Like a lot of things on this site, you’ll probably never hear someone deem something, “good enough for the church.” But if you’ve spent any amount of time in the church, chances are you’ve bumped up against this. One of the top worship leaders in the country drove this home for me when he recently said the reason people liked his work was that he was “from the recording industry and had never believed something was good enough for the church.”
I think this happens for a number of reasons. Sometimes it is financial. Not everyone has the budget of a mega church. So they’ll ask for the “ministry rate” when it comes to work. But often that means, “we’d like your B- quality work.” Sometimes it’s a matter of resources. If volunteers are tithing their time it’s hard to do a massive musical with just 10% of someone’s commitment. Other times it’s a product of having the right person in the wrong ministry. Like the example I gave in an earlier post about the church that didn’t want to hurt the unskilled guitar player’s feelings so they just kept turning his speaker down lower and lower. Sometimes we misinterpret our gifts and end up serving in a way we’re not supposed to.
Those are all symptoms though and don’t get at the core issue. (Core issue is such a counseling term.) At the heart of it, the reason the church is not known as being a global leader in creativity and excellence is pretty simple. We missed God’s love letter to artists.
I missed it about a dozen times myself. But while doing a two-year walk through of a one year read the whole Bible study plan, I stumbled upon it in Exodus.
There are two parts and both are pretty subtle though I’ve written about them before. The first takes place in Exodus 30 and 31. In 30, God anoints Aaron and consecrates the priests. It’s a big deal, with fragrant spices, sacred oil and a sense of the holy that is almost tangible through the pages. And after it’s over, do you know who God focuses on next? Do you know who comes second? The artists.
I had to read that a few times until I believed. There in the desert, as God establishes His people, as He sets into motion His very heart, the artists fall directly after the priests. Maybe that’s mind-blowing only to me, but I find that stunning. Of all the professions, of all the people in the desert, it is the artists He speaks to next. Is there a more beautiful reflection of the importance He places on art and creativity?
We’ve made God military in a lot of our culture. We march in God’s army. We have men’s groups that are based on battle, but He doesn’t focus on the warriors after the priests. He doesn’t say the strength and might are most important after Aaron and the priests. He says creativity is.
Here is what 31:3 says:
“and I have filled him (Bezalel) with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts- to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship.”
This is not a cold, boring, vanilla God speaking. This is the first and ultimate patron of the arts sounding a gong for anyone that has a scrap of creativity in them. But I said this love letter to artists has two parts.
The second part continues in chapter 36. As they prepare to build the ark, God issues a call to the artists in the desert. Verse 2 says:
“Then Moses summoned Bezalel and Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the Lord had given ability and who was willing to come and do the work.”
That verse punched me in the stomach. If you read it, you realize there were only two conditions to building the ark as an artist. You had to have the skill and you had to be willing. That means that some people refused the call and sat on their hands in the desert instead. They could have built God’s ark, His temple, but instead chose to sit in the desert and waste their talent.
When I prayed about that, I felt like God told me I had the same opportunity to build his temple everyday. I replied, “what are you talking about? You’re crazy.” (He’s big enough for me to say honest things like that.) But then He reminded me that in 1 Corinthians 6:19 it says the body is the temple. He reminded me that every time I use my skills to help someone, I am helping rebuild their temple.
Foof. That’s big. That’s scary. That’s why I am writing today. I’ve sat in the desert for years wasting what meager writing skills I have. I’ve sat in a pile of sand, while the people in my life are broken and hurting, hoping someone will help them rebuild their temple. And I just can’t sit in the desert anymore.
The book I’m writing for Zondervan right now might be my first and my last chance to publish something. This might all be a fad. People might stop reading this site tomorrow and disappear. I might not go on tour to churches and conferences and all that. I want to, I really do, but ultimately it’s not about that. It’s about rebuilding temples. And as long as I keep doing that, as long as I keep reading and responding to God’s love letter to artists, everything else is going to take care of itself.