When an entire village of Bolivian Indian ranch workers came to the Lord awhile ago, some missionary friends of mine were faced with very big questions. What do we do with this entire village of people that now know the Lord as Savior? In what ways do they worship? How do we teach them to study the Bible when most of them don’t read? And when they have no Bible-base music in their own heart-expressions, what do we suggest they sing?
My missionary friends encouraged the Bolivian Indians to make up their own musical expression using texts right from the Bible. They understood the importance of culturally appropriate communication and affirmed the leadership in the village, that it would be best to sing songs they composed themselves.
When evangelization happens in its fullness, culturally appropriate and sensitive communication is crucial. In many parts of the world, due to lack of literacy, much communication will be through artistic or imaginative expression. Music, drama, storytelling, painting, architecture, mime, puppets, crafts, festivals, movement, ritual, and on and on, are all forms of artistic expression.
Artistic communicators are Christians endowed by God with unusual wisdom in creative things. They may be pastors, teachers, musicians, painters, writers, managers, factory workers, farmers, or housewives. They are simply Christians with a vision and ability for actively incorporating appropriate artistic forms and methods into worship and evangelism.
People generally hear and understand with their hearts long before they hear and understand with their heads. And their heartstrings are generally plucked, not by the academic and the apologist, but by the artist and the poet. This reality leads me to shout from the rooftops that Christian musicians and artists play a critical role in world evangelization these days.
Where the Great Commission has truly been carried out, the penetrated cultures most often worship and proclaim their faith in their own mother tongues, heart-music and cultural styles. These heart-languages and cultural styles are very often uncovered by indigenous artists, or better stated, arts ministry specialists. Whether in ceremonies, liturgy, pageants, visual or movement expression, music, storytelling, or other dynamics of gathered expression, it is usually the arts ministry specialist who helps facilitate the believing community in its public and private expressions of worship.
That said, artists passionate for God because they’re overwhelmed by their own salvation through His work in Jesus, are essential in the Church’s strategies, methods and efforts in world evangelization.