There is a mind-set that has unfortunately been pervasive regarding Music Ministry for a number of years. It's similar to Nathanael’s remarks to Phillip when he said he had found the Messiah, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Our culture, together with many musicians and artists have a similar disdain for the capacity of the Church to produce anything worthwhile, stating, “Can anything good come out of the Church?”
The viewpoint is: if an artist wants true recognition and success, he or she must find it outside the realm of ministry or Church involvement. Church ministry is not usually a consideration, and is even disdained by those who are serious about fulfilling their career pursuits and dreams.
To make matters worse, many of those in Church ministry have accepted the premise that maybe they can’t ‘make it’ in the world, so they just settle for a non-competitive ministry position.
All of this stems from the general conclusion that local church (or the Church at large) is irrelevant to current culture, even unnecessary. It certainly is not viewed as a place where high artistic achievement can exist.
There was a time in Israel’s history that people had a similar mind-set. The people through whom God chose to carry His Name had come to a place of ambivalence and even neglect of His temple. It was as if they had grown cold to their calling, nonchalant to the richness of their heritage. The prophet Malachi wrote to the people of Israel:
“ ‘A son honors his father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect?’ says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests who despise My name. But you say, ‘How have we despised Your name?’ You are presenting defiled food upon My altar. But you say, ‘How have we defiled You?’ In that you say, ‘The table of the Lord is to be despised.’ But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil? Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly?” says the Lord of hosts. “But now will you not entreat God’s favor, that He may be gracious to us? With such an offering on your part, will He receive any of you kindly?” says the Lord of hosts…You also say, ‘My, how tiresome it is!’ And you disdainfully sniff at it,” says the Lord of hosts, “and you bring what was taken by robbery, and what is lame or sick; so you bring the offering! Should I receive that from your hand?” says the Lord.” (Mal. 1:6-9,13)
The priests had grown weary in the administration of temple service, and the people were not bringing their best anymore. They were giving God their ‘leftovers’. The temple (which represented God’s presence in their midst) was being shunned for other ‘more important things’ in their lives.
Today’s artistic community has become a place in which fame, finance and dissipation has supplanted discipline, sacrifice and a desire for integrity (even at the expense of obscurity).
The local church, to today’s artist, has come to represent the death of an otherwise successful career. The path is an exact reversal of what today’s artist hopes to achieve.
Our community, much like the Israelite’s in Malachi’s day, has willingly walked away from God’s presence, while still wanting to receive His blessing.
Even many of our priests (those called into the service of the local church) have longingly looked away from the altar of sacrifice, to the approval of pop culture and compromised integrity.
What does integrity as a dedicated artist look like in today’s world? What does pure dedication, holiness and honor look like for someone who is ‘sold out’ to God, having a passion for worshiping His Name and exclaiming His excellencies with whole-hearted commitment? Is it even possible that the phrases: ‘dedicated Christian minister’ and ‘artistic excellence’ can be uttered in the same breath?
King David, who established a pattern of whole-hearted worship in his reign in Israel, had become a distant memory to the Israelites in Malachi’s day. His passion would have been distasteful to them. Had David lived in their time, he may have even been persecuted or killed for his ‘extreme’ views. (Interestingly, today’s media culture demonizes anyone who is ‘passionate’ in their religious convictions, calling them ‘radicals’ and ‘extremists’.)
Here is just one of many accounts in David’s life revealing his whole-hearted passion for God’s presence:
When the Ark of the Covenant had come to Araunah the Jebusite, David wanted to offer a burnt offering. Araunah offered to give David everything necessary to do so, “Let my lord the king take and offer up what is good in his sight. Look, the oxen for the burnt offering, the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood. Everything, O king, Araunah gives to the king.” But David’s response, “No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing.” (2 Sam. 24:22-24)
David wanted to give God his very best. Nothing less would be congruent with his heart of gratitude, respect and honor for all that God was in his life.
At a time, historically, when numerous artists are struggling to be heard above the myriads of voices in the world, a time when community for the artist seems to be closing in with greater isolation and fewer opportunities, perhaps the long forgotten venue of the community of the local Church is prime for renewed artistic expression.
Perhaps the hollowness of today’s secular ‘success’ will give way to a new generation of artists who are ‘sold out’ to a higher purpose of extreme spirituality, commitment, dedication and sacrifice, those who are willing to be motivated by the approval of God rather than the approval of man, willing to release the pursuit of fame for the motivation of pure craftsmanship in His Name rather than their own.
Perhaps the true prophetic role of the artist will return to those whom God can trust, vessels of honor through whom Almighty God will speak, artists who have become instruments in His hand, through whom He changes the course of human culture, yet are incapable of being changed by that culture.
Such artists are fearless among men, highly esteemed in secret places.
(for more, see The Three Uses of Music and the Arts)