I sat down the other day with Jess Strantz, one of our worship leader/songwriters, to cast vision for next month's P.S. (prayer and song) night. The original idea for the evening was to lead our people in prayer through songs written by our own church. We'd call it P.S. Indigenous, telling the stories behind our songs, how the Spirit inspired the songs through what God has been doing here, and encouraging others to write songs of their own.
Well, as we were talking, acknowledging the sad truth that we haven't really taken the time to intentionally pour into other songwriters here, and desiring not for the evening to be dominated by the songs of Jess and Ryan, we had the idea to include not only musical composition but all kinds of art. When we started down that road, however, we felt like even greater failures.
We have stunted, stifled, shunned (choose your present perfect participle) visual artists from freely expressing their creativity in worship. And it's not that we have spitefully disregarded them, we just don't know how to let them lead us. They do not currently have a place in our practice of worship to display their work. We're uncomfortable with, or afraid of, or simply untaught in the visual arts for worship.
The reality is, given the creative variety of God's people, we should have the ability be led in worship through the visual arts just as readily as we are through the audible arts. Think about it: What is happening in musical worship? The church hears the music that the artists are putting on display, and we participate actively by contributing to the sound with our own voices or participate passively by simply hearing and reflecting upon the art. Either way, the art on display is leading us into corporate and personal worship to the Lord. That is, of course, assuming our hearts are in the right place, namely, in Christ.
What's the difference, then, whether it is a musical composition on display or a work of visual art? Both should be received and participated in the same way. The only differences are 1) music uses primarily the sense of hearing while visual art uses the sense of sight, and 2) music is more conducive to active participation (hearing/singing) while the other is more contemplative (seeing/thinking). Again, both can and should be regularly leading us in worship response to God.
So, for example, in theory a "worship leader" could replace one of their five songs with a piece of visual art to be displayed for five minutes while the church, instead of singing, looks upon the work and responds in contemplative worship. At this point, though, we're on our way toward reinventing the wheel of the historic liturgy, which intends to lead worshipers in full sensory reception and response to the work of Christ: sound (readings/songs/chant/homily), sight (paintings/sculptures/ornate architecture/vestments), smell (incense/candles/old wood), taste (bread/wine), touch (water/oil/passing of peace/old wood/candles/missal).
But that's not where we're at. The contemporary church is in a place where the singing of praise and worship choruses led by acoustic guitar-bearing men and women is the preferred, almost exclusive form of worship. It is what it is. But it needs to change. And here's why: In our preference of the virtual exclusivity of musical worship, visual artists have suffered, as has the whole of God's people in the contemporary church.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Cor. 12:14-26)
It's about PEOPLE and the glory of God. That's why we are so convicted about this. There are people, probably many people, in our churches that have been gifted by God to create visual art in worship to Him. And their work is not meant only to be a personal or private expression of worship from them to God, but to lead others in worship; for them to bring their God-chosen gift, their contribution, into the church, so that the body can function properly, all for the glory of God.