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‘The Practitioner: Nurturing Artists in the Local Church’ by Joshua Banner

August 6, 2010

Review of chapter 6 of For the Beauty of the Church, Edited by David O. Taylor. Transpositions is hosting reviews of each chapter of this book between Aug 2 and Aug 9, 2010.

One of two contributions to the book that were not originally presented to the symposium in Austin, Joshua Banner’s contribution is an essential addition and contributes substantially to the vision of For the Beauty of the Church. David O. Taylor suggests that Banner’s chapter offers a street-level view of the church engaging in the arts:

“Having worked in a church as a pastor to artists, he has a good sense of what works and what doesn’t. He reminds us pastors that its not so much about technique as a right understanding of our role. Our role, he maintains, is that of a farmer. As farmers we won’t get everything right but we will know that our main job is to pay careful attention to people’s lives. What that framework in place, Joshua goes on to talk about three aspects of his work with artists: pastoring, promoting, and producing.* And he does so with the gentle, confident hand of an experienced farmer-pastor” (25).

I would agree with Taylor, although I must concede I was a little skeptical of the expansive praise before delving into the chapter. In realising the level of growth and discussion and change in this area of ministry (at least in the Protestant denominations) I have come to realise that experience is relative, and relatively speaking Joshua Banner is a wise soul in the ministry context of the arts. Banner hits all the right notes when discussing the importance of developing relationships built on trust between the pastor and the artist, of sharing lives and artistic practice and space, and of the intentional pursuit of those relationships. It was encouraging to read Banner reinforcing the importance of earning the right to be heard and not imposing oneself. Banner offers sound practical advice for those seeking to love the artists around them whether as an arts pastor or someone interested in engaging with the arts as a Christian.

It it is the area of Promotion of the arts and individual artists that this chapter is at its strongest. By Promote, Banner means the development of discernment (both on the part of the pastor and the artist), the development of relationship and taking time to develop form and allowing time to run in the context of the life of the church, the strengthening of discipleship and the edification of character, the process of going public and the risks therein (for the artist and the pastor), the advantages and disadvantages of different venues and the purposes of different types of exhibitions and opportunities for critique, the place of community engagement within the life of the arts and the church, the importance of a teachable heart, the development of the art of critique and the art of peer review, the place and the manner of “speaking hard words”, and the value of taking long view. One of the most interesting practical suggestions is this one:

“My rule of thumb is not to promote an artist publicly until he has been involved in the church for a season of time – six months to a year at least. I’m not looking for an artist to have his life perfectly sorted out. I’m emphasizing the call to Christ and discipleship, to form identity first in him instead of his talents” (133).

This chapter is refreshing. It is full of well thought-out theologically and ethically sound advice. One has to remember that the arts pastor is a relatively new concept in so far as a realm of ministry concerned. I think the Wesleys might offer a 19th century model, and maybe Jonathon Edwards, but it is fair to say that Joshua Banner is offering out of his own experience and that this conversation is ongoing and developing rapidly.

The thinnest part of this chapter is the section dealing with the final “P”: Producing. The metaphor of the farmer is helpful and the picture of the artist is very well rounded. Banner deals with the stereotypes of the artist and offers a brief discussion of his own experience. Banner distinguishes between exploiting and nurturing artists, even within the life of the church. My concern is that while he acknowledges the danger of being exploitative (drawing helpfully from Wendell Berry) it is conceivable that one could take Joshua Banner’s model and do exactly what he cautions against – seeking to create a factory farm of artists. That of course would not be Banner’s burden but it must be said nonetheless.

For more information, Joshua Banner blogs at Ordinary Neighbor and is the Minister of Music and Art at Hope College, Michigan.

*This kind of alliterative list is so common in the context of certain protestant evangelical circles that one wants to be sure it is not for simple literary affect. This is a general statement of a disconcerting trend and not directed at Banner or Taylor per se, wherein I think the categories are aptly named.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Joshua Banner permalink
    August 10, 2010 3:17 pm

    I don’t know if anything could be more exciting than this! Thanks to you guys for taking such care with this book. Your collective thoughtfulness will make us better pastors and leaders in the future.

    For the record, I’m aware of the ‘cute’ factor of my three P’s. I had come up with that language back in ’98 when I wrote out the initial mission statement for the arts ministry. The P’s were a coincidence then. That same language has served me thus far, so I kept it the unintentional alliteration.

    Regarding the factory concern: yes, a very good concern. Another reviewer elsewhere suggested that what I’m suggesting is tantamount to turning pastors into “talent scouts.” Well, yes indeed. I do believe that pastors are talent scouts but not just of artistic gifts but of all gifts. Those of us who have the privilege/burden of being paid in ministry–I believe–are paid primarily to identify and release the many gifts within our congregations, preaching, teaching, worship leading, outreach, service, intercession as well as painting, poetry, composition etc…. We are called to “equip the saints for the work of ministry.” Much of what I do as a campus minister can be called vocational counseling. I help students identify, trust and test their passions. I would LOVE churches to be better equipped to maybe not become ‘gift’ or ‘talent’ “factories” but perhaps conservatories, gardens, flourishing farms.

    Peace of Christ to you. Thanks again.

    • August 10, 2010 3:53 pm

      Joshua, thankyou for taking the time to engage with this review. I mostly work on dead men and women, so having a live body to talk to is something quite novel for me!

      I’m glad you kept the alliteration in this case – i think your explaination shows that it isn’t forced, but makes, as literary tropes like this should do, a shorthand way of expaining much more well thought out ways of doing things. (Maybe it was a little passive aggressive to express my general disdain about the disturbing number of books, blogs, and articles with such twee and ultimately un-imaginative titles – these things sounds slick but ultimately aren’t always thought through – in this way)

      I didn’t direct that concern at your chapter per se, but I have seen some “ministries” attempt to implement something vaguely like what you suggest and I don’t think they were as focused on the development of character and the edification and discipleship of the artist as your chapter and your comment conveys, leading to the detriment of the artists themselves. It is something to be aware of, but it is not a criticism I would make of your chapter, just how it might be ill-used. That said, I think derisively calling you a “talent scout” is a bit of a cheap shot – it’s more like the wise old club man who spots talent and gets it the help it needs (coaches, managers etc) and then supports them along the way with the odd tough word and praise when it’s due.

      I think when we all, and those who have a burden for pastoring artists particularly, remember that our role is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” then it makes sense why it is important to educate oneself about art, to foster and encourage the development of character and skills. Finally, what a great image – that churches might be better equipped to be “conservatories, gardens, flourishing farms” for us all, that we might make ourselves and our gifts subject to the Lord and for his glory!

      Please let us know if you are ever in the vicinity of St Andrews or if you are planning to be!

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