Feasting with Artists, Musicians and Christian Leaders from All Over Europe
By Natalie Meeks
GREENVILLE, South Carolina – “Feed my sheep.” Three times Jesus gave this command in response to Peter’s declarations of love.
At the end of May, BBI President Charles Kelley and Natalie Meeks traveled to Wisla, Poland to lead the European Artists Network with that very goal in mind – to set a broad table and follow Jesus Christ’s command to feed His sheep… For the Beauty of the Church.
The 2018 European Artists Network represented a community of artists, musicians, pastors, church planters and other Christian leaders convening at the European Leadership Forum (ELF), an annual gathering of more than 700 participants from 50+ nations, including BBI’s Almers Ludviks and Madara Lazdina. The mission of ELF is to unite, equip and resource evangelical leaders to renew the biblical church and evangelize Europe.
At BBI, the vision and mission of our art ministry is the same. We are actively and strategically tapping into God’s gift of the language of creativity to address critical needs in the church and reach society at large for Christ. We unite, equip and resource influential artists and musicians to use their gifts in the church and society.
But what does evangelism have to do with art?
Post-Christian culture dismisses the church and misses the whole point of Christianity: the greatness, goodness and love of God through Jesus Christ. If we are to love God and mirror His love for us to the world, we must do as Paul did at Mars Hill in Athens – share the Gospel in the heart language of God’s people. (Acts 17:16-34)
“Art is communication,” wrote Madelein L’Engle, author of the Newberry Medal winner, A Wrinkle in Time.
There exists today, in our secular societies, an enormous disparity between the glory, wonder and reality of Christ and what the world believes to be the “Church.” The beauty and atoning love of Jesus unveiled is the ultimate cure for secularism and must be the meat of the meal we offer to the people.
How is this accomplished?
At the European Artists Network, we set out to meet three vital needs:
- To minister to the hearts of individual artists.
- To equip those artists to use their gifts for the betterment of the church and society through the beauty, love and truth found in their faith in Christ.
- To present best practices and help to frame the larger conversation of how to utilize the arts to revitalize the church.
Christian artists often feel lonely and isolated – the black sheep of both their church and secular artist communities. Therefore, it is a priority to minister to their hearts and minds, nourishing them in their faith as well as their callings.
World-class musicians Reinis Zarins (pianist) and David Danel (violinist) took part in our network and led us daily in profound worship. Artists took turns enthusiastically presenting, not only their work, but sharing their ministry dreams, their experiences using their art in the church and as creative tools for evangelism.
We brought in top-notch speakers to guide our participants through a feast of ideas. Our own Charles Kelley led two sessions unpacking A Theology of Art and the Bible.
Professor Jerry Root, renowned expert on C.S. Lewis, spoke to our group on Lewis’ teaching about the Objectivity of Beauty. Lewis’ insights into the importance of moral judgements extend to the Language of Art and how it must be used to convey Truth, Goodness and Beauty to a hungry world.
Symphony Orchestra Conductor Delta David Gier guided us through two sessions expounding the True and Highest Function of Art: Contemplation – artistic, philosophical and, at its essence, always directed higher up and looking toward God.
Sculptor Liviu Mocan and think tank leader Jonathan Tame taught on the Christian artist’s need to think more critically about the Spiritual Value of Art. “This,” said Jonathan, “is when art works in peoples’ hearts and lives to bring them closer to reality – which ultimately means to God himself.”
If art is a language to be used to reach the world, then its power and potential must not be confined to the artist’s studio.
It was our honor to be asked to present the arts and best practices in various forms throughout the week to the Forum at large.
During the first plenary session, Charles Kelley was invited to introduce BBI’s traveling Secret Double exhibition strategy before a packed auditorium. Charles described the thousands of people who have attended the exhibitions and participated in the panel discussions. Many hundreds heard the gospel who would never otherwise set food in a church building. By the end of the week, BBI was invited to bring Secret Double to Budapest, Hungary and Vilnius, Lithuania.
Liviu’s breathtaking sculpture “The Lamb of God” was prominently exhibited throughout the week. The sculpture, one of five pieces in a series called “Archetypes,” sits on a tall plinth; the brass creature is made entirely of shapes like eyes, with a mask-like head set upon the majestic body of a ram. A closer inspection reveals a great nail buried deep in its breast. “The Lamb of God” communicates in a language deeper than words to a world grown jaded by its misunderstanding of the Word; its alternate name is “Sacrifice.”
The theme of this year’s plenary sessions was The Life of David. We commissioned a large-scale painting for the stage to speak to this theme by Damaris Otremba, accomplished painter from Poland and member of our network. Damaris’s piece was modeled after her own son and communicated the idea of a “Modern David.” As we soaked in the the Bible teachings, this work of art served to transform knowledge into something deeper. After all, together we strive to be men after God’s own heart.
We extended an ELF-wide invitation to take part in our Open Studio Painting and Drawing Workshop in the main gathering area of the hotel. The workshop was teeming with life, energy and joy. Spontaneous music erupted as pianists gathered in improvisation with saxophonist Adaryll Johnson. Passersby paused to sit and watch, then speak with the artists. We want Christian leaders to grasp how much joy their people can experience when presented with opportunities to create – not just spectate – in the context of the church.
Finally, it was our joy to communicate widely with multiple Christian leaders from all over Europe. As a result, we have received invitations to consider ministering to pastors and artists in Ukraine, Belarus, Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia.
I am now standing at the door and am knocking. If anyone listens to My voice and opens the door, I will go in to be with him and will feast with him, and he shall feast with Me. – Revelation 3:20 (WNT)
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