In my conversations with church leaders I often get the question about the role of media and the arts in the Church. Most of the time you can boil their objections down to trying to “dress up” the message of the Gospel, as if it couldn’t stand on its own. The typical argument is that some churches are trying to repackage the Gospel to make it “seeker-friendly,” and in doing so they are watering down the message.
While I have seen this done more often than I care to admit, I have also seen some churches that are accessible for “outsiders,” yet producing both converts and disciples.
The question needs to be rephrased as one of context. Acts 17:16-34 clearly describes the Apostle Paul introducing God and Jesus in a contextual manner. He was invited to speak to a group of philosophers that gathered on a regular basis to debate the newest philosophies and theories. It was a group of intellectuals, and Paul connected with them on their level – in a way they could understand.
As he spoke, Paul initially gained favor by complimenting them on their religious nature. He continued by finding the common ground of a god they worshipped, but didn’t understand. He offered to bring clarity to nature of this god. This piqued their interest. He used symbols and cultural icons they were quite familiar (their context) with to capture their attention, and explain the heart of God. He even quoted their own prophets and poets. And because he was willing to do this a number of people committed their lives to Jesus.
The arts down through the ages
A few years ago while living in Europe we took a road trip to Paris. While there we took the kids to see the Notre Dame Cathedral. What a beautiful church! As I was explaining to the girls about the meaning of the different stained glass pictures and the carvings, it hit me. When the church leaders would refer to the story of Jesus walking on the water (Mark 6:45-52) they would point to the mural or stained glass window that represented that story.
Down through the ages church leaders explained the message of the Gospel to an illiterate people through images and stories. And this is exactly how today’s Church will be able to explain the message of the Gospel to a biblically illiterate, media-saturated culture! We have to look for ways to contextualize the eternal message of God’s grace to the culture around us.
We live in a sight and sound society. The media and the arts are filled with symbols, stories, pictures and objects that can connect the message we are trying to convey with our listeners’ lives and experience. These connection points are crucial in planting the seed of God’s Word deep in their hearts. If we fail to capture the attention of the people we want to reach, we will never capture their hearts. We need to use every means necessary to proclaim the Good News to our circle of influence!