The Rise Of The Worship Artisan

THE RISE OF THE WORSHIP ARTISAN
By Dan Wilt, M.Min.
www.worshiptraining.com – a creative studio of McManus Studios

Note: This article is a work in progress, and exists in this rendering in incomplete form. When completed, the full article will appear here at www.danwilt.com and www.worshiptraining.com, and its material planned for a book release in the near future. We’d love to hear from you to shape the book. Our apologies for any typos.


Introduction

For the past twenty years, I have had the privilege of participating in the glories and challenges that have faced contemporary Church movements, and their creative communities, in an increasingly postmodern context. Understating the rigors of that journey, the Church, beautiful and healing as She is in the world, has been embattled culturally from within and from without, challenged theologically from within and from without, and strained relationally from within – and from without.

Running in tandem with our overall contemporary Church experience, our musical creative community has had its own share of highs and lows. Artists of faith have reveled in the glories of the contemporary worship experience, powered through the challenges that came with the historically unique, late-twentieth century birth of the roles of both “worship leader” and “contemporary worship songwriter,” hobbled through the sweet and sour advancement of the Christian contemporary music industry, and raised eyebrows as many times they found creative leaders within culture speaking more artful and moving language than many creative leaders within the Church proper.

Looking for creative depth, poetry, substance, thoughtfulness and leadership in both the culture and the Body of Christ, many believing artists have left many evangelical churches and connected with higher liturgical ones simply on aesthetic principle. Others have stayed, and find great joy in serving the community of faith in worship leadership or in other expressions of creative worship leadership. Still others are at many other points on the continuum between “locking in” and “moving on.”

Many feel as though something is missing in themselves as artists, in the larger Christian worldview, and in Church as they’ve come to know it – yet they are tethered to the Body of Christ, knowing it is ultimately the only safe place to growth in health and faith over the course of a lifetime.

A Groaning For Growth, A Desire For Depth
A wide range of our internal challenges related to worship and the arts have been met with the grace and self-reflection for which the ever-emerging Church seems to have an historical capacity. At other times, deep rifts of confusion have opened up in our ranks, often accompanied by stinging salty tears, deep divisions and virulent language. Those internal twistings and turnings (as in any family) have pushed many worship leaders and artists to begin the journey toward becoming theologically and culturally conversant in our time, eager to hear from the Scriptures, and also eager to shed extraneous theological baggage that unduly threatens our credibility in a cultural milieu in which dogmatic faith is increasingly marginalized.

Influencers within the Church who might be called “creative” or “artistic” in their way of being in the world have often led the charge in the provocative quest for a faith that remains both biblical and orthodox, yet challenges the theologies and worldviews that marginalize us from culture, denigrate the dignity of all human beings, and stifle the wild edges of creative action that should inherently mark a Body made in the image of the Creator of all things.

We are listening to the ground, and hearing the re-humanizing, invigorating, restoring gospel pounding beneath the pavement – and are being wooed to both lead worship and to creatively play on the stages of our local towns and cities.

Tribes Of Creative Leaders
Among these creative leaders and influencers within the Church in our generation, I have personally encountered (in a wide range of denominational and international settings) a varied set of tribes among us. While some stripes of paint on our faces are the same color, some of the designs and markings are distinctive – and evidence significant differences in worldview. Some creative tribes in the Church are just now advancing into the world of contemporary worship experience, even within North America and Europe.

For some worship leaders/artists, they have been nursed in the Church experience for decades and are very comfortable with the role and assignments afforded to today’s leader of worship (and the musician) – typically expressed within the four walls of Church services, seminars, conferences and concerts. I myself am somewhat comfortable with the classic worship leader role – I believe it is an essential skillset, and many of us are called to both nurture and equip others in that art. That equipping encompasses much of the work to which I give myself these days.

Another ilk of creative of creative tribe, however, is in another place altogether. This tribe, often mingled among us in the Church (but not always, sadly) and often living out one’s faith on its fringes (at least psychologically) is seeking to synthesize the current call of the creative leader who follows Christ with fresh ways of approaching God, the Scriptures and the cultures in which we live.

Many of these friends are currently 1) worship leaders in local churches who understand the scope of the arts, and many are 2) artists who have a passionate heart toward the contemporary activity of corporate worship. Still others believe the primary terrain for their creativity is in the marketplace, and these, in another article, I would champion with great exuberance.

For now, I want to speak to the musical worship leader who is also an artist, and the artist who is also a worship leader/musician. Most of what I say will also have significant application to any artist involved in the world of both faith and culture.

The Rise Of The Worship Artisan
In our Learning Community, we have coined a fresh term to give meaning, strength and voice to a particular tribe that I believe must be addressed in the 21st century Church.

The term is fresh and alive for us, and is investing meaning into many of the spiritual formation ideas for worship leaders we are seeking to implement in our learning community. The term is not completely original with me; rather it was derived in a reflective conversation on the nature of our essential work at the Worship And Arts Institute with Dr. Peter Fitch, Professor Of Spiritual Theology and Dean Of Ministry at St. Stephen’s University. Our discussion centered on the idea of the artisan leader and the worship leader – and my own thoughts began to make some significant connections.

The Worship Artisan.

The moment I sensed the term rise in my mind, I felt as though a new world opened up that expressed the gift of what is now in the worshiping life of the contemporary Church (the worship leader), and encompassed themes vital to the emerging world (cultural connection, history, theology, biblical reflection, artistry, mission and pastoral care).

I felt, to some degree, understood and explained by the term, and I experienced a surge of emotion that traveled with me back through the past two decades of my own work with creative leaders. In my mind, I began to see the faces of an ilk of worship leader/artist with whom I have always felt a great resonance and affinity.

The Worship Artisan.

I would propose this simple coupling of words as a fresh title for a category of creative Christian leader that feels as though it fits the archetype of the influencer that I am describing. The term is in no way meant to replace or diminish the term “worship leader” as I consider myself a worship leader alongside brothers and sisters across the Body of Christ. The term is still useful on many levels, but is now laced with so much church meaning that I believe it is no longer sufficient to sustain us into the next decades of the Church and its role in culture.

Firstly, most contemporary “worship leaders” today are considered to be (whether this is true or not) largely unmotivated to study in classic higher education settings – settings that would typically rank with high value for pastors or significant spiritual leaders who are more cerebral in their approach to leadership (in some camps). Most would suggest, in my experience, that there is also minimal significant, helpful/appropriate pressure on local church worship leaders (or artistic leaders of any stripe) to pursue such kinds of education.

Secondly, the term “worship leader” typically both highlights and elevates the unspoken idea that the greatest call of a musician is to lead a corporate community in an accessible body of worship music.

I personally believe neither of the above ideas to be helpful in the long term. Regarding the first, I believe that many artistic leaders are drawn to the content of much of today’s higher learning forums, but are averse to the way they would have to learn the material. Regarding the second idea, My own understanding of biblical theology will not allow me to advocate that leading worship in a community is the highest expression of the artistic gift. This may “feel” right, but I suggest it show a faulty theology of creativity, usually rooted in our unbiblical ideas related to the existence of mutually exclusive “sacred and secular” worlds.

Calling Us Forward

So again, while I have no intent of replacing the term “worship leader,” I do believe that a more expansive term is needed to call us forward as worship leaders, artists and spiritual/cultural influencers. The term “worship artisan” is meant to give impetus to worship leaders to pursue a deeper mindset and skillset than they have actively pursued in our current generation, and to give permission to artists to embrace their role as leaders and influencers in the contexts of corporate worship as well as in culture.

I want to speak to a group of people who live on the continuum of worship leaders or artists in the contemporary Church as we know it, and suggest a new way of thinking about, and doing, creative acts of worship both in the culture and in the community of the followers of Jesus.

Again, I will suggest this title neither for the sake of novelty nor to express clever wordplay. Goodness knows that multiple thousands of plays on the word “worship” have been experimented with on CD jackets ad infinitum, and to a lesser degree the terms “worship leader,” “lead worshiper” and “worship artist” have had their own set of revisions. These couplings of words and phrases may do more to expose the limitations of the English language than to actually further our understanding of the role of this type of influencer, but I invoke the same language in order to help us transition into the next phase of our journey as the creative community of the 21st century Church.


More On The Term

If you would, pause from your reading and mull over the term “worship artisan” for a moment. Expect no fanfare, just a simple coupling of ideas that, when brought together in symbiosis, form a new way of looking at a previously ill-described role. “Worship” speaks of the historic worship arts. “Artisan” speaks of a knowledgeable craftsperson, who brings skills both ancient and current to the table to express that art – often for functional, practical usage by others.

I propose this working title to accurately reflect the nature of a unique model of artist/influencer/worship leader/creator that we might perceive is being called out by God in the tumult of the modern/postmodern transition. The changing shape of some of the philosophical presuppositions related to effective Kingdom leadership in the 21st century also beg for a clarification of this role, and concerted efforts to create effective forums in which this leader can be optimally formed.

For this purpose of both clarification and invitation I am committed to working through the ideas contained in this short article, and for this purpose we began the Institute’s current work at St. Stephen’s University with which I am currently occupied (and expect to be for many years to come).


What Is A Worship Artisan?

Let’s do our etymology homework to begin.

Worship. While the term is being exhaustively redefined in our day, the term “worship” here is particularly applied to Christian worship (an assumption one may make when speaking internally among those who follow Jesus).

This term, according to the dictionary means “Reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred.” In the language of apprentices of Jesus, worship speaks with biblically resonant tone of a life fully lived to the glory of God. As the early Church father Irenaeus of Lyons expressed it, “The glory of God is a human being; fully alive.” While we would like to assume that we all share a common approach to this word within the Church, it is true that the current revelation (in the wider scope of history) of “worship as what is experienced in a contemporary worship music situation,” coupled with historical definitions of worship that center either solely or primarily on those acts of Christian liturgy engaged in by a community in a service, have somewhat disoriented us from the over-meaning of the term. Worship, in our case, is a life fully given over to God, “our spiritual act of worship.”

Artisan. The term “artisan” here is particularly applied to a particular ilk of creative leader, and according to the dictionary means “a person skilled in an applied art; a craftsperson.” The root of the word is most probably, from the Italian artigiano (from Vulgar Latin artiti?nus, from Latin art?tus) meaning “skilled in the arts.”

An artisan may also be called a craftsperson, an artist-practioner, a creative laborer with a defined scope of gift, skill and productivity. An artisan can be understood as one who creates in a defined genre, or the term can be amplified to express the nature of one who creates in many genres, a “creative force” if you will. To be an artisan is to give one’s creative attention, skill, gifting and attention to a particular craft within the wider, wilder field of artistic expression, and to apply those skills to a task or mission. Additionally, many artisans have learned their craft by studying the time-tested patterns of their forefathers and foremothers, including ancient skills as well as present. In this way, the artisan embraces what has gone before in the same way the outer ring of a strong tree embraces all the rings of its history within – even as it learns to thrive within the climate in which it now lives.

Art And The Utilitarian Veneer

Before we begin to couple the words “Worship” and “Artisan,” a word about the nature of art. Art expresses truth (apparent or seeming), beauty (whether what a frog might find to be beautiful, or a human being), ugliness (another relative term) and reality (still another relative term). On one plain, we recognize that the mission of art is to reveal. Expression is valid whether it has a defined utilitarian purpose or can be recognized as a commodity.

At the same time, art can be very useful, and applied to a task – whether that task be explicit and undertaken to openly subvert a worldview, or that task be implicit and more nuanced in its delivery and mission. As the Church, we have indeed often made art a commodity, especially art in the Church, and demanded that function continually dictate the form of what is “acceptable” in church life. Years ago, I had a dream that made this idea come clear. In the dream, I simply saw one phrase running endlessly through my mind, all through the night. The phrase was “Truth is self-revealing; tell it in a thousand stories.” Art reveals. Art challenges. Art moves us by showing us something that we should pay attention to, be it the beat of our own hearts or the misguided loyalties of a nation.

The Craftsperson In The Worship Arts: The Worship Artisan

I would like to attempt to define this ilk of leader further. In these ideas, I am intentionally mingling ideas of the contemporary worship leader, the studied craftsperson who knows the history of culture and worship and applies these ideas in their leading and songwriting, and the idea of the artist who is wired to express both accessible expressions of worship and also wild expressions of art that can be appreciated both by the culture and the Church.

A Trio Of Strengths

A Worship Artisan is a vocational (meaning “called”) spiritual leader who evidences his or her primary leadership gifts through the creative arts.

A Worship Artisan is a trained spiritual leader, theologically/culturally, historically/creatively, and practically/devotionally in the realm of worship activity. Tranhistorical communities have expressed the worship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit throughout history in these ways, and creative leaders have led the charge.

1. Theological And Cultural Strength

A Worship Artisan is conversant in ideas of eschaton, transcendence, immanence, story, cross, resurrection, creational theology, biblical study, pastoral leadership, spiritual friendship, liturgy, history, biblical origins and anthropology, spiritual discipline, the sacral nature of time and pattern in both worship expression and cultural expression, redemption, the Kingdom of God, healing prayer, family and personal care and other areas vital to the formation of the apprentice of Jesus – and the leadership of others.

A Worship Artisan denies the platonic view that the world is divided into a sacred and secular world, and regards this idea (though rampant throughout many centuries of the Christian faith) as unbiblical and unhelpful in advancing the Kingdom of God on earth. A worship artisan is comfortable carrying holy ground with them, and expressing both transcendent and immanent realities in creative formats that simply reach human beings. That swath of the populace the artisan reaches may be wide or very thin, however, the worship artisan is committed to a Christian worldview that advocates that all beauty is God’s beauty, and all truth is God’s truth. (footnote)

A Worship Artisan is not limited in his or her creative expression to corporate worship expressions. A worship artisan is both comfortable with, and able to engage with, varying contexts in which the goal is to encounter God corporately through the vehicle of music and accessible creative expression. However, a worship artisan is also comfortable expressing very unique and possibly obscure forms of art that find their place in bars, pubs, galleries, the street, stages and many other places.

A Worship Artisan holds high the value of the worship encounter, and holds equally high the value of being creative-orators, biblio-theological students, artisan-thinkers and culture-shapers.

A Worship Artisan does not see a role in the Church proper as more sacred or holy than a role in the community shaping the creative policies and activities of a community. A worship artisan finds it difficult to see walls around the people that are the Church; he or she sees a world that is ripe for reshaping, redeeming and challenging through art.

2. Historical And Creative Strength

A Worship Artisan is conversant in ideas of eschaton, transcendence, immanence, story, cross, resurrection, creational theology, biblical study, pastoral leadership, spiritual friendship, liturgy, history, biblical origins and anthropology, spiritual discipline, the sacral nature of time and pattern in both worship expression and cultural expression, redemption, the Kingdom of God, healing prayer, family and personal care and other areas vital to the formation of the apprentice of Jesus – and the leadership of others.

A Worship Artisan recognizes context, and knows when to apply accessible music, lyrics and art forms, and when to apply creatively daring art forms, to a particular context. A worship artisan is quick to creatively enhance more accessible worship forms with excellence and shared community values guiding those forms of the art. By the same taken, a worship artisan is willing to pastorally enhance more obscure and inaccessible (on a wide range) forms of expression with nurturing pastoral guidance shaping those forms of art.

A Worship Artisan is willing to continually push one’s own edge creatively, and the creative edge of others. A worship artisan is willing to hide in the Church or cultural spotlight to see other voices “in season” shine and do their effective work.

A Worship Artisan loves the prophetic nature of the edge of the cliff, seeing and exposing new vistas to others, and enjoying the wild winds that blow in the most dangerous of places. The Worship Artisan also loves the priestly nature of the homefire, seeing the need to connect oneself and others in substantial community relationships, and enjoying the unique fellowship that can only come with those who share our faith in Jesus. The worship artisan loves the edge, but only when tightly connected to the safety of the people of God.

A Worship Artisan may be leading worship and not consciously know it; a worship artisan may be leading cultural formation and not consciously know it.

A Worship Artisan may be highly visible and expansively influential, or virtually invisible and deeply influential in one’s own context.

A Worship Artisan champions the artists in his or her community, and looks for younger artisans who can be trained in the worship arts, cultural arts or a combination of the two.

A Worship Artisan understands that a revolution is at hand; that the culture is spiritually ripe to hear the voice of truth echo in the best of art, the best of science, the best of literature, the best of history and the best of other academic and applied fields. A worship artisan recognizes that all human beings are creative by the divine image in which all human beings are made, and does not diminish the variety of creative giftings that fill their communities (faith and otherwise).

A Worship Artisan is what many creative worship leaders are in churches across the globe, but because of their ingrained belief system, have denied the multi-faceted nature of their creative impulse.

A Worship Artisan may be both poet and pastor, both musician and mentor, both artist and advocate, both activist and active Christian leader. A worship artisan is willing to be both spiritually formed by the wisdom of the whole Church across the ages, and has a working knowledge of ideas that have renewed the Church for millenia. A worship artisan is also willing to be formed by culture, without embracing its idolatries, and to authentically express the culturally formed styles, shapes and symbols that are familiar, energizing and connective to the oneself and the culture into which one is called.

A Worship Artisan is willing to sit at the roundtable of cultural discussion in one’s city or community, and to sit at the roundtable of local Church leadership.

3. Practical And Devotional Strength

A Worship Artisan is an effective leader of corporate worship, understanding the vital role of creative expression (musical art, visual art, physical art, literary art and dramatic art) in renewing a corporate belief system, a corporate communality, and a cohesive and healthy spiritual formation life in a believing group.

A Worship Artisan is able to step into a worship context and skillfully lead a diverse gathering into a place of both intimate and transcendant encounter, and at the same time is internally free to write and create art that does not mention one part of the trinity.

A Worship Artisan recognizes that the only Christian art is that which comes from the Christian soul. In others words, the worship artisan refuses to see a distinction in value between leading corporate worship and influencing culture with our creativity. This same leader is also able to respond to the law of context, and to express different gifts and art forms in all contexts with equal versatility.

A Worship Artisan refuses to accept the standard of creative expression in the Church that has through historical process brought us to the “it’s good enough for Church” mentality in our creative expression. The worship artisan recognizes that some art is immature (i.e. unskilled), sometimes unhelpful, and sometimes deemed acceptable in the context of corporate worship that should not be elevated as to its usefulness.

A Worship Artisan also recognizes that the standard of art that flows from themselves and creative followers of Jesus should rival that of the culture and the Church. In other words, good art is good art, and bad art is bad art. A Christian label, Christianized media, or Christian producers, in the mind of the called worship artisan, does not somehow make a mediocre expression of creativity “good art.”

A Worship Artisan recognizes that the opportunity created by the community of faith is a precious gift, allowing creative voices that exist in our communities to have a place to live in their immaturity, and to grow toward maturity. A worship artisan is neither cocky nor overly critical, but at the same time recognizes that there are different contexts for different types of gifts.

A Worship Artisan understands spiritual authority, and seeks out both spiritual direction and spiritual guidance. A worship artisan is also able to lovingly dialogue with, diplomatically disagree with, or in some cases ignore philosophically or theologically misguided voices that subtley or overtly demand conformity to an outdated (and possibly unbiblical) view of the role of the artisan or artist in culture, and in the Church.

A Worship Artisan is trained to be consistently effective in the art of contemporary (meaning “connected with its time”) worship leadership, and at the same time is trained and nurtured in other areas of his or her creative gifting.

A Worship Artisan is able to help others to determine their context of corporate expression or self-expression, and is not afraid to either let go of great talent, no matter the utilitarian function a called one might fulfill, nor to pastorally guide unique gifts into a context that will optimally serve a community, one’s own growth, and those to be influenced by the gift. A worship artisan can both lead and follow, recruit and restrain recruiting.

A Worship Artisan is a rising role in the Body of Christ that will aid us in breaking down the Church/culture barriers that artificially exist in the minds of Christians everywhere. A worship artisan takes his or her cues from Scriptures that call us to love God and our neighbors with the fullness of the gifts with which one has been entrusted. A worship artisan refuses to simply give people what they want or percieve they need; a worship artisan also gives people what one has to give from the deepest place. A worship artisan embraces both the context of Church as we know it (the organization and organism), and the context of culture as we know it (the powers and the people), and to lovingly subvert them toward a truer and fuller followership of Jesus through art.


Inviting The Conversation

Personally, I am convinced that in the early days (historically speaking) of what we are now calling postmodernism in the Western world, that the worship artisan leader will, and must, rise to meet the call of God in the Church and the culture today. As the right brain is once again being invited into the front seat with the left brain in society, the called creative leader (some are wired for this, yet have a misdirected faith and worldview) will continue to gain strength as the orators of our generation.

A revolution is at hand in the creative community of the Church, and its forays into culture. Let the Worship Artisans rise. If the words above describe you, we would love to both hear your voice, and encourage your growth, at www.theworshipartisan.com.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dan Wilt (M.Min.) is the Learning Community Director of WorshipTraining.com, and the Worship And Arts Institute. WorshipTraining.com is a part of McManus Studios, a creative initiative of author, activist, futurist and communicator Erwin McManus.

WorshipTraining.com offers an expansive suite of online training solutions for local churches, and partners with with St. Stephen’s University in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, to offer a Master Of Ministry degree and a Certificate Program for creative leaders.

Dan is an is an internationally respected communicator, worship leader, songwriter, author and trainer. He is best known as the host of the What Is Worship?, Songwriting For Worship, and Leading Worship DVDs he created with Vineyard Music, and is a significant voice in the emerging worship conversation. He is the co-author of Perspectives On Worship: Five Views published by Broadman Holman along with Dan Kimball and five other authors.

Dan’s passion is to further the recreating Kingdom plot in this generation. Linking the wisdom of the ancients with the present chapter of the Story we live out today, his passion is to expand the creativity and worship worldview of the existing and emerging Church – inviting engagement with God and culture on all levels.

He received his B.A. degree in Religion and Philosophy from Messiah College in Pennsylvania, and his Master’s degree in Formation Studies at St. Stephen’s University in St. Stephen’s, New Brunswick.

Dan also served as the Worship Resource Developer for Vineyard Music Global, as Worship Development Coordinator for Vineyard Churches Canada, as the editor of Inside Worship magazine, and as the worship and youth coordinator for the  St. Croix Vineyard. Dan, his wife Anita, and their three children, Anna, Abigail and Benjamin make their home in Nashville, TN, USA.


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