What came first, the chicken or the egg?
Allow me to rephrase the question. What came first, the Christian artist who settled for “good enough” because it’s for God, or the congregation’s apathy toward quality Christian art?
For far too long there has been a lack of planning and preparation among Christian artists (inside and outside of the church) who are content to deliver a subpar product because they were, “Doing it for God.” It’s as if this phrase excuses one from working hard at their craft. It’s the idea that no matter what amount of effort one puts in, it’s ok because it’s “For God.”
Phrases like this reek of laziness. They can also be a cover for those who genuinely don’t fit what they are trying to do, but have been allowed to perform in a church setting because nowhere else would have them. (Side note: We can’t do anything we want. No matter how nice that sounds, it’s just not plausible. I’d love to be a drummer; I don’t have the talent to play the drums, I know that fact.) See: Self-awareness.
We expect quality, preparation, and excellence from our pastors. We also expect quality and excellence from “secular” performances we attend outside of the church (movies, theatre, concerts) so why not in the church?
I’d argue that the congregation has become equally as complacent when it comes to the quality they expect from the church. There is a “But their heart was in the right place” attitude that excuses laziness in the arts. The congregation has come to expect subpar art in the name of God. This is seen when a poorly made Christian film is released as well. Christians feel they have to see the film because in their mind it will somehow advance the gospel and further the Christian movie industry. They’re partially correct. It does further the Christian movie industry; the poorly produced Christian movie industry. It also keeps the outside world away as well (More on that later). There are some exceptions out there, and overall the quality of Christian films has improved in recent years. (Listen to the audio of the podcast I was on reviewing the movie Risen. Note – There are some spoilers for this movie.)
Imagine the Israelites wandering through the wilderness subscribing to this same attitude concerning the Tabernacle. “We’ve been walking for several days, and we don’t feel like setting everything up today. God knows we mean well and I’m sure he’ll still bless our effort. Let’s not set up the Table of Showbread, Lampstand, or the Altar of Incense.” Do you think they would have experienced the same results? God gave specific instructions for the Tabernacle, and these people knew they had to set it up exactly as God told them. They didn’t have a chance to do anything halfway. If they wanted God’s presence, they had to follow his instructions.
In 1 Corinthians 10:31, Paul writes, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” The arts are often seen as a very liberal, secular, borderline evil profession. God created the arts and we, the artists, were made in His image. As believers, we need to own the arts; we need to excel in the arts. In an article written by Jon Bloom on John Piper’s site, Desiring God, he writes that the above verse dives more in-depth than just glorify God in everything you do. He writes, “When we look at the verse in its wider context, we see that Paul’s command to do all to the glory of God relates to cultural idols, the Christian conscience, and how we live before an unbelieving world.” There are some genuinely great films, theatre, and music out there in the world. Our culture has grown accustomed to seeing quality productions. When Christians don’t put in their full effort, the world will ignore it and mock it. The way to turn off the world is to continue to hide behind poor quality with the “It’s for God” mantra. Do you want to reach the world with the gospel through art? Produce content that blows away the mainstream viewer. We were created to create. We, as believers should be producing content that is beyond our abilities. The Hollywood crowd puts in countless hours to create a big budget film, and we believe that we can spread the gospel through 10 minutes of preparation and 5 minutes of “rehearsal.” We’ve got to create content that people want to be a part. Content that has truth and beauty but is captivating in its execution. We are doing our creator a disservice when we produce art in His name that is subpar. Our act of worship is our art, and we do not love our God with all of our heart, soul, and mind when we half do something.
The Christian audience shouldn’t have to and doesn’t have to settle for sub-par content. Don’t be afraid to critique “Christian” art. Jesus won’t stop loving you if you scroll past his picture on Facebook without a like. He also won’t stop loving you if you have something negative to say about a poorly produced Christian film. As long as people stay silent about the quality of Christian entertainment, there will never be a change. We are losing the battle in entertainment. People worship Jesus on Sunday morning and then fill their time throughout the week with content produced by the world? Why? It’s entertaining and presented well. We’re losing our audience of Christians throughout the week. We certainly aren’t gaining any non-believers with our content. It’s time to make attention-grabbing content that the world sees as valuable. We need to create stories that provoke thoughts and emotions of why we’re here. The value we bring is that we have an answer to why we are here. Our content needs to show that answer as well.
So how does all of this happen? Begin by praying fervently and reading the word to gain an understanding of whether or not you should be in a position of creating content in the way you think you should. Allow the Holy Spirit to lead you in this endeavor. Remember, Christian artists should never create something for their glory. Everything we create should be for His glory. If you’re genuinely led to be an artist who represents God to the world, act like it. Pray, create, prepare, rehearse, take constructive criticism from trusted peers, perform and repeat. When we are in communion with the Holy Spirit, I believe we open the door to ideas and understanding that surpass our abilities. We also can’t forget our need to put in the work. Yes, put in the hard work, long hours, and sacrifice. While God has given us ability, He doesn’t do all the work for us.
I’m reminded of the story of Jesus healing the blind man in John 9. Jesus could have healed him by merely touching his eyes, but what did Jesus do? He spits on the ground and made mud. He rubbed the mud on the man’s eyes and then told him to GO and wash it off. When the man returned, he could see. Here we see Jesus doing his part and then asking this man to finish the task. God has blessed us with the ability and love of creating art for His glory, but He doesn’t give us everything. We have to work hard to hone our craft and develop our skills. It is only through hard work, sacrifice, and a love for Jesus that can provide the Christian artist with the path to creating quality, life-changing content for a world that desperately needs it.