This summer I met Gary Molander at the Echo Conference. He’d just put out a new book, Pursuing Christ. Creating Art.: Exploring Faith at the Intersection of Faith and Creativity (read our review), that was right up our alley. Gary is a former pastor and currently creates church media. That’s right—he’s smack in the middle of the pastor/artist debate, which means he brings a unique insight.
Gary is the founder of the church media company Floodgate Productions. He also founded Floodgate Creative for full service creative work and Floodgate Foundation, which funds community restoration projects in El Salvador.
We sat down with Gary to talk about his new book, and stick around for the end because we’re going to give away some free copies of Gary’s book!
In the book you make the claim that pastors are artists. I think we have a lot of creative people who would beg to differ. Can you explain that?
I’ve read that line a million times, and even debated whether or not I should leave it in the final manuscript. The line is “I think pastors are artists, who might not really believe that.” The short answer is that I don’t really believe that line. Completely.
But in the book, I continue to suggest that we’ve too tightly defined what an “artist” is. When I talk with people who are the “artists” in the church world, they would never suggest that a pastor is an artist. They would say that he’s a CEO, or a leader or a micro-managing control freak. But never an artist. And that worries me.
I invite you to take a deep breath, and read this paragraph without breaking. When I look at someone who is leading a church and a staff team, and who shares his/her heart every week, and who is trying to move a group of people forward into a kingdom that doesn’t make sense, and who is a counselor and a peacemaker and a father and a boss and a visionary and a doctor and a lawyer, and who is loved and hated by people in the same room for different reasons, and who is scared to death but won’t admit it…
I think that’s an art.
So I’m stretching to one extreme in hopes of getting my readers into the middle. And I really want for pastors to begin to see their calling as an art, not as a litany of formulas designed to get their church past the 400 barrier.
When a lot of people think of Christian art, they think of cheese. Church art has a bad reputation. How can churches get away from that art and explore art that has more value? And while doing that, how do they deal with the people who complain that it’s not “good” enough or “holy” enough or whatever enough?
I think the cheese factor in church art comes when we assume that the art needs to offer both a clear portrait of an actual image of Jesus (usually blond-haired and Caucasian) and a plan of salvation, all wrapped together with a bow at the end. In my field (film and writing), something goes the way of bad cheese when the story offers a character and an ending that simply doesn’t work in real life.
Churches can explore art that has more value simply by creating beautiful works (or by telling compelling stories) that don’t resolve anything. Art not only communicates truth. It also creates emotional uprisings. Many churches have never considered giving an entire congregation the chance to experience intense stirrings. Many church leaders are uncomfortable if the final fill-in-the-blank is left unfilled. It seems far safer to give people tips and techniques and formulas alone, than to give them a license to touch a mystery.
And to be wrecked by it.
I mean, rather than causing us to leave church with a smile, what if God’s will is for us to sit in our own personal pond of holy agitation the whole morning and actually experience the ache of seeing no way out?
What if our lives are unresolved, and what if our art reflected that?
What’s one thing artists can do to make better art?
If I had to boil it down to two things (that is what you asked, right?), I’d say this:
First, I think we need to stop pursuing the next great creative concept, and start pursuing Jesus. That sounds great, and many people nod and say “Mmmm” when I say that in a room full of artists. But it’s so very true. When we pursue Jesus, the next great creative idea will come as a gift of the relationship. We artists tend to drag Jesus through our creative processes, turning to Him only when we’re stuck. I’d rather allow Jesus to drag us into bringing healing and redemption to the world, and figuring out our creative concepts as that’s taking place.
Second, I think artists would create better art if they became less concerned with preaching and more concerned with inspiring. Let the pastor preach and teach (artistically, I would argue). Great art happens when artists simply set the table and invite people into the feast.
What’s one way pastors and creatives can get along better?
Pastors need to clearly communicate the scope and the vision of the project to the artists involved. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to create art (music, video, print pieces, stage elements, lighting, sound, etc.), without knowing the vision or the scope. We guess, always knowing that we might be wrong. And if we work at a church where the pastor is the “anointed one,” then we’ve come to understand that this is entirely normal.
So when something I’ve spent countless hours creating is pulled at the last minute because the pastor decides to go in a different direction? Once or twice is fine, but doing that over and over again will kill the heart of artists.
I think there are a lot of smaller churches out there that don’t have creatives on staff or taking the reins. How can these churches tap into creatives without a budget?
I agree. I think the vast majority of churches can’t afford to hire someone to just create stuff all day long. I would suggest a couple of threads to consider.
First, I would look for that late-teens, early-20’s kid who’s already bent in the artistic direction. Most likely, he’s already in your church. One of my greatest regrets in pastoral ministry is that I didn’t search and equip this exact kid like I should have. He’s the kid churches should be buying Final Cut and AfterEffects for. He’s the kid who churches should put on a bus to creative conferences (Echo, Story, etc.). He’s the kid who needs ongoing pastoral mentoring so that his skill level doesn’t surpass his spiritual maturity.
Secondly, I’d look to existing resources outside of your church. Companies like Igniter Media, CenterlineNew Media, Floodgate Productions and others consistently provide media resources that churches can use, and would be proud to show (Floodgate even provides a small church discount for substantial savings). Northpoint Church is really great at making their in-house creative resources available to the church at large. ChurchLeaders.com is always offering free creative resources.
Read the Review & Free Copies
Thanks Gary. Good words.
To dive deeper into what Gary’s talking about, check out his new book, Pursuing Christ. Creating Art.: Exploring Faith at the Intersection of Faith and Creativity. You can read our review and Gary has also offered to give away three free copies. Here’s how to enter to win:
- Post a comment below answering the question, “How do you think the church could create better art?”
- Gary will draw three winners at random on Friday, Dec. 9 to receive a copy of his book.
- One entry per person, shipping to U.S. addresses only (international winners might need to pitch in on shipping), [insert other disclaimers and addendums here].
So… how do you think the church could create better art?
Update: And the winners are… David Clark, Rob Rash & Craig Hinca. Gary will be sending you a copy of his book. Congrats.