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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Where Do Writers Fit in the Church?

If you have the gift of teaching, evangelism, hospitality, or helps, there is a place for you in the Church. If you have administration skills, musical talent, or simply like to serve, there is a place for you in the Church. But if you are an artist, a writer, a poet, or an actor, you're out of luck.

Makoto Fujimura, founder of International Arts Movement, believes that:

Christians often misunderstand the role of creativity. Few churches get involved in the arts, and as a result, many creative individuals feel separated and alienated from God and His body of believers.

That's how I've been feeling lately -- "separated and alienated." Probably because our church recently studied the topic of spiritual gifts and callings. The funny thing is: It's not ignorance of my calling that alienates me; it's awareness of my calling that alienates me.

I mean, where do writers fit in the Church?

The church needs people to man the nursery, host Bible studies, organize social events, plan outreach opportunities, visit the sick, counsel the hurting, and recycle bulletins. But... poets? Seriously. What practical purpose do poets serve in the local church?

It's a conundrum. On the one hand, if God "calls" some members of His Body to write fiction,

direct theater, sculpt, or paint abstracts, how do those callings practically relate to the local church? If they don't, are we prepared to say that writers, artists, and actors are peripheral to the real mission of God on earth? And if they're not -- if fiction writers actually serve an important role in the Body of Christ -- why isn't there more of a practical place for them?

Mike is a monthly contributor to Novel Journey. He is represented by the rockin' Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary. Mike's debut novel, "The Resurrection," is in stores now. You can visit his website at


  1. I am reminded of that biblical passage where Nathan the prophet is used by God to address David’s sin. The prophet uses a fictionalized story to force David to confront his own adultery and murder.

    I am not suggesting that fiction writers are all prophets of God, and that their stories are somehow echoing God’s message to the masses. But He gave each writer a gift to be used for His glory. God has a purpose for calling some to be writers—even fiction writers. Those involved in traditional church ministries, however, rarely sees these gifts as something relevant to the body of Christ. It is for this reason that many artists, writers and musicians feel a disconnect between their talents and their abilities to serve the local church.

  2. You're right, Mike. Most churches don't recognize artists as ministers and servants in the church. Writing Bible studies like Beth Moore, Kay Arthur or Henry Blackaby does become a ministry, but what about the others? I'm very fortunate to belong to a church that does recognize the gifts of creativity, and the it has become a ministry of our church. Once a year we, First Baptist of Houston, sponsor what is called "IMAGO." It is a display of talent from poetry to sculpture, paintings to stitchery, quilting to collage and all art forms in between and all are created by members of our church.The exhibit is set up in the main foyer or northex of the church where people can browse and visit and it is open to the public all week. The book store prominently displays books and CDs by members center front when they are released. Our church recognizes the talents of its members and the exhibit, during Holy Week, depicts Jesus Christ in a way that is very visual and real.

    We are also in the process of organizing a School of Fine Arts to teach students instrumental music, theory, voice, drama, art, and possibly creative writing if enough interst is shown. Those with gifts and talents in these areas are needed to serve as instructors.

    There is a place for us, but most churches haven't figured out where or how to use us as yet.

  3. I have always tried to avoid mentioning my writing (Christian romance, which has no real cred anywhere) to people at church--at least the ones I attended in the past. Even though most folk were nice about it, many thought it odd and possibly unsavory. Even had a preacher come and say Christian romance novels were porn. *SIGH*

    The church I attend now in Nashville is full of extremely talented people not ashamed of their crafts--lots of audio, visual, musical skills, but I still feel hesitant to mention what I do when I'm not at church. I keep thinking I'd have more cred if I wrote murder mysteries instead of romance. LOL

    I think in the past, life was more severe for Christians and non-Christians alike, so pursuits were more sober in general. The cities, where the artists were, were considered dens of iniquity. Safe to say that could cast a bit of a pall on Christian creativity.

    I think even today, there's leftover suspicion of the arts. Entertainment today (our main venue for 'the arts') are often inappropriate and downright hostile to Christianity.

    Instead of avoiding the arts, I'd like to see Christians take it for God. The arts might not seem as spiritual or the most powerful tool for conversion, but like Paul, we must be all things to all people so some might be saved.

  4. I see my writing as a ministry to many, both in my local church and beyond. That said, I do not feel that it has to be acknowledged, per se, as a ministry within my local church body. When I worked as a nurse, was that part of my ministry in the church body? Not necessarily although there were times it was used as part of a parish nurse ministry. But why does our calling have to necessarily line up with the functions of the local body? If God has called us to a particular body of believers, perhaps He wants us to expand our idea of what our ministry is. Could it not be the more humble role of changing a diaper or sending a meal to the sick?

  5. I loved what Mark said, and it's interesting Mike posted this now. In many church, I'm afraid, it comes down to the leadership thinking of the arts as performance. It happened in my church with the drama ministry. I wrote a full length musical, a passion play, then produced and directed it. We had 17 salvations in the two nights it ran. I never got a byline on the program as the writer. Ouch.

    A couple of years later, the drama ministry was put to rest. No matter how many of the congregation asked to have it resurrected, it hasn't been.

    And now, we're seeing the back-up choir in the contemporary service not being used. Again, it's that performance mentality raising its ugly head. And that's not in the "performers" but the church pastors. It breaks my heart.

  6. I've written a few contemporary scripts for church dramas when I headed up the drama ministry at one church we used to attend. Both were well received--at first. When it came down to it,the pastor wanted to eliminate the ending of one because it was too "shocking". Neither one of them was ever performed, and, needless to say, the drama ministry dissolved.

    Few pastors we've known read fiction. They have no clue how ministerial stories can be and how valuable they are to congregants. Our denomination has a Fine Arts program/competition for the youth. I guess when you become an adult, it no longer matter what your calling is unless it's musical.

    Martha's church sounds like an ideal place for creative Christians. Bravo.

  7. I'm in a great church that celebrates the arts. We have art shows twice a year. There is a theme put out and we are all invited to comment on that theme through any medium.

    Here are two links to RC Sproul on Christians and the arts that I thought were great. I need to listen to them again.

    Oh my goodness! My word verification is "hotsin" heh heh ouch.

  8. Some religious organizations are so intent on the agenda of the Big Picture ministry, the leaders/pastors/governing body forget that every congregation is comprised of individuals. Souls are saved one at a time.

    A wise shepard realizes it takes a variety of communication methods to "speak" to different personalities. Would a leader speak Russian and expect an Italian to understand? Those who would limit the method of communication exclude those who might otherwise enter their congrgation's doors to hear the only important message.

  9. I spent 20 years leading a drama team at my church in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba--writing scripts, acting, and directing. It began as a volunteer position and evolved into part of a larger job as Creative Arts Director. I'm thankful for a church which embraced and encouraged this effective ministry! Two years ago I left my job for a part-time one elsewhere, because I wanted to free up time to pursue my writing. In that time, I've published two longer plays and several short sketches which were originally written for our team. I have also written a book for drama teams which I'd love to see published, although I realize the limited market. Sadly, the church team has since dissolved as new leadership did not value it the same, or perhaps its time had come and gone. But God, in his upside-down way, has led several former team members(myself included) to join our local community theatre group. Right now we are preparing a short piece to take to a theatre festival in May, written and directed by me. The cast is a mix of believers and nonbelievers; the audience will be largely nonbelievers; the script has a strong pro-life message. I am curious to see what God is going to do in and through us on this intriguing journey!

  10. Thanks for all the great comments! Elaine asked, "...why does our calling have to necessarily line up with the functions of the local body?" This is a great question.

    I think most writers see their talents as God-given. Yes, they may be applied in secular settings (for instance, writing obituaries for the local newspaper or a column for Cat Fancy). But using those talents to also serve the Body seems far more logical than asking artists and writers simply to change diapers. My point in this post is not to suggest that writers shouldn't change diapers or that changing diapers is not as "spiritual" as writing. Rather, my point in this post, as many in these comments have mentioned, is that most churches are really behind the eight ball when it comes to cultivating and engaging those in the arts. There's plenty of opportunities available to change diapers. If you want to recite poetry, however, you must do that at the coffee shop, not the Church.

  11. I would point you to the movie Chariots of Fire, the story of Scottish missionary Eric Liddle, who competed in the 1924 Olympics in Paris.

    He was a phenomenal runner, but he was also a strong and bold Christian who told a more orthodox sister "...God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure."

    I wrote a blog post about this and what it means to creative people like me and how we serve God when we exercise our talents.

    There is, I think, a common misperception that being 'in' church (the building) is the same as being in THE church.

    If you're a Christian, you're in the church no matter where you are. When you're writing, you're still in the church. When you're painting (as I also do), you're still in the church.

    When you run for God, as Eric Liddle did, you are still in the church.

    When a person says there's no work for them in their church, they're limiting themselves to that time when they gather together for corporate worship.

    And that severely limits God's opportunities to work through you, as well.

    You may have to search to find your place in God's kingdom, but it is well worth the search. Just so long as you don't limit yourself to those four walls you refer to as your church.

  12. I haven't had time to read all the comments, so forgive me if I repeat anyone:

    As I writer, I find there are lots of ways we can serve on a practical level:

    - Getting involved in writing website or promotional materials

    - Creating new materials for sunday school stories / dramatizing bible stories

    - Administration (Writers are generally fast typists and often know computer programs better than volunteers)

    - Writing things for the newsletter, events, retreats, etc.

    I hope to encourage you: If you're feeling alienated from God's church, I suspect that's Satan trying to keep a lid on your gifts. Don't let the king of lies tell you you aren't valued. God delights in seeing us serve Him through the gifts He's given. Sometimes it just takes applying that creativity to the needs out there.

    God bless, brother.

  13. This has been a proverbial thorn in my side for a long time. When I had my first book signing (for a devotional book), no one from my church showed up. Not even one. I wrote a "faith" column in our local paper for almost 20 years and recieved some amazing letters/emails etc. from people whose lives were changed or touched in some way, but I could not display let alone sell that book in my own church. Things improved marginally when I launched my novel, One Smooth Stone. Two people from the church came. :)
    Frustrating? Yeah, just a little. But I am greatly encouraged by the fact that God does use the words I put on a page to change lives. Even if my church does not see my writing as worthy, I know He does.

  14. Me again. I can't forget something a speaker said years ago at a writers conference. "The most important writing you ever do will not be the books or articles read by hundreds or thousands, but the individual, personal notes of encouragement given to people you know who will read them over and over." I always keep a few note cards in my purse and make a point of writing at least two each Sunday, asking God to show me who needs my words today.

  15. Marcia, I understand where you're coming from. Several people from my church did attend my book signing. Nevertheless, I get the feeling that, as a writer of fiction, the church doesn't know what to do with me. Which is why I wrote this post.

  16. "I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship." Exodus 31:3

    I believe God reveals Himself through creativity, through His trees, His oceans, His mountains. I believe He wants to reveal Himself also through artists who give Him glory in the work of their hands, whether it be a cross, a beautiful house, a poem, or a novel.

    I could tell you the names of novelists who exemplify the gifts of the Spirit in their storytelling, whether it be words of encouragement, exhortation, or evangelization. And in the same way I should show the fruit of the Spirit at any job I do, I believe a Christian novelist should do the same.

    The church is much more than a pastor, a worship leader, a youth pastor, and a CE director. It is all of us working together, inside and outside of the building walls, to the glory of God.

  17. I've been struggling with this for husband was a children's pastor (and before that a music pastor) for 11 years...and I never felt like my calling directly related to his. It's tricky when pastor's wives are taught that they have to serve in exactly the same way as their spouse, especially when God has clearly given them a very different calling. This is such an interesting topic--thanks for posting this!

  18. Courtney, I see this changing. My pastor's wife teaches school. While she participates in the women's ministry events, she doesn't serve on the team. They've been at our church for 10 years.

    One of our pastors does marriage counseling and his wife (also a writer) does do seminars with him. So I see it both ways.

    But I also see more people, especially the younger crowd, deviating from the "traditional view" of a pastor's wife. :)

    You have to do what God calls you to do and do it unapologetically! I know ... hard for a PW. SIgh. :-/

  19. I live in Birmingham, AL, and there is a movement toward openness to artistic creativity little by little among several baptist an non-denomenational churches in my area. A common thread among these churches that have led to this movement is a Bible-based study called Waking Up Grey. It is a study of creative awakening among Christians--recognizing and "giving permission" for the creative gift that God has intentionally given to artists of all types--writers, painters, poets, etc. The study is different, refreshing, and rich with Bibical truth. Try introducing this study into your church--the author, Jenny Schut, is very approachable and communicates promptly to all inquiries. The website is I am proposing to lead this study in my church this June, and have been pleasantly surprised at how welcome it has been among the pastor and staff. They are very hopeful and enthusiastic about its potential.


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