April 24, 2023

by Bill Mowry

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away . . . I was an art student. In fact, I was once certified to teach art in grades K-12. Why didn’t I pursue this career? A deciding factor was a grade on a watercolor painting.

The painting was a collection of nondescript bottles gathered from my dorm room to quickly complete an end-of-the-semester assignment. The instructor picked up my haphazard approach and wrote on the back of the painting, “Trite and unimaginative. C- “ I thought to myself, “This captures my art career — trite and unimaginative!”

The Lord took me on a different career path. Instead of teaching art, I’ve been a missionary for forty-eight years. But my brief art career shaped my ministry; I’ve always tried to bring the touch of the artist to the Great Commission. I call this artful ministry — ministry that’s full of art.

What does artful ministry look like? I’m not going to attempt to define art. Nor am I going to justify art and its place in ministry. We serve a Lord of immeasurable creativity so it’s only natural that as His image-bearers we’re creative creatures. My goal is to demonstrate how we can bring an artful touch to disciplemaking.

At its most basic level, good art does three things: it grabs our souls, it captures our imaginations, and it reflects a disciplined craft. These three elements shape artful disciplemaking.

Artful disciplemaking grabs our souls. Whether it’s visual, musical, or dramatic, there’s something about art that grabs our souls; capturing our emotions and touching our life’s core. 

We revel in the majesty of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, the soaring creativity of A Day in a Life by Lennon/McCartney, or the amazing photography from the BBC Our Planet series. The core of our lives are touched as we’re drawn into these creations. We find our values challenged, our worlds enlarged, and our wonder activated. We’re enraptured and transformed in small or big ways. This is the essence of disciplemaking — a transformative experience by the Spirit of God.

Artful ministry is Holy Spirit ministry; who else can grab our hearts and souls! When the Holy Spirit captures our souls He transforms the core of our lives. Generations ago we referred to this as the “anointing” of the Holy Spirit. This anointing is hard to describe or quantify, it can’t be packaged or bottled but we know when it happens.

When we’re anointed by the Spirit, there’s an unusual presence and power that transforms the lives of others. Anointed ministry is more than completing a check list or appearing professional, it’s God creating the new through us. What is this “new” that He creates?

In Ephesians 2:10, the Apostle Paul wrote that we’re “his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works“ (Ephesians 2:10). The Greek word translated “workmanship” is poiema from which we derive our English word “poem.” The Jerusalem Bible translates this phrase as His “work of art.” Disciplemaking brings forth God’s created work of art.

Want to engage in artful ministry– ministry that captures the souls of people, that creates new works of art? Ask the Holy Spirit to touch and renew the core of another’s life with His presence. Trust Him to transform people into works of art that glorifies the Creator.

Artful disciplemaking is imaginative. Imagination is derived from a Latin word meaning “to form an image of, to represent.” “Imagination,” writes pastor and author Warren Wiersbe, “is the image-making faculty in your mind, the picture galley in which you are constantly painting, sculpting, designing, and sometimes erasing.” Imagination is probably one of the first words that come to mind when I mention the word “artist.”

Artists may be specially gifted but we all have one thing in common — an imagination. “Unfortunately,” writes Cheryl Forbes, “it’s one of our God-given gifts that’s often neglected. Most of us don’t use our imagination because we don’t know God has given it to us nor have we been taught how to use it.”

Imagination enables us to picture something in a way that’s different from the common place. It creates new ways of explaining, clarifying, or illustrating the ordinary or the traditional. One of my favorite imagination tools is a thesaurus. A thesaurus provides different words to replace the ordinary; we imagine something new by using different words. Words have the power to paint new images or pictures.

Another imagination tool is using analogies. An analogy compares one thing to another; the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. The founder of The Navigators, Dawson Trotman, was rich in imagination and proficient with analogies. He imagined that the Christian life is like a wheel, our intake of the Scriptures is like a hand, and disciplemaking is like multiplication. Dawson used his imagination to create new pictures of familiar concepts. This is artful ministry at its best.

Artful disciplemaking is a craft. A craft is usually associated with making things by hand. It’s also descriptive of the skill needed to do a particular work; craftsmanship is synonymous with excellence. “Do you see a man skilled in his work?” asks the writer of Proverbs. “He will stand before kings and not obscure men” (Proverbs 22:29). When I speak of artful ministry as a craft, I mean that disciplemaking is a skilled practice done with excellence.

Practicing one’s craft is neither haphazard or formulaic — two temptations of contemporary disciplemaking. When we practice disciplemaking as a craft, we master four simple skills: reading people, asking questions, telling stories, and connecting the Bible to life. I wish I could elaborate more on these skills but time and space limit me.

Disciplemaking needs an artist’s touch. Pastor and author A.W. Tozer sounds the call for artful ministry when writing:

I long to see the imagination released from its prison and given to its proper place among the sons of the new creation. What I am trying to describe here is the sacred gift of seeing, the ability to peer beyond the veil and gaze with astonished wonder upon the beauties and mysteries of things holy and eternal. The stodgy pedestrian mind does no credit to Christianity.A.W. Tozer

Let’s move disciplemaking from the stodgy practice of checklists and curriculums, programs and performance to an artful practice — a practice anointed by the Holy Spirit, filled with imagination, and crafted with excellence.

Want to explore artful ministry in depth? Check out my book Conversations with Josh about Art and Ministry available on amazon.com.


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