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If you are a Christian and you are unfamiliar with the life and work of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, then I invite you to please acquaint yourself with “the Doctor” and his work here. He’s known as “the Doctor” to many due to his training as a medical doctor earlier in his life. Lloyd-Jones has been called by many as “the greatest preacher of the 20th century” and his sermons and writings will be a blessing to you in your Christian walk.
I first heard this story I’m going to tell on the excellent recent DVD biography of Lloyd-Jones called “Logic on Fire.” I highly recommend you watching this documentary on the life of this great man of God.
THE CHURCHES IN WALES DURING THE 1920S AND OUR CHURCHES TODAY
There is a story about Lloyd-Jones going to his first church in a rural part of Wales in the late 1920s that, I think, can be helpful to us today as we think about the purpose of the church and of the minister of God, in particular. The 1920s in Wales, as in many places and eras, was a rough time for the church. Many people were leaving the church, especially young people, so the church was trying everything it could to “keep” the young people in the church, including many new measures and activities that were pretty nonstandard. One of these new, nonstandard measures was the development of a drama stage. Before Lloyd-Jones arrived at the rural church in Wales, they had a full drama stage built near the church so they could put on various activities to keep the young people “engaged” in the life of the church.
Let’s pause for a minute. Doesn’t this sound like the status of our churches today? With all the stats coming out about the great number of young people leaving the church in droves, the church in Wales in the 1920s sounds just like many of our churches in the 21st century! This is why I believe there’s something we can learn from this story.
PREACHING, PRAYER, AND DRAMA!
Story continued…So when Lloyd-Jones arrived at his pastorate in Wales, he came with what I think, for today at least, would be a much more radical view of church ministry: The Doctor wanted to base his entire ministry solely on preaching and on prayer. In fact, the Doctor raised the pulpit by several inches to emphasize the value of preaching in the church. The Doctor also emphasized prayer in his ministry as well. His public prayers were often 10-15 minutes long, a piece, without stopping! You can find a handful of his prayers here. Now, as you can probably predict, there would be a conflict between the Doctor’s “radical” ministry to base his ministry solely on “preaching and prayer” and the freshly built drama stage. From the “Logic on Fire” DVD, it was said that they found a very interesting set of comments by the Doctor and some of the church members in the business meeting minutes about this drama stage. The people asked the Doctor, “What are we to do with the new drama stage next to the church?” The Doctor then said, “As far as I’m concerned we can use the wood from the drama stage to heat the church during the winter.” (JAWS DROP ALL OVER THE SANCTUARY!). Can you imagine this type of response from a minister today about a similar matter? I’m sure they chatted for years about how this conversation created a “Dramatic Fire!” (this is a funny line given to me by a friend of mine! No credit for me here!). This just shows you how convicted the Doctor was about preaching and prayer being the sole basis for his ministry.
Lloyd-Jones’ assessment of basing his ministry solely on preaching and prayer proved fruitful as, according to historians, great numbers of lost people converted to Christ under his ministry. What happened in Wales, as a result of Lloyd-Jones’ ministry, was practically a revival, and these type of results occurred wherever he preached. Ironically enough, God knows how to grow His church, and he doesn’t need man’s ingenuity to do it. Maybe we have lost faith in the means of faithful prayer and preaching because it has been done so poorly, and in such an unfaithful manner, in the past?
EVALUATION OF THE VALUE OF THE ARTS IN THE CHURCH
Are we to now go to our “creative arts” department in our churches and start throwing everything into the fire and breaking it all down to turn in for money from scrap metal? I don’t think so. There certainly may be some spaces within the life of a church where, for example, puppets or drama may be useful. During some particular children’s events or other special occasions, I could see where these elements may be useful in presenting the gospel or sharing a bible story to particular age-groups. Additionally, it is quite clear that God gives people the artistic ability of various sorts, and I think that we can (and should!?) find a place for these people to express their natural-born talents within the church to do ministry to others. How this always expresses itself in the life I’m the church, I’m uncertain. I don’t see where it is wise, helpful, or even biblical to kick out all the “creatives” within our churches simply because they do not fit typical “church molds.” Are men like Spurgeon and Whitefield, creative as they were with their verbal object lessons and the word pictures they drew as they preached, the only “creatives” allowed in the church? Surely there is a place within the church, or maybe outside the church in other avenues of ministry, for the creatives to use their gifts for the glory of God? (Maybe google “creatives within the church” and start doing your own research on this matter?).
THE ISSUE IS EMPHASIS
Where I think we go wrong with the creative arts, however, is in our emphasis on the arts over the gospel message itself. When we begin to elevate the means by which we present the message over the message itself, we are off-course. When we are more “wowed” by the visually-moving presentation of a video being shown before a sermon (which I’m not fully against), or the talent that someone may have regarding some artistic ability being displayed on the stage during a Sunday service, than we are by the gospel message itself, then we have lost the primary purpose for those creative means. Content is always meant to be transferred from these various means, and if we lose the content, then we lose the reason for the existence of those means. I do believe that there is a place for creativity to stand on its own as beautiful and meaningful within a Christian context, but I’m just skeptical as to whether the church is a place for someone to merely “show off” what they can do, especially if the gospel message is not present. If we are not presenting the gospel to the unbeliever for salvation, and to the believer for further sanctification within the church, then we are wasting our time at the church and we are betraying the primary purpose of the church. Also, we need not forget that preaching, particularly, is the explicitly prescribed means by which the gospel is to be shared (See 48 Bible verses about the importance and emphasis of preaching). Going along with this previous thought, we also show a lack of belief in the “Regulative Principle of worship” whenever we begin to introduce all sorts of new things into our services and we drown out preaching, prayer, and other biblically-prescribed elements in our worship services. Where all this leads us in regard to the expression of creative people within our congregation, without breaking the “Regulative Principle,” I’m somewhat uncertain. Are we distrusting God’s biblical means to grow His church in grace, or are we unnecessarily ostracizing people who have wonderful God-given gifts and desire to use them for the Lord in the life of the church? Is there a nuanced view, or a Biblical insight, that I’m missing here? I’d be open to your comments on this matter in the “Comment” section below.
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- What do you think? Is it time to “burn down” our drama stages because they are in the way of the church’s primary purposes of preaching and prayer? Or is there a legitimate place in the church for the arts to exist, and where should that be?