What if we saw the arts in worship as part of discipleship? What if we saw the arts as essential, rather than optional, to the Spirit's work of forming us in the image of Christ when we gather as a corporate body? What if a carefully crafted work of visual art enabled a congregation to see its mission in a radically new light? What if art in worship could yield a substantively formative experience?
These are the types of questions we were asking several years ago when I was a pastor at Hope Chapel in Austin, Texas. We invited Laura Jennings, one of our members, to exhibit art she had created while pursuing her master's degree at the University of North Texas. Our church, broadly situated in the stream of evangelical Pentecostalism, had "sent" her off three years earlier, and now she returned with a fresh body of work. And while it was designed for her Master of Fine Arts, we felt it would serve our context too.
When her art first appeared in the sanctuary, I explained to the congregation that, as with all the visual art that hung there, Laura's work was not here merely to ornament our space (though it did that). It was here to help us to see the gospel afresh, and as it did so, we hoped it would inspire us to live out the gospel afresh. Just as Jesus repeatedly directed his disciples to notice things that society ignored, so Laura's work accentuated groups we frequently overlooked: the Dalits of India and victims of war violence.
But it was more than the subject matter that challenged us. It was the style, more abstract than literal. The work did not yield its meaning easily. Some folks saw only strange figural shapes in vibrant colors. Some perhaps saw nothing but a token of decoration to the sanctuary. Some, though, took ...