesus saved me, I only wanted to promote myself and my work. But in the church we are called to be humble and consider others more important than ourselves. We’re in a place we can look to the interests of others. We’re called to promote others, bless others, rejoice with others, weep with others.

All believers in Jesus need the church, including artists. We may think we’re just fine in our studios and circles of artistic friends. But Jesus has designed us to be start of a variegated, beautiful, family, most of whom differ vastly from us, to benefit from them and bless them as well. Maybe you’ve had the same mentality the young lady on the cruise had: “We don’t go to a church. The band is our church.” I hope this encourages you to see the importance and value of a local church and find your place in one. More to come in the next post…