The Church as a Colony of Artists

The Church As A Colony Of Artists
By Rory Noland

I’ve always been fascinated by the artist colonies that emerge around major artistic movements. My favorite example is Paris in the early 1900s, a place where artists congregated and fed off each other, and a time when exciting innovations were taking place in the arts. Composers, visual artists, dancers, choreographers, authors, and poets all mixed and mingled, resulting in a virtual beehive of artistic activity. My favorite composer, Igor Stravinsky, was part of this infamous colony of artists, and his circle of friends included fellow composers Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Erik Satie, and Manuel de Falla. It was a time when the arts overlapped in exciting ways as Stravinsky rubbed shoulders with artists like Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Jean Cocteau. This group wasn’t without its disagreements and jealousies, but the artists were friends. They’d go to concerts and art galleries together. They’d get together at each other’s homes and talk long into the night about music, art, and literature. On one occasion Stravinsky sat down with Debussy at the piano, and they played through a transcription of an orchestra piece Stravinsky was developing. It just happened to be The Rite of Spring, one of the landmark masterpieces of the twentieth century! I wish I could have been a fly on the wall listening to their conversation. These artists changed the world with their art. All the great new work at that time was coming out of Paris, and artists from all over the world were flocking there to study Paris in the early 1900s was indeed an exciting place to be. The arts were thriving and artists were flourishing!

Wouldn’t you love to be in a place like that? Many of us artists are longing for a place to belong, a place where the arts are flourishing, where God is using the arts in a powerful way. A place where artists can experience meaningful fellowship with other Christian artists, where we can learn from each other and cheer each other on. I believe that’s part of what God wants our churches to be: a place that harnesses the arts for His glory and nurtures artists.

The sense of teamwork and camaraderie that the artists in Paris had in the early 1900s has always intrigued me, because artists don’t always work well together, nor do they always get along with each other. Many of us are more introverted by nature; we’re lone rangers. In a book titled The Musical Temperament, author Anthony E. Kemp states that while “musicians are distinctly introverted, there is also a ‘boldness’ which arises not only from their considerable inner strengths but also from their sense of independence. Musicians tend to share these qualities with several other creative types.”

Getting artists who are basically introverted and independent to function as a team is no easy task. Like many artists who are thrown together with others on a team, Igor Stravinsky had to learn how to function as a team player. Howard Gardner, in his book Creating Minds, points out that when Stravinsky was asked to join the Ballets Russes, it changed his life overnight. “Stravinsky became a valued member of what was possibly the most innovative performing artistic group in the world …. Now instead of working mostly alone, Stravinsky had almost daily intercourse with the ensemble … set designers, dancers, choreographers, and even those responsible for the business end of the enterprise.”

Relationships Matter

Some of what we do as artists is done alone. We may practice or create by ourselves, but at some point we often end up working with other artists. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be very relational, you need to learn how to relate to, and get along with, other artists. Even if you’re extremely introverted, you’re deceived if you think you can live a meaningful existence isolated from others or live the Christian life apart from other believers. We need fellowship. We can’t be lone rangers. We need each other. To know and be known is a basic human need.

Many years ago an incident occurred that forever changed my view of the importance of relationships in my life. I had an appendectomy that involved some complications and the need for two surgeries. I was in and out of the hospital for two weeks, and it took me three months to fully recover. That was a real dark time for me. I remember feeling so lonely in my hospital room that I cried every time Sue and the boys (who were very young at the time) left. I found myself anxiously looking forward to visits from friends, relatives, anybody: I can only imagine how lonely it must be for people who are constantly homebound or shut in. My long convalescence made me realize that I had taken too many relationships for granted. You really don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. I realized that relationships were not as much of a priority for me as they should have been. I was too busy for people. I wasn’t doing anything to initiate new friendships or build into the ones I already had. When I got out of the hospital, I was determined to change all that, and I adopted a new motto: Relationships matter. Instead of working through lunch, I tried to find someone to eat with. I opened up larger blocks of time to allow for more personal appointments. Instead of waiting for people to call me, I started calling them, and I became more proactive about spending time with people.

Relationships are a lot of work. They don’t happen overnight; they need to be cultivated. Even those friendships that seem to happen accidentally, when people are thrown together by circumstance, involve work. Some of the people who complain the loudest about not having any friends are the same people who don’t work at having meaningful relationships. They think relationships just happen. They don’t. If you want to have quality relationships, you have to put in effort. My best friend lives a thousand miles away: We go back a long way and have a lot of history together. Ours is the kind of friendship in which even if we haven’t talked in a while, it’s easy to pick up where we left off. He�s someone to whom I can tell my darkest secrets. It would be a shame to let that friendship die, but it’s a lot of work, especially because we live so far apart. We try to call each other regularly or write letters or send email, anything we can do to keep the communication (and the friendship) strong. I’m now convinced that the time I’ve invested in this and all my other friendships is time well spent, because relationships matter. Many years have passed since my long hospital stay, but that ordeal straightened me out about the importance of relationships. 1 am very pleased about the quality and depth of my relational world these days. My friendships and my family are very fulfilling to me.


What intrigues me most about the O’Shaughnessy poem at the beginning of this chapter is its emphasis on we. One thing that we learned very quickly at Willow Creek is that ministry is best done in teams. The beauty of working in teams is that together we can accomplish greater things for God than if we were on our own. We have a saying around Willow Creek that goes like this: We come together to do what no one of us could do alone. With all of us pitching in and pulling in the same direction toward a goal, we reap huge dividends from our individual investments. If we try to do all alone what is better done as a team effort, the result will be limited-solitary confinement, if you will.

What does it mean to be part of a team? It means you belong. You belong on the team for two reasons.

1. Your gifts and abilities have created a niche for you on the team. Proverbs 22:29 says that a person who is talented and works hard will go far. Because you’re talented and work hard, you’ve been invited to participate in ministry. Your gifts and abilities have made room for you on the team. You share the same calling as others who have been entrusted with an artistic talent. As a result, you play an important role not only as a member of your ministry team but also as part of a worldwide community of Christian artists!

2. Your personality has created a place for you on the team. First Corinthians 12: 18 says that God “arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be” (emphasis mine). When God calls you to be part of a team, He takes into account who you are as well as what you can do. Isn’t that great? You’re welcome on the team not only for what you can do but also for who you are. No one is going to contribute to the cause and community of the team in the exact same way that you do. Even someone who has the same talents and gift mix that you have won’t contribute exactly as you do, because you’re two different people with two different personalities. You’re not indispensable but you are irreplaceable.

The Things That Kill Teamwork

In spite of how powerful and how meaningful team ministry can be, the task of getting a group of people to interact and perform as a team is a difficult one. Besides the fact that we artists have a propensity to shy away from teams and community, the Evil One does everything he can to disrupt teams. He’ll try to sow disunity; he’ll try to undermine morale; he’ll try to sabotage the cause; he’ll try to frustrate plans. Believe me, he’ll do everything he can to defeat any and every team that’s trying to advance the kingdom of God. So let’s begin our study of teams by looking at four things that can kill a team.

1. Selfishness

Selfishness is the biggest obstacle for any team to overcome. There’s no way any team can function if the team members are constantly first looking out for themselves. People who are focused only on themselves will miss the big picture. This was the problem with the Prodigal Son’s brother (Luke 15: 11-32). Instead of celebrating his wayward brother’s homecoming with the rest of his family, this man’s self-centeredness caused him to be resentful. It caused him to miss the more important thing: his lost brother was saved. We can sometimes get so focused on ourselves that we miss what’s really important. That’s “me first” thinking. When we’re angry because we didn’t get to sing all the solos we think we deserve, that’s “me first” thinking. When we maneuver conversation around to spotlight something about us, that’s “me first” thinking. When the team is celebrating a recent success and we’re preoccupied with remorse because we didn’t get to play the role we wanted to play, that�s “me first” thinking.

2. Grumbling and Complaining

Grumbling and complaining are usually the result of selfishness. Have you ever noticed how much we complain? We complain about the weather. We complain about our jobs. We complain about the government. We complain about our sports teams. Complaining seems to be human nature. The people of Israel grumbled against Moses all the time (Ex. 15:24; Num. 16:41; 17:5). And many of us with artistic temperaments have a tendency to complain and grumble whenever things don’t go our way

I received an email the other day from a church music director who quit his job because he couldn’t put up with “all the whininess and apathy” anymore. Satan had successfully sabotaged this church�s music ministry by getting all the musicians to be negative. Philippians 2:14 instructs us all to “do everything without complaining or arguing,” because grumbling and disputing are like cancers that grow and spread and eventually kill a team or even an entire church.

3. A Competitive Spirit

Healthy competition has the potential to bring out the best in us. The upside of competition in the arts, as in athletics, is that it can spur us on to grow as artists. The downside is that being overly competitive can ruin team morale. When people aren’t rooting for each other and cheering each other on because they’re in competition with each other all the time, they will never function as a team. Instead of competing with each other, we need to learn how to cooperate with each other.

4. Unresolved Relational Conflict

A lack of unity can really hurt a team. We must never forget that unity is extremely important to God. John 17 records one of Jesus’ last prayers before His painful death on the cross. Of all the things He could possibly have prayed for, utmost in His mind was the unity of the disciples. He prayed for them to be one (vv. 21-22) and to be “brought to complete unity” (v. 23). Why did Paul single out two women at the Philippian church who were at odds with each other and beg them to put aside their differences and “to agree with each other” (Phil. 4:2)? Because unity is vital to God. It is a witness-sometimes the most powerful witness-of His working in our hearts. Psalm 133: 1 says, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!”

However, let�s face it: it’s not easy for people to get along, is it? It’s not easy for a team of artists to achieve unity, because of the constant clash of egos and personalities. If a team of artists can dwell together in unity, it’s a major accomplishment. I recently received a letter from a music director who told me that the pastor shut down the choir because there was so much arguing going on all the time. In another example, a young music director once shared with me that there isn’t a rehearsal that goes by without someone blowing up at someone else. Bickering and backstabbing had become normal for them. It shouldn’t be this way in the church. We’ve got to learn how to resolve relational conflict.

A Team�s Code Of Ethics

Every team has a code of ethics, written or unwritten, spoken or unspoken. It sets the standard of behavior for the team. It defines what�s acceptable and what’s not acceptable. It says, “This is how we do things on this team.” When I joined the staff at Willow Creek, I learned very quickly what the code of ethics was for every staff member. One day I was working feverishly on some music in my office. I worked right up to rehearsals and then rehearsals went long. By the time it was all over, I had music strewn all over my office and a desk piled with papers, folders, and unopened mail. I thought about cleaning it all up before I left, but it was late and I was exhausted. Besides, I could do it first thing in the morning. The next morning someone from building services greeted me at my office door. He was very polite but firm. “I noticed you left your office in quite a mess last night,” he began. “I know you’re new, but I just want you to know that we don’t do things like that around here. We try to keep our offices neat and clean.” Needless to say, I’ve tried to keep my office tidy ever since, because that’s the standard to which the whole team of Willow Creek staff was adhering at that time.

A team�s code of ethics reflects the core values of that team. If rehearsal is an important value, it’ll be important for everyone to be on time. Punctuality then becomes a value statement that says in effect, “Rehearsal is a high value to me, so it�s important that I show up on time.” If respect for others is a high value for team members, punctuality would also be considered a courtesy. It�s basically saying, “I don’t want to be late, because I don’t want to waste everybody else’s time by having them wait for me.”

A team’s code of ethics also puts forth the level of commitment needed by all team members. It sets the standard for how the team operates. In this way it becomes a change agent of sorts. If you don’t model the team’s code of ethics, you will change your behavior if you want to stay a part of that team. Using punctuality as an example again, I know someone who was habitually late to meetings and rehearsals. (He had the same problem at work, too.) Since he was part of a team that valued punctuality, he decided that if he walked in and the meeting or rehearsal had already started, he would apologize to everyone he had kept waiting. Needless to say, he quickly broke himself of this bad habit.

A friend of mine who is a high school band director sent me a list titled, “The Marks of Professionalism.” He put this together for his band, and I can vouch for their sense of team; it�s a great-sounding band. If you were to play in my friend’s high school band, this is what would be expected of you:
The Marks Of Professionalism

1. Be on time for rehearsals.
2. Be ready to perform in all aspects (warmed up, instrument mechanically set, all equipment available).
3. Take care of your instrument.
4. Bring a pencil to rehearsal.
5. Listen to the conductor.
6. Mark your music-do not trust memory to skip ending, take a repeat, etc.
7. Constantly listen and adjust pitch and volume while playing.
8. Be ready for entrances.
9. Sincerely attempt to play the part correctly.
10. Play second or third part with as much enthusiasm as first part.
11. Practice music between rehearsals and continually strive to improve.
12. Interpret as the conductor wishes.
13. Do not miss rehearsals.

I think it’s important for every team to have a code of ethics that all can agree upon. Does your team have a code of ethics or “marks of professionalism”? Do you know what they are and do you model them?

What Does It Mean To Be A Team Player?

A team’s code of ethics is very specific to that team, but there are some general responsibilities that apply to any team of artists in the church. I’m talking about what it means to be a team player. Most of what I know about being a team player I learned through either music or athletics. In sports there are certain things you do for the sake of the team. For example, my son’s Little League coach told the boys to throw and run every day because it’s good for them and good for the team. So my son practiced those disciplines, knowing that it was part of his responsibility to the team.

In the same way, if you’re part of a team of artists, there are certain things you need to do for the sake of the team. The success of your ministry depends on how well you do this thing called team, so let’s talk about what it means to be a team player.

1. A Team Player Is Committed to the Cause of the Team

In ministry being committed to the cause of the team means that we put the church’s mission above our own agenda. From time to time I hear stories about arts ministries in which the team members aren’t all on the same page. The result is musicians, drama people, dancers, etc. all doing their own thing instead of coming together for the common good. For example, a musician who uncompromisingly pushes a favorite style of music, even though it doesn’t fit the occasion, is putting his or her own agenda ahead of the team’s.

Philippians 2:2 tells us to be “like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” When everyone on a team is intent on the same purpose, that team will do great things for God. You should be on a team because you believe in its cause.

Here in Chicago we were fortunate to have the greatest player in the history of basketball playing for the Bulls. I think what was most impressive about Michael Jordan was the example he set of a team player. On December 17, 1996, the Chicago Bulls were playing the Los Angeles Lakers, and Jordan was having what for him was an off night. (We later found out that he was battling the flu during the game.) Coach Phil Jackson asked Michael to be a decoy “We saw Michael was struggling in the third quarter, and I told him to be a decoy and hit the other guys,” Jackson said to reporters after the game. Imagine that: asking the greatest player who’s ever played the game to be a decoy, to put the team ahead of his own ego and agenda. Did Michael do it? Yes. After the game Coach Jackson said, “Michael did a great job of playing the role and hitting the open man.” Did it work? Yes. The Bulls won 129-123 in overtime. Michael Jordan was a great team player because he put the cause of the team first.

Sometimes last-minute changes are suggested for a service. Sometimes a song that someone’s put a lot of work into gets cut completely. Are you flexible when that happens or does it cause resentment? Are you more committed to your own agenda than to the cause? Now, as a leader you obviously don’t want to make a habit of cutting songs at the last minute, because that can frustrate your volunteers, but if it does happen, it�s a good test of character.

Amasai was a soldier who was committed to the cause. In 1 Chronicles 12:18 he speaks on behalf of his men and says to King David, “We are yours, 0 David! We are with you, O son of Jesse! Success, success to you, and success to those who help you, for your God will help you.” In other words, he’s telling David he’s behind him all the way. He believes in the cause. He’s committed to the team. That is music to a leader’s ears. Does your ministry leader know you’re committed to the team? When was the last time you told your leader as much? Do you stand behind the team, its leader, and its cause? Are you putting the team’s mission ahead of your own agenda?

2. A Team Player Is Committed to Resolving Relational Conflict

Resolving relational conflict in a biblical way is the key to team unity If each team member owns the responsibility for team unity, that team will be “like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose” (Phil. 2:2).

Unity is important to God, and it’s not something to be taken lightly. We are to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). That doesn’t happen without people working out their differences. It doesn’t happen without people putting their egos aside and constantly deferring to one another. When Solomon dedicated the temple, the priests and musicians came forth “regardless of their divisions” (2 Chron. 5: 11). They all checked their egos at the door and stood before God not according to status or rank but unified as God’s people. They had quite a powerful worship time at this ceremony, and the arts played a major role (w. 12-13). This passage also shows us that unity is a powerful testimony to the presence of God. In fact, the presence of God was so strong at this dedication that people were literally falling down. And it all started with the people being unified. Don’t ever think unity is optional. It’s required if we’re going to do anything together in God’s name.

Unity is also a powerful witness to the unchurched. “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” (Ps, 133: 1). If there was a colony of Christ-honoring artists who got along with each other and truly loved each other, the world would sit up and take notice, because that kind of thing doesn’t happen out there in the world. I tell our church orchestra that we are the most visible witness of team unity that the church has. We are such a diverse collection of ages, ethnic groups, abilities, and backgrounds, and we have to play together and get along with each other. If we can get along, anybody can. Our unity is often a more powerful testimony than our music.

Conflict, however, is inevitable whenever there are people around. Conflict doesn’t bother me. In most cases it’s an indication that people are coming together in community and deepening their relationships. When that happens, friction often occurs. What does concern me, though, is that we resolve relational conflict in a biblical way. In Matthew 18 Jesus outlines a procedure for resolving relational conflict. The first step always is to go directly to the person with whom you’re in conflict and talk it out (v. IS). I know that5 not always easy Most of us don’t like to put ourselves in the vulnerable position of telling someone that they’ve hurt us. Many of us are held back because that sounds too confrontational. Let’s face it: many of us grew up not learning how to resolve relational conflict in a mature way. But when it�s done right, the relationship is not only restored; it’s deepened. It might take just one meeting, but very often it will take several meetings. If that doesn’t resolve the issue, meet again, involving some mature brothers and or sisters who can help mediate (v. 16). If that doesn’t do the trick, bring in the elders or other church staff to help the parties involved resolve their conflict (v. 17).

For a team member who is offended to not go directly to the member who caused the offense really brings a team down, and it’s wrong. I repeat: it is wrong for us to go to anybody else but the person with whom we’re in conflict. Too many of us, for some reason, think we’re exempt from the conflict resolution process laid out in Matthew 18. We think it applies to everyone but us. We think its better not to confront the people with whom we are in conflict, and all this bitterness and resentment builds up inside us. We think it’s okay to talk to others about the problem we’re having with so-and-so, but we never go straight to the source. We’re guilty of slander or gossip. Even if what we say is true, it’s still gossip. And if it5 false, it5 slander. If we haven’t gone directly to the person with whom we’re in conflict, we have no business going to anyone else and poisoning his or her opinion of that person. Proverbs 17:9 tells us that someone who gossips and slanders or tries to play the middleman can ruin even the best of friendships. This also pertains to conflicts that team members have with team leaders. If you have a problem with your ministry director or you’re unhappy with how things are going for you on the team, go directly to that leader instead of talking behind his or her back.

In our opening sketch AI’s first question when he was talking to Stewart should have been, “Have you talked to Marlene yet?” If the answer was no, Al needed to say, “Stewart, I’ll be happy to talk with you about this after you talk to Marlene. You need to go directly to her and talk this out. In fact, I’m going to keep you accountable on this by checking in with you in a few days to see if you’ve talked to Marlene yet.” Al thought his intentions were good, but allowing himself to be the middleman in this conflict was doing more harm than good. Now, I know all this is easier said than done. It’s not easy to confront someone who has hurt us. It’s not easy to say, “I was hurt by that. Can we talk about it?” It’s not easy to admit that our feelings have been hurt. Most of the time when it happens to me, my first response is to say to myself, Oh, grow up. Stop being a baby. Meanwhile I can tell that my relationship with the person who offended me is being affected. Confronting is not easy We can procrastinate, we can deny that we’re really hurt, we can withdraw, we can even try to act like good little Christians and pretend nothing’s wrong, but those things don’t heal even the smallest cracks of a broken relationship. If we were all committed to resolving relational conflict as Jesus commanded, our teams wouldn’t get bogged down in gossip, slander, and strife.

Early in my ministry I had an experience that solidified for me the importance of team unity. We had a couple of team members who were at odds with each other. They didn’t get along at all, and because they sat next to each other in rehearsal, the air was thick with tension all the time. I observed this for a few weeks and realized that their deep hostility toward each other was not going to go away by itself. Meanwhile it was becoming very noticeable to everyone else, and it was hurting the morale of our team. I pulled both members aside separately and encouraged them to resolve their issues in the manner laid out in Matthew 18, then sat back and watched for a couple more weeks. But there was no movement on either member’s part, so I had to do something. I approached both of them individually and asked them to meet me in my office after the Sunday service. You can imagine their surprise when they realized they were meeting not only me but each other as well. And it got even more uncomfortable from there because I said, “Friends, I’ve been after you for a couple of weeks now to resolve your obvious conflict according to Matthew 18 and I have seen no effort on your part to do so. I am going to leave right now, and I don’t care if it takes several meetings like this, but you are going to talk this thing out.” And I left. I don’t know how long it took for the~ to start, but when I came back they were talking. They both expressed their anger, and they eventually apologized to each other. They walked away with a better understanding of each other. In short, they had resolved their conflict. Both of them admitted to me later that they had grown up in homes in which relational conflict was handled by yelling and screaming and slamming doors and giving the cold shoulder and playing other such games. This was the first time they had ever been challenged to resolve conflict in a healthy way.

If we’re going to be a healthy colony of artists, we have got to learn how to resolve conflict in a biblical way. In your life right now are there any broken relationships that you need to mend? Is there anybody with whom you’re having a problem that you need to talk to? Are there any conflicts that you need to work through?

3. A Team Player Encourages and Supports His or Her Teammates

When it comes to the arts in the church, we need to cultivate an environment that is encouraging, life-giving, and supportive. That’s part of what it means to nurture artists, especially the artists with whom we serve. Most of us have no difficulty encouraging someone whose gifts pose no threat to our place in the ministry. Our character is truly proven when we can root for those who have the same gifts we have. Can you sincerely encourage and pull for someone who has the same gifts you do? Another test of character comes when someone else gets the opportunities we wish we could have. Maybe it’s the solo we wanted, the part we wanted to play, or the recording opportunity we wanted. First Corinthians 12:26 (NASB) says that “if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” Can you rejoice for someone who gets the opportunities you wanted?

At Willow Creek I love it when I see some of our drama people who aren’t in the sketch that particular service encourage their teammates who are just about to go onstage. I love it when I see one of our more established or experienced vocalists wait underneath the stage to congratulate a new vocalist on his or her first solo. Or a keyboard player applaud the efforts of another keyboard player. Do you realize how rare that is in the world? In the world it’s unheard of for artists to encourage each other. It’s very competitive and very cutthroat. Someone who has talents that overlap yours is looked upon as a threat. This should not be so in the church. Instead of competing with each other, we need to cooperate with each other, to “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thess. 5:11). We need to cheer each other on-even those who share similar gifts with us.

I used to play racquetball three times a week, and I was extremely competitive. In fact, I was so competitive that I embarrassed myself on many occasions. I hated to lose and I’d get all angry if I was playing poorly. I would sulk if I lost and snap back in anger at my opponent. Needless to say, I wasn’t much fun to play with, and I didn’t really enjoy the sport after a while. I had to stop playing, because my temper was getting out of control. That’s when God showed me that behind my competitiveness was a dark, prideful desire to dominate, and it wasn’t confined to the racquetball court. This desire to control spilled over into my ministry and all my other relationships. I pleaded for God to change me because I was so filled with pride. Well, after several years I’m playing racquetball again. These days I’m playing occasionally with a friend of mine named Terry. Terry is not as good a player as the guys I used to play, but I enjoy playing with him a lot more. He’s more laid back. He enjoys life more. He’s exactly what I need. We even encourage each other as we play: “Nice shot” or “Good serve.” That’s unusual for someone as competitive as I am. But God has been using Terry to work on this character flaw in my life. These days I concentrate more on winning than on competing, and I don’t mean just getting more points than my opponent. I’m out to win my personal battle of pride. I still like to play hard, but without that competitive edge. Incidentally, I should add that since I’ve been playing with this new attitude, my love for racquetball is coming back. Win or lose, I’m enjoying playing again.

In the church we artists need to encourage each other. Instead of hoping that other artists fall flat on their faces and fail, we need to cheer each other on. Proverbs 3:27 tells us, “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act.” All artists need encouragement, and it’s wrong for us to withhold support from each other for any reason. In your life right now is there anybody that you need to encourage?

4. A Team Player Holds On to His or Her Gifts Loosely
In our opening scenario Stewart is holding on to his giftedness too tightly He has in his mind an idea of exactly how his gift should be used. When things don’t go his way, he pouts and gets upset. He�s demanding instead of submissive. Every once in a while I run across an artist like Stewart. In effect they’re saying, “I’m not going to give of my time and talent unless my gift is used exactly how I think it should be used.”

NBA coach Pat Riley says, “Doing your most for the team will always bring something good for you. It means believing that everything you deserve will eventually come your way. You won’t have to grab for it. You won’t have to force it. It will simply catch up to you, drawn along in the jet stream, the forward motion of your hard work.”

Especially if God is in the picture, I think we can say with confidence that good things will come our way if we work hard and don’t try to force it. If our talents and abilities are from God, who really owns them? He does. They’re on loan to us and we are to faithfully steward them. So we can relax our white-knuckle grip on our gifts and lay them at the feet of Jesus, to be used to edify His church as He sees fit.

There�s an attitude of submissiveness in Psalm 123:2 that moves me deeply every time I read it: “As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he shows us his mercy”

Picture the servant artist saying, “Lord, I’m looking to You to show me what You would like me to do with my talent.” We need to lay our God-given gifts and talents on the altar, in total submission to His will. When we put our gifts completely in God’s hands and trust Him with how they’re used, we can be at peace and serve with a cheerful heart. Only then can we truly be team players, holding on to our gifts and our aspirations lightly. Have you totally submitted your gifts and talents to the Lord? Are you holding on to them loosely?

5. A Team Player Tries to Bring a Healthy Self to the Team

One of the best things you can do for your team is to bring a healthy self to whatever the team does. So what does it mean to bring a healthy self to the team? First it means trying to be healthy physically. In some Christian circles it’s fashionable to overwork and be burned out; it’s a kind of badge of honor. But what’s really going on here most of the time is that we’re trying to impress each other with how hard we’re working or how important we think we are. Ecclesiastes 4:6 (NASB) says, “One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind.” Rest is important. It’s okay to get the rest your body needs. Most people fail to get the rest they need not because they get up too early but because they go to bed too late. We need to work hard for the Lord and not burn out. Most of us are at our best when we’re well rested. Over the years I’ve learned not to schedule myself late into the evening the night before a big service at church, because I know that my team needs me to be sharp and alert. It’s just one of the ways I can bring a healthy, rested self to the team. Regular exercise and sensible eating also contribute to our physical well-being. We tend to underestimate the amount of energy it takes to live a proactive zealous Christian life or to be an attentive spouse or an involved parent.’ Then we wonder why we’re tired all the time. Exercise and a healthy diet create the energy we all need to live life to its fullest. Are you eating sensibly, exercising regularly, and getting enough rest?

Bringing a healthy self to the team also means trying to be healthy spiritually. During the first century there was an awful famine that was sweeping across the continents. In writing to the Corinthians, Paul talked glowingly about the churches in Macedonia and their team effort to help their fellow believers in need. They were poor yet they contributed abundantly to the church�s worldwide relief effort. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 8:5 that they were able to give so much because “they gave themselves first to the Lord.” They were in such a good place spiritually that giving came easy for them despite their poverty. When you’re walking with the Lord, ministry oozes out automatically. You can’t serve out of an empty cup, so make sure you’re healthy spiritually. Don’t you be the one holding the Spirits anointing back by being spiritually lazy. Make sure you’re having regular devotions, that you’re praying, that you’re confessing and renouncing sin, that you’re in fellowship and sitting under biblical teaching.

Bringing a healthy self to the team also means trying to be healthy emotionally. We can’t control the circumstances that affect our emotions, but we can do wonders for our emotional well-being by having meaningful relationships and dealing with pain and conflict in a healthy way. Do you have meaningful relationships? Are you paying attention to your emotions and dealing with them, or are you suppressing them? Are you dealing with pain and conflict in your life, or are you coping by denying or escaping?

Many artists don’t have good self-care habits. Even if we’re healthy in one area, we may be woefully deficient in another. We don’t get the rest we need, we don’t eat right and exercise, our emotional world is a mess, or we tend to be spiritually lazy. Athletes take good care of themselves off the field so they can perform well on the field. So it is with us. Don’t think that your life outside of ministry has no bearing on your ministry. When you and I try to get rest, exercise, and have regular devotions, we’re doing something that’s not only good for ourselves but good for the team and great for our ministry. A person who is healthy physically, spiritually, and emotionally handles pressure better. They’re more apt to better handle disappointment and failure. They’re less likely to grumble and complain or be overly competitive. A healthy self always makes for a healthy team.

6. A Team Player Doesn’t Care Who Gets the Credit or the Glory

If you really believe in the cause of your team, does it really matter who gets the credit or the glory? Is it more important that you get the credit or that the work gets done? It’s typical for us to want to receive all the credit and glory for something we have done, but if you look below the surface, there’s almost always an unhealthy, self-serving motivation behind this desire. In many cases there’s a craving for attention that drives us to seek the spotlight. And nowhere is this more prevalent than in the world of the arts.

We artists don’t like it when someone else gets credit for our work or our ideas. We want everyone to know that we deserve to be in the spotlight. One time Michelangelo overheard some tourists in St. Peter’s Cathedral observing his famous Pieta, the marble sculpture of Mary holding the crucified Jesus across her lap. They were trying to figure out who the artist was. After hearing them attribute his work to other artists, Michelangelo came back in the middle of the night and across the band that wrapped around Mary, in big bold letters he carved, “Michelangelo Buonarroti of Florence made this.” It was the only work he ever signed.

King David wanted so much to build the temple for God. He could envision it. In fact, it was his idea. But it wasn’t God’s will for David to build it. He wanted David’s son, Solomon, to build the temple. Not only would David not get the opportunity to build the temple; he wouldn’t even live to see it built. Someone else would build it. Someone else would get the credit and all the glory. So how did David respond? Did he get angry and curse God? Did he sulk and brood? Did he get angry at his son and undermine his efforts to build the temple? No. In fact, he helped Solomon gather the materials needed to build the temple (l Chron. 22). Did he do it halfheartedly? No, he did it to the best of his ability. He gave it everything he had. He even gave financially above and beyond what he had already given (l Chron. 29:2-3). Did he do it with a sour attitude? No way! He was delighted to do these things because of his devotion (v. 3). He pitched in and did whatever he could because building the temple was more important than who did it. That’s a team player.

Sometimes we get all bent out of shape when someone else gets all the credit we deserve or all the glory we covet. A wise man once said, “It is amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit.”4 Its always a thrill to play any role, large or small, on any team that�s doing something great for God. It doesn’t really matter who gets the credit and the glory, does it?

Just a quick word for those of us in leadership: We really need to monitor this so it doesn’t get extreme. If credit is constantly attributed wrongly, it can be very demoralizing. It’s true that God sees in secret, but it’s the wise and sensitive leader who makes sure credit is given to the appropriate people. Sometimes people are not looking for a large display of public recognition. They just want to be thanked and appreciated for their contribution, so let’s be sensitive to this on our teams.

7. A Team Player Brings All of His or Her Spiritual Gifts to the Team

I’ve seen too many artists neglect their other spiritual gifts. They perform and that�s it. What about an artist who also has the gift of mercy or encouragement or helps or shepherding or evangelism? The team is incomplete without these gifts. First Corinthians 14:26 paints a beautiful picture of these gifts in full action: “When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.” There is such a wide variety of spiritual gifts, and we need to look for opportunities to use those gifts whenever the team assembles. For example, rehearsal is more than just practice. It�s yet another opportunity to use our spiritual gifts and edify our fellow artists. Even if you think you don’t need rehearsal, you always need the fellowship and the fellowship needs you. If you have the gift of encouragement, you can come to rehearsal looking for someone to encourage. If you have the gift of helps, you can be on the lookout for someone to serve in this way, someone who just might be sitting next to you at rehearsal. Instead of asking, “What do I get out of this?” we should be asking, “What can I give?”

Hebrews 10:24 tells us to “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” That�s part of my job as a contributing member of a biblically functioning community of artists. I’m supposed to stimulate my fellow artists to new spiritual heights. Next time you’re driving to rehearsal, ask yourself, How can I use my spiritual gift today to stimulate my fellow artists spiritually? Or, Is there anything I could do or say that could benefit someone else on the team?

B. A Team Player Sees His or Her Role As Valuable, No Matter How Small

Every great team has members who know their roles on the team and perform them well. They’re content to play their roles, because they know that if they don’t, the group will not function as a team. The best team leaders are the ones who help their members identify their roles and set them up to succeed in those roles. Some roles are more behind-the-scene than others. Some are more prominent than others. But the mature team player knows that a team can’t function without all members pulling their own weight, without all members performing the roles they play to the best of their ability. Being dependable- knowing that you can be counted on-is a sign of character. The football player who scores the touchdown gets all the press, but he knows, like anybody who understands teamwork knows, that it wouldn’t be possible without the guys on the offensive line who block, pull, and decoy for him. That’s what teamwork is all about. In the church there is no lowest common denominator. There are no losers. There is no role that is unimportant and no job that is trivial. Each of us plays a vital role, without which the team could not function successfully. First Corinthians 12:22-25 says, “Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor …. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.”

This doesn’t mean that we get so locked into a role that we’re unwilling to help with something that’s outside our area. When somebody on the team needs our help, we can’t be saying, “That’s not my job” or “That’s not my gift.” We need to do our fair share whether it�s in our job description or not.

I’ve been in on the ground floor of two church start-ups, and I remember very fondly the sense of team that most churches know in their formative stages. In the early days of any new ministry, everybody pitches in and helps and does whatever needs to be done. I even helped hang drywall for Willow Creek’s first offices. I’m not handy at all and can’t be trusted with a hammer and nails, so all they would let me do was help hold the drywall. I was way out of my comfort zone, but I showed up to help. I played a part outside my musical role, and though it was very small, I was needed. I was part of the team and I did my job. I’m talking about the instrumentalist who helps the production team tear down the stage, or the vocalist running a spotlight, or the drama person moving props, or the dancer pitching in to stack chairs. That); what teamwork is all about.

Now, what should you do if you’re unhappy with your perceived role or you’re unclear about what your role really is on the team? I would suggest you talk to your team leader about this right away. If you don’t, you will end up frustrated, bitter, and resentful. Don’t let this happen to you. If you’re confused or disappointed about your role on the team, please talk to your team leader.

9. A Team Player Submits to Authority

Submitting to authority can be difficult for some of us. We artists don’t like anyone telling us what to do. But assuming your leader never asks you to do something contrary to Gods will, you have a responsibility to submit to his or her leadership. Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

Submitting to church authority is a sign of character. You may think your leader is wrong or incapable or even unfit to lead, but don’t add to the problem by being immature yourself. I’ve seen people get so agitated over the littlest things, and I’ve seen people leave the church over relatively petty issues. Stubbornness is not a virtue and pettiness is not becoming. Don’t be a thorn in the side of the leader. If you disagree with your leader or don’t like something he or she is doing, go talk to that person. If you still disagree, pray that God will change your leader’s mind or yours. But if nothing ever changes, you still need to submit and cooperate with the person’s leadership. When a leader asks you to do something, don’t roll your eyes in disgust. That’s plainly immature. When a leader asks you to change something about your art or to tone something down or to dress more conservatively, don’t fight it tooth and nail. We should be bigger than that and graciously submit.

10. A Team Player Doesn’t Lose His or Her Autonomy or Artistic Identity

This may sound as if it contradicts everything else I’m saying, but it really doesn’t. It’s important for the artist not to get swallowed up completely by the team. When we lose autonomy, we stop taking responsibility for ourselves. I’ve seen too many artists try to get lost in the crowd and not take personal responsibility for the development of their gifts and the nurturing of their souls. I’ve also seen too many artists hide behind the spiritual reputation of the leader and not take responsibility for their walk with the Lord or for the sin in their lives. I’m talking about the choir member, for example, who doesn’t take the development of his or her gift or spiritual life seriously, thinking that those things go unnoticed when you’re part of a large group. Doesn’t this person know that any team is only as strong as its weakest link? There is a side to being an artist that is solitary. We need to practice on our own, or we need to write in solitude, or we need to find the inspiration to create on our own. We have devotions and fight temptation on our own. Even though I’m trying to raise the value of teamwork in arts ministry, the arts are not exclusively a team effort. It’s our responsibility to do the alone part on our own.

When we lose individual autonomy, we also start living for the team’s approval instead of the Lord’s. A group mentality sets in that can be very dangerous for a team of artists. When that happens, we go along with the group without questioning. We don’t take creative risks anymore for fear of losing our status with the group. We don’t speak up if we hold an opinion different from that of the group. We become man pleasers instead of God pleasers. What was Aaron thinking when he misused his artistic abilities and made the golden calf? (Ex. 32:21-24). He created an idol for people to worship. He lost his sense of personal responsibility and listened to the group instead of listening to God. He gave in to peer pressure and betrayed his faith. It is dangerous for any artist to live for the approval of others and stop listening to God.

To Pay Or Not To Pay

One topic I should address, because it comes up at nearly all my seminars, is the policy that some churches have of paying their volunteer musicians regularly. I’ll address the issue as it pertains to musicians, because that fits my experience, and you can make further applications to other areas of the arts.

If your church is trying to build a team of committed artists, I would strongly recommend that you not get into the habit of regularly paying musicians for their services. It undermines your efforts to build a team. First of all, if you’re teaching that every role on your team is important and that all members need to pull their own weight for the common good, yet you pay some people but not all people, that’s a contradiction. Secondly, it clouds motivation. Am I serving on this team because this is where God is calling me and wants to use me or because I am paid well? Thirdly, it hurts team morale. It can be demoralizing for team members to make the sacrifice needed for the team, only to find out that someone else
is getting paid to make the same kind of sacrifice. While there is a precedence in Scripture for paying a church music staff (I Chron. 9:33), there is no precedence for paying volunteers. Besides, in the new priesthood of believers everybody does the work of ministry, not just a chosen few.

I wish I could share with you one example of a church that regularly pays volunteers and is successfully building a team of committed artists, but I can’t, because the two work against each other. I have yet to meet a church music director who’s paying his or her volunteers and feels good about it. Instead, what I get most often are phone calls from music directors who have inherited ministries in which the practice of paying volunteers regularly has been in place for years, and now they’re experiencing all sorts of conflicts as they try to expand their ministries and take their musicians to that next level of commitment. Paying people doesn’t increase commitment. Knowing that God is calling one to ministry makes one more committed. The days of the church-hopping, gigging musician are over. It may have been nice money on the side, but it doesn’t serve the musician well at all. It prevents the person from participating fully at anyone church because he or she is spread among several. You can’t serve two masters (Matt. 6:24). You can’t reap the full benefits of serving in community if you’re not committed to one church home.

At Willow Creek we might hire some extra string players for Christmas and Easter services, and I’ve been known to send gas money or babysitting money to someone who’s putting in time way above and beyond what is expected, but I would never get into the habit of paying volunteers to play. Besides, my vision for our ministry is that we’d see hundreds more artists serving the Lord with their gifts. It would get too expensive to pay all the musicians I believe God wants to bring to our team. In other words, Willow Creek can’t afford to pay for the kind of music ministry I think God wants us to have. If you’re paying musicians, your music ministry will be only as large as you can afford it to be. I don’t want the number of musicians involved in our ministry to be limited by money. I want the Lord to be free to bring to our ministry the number of musicians He wants.

The Story Of A Successful Team Of Artists

I want to conclude by telling a story from the Bible about a group of artists who did something great for God. In Exodus 35 Moses rallied the people of Israel together to build the tabernacle. The people got so excited about the opportunity to do something great for God and donated so much money and material that Moses had to tell them to stop. Then Moses called the gifted artists together, divided them into teams, and gave them their assignments. There was great attention to detail; the Bible devotes four chapters to describing the artistry that went into the building of the tabernacle. When it was all done, a cloud representing God’s majesty rested over them, and His glory filled the tabernacle (Ex. 40:34). Can you imagine how those artists felt? They had worked together as a team and had accomplished something great for God, and He had blessed their work. God’s glory shone through their art. God had anointed their efforts. What more could you ask for as an artist? They had come together as artists to do what no one of them could do alone, and God had blessed it!