In this ‘practical study of arts ministry’ with an intended audience of ‘the church’, Michael J. Bauer’s Arts Ministry: Nurturing the Creative Life of God’s People offers an insightful and thorough engagement with the North American resurgence of art within the Christian Church (16). Over nine chapters, Bauer helpfully explores significant theological, historical, and practical themes related to arts ministry in the church.
In his introduction, Bauer offers a definition of arts ministry that is unpacked throughout the rest of his book. According to Bauer, ‘Arts ministry is an attempt to help human beings incorporate beauty into their individual and corporate lives in an appropriate fashion. It fosters the creative and artistic dimension of the life of God’s people, who are empowered by the Holy Spirit to manifest the full meaning of their creation in the image of God (the Imago Dei)’ (25). In Chapter Two, he acknowledges the arguments against art in the church, specifically idolatry, morality and distraction, setting up a helpful counterargument for the theological rationale for arts ministry he proposes in the rest of the book.
Bauer builds his argument upon the following: God is encountered through the arts (Chapter Three), art is fundamental to human identity (Chapter Four), and art contributes to the core activities of the church (Chapter Five). After arguing for arts ministry as necessary to church activity, Bauer takes a practical turn and discusses how the arts contribute to day-to-day to church life.
In Chapter Six, Bauer emphasises that creativity is found in all humans and because of this, ‘arts ministry should help all of us to enrich our lives through the application of creativity to the common, everyday tasks in which we are engaged’ (178). In addition to cultivating a ‘creative life’, arts ministry also directly serves the worship of a church community (Chapter Seven). Not only do the arts help to create ‘an environment conducive to experiencing ritual moments’, Bauer suggests that worship is also an art in itself (191). I suspect this chapter will have the most resonance for those already engaged in arts ministry of some kind.
Before concluding, Bauer offers a ‘provisional’ theology of arts ministry and suggests the following as fundamental issues for arts ministers: art as meaningful communication, the extent to which beauty is objective, and the (challenging) task of judging art within a church context (Chapter Eight). This chapter clearly demonstrates Bauer’s extensive experience of starting and leading arts ministry in churches. Bauer finishes by suggesting that ‘arts ministry is an option in virtually every congregation. The real question is not whether it is possible, but how arts ministry can grow in the soil of the church’ (265). He follows this statement by suggesting both principles for and pitfalls of arts ministry.
This book starts an important discussion that has not yet been given sufficient voice in the theology and arts conversation, particularly engaging theologically with the ‘voice’ of practice. Bauer further encourages this by including examples of North American practice in each chapter. While their inclusion is positive, critical engagement with the specific examples would have strengthened the aims of the book. That being said, this book not only helps those already engaged in arts ministry to evaluate the theology that underpins their practice but also serves those interested in establishing a ministry in their own church.
Sara Schumacher is Tutor in Theology and the Arts at St Mellitus College, London. She recently submitted a PhD at the University of St Andrews on contemporary church patronage of the visual arts.