The Church Empowering Members to Full Humanity through Celebration, Art, and Play

Professors Greg and Laura Carmer

NON310: Foundations of Work and Vocation

How can the church help it’s members embody lives which are in accordance with God’s will? God made humans, and thus knows how they live best. His will for people is for them to live in complete joy (John 15:11 NIV). He loves to work with them, to see them develop, work, care, and love. He mandated that they have name things in the world, and that they cultivate the garden. He has set out a mighty mission for humans, and has written a story of grandeur around them. People from all over should see those living a life in obedience to their creator and drop their jaws in response. Christian life has brought forth some of the most amazing art humans have known—the Sistine Chapel, and incredible movements in justice—Martin Luther King Jr., and astonishing lives of compassion and integrity—think of Mother Theresa and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. People across all faiths admire and aspire to lead similarly great lives, not necessarily of fame, but of meaning and significance.

            Churches of New England may stunt believers’ work in the world to solely theological tasks, or tasks of service in the church. The church I grew up in did not encourage me to go out and make astonishing music, unless witnessing to God’s gospel was the ultimate aim of my endeavor. I find this bringing the quality of the work down a notch, because the ultimate aim of good work is not simply an excellent product or service, but to spread the gospel. I find the reverse valuation a more fruitful way of thinking and acting. When excellent work is the aim, and then people inquire about one’s beliefs and motivation, realize they are a Christian, and as a result are very winsomely attracted to this true and powerful vision of the world.

            Part of this vision includes a manner of responding to the world with a few vague categories of action: play, learning, work, and rest (Marshall). I will center on play, and how the church can encourage its members to realize how this fits into the life Christians are called to. Then they don’t fall into the draining state of becoming guilty after every portion of time not spent working. According to Marshall, we also have certain tasks in the world, such as imagining and creating beautiful material in the world, such as homes and clothing (155). He focuses on art, politics, the natural world, and technology. These are not the only tasks given to us by God. I will center on how the church can support it’s members to embody God’s desire for art in the world.

A misconception of God’s intent for humans can devalue certain kinds of work in the world. Beliefs for what God’s will for man is dictates the way man values different types of activities. In medieval Europe, a common belief was that God willed for man to contemplate more than he willed man to create images (Hardy). These beliefs denied the human body as a hinderance, which resulted in people devaluing many of God’s structures, such as finding agricultural work less Godly than contemplation. The source for the idea which idealized the separation between mind and body came into Christianity by influence of Platonism (Gonzalez). Physical labor and even the work of statesmen became less worthwhile than more ethereal activities, like prayer, singing, and meditation. The dominant belief in medieval Europe was that the work of mind and spirit was God’s desire for man. God willed that men contemplate more than he willed for them to create paintings or play chess.

Luther dedicated his life to what he believed God’s will for him was, which at first, was that the most God ordained work he could do was that of a monk. However, this work did not lead to his flourishing, rather, it lead to his discouragement. His soul was brought to depression as he climbed up and down the stairs, saying a hail Mary at each step, becoming frustrated by his hopeless view of achieving holiness enough to allow for salvation (Hardy). Amidst his toil and devotion, God revealed to Luther the doctrine of grace—part of which is God’s will for man to not strive for his own salvation. He stumbled upon this through teaching on Romans, finally he came upon a passage which struck him in a light it never had before. Luther’s story illustrates the difference in one’s life living according to the true will of God for our lives. At times we deceive ourselves into believing certain things, like listening only to Christian music, are the will of God, but in the end, these false beliefs lead to a strain on our life. These false beliefs discourage vibrancy of life.

            I gleaned a stifling false belief from the church I grew up in–work involving explicity Christian ministry is God’s ultimate will for us. To illustrate this example in an extreme fashion, if we could all live perfectly according to God’s will, we would all be missionaries, pastors, and running homeless programs. If the church, the body of Christ, celebrates accomplishments from a breadth of careers, people would realize that Christ also celebrates accomplishments in a diversity of types of work. This true, altered belief leads to human flourishing, because people stop beating themselves up over not doing “Christian” work.

            At The Harbor, a church in Beverly, MA, a woman, who we will call Lisa, went through the training school offered by the church, which focuses on providing people with training to become a missionary in another country, especially focused on church planting. After graduation, Lisa, with her graduating class, was applauded by the church. They stood on stage and smiled. Within the last few weeks, she decided to move to India for three years. As a reward for this commitment, the head pastor had her stand in front of the congregation to explain what and why she was doing. Then the pastor, alluding to the applause of angels in heaven, called for the church to give a standing ovation to her. This was the longest applause I have heard at the Harbor for months.

            No one working or making accomplishments or commitments to other types of work have been brought before the congregation. Given, the Harbor ran this educational program. Institutions celebrate their alumni more than other institutions, but the nature of a church is a gathering place for a widespread group of people. A worshipping community involves people of all professions and strains of work. The body of Christ has many parts, which leaves room for biophysicists, physicians, cell phone salesmen, students, seminarians, burger flippers, house cleaners, actuaries, enlisted privates, and gymnists (1 Cor. 12:12 NIV). These are some of the jobs at the Harbor.

If the cell phone salesmen were brought before the church and applauded for making record sales, the church would be left working harder no matter their work. The church would live more fully because of freedom from the lie that God desires pastoral ministry more than graphic design. Church members would no longer feel guilty about not doing the work that they don’t do.  The feeling of inadequacy is a negative, distorted view of people’s self identity, the structure of self esteem set in the wrong direction.

            Because there is a proper structure of adequacy, we ought to feel inadequate when we do not live up to the way God has willed us to live. A problem with a worshipping community celebrating only missions work is that it leaves some not in missions with a misconception that their work is not as valued by their work community, and thus less important. This could leave a feeling of inadequacy, or of dissapointment in one’s self, which is not God’s will. He does not intend for us to live in self pity when we are actually doing something good and important, like selling cell phones.

            Growing up I saw my youth Pastor Derek up on the stage. I saw him as the model for a mature Christian. What I missed however, was the separation between his full time profession and the part of his person that defined his Christianity. Then I thought I needed to be able to speak a well articulated sermon and lead sessions of praise and worship in order to be a mature Christian.

            The thought which says I need to do what a pastor does to be a Christian does appear widespread through Gordon. At least, that feeling is not commonly discussed, but perhaps many people believe this and do not say it. I imagine that many people in church, when presented with the idea that pastoral and missions work is greater, more sacrificial work which pleases God, would likely deny that statement. The idea that if everyone became a foreign missionary the world could not function, seems common, and that the body of Christ is widespread and requires people who are doing many things, seems normal. However, to reinforce the fact that the missionary’s work is not more important than the salesman’s, people could be put on stage and celebrated for many different types of work and accomplishments. During times of announcement we could applaude a great diversity of work publicly. If I had seen those people and feats on stage growing up, instead of just my pastors and worship leaders. I wouldn’t have developed an all-hail-the-missionary complex. My motivation for choosing to puruse medicine would not have been, “I would not make a gifted pastor, so medicine seems like the next most Christian type work I could do well.”

            Connected to teaching Christianity such that God’s will for people to do ALL sorts of work, is the idea that play is an important part of the Christian life as well. Senior year of high school I found myself drained by my difficulty in habituating the ideal of making every conversation explicitly about God. I asked why play, why board games, why movies were important? What gave pointless video games (as I saw) a point? I needed an end to justify spending time doing these things without guilt. When my friends responded with “because it is important.” I was not satisfied. Why? No scriptural backing. I saw no benefit in play. I felt guilty partaking of it—as if I wasted my time. So I strove to play less, and in return work and learn more, but I became drained. I didn’t like who I was becoming.

Churches can help members understand play more deeply by hosting playful events. Marshall described a scenario in which a group of Christians came into a bar, started dancing, and eventually had business men taking a break there dancing in a conga line (111). No body knew they were Christians until they were asked who they were. The following day one of the band members became a Christian, and the people in the bar that night had their perspective on Christians reoriented for the rest of their life, making Christians more winsome missionaries (Blanchard). I could have learned a lot about Christian life from teachings on Christianity that explained why play is an important part of Christian life.

In class, we discussed an hypothetical example of HanByul taking on a multimonth long work project. Throughout this period she does not take time to rest or play. Her friends shock her by telling her that they don’t like who she is becoming. Now she smiles less, and the corners of her mouth are slightly downturned. India described her incredibly work heavy time at Princeton as something which turned her into a robot—implying that she was not living in the fullness of humanity which she could have been.

Worshipping communities ought to host events purely for fun, without a primary purpose of evangelizing, but simply to enjoy life.  “Play is what we do for no reason at all. Play is not done for any reason outside of itself. It is done for its own sake” (Marshall 108). We can play just to play! Then people won’t fall into the pit of thinking that they need to provide for every need. When one plays, they fulfill who people were created to be. Play is a structure of human life, and they acknowledge that they can’t provide for their every need. Never playing can convey an attitude of a lack of trust. Here is where the connection between play and rest can be seen. Rest is a time in which we reflect on God’s provision for our needs (Marshall 100). Church events centered on play could include a short teaching on the biblical perspective on play, or this lesson could be taught at a separate time, perhaps as part of a Sunday school series on worldview.

Part of Christian worldview involves our responses to the world, one of which is play, an our tasks in the world, one of which is art. The arts are another area where the church can work to empower its members to live fully according to . The arts, according to Marshall, and International Arts Movement, are an essential part of being human (155). Through them we become fully alive, and we express part of ourselves. Through art we bear the image of God, we birth beauty into the world.

Heidi from International arts movement described that in expressing ourselves we are vulnerable because we often express a feeling of ours. Through this process we are made vulnerable, because we let a part of ourselves out. If art is part of living out God’s will for humans, the the church ought to aid in it’s members ability to engage with art.

Andy Crouch suggested a change the church can make to more fully incorporate artists’ into its midst is to provide a position for artists to teach the laity how to respond to images. In a personal conversation, Crouch suggested that humanity is transitioning from a literary age to a visual age. In a literary culture, the most important pieces of information are communicated through text, and speech is not the primary form through which authoritative pieces of information are communicated.

While we may not come to a point where the most important pieces of information our culture communicates are images, but they are becoming more dominant in our culture. Greg Carmer suggested in the conversation that millenials often look websites for hours, looking primarily at images. A website like Stumbleupon or Tumblr provides this sort of entertainment. Because this type of entertainment, looking through hundreds of different photos daily is common place for the millenial generation, who learn natural image composition by this habit. Crouch made this observation while on a safari with a perhaps 50 year old doctor and his 15 year old daughter. Her photos were few and gorgeous, with a point and shoot camera, while the doctor’s were many and decent. Her’s were well composed—the rule of thirds was employed.

The observations about images and films being a more common way of communicating seems true, and because of more images presented in our culture, and messages being sent through images, it would help if artists taught people how they could interpret images, what certain types of presentation means, etc.

Another way artists could be incorporated fully into the church is through being brought on stage. A person on stage, talking about certain things is a key way the church displays visually it’s values. The artist could once per month have a short part of the service in which they teach about interpreting an image. There could be a piece of art or an image used in an advertisement portrayed on screen, and they could teach about how the colors, the composition, the shadows, the focus, the lines, the font, etc., convey meaning. They could tie the image into a spiritual idea. In order to free the presentation from needing a theological connotation, The church could teach that in understanding and appreciating art

Images presented and taught on in church should not always have a theological meaning drawn out of them. If a watercolor of a lion is projected onto the screen, or a physical painting brought on stage, a metaphor about the lion of Judah need not be mentioned, especially if the creator did not intend for that to be the meaning of the painting. It is a worship service, and always explaining images with a theological perspective could result in the church believing they need to think of all art as containing a statement about God, and finding that statement is the most important aspect of worship. If the artist did not intend to convey a theological message, then a theological message need not be extracted from the image. Keeping the question, how do we respond to imagery as Christians, present may help frame these presentations in such a way that does not leave laity feeling that their calling as Christians is to pull a theological idea out of every image they see.

Again, my motivation in changing what is on the stage stems from my stifling belief in high school that I listening to music that wasn’t explicitly Christian was a waste of time. I have grown to realize the beauty in music made by non-Christians, with lyrics that convey human emotions and relationships in a crystal clear manner. Many have created beautiful art who have not been Christians, and to reject this work is to reject a large portion of beauty that has been created.

I watched The Umbrellas of Cherbourg this past Mardi Gras, during which Paul Stapleton taught me about the messages sent through colors. I experienced more full life through this. The main girl’s room was pink, and the main boy’s blue. She wore pink through the beginning of the movie, and after she went home with the boy and slept with him, the next scene she was pictured at home she came out wearing the boy’s blue, to represent her heart being wholly for him—her new connection with him. I comprehended the meaning of the story more fully through knowing this principle about film color in this movie. I did not interpolate any theological ideas into this story using my understanding of this art technique, I simply enjoyed and appreciated the film more fully. Art is ultimately still connected to God by the fact that it is his image bearers who are creating it, and their ability to create art was given by him. God intends for people to apprehend the meaning of art, even if it is not teaching a truth explicitly about him.

A potential problem with these ideas is that they stray quite far from what has traditionally been included in a worship service, but they could inspire members to play more, engage more thoughtfully with images in the world, and do harder work, with a clearer conscious, knowing that their work is just as important as the work of the pastor, and just as valued and celebrated by the church.

In sum, if a church changes what they present on stage, they will reinforce the idea that Christians are called to appreciate many kinds of things in the world, and do many types of work. The divide between sacred and secular will then have a more difficult time creeping into the minds, lives, and hearts of the church members. If I had grown up in this type of church culture, I would not have grown up feeling inferior–like I could never entirely live the life God has called me too. Bring biophysicists on stage to present their accomplishments. Have artists teach people how to understand the world by teaching what images mean. Let the church talk about play as important in and of itself, that not every act of ours needs an externally productive end. Let pastors, physicists, and those in puberty play to play.



Carmer, Greg. Interview. Elijah Project 14′-15′ Cohort. 18 March 2014.

Crouch, Andy. Interview. Elijah Project 14′-15′ Cohort. 18 March 2014.

Blanchard, David. Interview. Elijah Project 14′-15′ Cohort. 7 March 2014

González, Justo L.. A Concise History of Christian Doctrine. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005. Print.

Hardy, Lee. The fabric of this world: inquiries into calling, career choice, and the design of human work. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1990. Print.

Heidi of Interntational Arts Movement. Interview. Elijah Project 14′-15′ Cohort. 6 March 2014.

Les parapluies de Cherbourg. Dir. Jacques Demy. Perf. Catherine Denevue, Nino Castelnuovo. Koch Lorber Films :, 1964. DVD.

Marshall, Paul. Heaven is Not My Home. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998. Print.

NIV Bible. Large Print ed. London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd :, 2007. Print.

Stapleton, Paul. Interview. Jacob Stephens. 5 March 2014.