It has been a wonderful and compelling month reconnecting with most of you about your relationships, ideas, and growth thus far in the residency. As I chatted with you, however, similar themes arose begging the question: What difference are we making in the life of the church?
We have talked during our retreats about moderating expectations – we won’t change an entire church culture in ten months, BUT, what is the other side of that statement? What can we do to plant seeds toward changing the church culture in the short time we are given?
In my experience working with church/artist pairs, most pairs are best at one of two approaches to long-term impact:
- Large-group influence. Examples of large-group influence are things like artmaking in worship, leading music, artwork on bulletins or an installation in a church space.
- Intimate influence. Examples of intimate influence are things like leading an artist small-group or workshop; meeting regularly with the worship team; or mentoring other artists in the community.
Both approaches plant seeds for future growth, but our most successful experiences have experimented with some combination of both types of influence. Large-group influence has the potential to set traditions and shape community norms. Congregational experience with art can be tremendously powerful for shaping worship and church culture more broadly. Intimate influence, however, has the power to perpetuate these new ideas and traditions. Without intimate influence – without passing on your unique ideas as an artist/liaison pair to a few specific folks in the congregation – it is not likely that church culture change will be sustained.
Living into both types of influence is not an easy task – and I know many of you have experienced some bumps in the road already – whether administrative, relational, or political. But we remember that our true power for bearing fruit comes in staying connected to the Vine. At the risk of getting too cheesy with this metaphor, here is the scripture from John 15:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
- Consider if you and your pair have tended thus far to think toward large-group influence or intimate influence. Discuss ways you might invest in your less-comfortable/easy/accessible method.
- Second, consider how collaboration between artist/church pairs and churches might enhance your ability to influence church culture in broader ways.
- Finally, share these thoughts with Jason and Paul as your head artist and liaison, and discuss together how you might implement your ideas.