How Should The Church Patronise Art? A Thought Experiment.

Let’s imagine together an undesirable, unhealthy but intriguing situation.

Let’s imagine that Christians temporarily stopped paying artists to make art for the church and ploughed all this money into artists who are making art for those outside the church. I’m not suggesting this money would go to any old Christian artist making art outside the church (many would be getting paid for this already in their jobs). I’m imagining the church diverting funds from resourcing artists who are making art that blesses Christians in order to patronise (providing patronage, not condescending) artists who are creating provocative, engaging, high quality art that is likely to stimulate conversations about faith and warm people towards Jesus.

Okay, parentheses and convoluted sentences out of the way- do you get the thought experiment?

Well, assuming that you do, the first thing to say is that there would be a pretty healthy stash of cash freed up by this. I have heard several artists recently calling for the church to re-establish itself as a patron of the arts as it did in bygone years, but I actually think that the church is still taking on this role today, investing healthy amounts of resources into creative projects and practitioners. It is just that it is only patronising Christian artists who are making art within the church community.

This came home to me recently when a friend of mine went to check out one of the largest Christian worship organisations in the UK. It puts on training opportunities for people who’d like to develop as worship leaders specifically- training days, courses, internships, that sort of thing. He asked the guy who was running it how they helped musicians who wanted to make music for people outside the church and he simply replied that they didn’t cater for them at all. Now, in a sense this was always going to be beyond the scope of the organisation in question which is focused on developing the worship life of local churches (a thoroughly decent aim of course). However, the problem is that there are loads of organisations like this, but very few (as far as I’m aware) seeking to help Christian musicians like my friend who wants to engage with people outside the church.

So, in my crazy thought experiment, let’s imagine all of these musical, worshipful organisations are suspended for a period of time. So, all full time worship pastors are given a hiatus and all the money that churches give to improving the quality of their gathered times of sung worship (smoke machines, lighting rigs, etc) is put on hold. While we’re at it, let’s suspend activity in the whole contemporary Christian music scene as well. Rappers who rap theology. Rock bands who aren’t quite as angry as their secular contemporaries. Dance groups who replace references to illegal stimulants with references to Jesus. All given a break for a few years. (I know it’s a stupid suggestion, but bear with me).

But why stop there as I’m building up a bit of a head of steam! What about the performance arts? Well, this may not be such a significant pot of gold, but there are a good number of Christian dramatic companies who put on plays largely for churches. Let’s free up a few quid there. And writers? I suppose that fiction writers would be the ones to get the chop. There are a few Christian publishing houses you could asset strip, so let’s throw them in too.

As regards the visual arts, we’re not going to save a lot of money from the professional fees of banner designers, flag makers and church hall interior designers, but there may be some cuts we could make to communications budgets. Graphic designers and video makers who make sure that our internal comms are up to date and eye catching could be replaced by amateurs who’ve watched a couple of youtube videos on Photoshop or Final Cut Pro. Again, this would add to the general pot.

Okay, as I’ve been at pains to emphasise, I’m not saying that this should happen, I’m just asking you to imagine if it did. Well, what would happen? As I’ve noted, lots of money would be saved. Harry Enfield quantities of money in fact. The church does have a budget for the creative arts when it comes to creativity towards Christians. But obviously there would be a cost to this madness.

Here’s the question though: what would that cost be? What would be the negative impact of these draconian measures? Would Christianity crumble in the western world? Would our churches fall into apostasy, heresy and idolatry?

Or would Christians simply be less entertained?

Would we have to put up with a few slightly older songs in our worship times for a while?

Would people just have to do a bit more work to find things out about what is going on in the church programme?

Thank you for indulging me for this long everyone. Much appreciated. I’ll leave you to think that imaginary one through in more detail as it is not impossible that I’ve missed a couple of things. However, as you’ve made it this far, I’ll just throw one more crazy, awful, distressing, imaginary world at you.

What if, on the other hand we took all of our resources away from those artists who are both highly skilled and wanting to create work to subtly and authentically turn our society back to Jesus and reach into people’s hearts and minds to soften them to the Christian worldview? Imagine we cut them completely. What if we refused to give any resources to such artists and just left them to make culture shaping art in their spare time, off their own backs, paying for it all from their own pockets?

Just imagine!

We’d risk removing a compelling Christian voice completely from the heart of our culture.

We’d risk only ever being able to reach out to people who are already on the verge of faith, because most people would have no credible Christian voices speaking into their lives from their music collection, from their gallery visits, from their Netflix viewing list.

We’d risk our worldview (and in turn, Jesus himself) being discredited as being lifeless, dull and impotent as we’d be unable to produce more than a handful of people who can create art that expresses spiritual vitality, depth of thought and an honest appraisal of our human condition.

Seriously, just imagine…

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