Ministering to Artists at the European Leadership Forum
By Natalie Meeks, Director of Communication and Art Ministries
GREENVILLE, South Carolina – Bridge Builders International is just that – a bridge builder. But not all bridges look the same.
Bridges are connecting points between two disparate points. They provide a way forward… or a way back. They form a high, safe landing to rise upon which to grapple with the realities of stormy seas. What kind of bridges, then, are we striving to build when we bring Christian artists together?
Bridges of Discipleship. Relationship. Spiritual Growth. Creativity. Worship.
At the close of May 2019, BBI President Charles Kelley, Natalie Meeks, and Madara Lazdina traveled to Wisla, Poland to once again lead the European Artists Network. We represented a community of artists, musicians, photographers, pastors, theologians, teachers, church planters, and other Christian leaders convening at the European Leadership Forum (ELF), an annual gathering of more than 700 participants from 50+ nations.
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 create bridges to reach society at large for Christ.
We are working to unite, equip, and resource influential artists and musicians to use their gifts in the church and society. In so doing, we set out to relationally 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.
DISCIPLESHIP. International speakers Beat Rink, Delta David Gier, Tim Basselin, Todd Johnson, and our own Charles Kelley spoke on a variety of topics related to the nexus of art, faith, the church, and theology. In each session of the Artists Network, we walked through lively discourse in which we asked vital questions:
How does one have a thought, feeling, or an experience and communicate it to another person? How do we best serve God and our fellow man with the gifts we have been given? Our motivation, we learned, is a key factor in our effectiveness in communicating through our art. And what is it we intend to communicate? Hopefully, truth – both from ourselves and, most importantly, from the larger perspective of our relationship to God and our shared humanity.
Socrates and Aristotle taught that great art lies at the intersection of truth, goodness, and beauty. But, prior to the Greek philosophers are the first recorded words of our Creative God: “It is good.” Ultimately, this is
RELATIONSHIPS are at the core of Christianity. From Jesus to John… from John to Polycarp… to the more than 700 attendees at the European Leadership Forum. Relationships are the very embodiment of the Trinity and the crux of our faith.
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.
Likewise, the Great Commission is not simply a call to get people to pray a sinner’s prayer; it’s an exhortation to transform – to make disciples; that is, to form people from one thing into something else – and considering the way humans are created to work, that requires engaging every facet of who they are, including the calling of the artist. We discussed the similarities between artmaking and prayer, as well as how considering the practice of doing art might help others practice prayer in new and helpful ways
These ideas, and more, formed bridges to deep and relationship-building discussions. And, ultimately, these relationships are making it possible for the network to transform into a movement.
CREATIVITY. The theme of this year’s plenary sessions was “Reflections on the Apostle Paul as a Leader,” based on 2 Corinthians. The Forum commissioned two large-scale paintings for the stage to speak to this theme by BBI’s own Madara Lazdina! As we studied the aspects of leadership through the lens of Paul’s writings – suffering, persevering, reconciling and wounded – these works of art served as a bridge to develop information into knowledge.
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. 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.
Enjoy this sampling of artworks created by attendees of The Open Studio:
We had the privilege of hosting a Pre-Forum Seminar, which took the form of an invitation-only gathering for artists, theologians, and ministry leaders to have a robust discussion about the role of the arts in Christian thinking, worship, and evangelization. We wrestled openly with questions about God’s view of art and creativity, the incorporation of art into worship, the quality of the art produced and used by the Church, and the impact of Christian art on the society in which we live.
WORSHIP. Finally, it was our joy to lead the entire Forum at large in worship through a Responsorial Psalm singing. Delta David Gier, David Danel, Charles Kelley, and Natalie Meeks were honored to take the stage to lead this poignant time of corporate singing.
Because God created everything in heaven and earth, our work reflects His creativity.
Christian artists in Latvia and beyond need on-going focused training for their heads, hands, feet and heart… knowledge, skills, motivation/opportunities and ever-growing relationships with the Lord, one another and their worlds.
And so, in obedience, we continue building this bridge.