Visual Art in Corporate Worship: An Interview with Plasso Design

Editor’s Note: Plasso Design is a visual arts ministry operating in North Carolina, USA. For the Art in the Church Workshop, Transpostions interviewed its founder, David Allsbrook.

1. Please briefly describe yourself and your ministry.
A thirty-something husband and father of three boys, I head the engineering department for a furniture manufacturer by day and operate a visual arts ministry in my spare time. Plasso Design brings a visual communicative element into corporate worship by interpreting the message through fine art.

2. On your website, you state that your ministry seeks to ‘incorporate visual art creation into corporate worship’. Why do you think this is important?
The most vivid memories we retain associate directly to an emotion as well as images associated with those events. For this reason, Jesus used parables to communicate moral truths. The old cliché, a picture is worth a thousand words, carries with it substantial truth.

Our brains rely on at least one of three learning styles to process and retain information, whether audibly, visually, or kinesthetically. Of the three, learning visually is the most commonly utilized. The church connects with auditory learners quite effectively through music and vocal message presentations. Kinesthetic learners find their place in the church through the volunteer and mission opportunities we offer. However, the visual learner suffocates in the dust of our programming efforts. I believe this is a major reason for the perceived barrier separating artists from the church in many communities; the Body suffers from poor communication. I began this ministry to fill that void.

3.     How does this purpose impact:

• the work of art that is produced?
This ministry’s art is the most emotionally charged work I have ever created. Each piece becomes a vessel I pour myself into through the media. Prayer is communication with God; creating art spontaneously as worship is the most intimate form of prayer for the creative. This supercharges the amount of emotion in pieces created, being a live recording of an emotional conversation with the Creator.

• the artist?
I’ll be the first to admit that creating art on the spot under time constraints is one of the most intense things I have done. But it is accompanied by invaluable returns!

Artists must humble themselves, allowing God to direct the art rather than assuming the role of a broker between God and the viewer and then forcing an autocratic message. I explain my interpretation of each image in my blog, usually echoing the verbal message from that day, but I do not dictate that interpretation to my viewers.

The artist becomes especially vulnerable when the piece is created amidst its intended audience, as the creation process and the final product are open to critique. I conquered my self-consciousness when planning this ministry by realizing the best way to develop new techniques is to let your critics see them in action. For the viewer, seeing the piece come to life inspires an even deeper connection.

When I started this ministry one year ago, I received this advice: be more afraid of God than you are of man. You are just the brush God is using to paint His image. Secondly, do not try to set the world on fire; set yourself on fire and see if it catches.

• the relationship between the artist, congregation and church leadership?
For the ministry to be effective, it is important that the church leadership publicly acknowledges it as a significant part of the worship experience. Without that connection in place, the congregation acknowledges the artist as a talented member of the church, but the art is simply a novelty.

The artist and church leadership need to have open communication – they are operating separately while focusing on the same goal. A lack of communication risks losing cohesiveness between the visual and vocal messages with the worst case being they conflict with each other. The artist, pastor, and worship leader cooperatively presenting synonymous messages exemplifies the Body of Christ.

The congregation and the artist are equals. All too often ministry leaders are placed on a pedestal of spiritual superiority the “normal” members of the congregation aspire to emulate. The congregation should admire the art over the artist, celebrating the image God (not the artist) created.

4. What advice would you give to a church that is interested in introducing the visual arts to their corporate worship?
Support the artists in your congregation. Allow them to display their work. Invite them to create pieces for the church, and encourage your congregation to view the art as a valuable component in the worship experience.

Introduce the ministry slowly. Begin by displaying members’ paintings in the foyer. Encourage artists to use a sketchbook to take visual notes from their seat. Once the church ‘gets’ what the artist is doing, arrange a platform for creating during worship.

Make declaration, not decoration, your objective.

 

Author

  • Sara Schumacher is the editor and a regular contributor to Transpositions. Prior to life in academia, Sara worked as a graphic designer in Oxford where her experience as an artist and a Christian raised many questions, ultimately leading her to pursue further study in theology and the arts at St Andrews. Sara holds a B.S. in Graphic Design and an A.A. in Cross-Cultural Services from John Brown University and has recently completed an M.Litt in Theology, Imagination, and the Arts at St Andrews. She is currently working on a PhD at St Andrews, focusing on church patronage of the arts.

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15 Comments

  1. says: David

    Thanks for the great opportunity to share my thoughts on visual arts in worship, Sara! I pray this encourages the start of fine art ministries in other communities!

    I will gladly address any follow-up questions from readers. Please visit www.plassodesign.com to view the work being created through this ministry!

  2. says: Jason

    I am impressed by this ministry. Too many times, the visual representations (and the auditory and verbal as well) of worship draw to much focus on the “performer” and not on the Creator. To capture an entire message in one image is truly a gift given by God. This is art that gives glory to God. I pray that this type of ministry will find its way into more and more churches.

  3. says: Cole Matson

    I understand that creating art during worship can be a powerful experience for the artist, and lead to correspondingly powerful art, which can then lead to a correspondingly powerful reception experience by later viewers of the art. I also understand that art should be a part of the worship experience, and that the vocation of the artist is one that should be supported by the church (and that artists should support the church with their art). These are all good things.

    However, I’m still not clear as to how it is beneficial to the congregation for them to be aware of an artist creating art during the worship service (even if the artist is not visible). I’d be concerned about distraction from the rest of worship. Simply put, how does it help me worship God to know that someone else is painting during worship (such that that painter deserves to be seen as one of the worship leaders, rather than another congregation worshipping privately in his own way)?

    1. says: David

      I appreciate your question, Cole, thank you!

      My biggest concern while developing this ministry was it being perceived as a performance ministry. There is a fine line between presentation and performance in every aspect of corporate worship, people’s perception of what they see determines where the line is set. I’ve experienced church squabbles over whether or not clapping at the end of a hymn or soloists presentation was appropriate or if a worship leader’s facial expressions were too emotional as he led worship. Were either of these notions of worship distracting? Obviously for some. Should we discourage clapping or singing with emotion during worship? Absolutely not. My fear of misperception was erased when a good friend told me to “be more afraid of God than you are of man”. The artwork must be created simultaneously with the service in order to protect the integrity of the artwork and the purpose of the ministry. This is also why I emphasize the importance of church leadership openly promoting the visual art ministry to their congregation, if leadership does not value it their congregation won’t either.

      The short answer as it pertains you the individual is that it helps one worship God by stimulating another part of your learning processes to then instill the overall message into your mind. I do not suggest making the artist the focal point of the worship space, their presence should be subtle. The congregation knowing the creation is taking place inspires a connection between them and the artwork. Particularly if the piece is abstract, having experienced the same worship as what inspired the artwork provides deeper meaning and and a level of value that cannot be obtained otherwise.

      The answer for the ministry is that we focus on reaching other artists and visual learners within the community. Though the visual learning style is predominate, it is not exclusive. People who rely heavily on auditory methods will likely have little connection to visual art, and possibly find it distracting. Ministry leaders must be sensitive to this fact and plan the artist’s set-up accordingly. If the artist is not creating in the same space as the worship service, distraction will not be an issue.

      Creating live (whether in view of the congregation or not) unifies the art with the service and the artists with ministry. If we segregate art because it may be ‘distracting’, we are labeling it as an inferior form of worship and the artists as inferior worshipers. Anyone who would find themselves watching the artist are the visual people I spoke of who connect with art being created. Instead of labeling them as ‘distracted’, I view them as intently listening. They hear the words being spoken while also watching them come alive in the artwork. Once you change that perception from the art negatively impacting the communicative ability of worship to accentuating it, the “distraction” becomes something worthy of embracing. Months after a message series pertaining to a particular life issue, the person who was “distracted” may be dealing with that very issue, see the artwork on display, then immediately recall the message when that piece was created and respond to their situation accordingly.

      Art created separate from the service may contain the same message, even present itself as part of or inspired by a particular past sermon. I am not saying such artwork is inferior to that created during worship. Creating after a worship a good way to start incorporating art, but that method presents the art to the church as an afterthought to the ministry, not a part of it. Offering to incorporate art into worship, but limiting it to a secondary part of the ministry lacks a genuine desire to reach artists and further separates the art community from the church.

      Consider the common segment of worship services where worship bands perform live music, congregations sing along. The words being sung, when organized correctly, carry with them the same message the pastor has prepared to speak on that day.The worship music preformed during the service leads into the message, visual art accentuates the words spoken. The worship experience would be quite different if we asked our musicians to record music onto a CD to be played for an upcoming service, rather than leading worship by playing live. Few will argue, canned music does not inspire the same authentic worship many participate in during live music. Visual art is no different.

      If our objective is to reach artists in our communities the art must be included in declaring the Gospel, equal to any other method we choose. Otherwise, we are telling artists they are welcome to decorate our space, but need select one of the “normal” methods we offer to worship.

      Now, what if you want to implement a visual art ministry, but are experiencing resistance to incorporating it into the worship service; what then? I suggest calling on artists to create work pertaining to an upcoming series, to be displayed during those messages. Provide them with a series topic and scripture references for the sermons and ask them to develop conceptual drawings based on their reading. Before they create their finished product, meet together and compare notes to ensure the visual and verbal messages coincide. The artwork displayed will still speak to visual minds, the creation process is still an intricate part of the overall ministry, the artist can still create spontaneously in a sketch pad from their seat and distraction becomes a non-issue.

      1. says: Cole Matson

        David,

        Thank you for your thorough response!

        Your concern about the visual art ministry being seen as a performance is one of the concerns that immediately popped into my head. My view of artistic works that take place during worship – usually music – is that they should help the people worship, not be appreciated as performances in themselves. This is why the church in which I grew up requested that people not clap after the choir sang (except for the children’s choir, which was helped by the encouragement!), a position with which I agree, since the point was not to evaluate and appreciate how beautifully the choir sang, but to allow the choir’s song to lead one’s thoughts to God. (And, of course, often the best way to do that is to sing with emotion! The pastor also encouraged people to say, “Amen”, if they were moved by the music, so after a particularly powerful song, you would often hear a group of muttered “Amens” – and this in a Presbyterian church!) We also had another discussion at the church I attended in college, in which I sang in the choir, about whether an afternoon performance of Schubert’s Mass in G was a concert or a worship service. The planned program including set prayers at the beginning and end, so therefore it seemed to be a worship service. However, we were asking for a suggested donation for tickets, which made it seem like a concert. We decided we could only do one or the other – either we could perform Schubert’s work as a concert performance, with no prayers and with paid tickets, or we could perform it as a means of worship, with prayers and free attendance for all. The two contexts set up very different expectations for roles (performers/audience vs. worship leaders/congregation), and therefore different expectations for behaviour.

        It seems like your ministry is meant to help those who better connect to the worship service’s message visually, rather than aurally or kinesthetically. Visual learners can receive the message by watching the images appear under the artist’s brush, while aural learners can receive the message while listening to the preacher’s sermon. (And of course, both can do both.) Anyone who isn’t helped by the images can just ignore them. How does it work when the artist and his painting aren’t visible? In that case, it seems like the finished product is the tool to help visual learners.

        I suppose part of my discomfort is because I worship in a more pronounced liturgical tradition (Roman Catholic), where all the art in a service is meant to directly serve the liturgy. Many parts of the liturgy are set to music, which the presider, the congregation, and the choir may all sing. The worship space tends to be very visual-art heavy, with painting, sculpture, architecture (including carved stonework), and fabric and metallurgical arts (vestments and vessels) all intimately involved in the liturgy. Dance in Catholic worship is a hotly-debated subject, but I have seen effective use of liturgical dance during the Gospel procession (during which the acolytes danced as they carried the candles accompanying the Gospel), and I understand in Africa the bringing up of the gifts at the offertory can be a lengthy, dance-heavy affair. And, as a theatre man myself, the form of the liturgy is inherently dramatic.

        When there is a set liturgy, an artist standing to the side painting doesn’t really have a place to “fit” in the liturgical structure, at least as a worship leader. He may, of course, fit as a member of the congregation, offering worship in his way, and then sharing the fruits of that worship with the other members of the church after the liturgy is over. (I love the Dominican motto “to contemplate and to share with others the fruits of one’s contemplation”.) This may just mean that a visual arts ministry like the one you describe might not be a good fit for a Catholic church. Are there types of worship where you’ve found a better fit than others?

        Another question for me is whether artists are really excluded by not being able directly to engage in their art during a communal worship service. I’m an actor, but I don’t feel excluded because I don’t get to perform during Mass. I’m not there to perform; I’m there to worship God through the liturgy, the work of the people, which I share with everyone else there. I worship God through performance when I’m in a theatre, not when I’m at church. It doesn’t mean that my art is lesser because it’s not part of the liturgical rite; it just means that the liturgical rite is a very specific activity, and there is a time and place for each. I just don’t see why saying that artistic creation is not (and perhaps should not be) a primary part of a worship service is evidence of a lack of desire to reach out to artists. We don’t exclude bankers by not having them do their accounting during worship, and we don’t exclude chefs or the homeless by not making and handing out sandwiches during worship. There’s a time and a place for all ministerial activities, and just because a ministry does not take place during the setting of communal worship does not mean it is somehow “lesser” than those that do. What’s different about artists that means that we’re separated if we’re not creating art (i.e., performing our ministry) during worship?

        Now, on the other hand, I think you’re on to something in that the power of artistic creation *as* a means of worship is underrated. Art doesn’t have to serve a utilitarian purpose; the creation of art simply as a way of responding to, communing with, and worshipping God is a whole and complete activity. I can see not only the value of an artist painting or sculpting as prayer, but also the value of a group of artists coming together to worship God communally through the creation of art as prayer and praise. One might even have several people, some of whom are artists and some of whom are not, come together for a time of prayer in which some painted, some danced, and some just sat quietly and either watched or meditated. (I think such a time of prayer would be very effective as a form of Taizé prayer, especially accompanied by their meditative chant. I’d be interested in participating in such a time of prayer.) However, this prayer, even when done communally, should be a supplement to, and not a replacement for, each church’s primary Sabbath worship service.

        What’s the response you’ve had from other artists, inside and outside the churches? Has the ministry been effective in leading non-Christian artists to Christ, or in helping Christian artists feel more welcome and participate more in their church? Has it been more effective in some settings than in others?

        Please forgive my questions. I figure you’ve heard it all before, and can teach me something new.:-)

        1. says: David

          No worries, Cole! I am (obviously) very passionate about the topic and am excited to jump on every opportunity to share my take on the subject. I hope what I have to share is beneficial to you! I am going to tackle your questions one at a time to try and condense my responses!

          – How does it work when the artist and his painting aren’t visible?

          The degree at which the visual art “works”, pertaining to leading the viewer’s thoughts to God is determined by the artwork itself. A work of art does not have to be created during a worship service to be deemed Christian or carry with it a Christian message. For the purposes of this ministry, the critical element for inspiring the viewer to connect the art to the intended message is knowing the work was created in direct response to the spoken words. The majority of viewers will receive the work as the artist intends, associating each detail with the message objectives. When presenting a piece, I will explain my thought process and inspiration for the subject matter, but like to let the art speak for itself and let each viewer assign meaning to the artwork where it is significant to them. When the artist is in view of the congregation as they are working, little explanation is required when the finished product is displayed and members who do not feel like that adequately “get” art find it easier to understand the image.

          – This may just mean that a visual arts ministry like the one you describe might not be a good fit for a Catholic church.

          You and I are approaching a visual arts ministry from very different perspectives because of our spiritual backgrounds. I was raised Southern Baptist, experiencing religion and spirituality very differently than my Catholic friends. In light of that, I totally agree with you on this point, the Roman Catholic church emphasizes aesthetics to a much higher degree than the small country church in America’s Bible belt! Visual art is already an intricate part of the Catholic liturgy, making a separate arts ministry is unnecessary. An artist should not be discouraged from using art in worship just because they have a Catholic background, but the need for art incorporation is significantly less than a church whose only visual attention is directed toward the cover photo on the bulletin!

          – Are there types of worship where you’ve found a better fit than others?

          Yes. I began this ministry using two local churches as “test markets” so-to-speak, beginning to create spontaneous visualizations of sermons in a sketch pad from my seat and sharing the work via the web. One church was traditional Southern Baptist, the other a contemporary non-denominational congregation. The traditional church appreciated the artwork I created, but valued it only as an interesting novelty and not a significant form of worship. The contemporary church has responded quite differently. Drawing for that ministry led into being invited to display artwork in their lobby and now being invited to consult with the church leadership on incorporating visual art further by displaying work in the worship space and creating pieces to correlate with current and future series in cooperation with the lead pastor.

          – What’s different about artists that means that we’re separated if we’re not creating art (i.e., performing our ministry) during worship?

          The premise of this article and my ministry is to work with churches who are interested in beginning their own form of visual arts ministries. If a church has no interest in starting such a ministry, with any form of the arts, then they would have no interest in the artist performing whether privately or publically. If no ministry is present for an artist to participate in, then they cannot justify feeling “left out” because there is nothing to for which to be left out.

          That in itself is the start of the problem, because the mode of connection is not present for the visual artist. Once the church begins a ministry explicitly for visual artists, the ministry needs to be incorporated with the worship programming of the church on various occasions. If that ministry is never incorporated with worship the artists (whether visual, musical, or theatrical), the church no longer has a visual arts ministry, it’s essentially split itself into two churches who happen to share a few members.

          You mentioned being an actor. If your church began a theatrical ministry but refused to allow an organized production promoted and facilitated by the church, would you feel the ministry was accomplishing anything? If a church’s ministerial efforts towards a specific area of the arts never provides the means or the opportunity for it to minister through the parent church, it becomes little more than a social club that provides members an avenue to invite attendees to the church. If that is all the ministry is going to accomplish, the church’s energies are better spent elsewhere (i.e. serving their community) and allow artists within the church to start their own gathering.

          I draw in every service I attend for my own benefit, then upload the drawings onto my website for public view and response. The ministry I operate is its own entity, available for churches to utilize for adding visual art to a special worship service as they so desire. I am no offended when a church I attend does not set up an easel for me on their stage; however, I would be quite put off if I was asked not to draw from my seat during worship.

          – What’s the response you’ve had from other artists, inside and outside the churches?

          The response from artists has been extremely positive in regards to this ministry. I have spoken with artists around America who have organized their own form of ministry or are interested in developing one. It has also generated new found interest in the church and even Christianity for artists outside church walls.

          – Has the ministry been effective in leading non-Christian artists to Christ, or in helping Christian artists feel more welcome and participate more in their church?

          I do not know of an artist having a first time salvation experience because of the work of this ministry, but multiple artists have been drawn to the church though this artwork. Some who view the work and discover its origins respond by engaging the church for the first time, others have re-engaged it after having walked away from their faith years prior. Many of these artists are now interested in participating with me further in ministry.

          This summer, the artwork created through Plasso Design over the last year will be on display in a solo exhibition to further create awareness of the ministry in the community. I am excited to engage other artists in the area who are not only unchurched, but may have very negative notions of organized spirituality due to their past experiences with the faith community. The gallery owner making a personal connection with the artwork as it pertained to her own faith and desire to return to her spiritual roots is directly responsible for this exhibition.

          – Has it been more effective in some settings than in others?

          I will better answer this after the July 15 opening of “Why? A Visual Discussion”, but I expect to find people who attend the opening who are not familiar with the ministry to have their curiosity peaked by the fact the works are all spontaneous creations, which will then lead into the meaning and inspiration behind the subject.

          Thank you for these questions and your interest in what I’ve taken on as my personal mission. Please do not hesitate to ask anything else that may come to mind!

          Thank you, Cole!

        2. says: Cole Matson

          David,

          Thanks again for another thorough response, which helps answer many of my questions. I think, as you point out, the context is important – there may be more need, and more room, for a visual arts ministry in a less liturgically- and aesthetically-oriented worship environment.

          For example, you write, “Once the church begins a ministry explicitly for visual artists, the ministry needs to be incorporated with the worship programming of the church on various occasions.” You then ask me, “If your church began a theatrical ministry but refused to allow an organized production promoted and facilitated by the church, would you feel the ministry was accomplishing anything?”

          My response would be that if my church said it was starting a theatrical ministry, but was not actually going to sponsor a theatrical performance, it wouldn’t have a theatrical ministry. But the performance does not need to take place during worship for it to be effective, since worship (by which I mean the formalized worship service) is only one of the church’s activities (though the most important). A group of parishioners at a church in Oxford, where I lived before moving to St Andrews, started their church’s theatrical ministry. The church helped fund it, hosted performances in the worship space, and the parish priest and other parishioners performed. However, performances took place in addition to the worship services, not as a part of it. But it was still an effective ministry, introducing parishioners, Catholics from other churches, non-Catholic Christians, and non-Christians to the Gospel as presented through the lives of the saints about whom the plays were written (St Therese of Lisieux and Blessed Pope John Paul II). In our worship culture, a drama ministry is expected to take place outside the liturgy, but it is still an important part of the church’s overall mission of spreading the Gospel and encouraging its members in the Faith.

          So I guess that’s the connection that I’m not sure is necessary, that if a church begins a ministry for artists, that ministry “needs to be incorporated with the worship programming of the church”, if by that you mean “needs to be part of the formal worship service.” If a church has a visual arts ministry, or a drama ministry, it does not necessarily follow that the ministry must take place during worship in order to be a valid and effective ministry of the church, just like a homeless ministry does not need to take place during worship, at least in my experience of church and worship.

          However, it seems that part of the reason why your specific ministry *does* have a strong argument for taking place during worship is that you are trying to help people worship God visually, not just through the hearing of a text, especially in a worship setting that is relatively aesthetically impoverished. It sounds like you’re trying to encourage people in a form of worship which they might not have considered as worship before, or, if they are artists, might have known as a form of worship, but not one acknowledged by their church community as such. It sounds to me like you’re playing a very important role of leading others in worshipping God in the beauty of visual creation, which He made, and which also helps to bring out the beauty of His Word in a way they might not have realised before. So your type of arts ministry is intimately connected with worship, rather than with evangelization or service to the poor or other goals of church ministries that take place outside of worship (though, of course, any activity connected with worship is going to be connected to these other goals as well, since they are all connected in the Christian life).

          Does that make sense?

          It is exciting to live in a time when the Church is rediscovering the spiritual richness of Christian art-making.

          Cole

        3. says: David

          You make excellent sense, Cole!

          Along with communicating the message visually, my ministry challenges the paradigm of what we label a “worship service”. Any event or experience that leads a person to intimate interaction with their Creator is worship, and thereby the event inspiring that experience falls within the definition of a “worship service”. The terminology used in my part of the world to describe this is “having church” (a phrase I don’t particularly care for, but understand the intended meaning). With that in mind, a theatrical performance where a participating actor connects with God during the production is a worship service in itself, even if for only that person. Does that mean a “secular” production could include worship? Sure! God’s ability to reach people is not limited to what we label a worship service.

          Drama, in particular, is slightly more problematic to incorporate a production into the traditional worship time; mainly reorganizing the time scheduled for the event to include performance. For our Good Friday observances this year, my church organized a dramatic reading of the Biblical recount of Jesus’s crucifixion. The service included two actors who read between video clips taken from “The Passion of the Christ”, followed by communion. The evening was nearly 100% drama ministry, but quite a moving worship service for all who attended.

          The benefit of the visual arts ministry is that it works simultaneously with the regular programming (music, sermon, and invitation, in my religious culture). That, and the visual art is created in direct response to the traditional worship service, so it operates simultaneously to produce the work while the inspired images are in their freshest possible state. What does have to occur during the traditional worship time for a drama ministry to be validated is promoting and encouraging participation and attendance to its productions. The theatrical ministry that you described sounds exactly like the way I suggest a theatrical ministry should operate! Kudos to the church in Oxford!

          Churches with homeless ministries in my area incorporate that outreach with worship by first promotion from the pulpit and second by inviting the people within the ministry to attend and participate in worship as part of the church body. There’s not much comparison between this and a visual arts ministry because of the difference in the mechanics of how they operate.

          Different dogmatic backgrounds may create challenges for what is or is not considered “worship” or a “worship service”, but we must not allow semantics interfere with the mission of the church. I lean on Matthew 22:37-39 as my litmus test for worship. In these verses, Jesus’s description of the greatest commandment given to man is recorded, love God with all your heart. He proceeds to explain loving your neighbor as yourself is “like unto” loving God with all one’s heart. This tells me doing one accomplishes the other, so any selflessly motivated action performed to lovingly reach out to another person is an act of love towards God. Worship is an act of love towards God, loving others is an act of love towards God, so loving others is an act of worship.

          Sorry, that last part is a bit off topic, but applicable to our conversation!

        4. says: Cole Matson

          David,

          Thanks for the continuing conversation! I agree that worship is not limited to the “worship service”/”having church”. Our whole lives are meant to be worship and praise and thanksgiving, and anytime we act in the love of God we are worshipping. I tried to use “worship service” instead of “worship” to differentiate between the certain structured form of worship that is the Sabbath gathering of Christians, and worship more generally.

          Do you think it’s useful to have a differentiation between the activities of a formal “worship/church service”, and the activities of worship outside of such a service, or more generally? Not, of course, a difference in kind or degree, such that one is more or less “real” worship than the other, but some things that ought to be done when Christians gather for the Sabbath, and some things that might truly be worship, but which perhaps are better done outside that gathering. You outlined three parts of the Southern Baptist church service – music, sermon, invitation. All of those things can be done outside the Sunday church service – listening to, singing and playing music; preaching the Gospel, evangelising, and encouraging the faithful; and inviting others to come to know Christ and claim Him as Lord and Saviour. Is there any of these three activities that is a vital part of Sunday church, such that it could not be replaced with a different activity or left out, at least occasionally?

          We’re getting into Baptist liturgical theology, about which I don’t know much and am interested to learn more based on this conversation. It would be interesting to see if the answers to the above questions help shed more light on why a visual arts ministry can fit well into a Baptist service and less well into a Catholic service.

          Thanks!

          Cole

        5. says: Cole Matson

          (Forgot to mention that that Good Friday service sounds like it would have been very effective. I usually attend a Good Friday service in which the Passion narrative is read, and also watch The Passion of the Christ. Good Friday is a powerful opportunity for drama – it is the most dramatic moment of the Christian story, and indeed of our world’s history [when seen as inseparable from the Resurrection]).

        6. says: David

          Hi, Cole! I apologize for the delayed response, I welcomed my third son into the world over the weekend. That made for an excellent Father’s Day! I was able to take some time to continue our discussion during my lunch break today.

          – Do you think it’s useful to have a differentiation between the activities of a formal “worship/church service”, and the activities of worship outside of such a service, or more generally?

          For the sake of organization, church programming should be defined base on the details of an event. “Worship service” is a general term, usually assigned to a ministry’s weekly gathering of its congregants for structured worship. The general public has at least a basic understanding of what to expect if they attend the event. Sub-ministries within the primary ministry should participate periodically, as we’ve already discussed, but the basic structure of the service remains consistent.
          Any event structured differently should carry a title that gives some indication towards the content. A performance by a musical ministry should imply the service is completely musical using a term like “concert”, theatrical ministries promote their dramatic “productions”, and so on. If we were to call every one of these events “worship services” in our marketing of the event, people would never know what to expect and then be less likely to attend. So while these are all services that facilitate and inspire worship, we have to label them in a way that communicates their content to generate interest.
          Discussions in formats such as this also benefit from specific definitions of the terms we use because our past experiences determines what images certain words inspire. (i.e. a Roman Catholic’s and a Southern Baptist’s perceptions of a “worship service” :))
          I will continue to challenge this paradigm in my time, but do not expect to see it change before the new heaven and new earth come to be!

          – Is there any of these three activities that is a vital part of Sunday church, such that it could not be replaced with a different activity or left out, at least occasionally?

          Yes, yes, yes! The regular activities of worship from every liturgical background should be flexible enough to be rearranged or eliminated on occasion. Man asks what you are doing, God asks why. God is more concerned with our motivations than our programming content in worship. A wise man I know once suggested every person should step back and assess their spiritual commitments. Ask of each activity, how does doing this bring me closer to God? If participating in something for the sake of worship doesn’t bring a deeper connection with your creator, why continue doing it? Eliminate whatever parts of your life having become religious duty rather than genuine worship. Individuals should perform this assessment of their lives and ministry leaders should assess the corporate programming.

          The difficulty of changing up programming in Southern Baptist liturgy is deeply rooted tradition among its members. People find comfort in the structure and patterns built over hundreds of years of tradition and resist change. A book I just finished compared conservative (of which Southern Baptists are the poster child) Christianity’s approach to culture as walling themselves in, separating from culture to avoid being corrupted. Churches with this “self-quarantine” mentality view artists as influential leaders of mainstream culture, and thereby viewed as the opposition. In order to protect the integrity of the church. Art and artists are received with a high level of cynicism and the result is the church and culture being further divided. I created a piece (through a non-denominational church I currently attend) that addresses this very problem. (Follow this link to view the piece http://plassodesign.com/2012/02/13/a-prayer-for-boldness/)

          I do see this mindset beginning to change in some circles, embracing our responsibility to influence culture through a group of believers called “the church”. In my community, that necessary change is welcome, but a very slow process. Plasso Design is one of the catalysts in this cultural shift.

        7. says: Cole Matson

          David,

          Thanks again for your thorough response, and please forgive my delay in responding. I don’t have such a good excuse as welcoming a new child into the world – congratulations, and blessings upon him! – but I have been in rural Kansas and Wisconsin celebrating my grandfather’s 92nd birthday and visiting relatives I haven’t seen in years, so I guess that’s a good excuse.:-)

          I think I’m going to have to leave it here, as I’m sucked into duties for various projects at the moment, but I just wanted to point out another difference that makes the conversation between our two backgrounds fruitful. For example, I don’t see “religious duty” as necessarily a bad thing, although I know in other traditions it has the connotation of something done out of false piety or the dead Law, and not out of true love of Jesus or the living Gospel. However, one benefit I find to regular liturgical worship – including activities like the praying of the Hours (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liturgy_of_the_Hours), which may be prayed privately or in common – is that the regular pattern, indeed the sense of duty and commitment to a pre-determined prayer schedule, means that I pray even when I don’t “feel” like praying. And praying, even out of a sense of duty, always brings me closer to Christ, and lifts me out of “just” duty, back into love. Baptists might find the same sort of thing in commitment to a regular prayer group or Bible study, where a sense of duty to the group might lead a person to show up, but the prayer and Scripture themselves bring love out of duty.

          This has been a great conversation for me to have with you, so I thank you for sharing. May God continue to bless your ministry!

  4. says: Elizabeth Noyes

    Fascinating and necessary conversation! Thank you David and Cole. Cole, a Roman Catholic as I am, has already described comprehensively the differences between our two churches so I wouldn’t need to repeat those again. But as I read I found myself reflecting on my personal dilemmas as an artist in a 2012 year old Church with an almost overwhelming art history that mirrors its unfolding revelation and understanding of Christianity along with its relationship to the historical context in which it existed. Rich and awesome. My own dilemma as an artist whose art life was completely grounded in the art world until my conversion in 1995 is to build a bridge between these two ‘worlds’. I won’t catalog the ways, but will share one stepping stone on my path. I studied icon writing for a time with an iconographer ‘recognized’ by the Greek Orthodox Church of which she is a member. I was ‘blown away’ when I learned that icon ‘writing’ in the Greek Orthodox Church is a sacrament. I am still digesting what I learned and discerning how this experience changes my perception of my role as an artist in the Church, and in the culture. Just as an introduction you might like to check out this website, particularly the History and Techniques section which I believe will add something to this conversation.
    http://www.iconarts.com

    1. says: Cole Matson

      Elizabeth, the idea of the sacramentality of art-making is something I’ve been thinking about as well, especially the idea of connecting the theology of icons to theatre. I’m hoping to do a series of performances experimenting with these ideas around All Souls/All Saints later this year.

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