As we’ve written about in previous articles, we believe that shepherding our artists and helping them grow is just as important for our team as telling stories. We seek to love and care for our artists, and we want to invest in them. One way we are doing that this year is through Artist Cohorts in The Austin Stone Community Church’s Men and Women’s Development Program.
The Men and Women’s Development Program, or MWDP, is a nine month long, cohort-based theological and spiritual formation program that seeks to train members of The Austin Stone. It is a serious commitment, and this year over 250 people have enrolled in MWDP. Within that group, there are seven Artist Cohorts, three comprised of women and four comprised of men. Almost 60 artists who serve our church in various ways will be going through this program together. They will learn sound doctrine, grow in their practice of the spiritual disciplines, and learn how to apply theological truth to their lives and the lives of the people they lead.
Last week we kicked off MWDP for 2015-2016. As we set expectations for our artists for the year, I explained that we are excited for this year of development and we are investing in the Artist Cohorts for three reasons.
We want to foster a creative culture in our church
We believe that creativity and art matters a great deal to God. God is the Creator, and as artists, the work we do is sub-creation. The works we create are not surprises to God. We are only working with the ingredients He provides. In creating art we are imitating God, and we are demonstrating an essential aspect of His character.
God also created artists with gifts and talents to glorify Jesus. A creative culture that glorifies Jesus leads a church to worship Him. Finally, Austin is a city full of creatives and artists. We must love, value, and develop our artists if we ever want to reach this city with the gospel.
We want to build a community of artists
Artists and creatives need community. That is true of all believers, but for artists, it affects our work and faith in very direct ways. Living in community with other artists shapes an artist’s view of God, art, and love for their fellow Christians.
Community also encourages us to grow in our art and in our sanctification. Community holds us accountable when we need it. Many artists suffer from dry seasons where their creative output slows, or their discipline wanes. When the desire to create runs thin, we need each to encourage and push one another forward.
By creating these cohorts and mixing artists from Worship, Story Team, our Design teams, and other areas of the church, we hope to create new friendships, working relationships, and creative teams that can spur each other on in faith and love.
We believe artists must be equipped theologically
The call on the life of every artist is to glorify Jesus Christ with their art. But, as Francis Schaeffer noted in Art and the Bible, this does not mean that our art has to be religious in content. It does mean, however, that artists need to know the character of God, and long to imitate that character in every sphere of life, including their art.
Our God is a God of beauty and truth. The work of our hands should be driven by both. Theological education and spiritual formation both equip artists for this task. In the end, for the Christian artists, the deeper your theology is, the deeper your art will be.
The more you know the character of God, the more beautiful and true your work will be. Our understanding of God shapes how we think about the human experience. Understanding God’s character changes the way we see the world.
It’s an investment
For these three reasons we view the Men and Women’s Development Program as a key way to invest in our artists. Staff members from our Worship, Story Team, and Design teams are coaching cohorts this year because we want to care for our artists and see them grow. Other artists are volunteering their personal time to lead some of these cohorts because they want others to see the growth they’ve experienced. We believe that investment in our people is critical to the health of our people, our team, and our church.
We’ve seen how the Holy Spirit has used this process to refine and shape our people, and we desire for all of our artists to experience it.