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Selfishness, pride, perfectionism, defensiveness, jealousy, envy, emotional imbalance, and lack of discipline -- many people struggle with these character flaws, but Christians with artistic temperaments will face all these issues at various points of their lives if not throughout, simply by virtue of being artists. We don't stumble on these character issues by chance; they're part of our nature. It's what comes with being artists. I didn't consent to write this book because I had done a lot of research on character growth and thought that warranted a book. I wrote it because I've struggled with every character flaw discussed in this book. Most of what I've learned grew out of my quiet times with the Lord. I started sharing what God was doing in my life with my artistic friends at rehearsals, in my small groups, or on retreats. I sensed a kindred spirit with my fellow artists, most of whom also wanted to grow in the areas we all struggle with. I then began to share what I was learning at conferences and workshops and there too found countless others who were hungry for what God's Word has to say about growing in character as a Christian artist. Many of them would ask me to recommend further resources that spoke directly to those of us with artistic temperaments, but unfortunately there isn't much available. This book is written in response to that need.
I've been working with artists in the church for over twenty-five years now, and I've seen churches handle artists in one of two ways. We either coddle artists and put up with their shortcomings or we use and abuse artists. Irving Stone's The Agony and the Ecstasy, a biographical novel about the life of Michelangelo, has one long chapter devoted to Michelangelo's relationships with the various popes he worked for. Most of those relationships were stormy ones, and Michelangelo's experience as a church artist was extremely frustrating. As I read about all the abuse heaped upon one of my favorite artists, the thought occurred to me that this tension between the church and artists has been going on for hundreds of years. I dream of the day when the church will stop alienating artists and start nurturing artists and give them a safe place to grow and become the people God wants us to be. I wish we were more sensitive to the needs of artists. And I wish all artists loved the church and were growing in godly character and integrity.
I've come to believe that the best way to experience this material is within the context of a team or small group. You can go through this book by yourself, but the greatest benefit would be gained by going through it in a small-group setting with other like-minded artists. You could study this material with your worship band, your church choir, your drama team, your dance troupe, and so on. This material was originally intended for just those kinds of groups. That's why I included the same group discussion questions I would typically use in my workshops. Because I will often stress the importance of being accountable to someone for changes you want to make in your life, there would also be a lot of value in going through this book as part of a one-on-one discipleship or mentoring relationship with a friend or another artist.
Each chapter of the book begins with a scenario that illustrates the focus of that chapter. Although the names I used and the scenarios are fictitious, they are based on real life -- situations I've experienced during my years in the ministry.
I currently have the privilege of serving as the music director at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. I was part of the original youth group that started the church, and was hired to my current position in 1984. I might refer to my home church from time to time, but this is not a book about Willow Creek. This is a book for Christian artists. I hope you will be encouraged by this book to fulfill the calling God has for you as an artist. And I hope you will be challenged to grow into the artist God wants you to be.
I am deeply indebted to Bill Hybels, whose leadership I have sat under for most of my life and whose teaching permeates this book more than even I probably realize. I am indebted to my wife, Sue, for her encouragement and support. And I am indebted to the team of artists at Willow Creek with whom I co-labor, some of whom I have known for over two decades. It is to them that I humbly dedicate this book.