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Outreach and the Artist
sharing the gospel with the arts
By Contantine R. Campbell
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2013Contantine R. Campbell
All rights reserved.
A JAZZ TESTIMONIAL
I was an artist before I was a Christian. My artistic life began at age ten, when I became obsessed with drawing cartoons, inspired by reading and loving Garfield cartoons by Jim Davis. I developed my own comic strip, complete with characters, plots, bad jokes, and the rest. By age twelve I had drawn over two hundred cartoons in my series. Before I turned twelve, the series had been considered seriously for publication in a local newspaper, but was knocked back because of my age.
Around that time I started to get serious about painting and had a private art tutor who taught me how to handle oils, pencils, and watercolors. I worked on still lifes and a few portraits. By this time, art was more important than school or anything else. At age twelve I moved to a different city with my family, and some of my cartoons were published in a local newspaper. Shortly after that I lost interest in the visual arts—for the time being, anyway. I got into athletics and at age fifteen competed in the state championships for the 800 meters.
But something else had been bubbling beneath the surface from age twelve. I had started to learn the saxophone. I had learned piano from age six, but wasn't really into it. The saxophone was different. It was fun and I practiced regularly. By age fifteen I had gotten pretty good at it. Then I discovered jazz. One of my uncles gave me a Stan Getz record and I listened to it, and only it, for a full year. By age sixteen I had become hooked on jazz, was learning to improvise, and was practicing hard. Before long I had decided to become a professional jazz musician once school was finished. In my final two years at school, I was practicing between four and six hours a day. I barely bothered with schoolwork and couldn't wait for it to be over so I could go to jazz school. I had also rediscovered the visual arts, working on a sculpture for my high school certificate on a major work consisting of some old instruments that I pulled apart and welded into a big treble clef.
For many musicians, music begins in the church. For me it was reverse. Music led me to church. In my second-to-last year at school, a hip, young music teacher came to teach at my school. Miss Benn breathed new life into our school's music department with positivity and enthusiasm. I had a mild crush on her, like most of the other guys. Anyway, because I was good at saxophone, she asked me to do a few gigs with her band. Turns out it was a Christian band. The guys in the band were great people—fine musicians, but really on about Jesus. Eventually they took me with them to their church, and throughout my last year of school I was going to church each Sunday night. I thought I was a Christian, but the truth was that I had little to no understanding of Christian faith—not helped by the fact that the church did not really teach the Bible. My true god was Jazz, and I didn't see any problem with that.
When I finished school, I moved to Canberra to study Jazz Performance at the Canberra School of Music of the Australian National University. I had been going to church the year before this, so I figured I would find a church in Canberra. I picked one at random out of the phone book and went along. From my point of view, it couldn't have been more random, but now I see God's hand in it. For the first time in my life, I heard the Bible taught clearly, and it blew me away. While I was progressing in my jazz studies and being confirmed in my idolatry (more on this later), simultaneously something else was bubbling beneath the surface. I was becoming a Christian.
By the end of my first year of studies at jazz school, I had become a Christian, had starting dating my future wife, Bronwyn, and was wrestling with the place of jazz in my life. It was becoming increasingly clear that jazz had been occupying the place of a god in my life, and as a fast-growing Christian this would not do. And so the battle between Jazz and Jesus was underway. I wanted to be a Christian and wasn't going to give up on Jesus, but I had become used to my life revolving around music. The more I studied the Bible and was involved in church, the more unsettled I became. I fluctuated between thinking that I had to give up jazz altogether and thinking that God wanted me to be a professional jazz musician for his glory.
In my second year of studies, I won the prestigious James Morrison Jazz Scholarship, which is awarded each year to one jazz musician in Australia (of any instrument) at age nineteen. To win that competition had been my goal since I was sixteen, and I took it as a sign that God wanted me to be a jazz musician after all. Why would he allow me to win if that wasn't the plan?
It wasn't the plan. In my third year of university the question came up again in a big way. I went to a midyear Bible conference for university students, called The Focal Point. My pastor, Dave McDonald, taught the Bible that week on the theme of the church. It was seriously good Bible teaching, and I was deeply challenged from the first day. The challenge was that believers should not be building their own Tower of Babel, but be concerned for the building of God's church. Working as copartners with God in the building of his church is actually the first vocation of all Christians.
I knew that I had been building my own little Tower of Babel in the form of my jazz career. It was my own little kingdom, and while I wanted it to be for God's glory, deep down I suspected it was for my own. During the next few days I prayed a lot, talked a lot, and determined to sort out my priorities once and for all. On the last day of the conference, Dave challenged us again. He argued that if, as had been established, we should be focused on serving the church, the next question is how best to do that. For some people, it would mean being a solid Christian in the workplace. For others it would mean doing so as a student. For others, it might mean changing your job. For some it would mean quitting their careers and going into full-time Christian ministry.
Well, my number was up. I knew that I could better serve the church in full-time ministry than as a full-time musician. Sure, there would have been lots of ministry to do as a musician, and I know Christian musicians who do that well. But for me, there wasn't any question: my heart was changed, and I wanted to go into full-time ministry.
After The Focal Point, I talked to Dave about my new desire to go into ministry, and he told me to come back in a month. If I still felt this way, then we'd talk. A month later, we talked and decided that the following year I would begin work with him as a ministry apprentice. Two weeks after my jazz studies concluded, Bron and I got married, and after the summer I began working in full-time Christian ministry. The jazz god had been put down; Jesus won that contest, and life would continue without music. Or so I thought.
It turns out that God had other plans. He used my abilities in music for ministry in ways that I could not have predicted. I kept playing lots of "secular" gigs while doing ministry work full-time, but the big surprise was the way that jazz would become a powerful tool for evangelism. The way all that happened comes later, but for now I will say that God blessed me with the combination of two great loves: playing jazz and talking to people about Jesus. I didn't dream it was possible, and in fact I initially thought it was a crazy idea. But God has given me many opportunities to serve him with (and without) a saxophone in my hands. For that I am very grateful. As Fiona McDonald (Dave's wife) once said to me: "You gave up jazz for God, and he gave it right back to you." So true. But when God gave it back to me, it was with a higher pur
Excerpted from Outreach and the Artist by Contantine R. Campbell. Copyright © 2013 by Contantine R. Campbell. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
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