Clothing The Gospel

The Arts In Missions

Dr. Byron Spradlin- Developer

Worship and evangelism are central to the Christian faith, but worshiping God is much more than attending church on Sunday, just as evangelism is much more than saying religious words to an unbeliever. As artists, our missionary strategy needs to employ every available means of communication—speaking, listening, playing music, storytelling, using parables and proverbs, dancing, drama, visual arts—as we seek to make men, women, and children worshipers of God.

When we plan effective evangelistic strategies, we often talk about homogenous groups, unreached peoples, and church growth. But in all this, mission agencies and churches must analyze regional and national cultures in the search for missing keys that will open communities to Christ. One vital key rarely considered is the role of artistic communication in reaching a culture and helping the church grow and reproduce itself within that culture.

Culturally Appropriate Worship

When believers worship God and express their faith in a familiar and culturally appropriate way, the unchurched take notice. Previously unreached people become more receptive to God’s Word and the worship of the true Creator when they see and hear and experience worship, not only in their own language, but also in their own music and story forms and artistic patterns.

Western missions have generally assumed that to adequately understand the Bible, you must know how to read it. Translation efforts, combined with literacy training, have been valuable in many cultures. But experts estimate that up to 75 percent of the world’s people don’t know how to read. That means the literary approach to evangelism cannot do the whole job. We must in­tegrate artistic communication methods into our normal ministry thinking.

We need Christians with special sensitivity in the arts to find their way onto the mission field and into the development of mission strategy. We need to help missionaries and churches clothe the gospel in culturally appropriate forms and avoid the unconscious mistake of promoting only Western forms of communication and styles of worship. Maybe in this way we can break through cultural barriers that have been difficult to penetrate with traditional methods.

We must stimulate the use a wide range of indigenous communication forms such as music, drama, storytelling, painting, architecture, mime, pup­petry, crafts, festival, chant, movement, ritual, the arrangement of space, and body language, among others. In all these ways, the arts convey an important understanding of life, its problems, pos­sibilities, truths, fears, and mysteries.

Practical Implementation for Artists and Musicians

  • Make yourself available, no strings attached, to church leadership so that they will be able to use your artistic gifts as they need them.

  • Be a servant, not a star.

  • Do a short-term mission assignment as soon as possible.

  • In conjunction with your local church, pursue street work, campus ministry, etc., as soon as possible.

Practical Implementation for Mission Agencies

  • Focus on developing indigenous worship, encouraging churches to use forms of worship that are culturally appropriate.

  • Assign missionaries to take lessons in some craft or art form from a national.

  • Promote the development of new ethnic-Christian celebrations, honoring God and highlighting the gospel in the context of such important events as birth, parent-child dedication, conversion, baptism, and marriage.

Jews for Jesus has done this by creating a new Jewish-Christian wedding ceremony, as well as a circumcision ceremony. These ceremonies have elements of both Jewish and Christian traditions, with an emphasis on biblical truth framed in familiar cultural forms. By doing this, the gospel is proclaimed quite strongly in the context of joyous celebration, and without denying—or in any way pulling one away from—neutral cultural norms.

Practical Implementation for Local Churches

  • Artistic communication is not just for the mission field. Are your forms of worship and evangelism culturally appropriate to your community?

  • Spend as much time planning the worship service as the pastor spends preparing the sermon. Develop a worship team for better planning.

  • Make a point to develop methods of non-literary, non-academic communication for your worship times. This will create an environment where unchurched people will feel more comfortable. Direct the service to the believer, but don’t make it so “in-house” that you exclude visitors.

  • Emphasize the participation of the worshipers more than the performance of the choir, soloists, and preachers.

Practical Implementation for Colleges and Seminaries

  • Develop interdisciplinary degree programs for train­ing specialists in artistic communication.

  • Arrange for faculty and students to be placed in domestic cross-cultural short-term ministry situations.

Consider This

It’s time we let God use us in more creative ways to evangelize the world. When we do, many more will see and fear and trust in him (Psalm 40:2–3).

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