One of the most frustrating parts of my job as president of the NFfCR is the fact that we have very few resources and almost no support from the larger Christian community. In the six years of our existence, I have fought hard to get recognition from mainstream Christian reviewers and distribution giants. But to no avail. We have yet to have one breakthrough.
Even though almost every one of the Christians I have talked to agree that the Christian arts are in crisis, mainstream Christian producers and distributors have continued to pump out the same old cotton candy without a thought that anything might be wrong. And for many years, it was looking like all our work was for naught. But then things started to change.
Recently, various organizations have finally started cropping up emphasizing a return to “transparency” and “authenticity” in Christian art. Reviewers and pundits have begun to act like the mediocrity of contemporary Christian art is a truth everyone takes for granted. And excellent Christian artists, though still few and far between, have started to come out of the woodwork.
None of this necessarily has anything to do with the NFfCR. And not all of this change is sincere, I’m sure. It is likely that some of this change has stemmed more from the leading of the market than the leading of the Spirit—kind of like the “organic” and “natural” alternatives being produced by conventional food companies. But, for some good reasons and some less than good reasons, it seems we are poised on the precipice of a major sea change in the Christian arts.
And this could be very good for the NFfCR. But I despair much of the time. Even if the Christian world begins to cry out for excellent art, that doesn’t mean our organization will be the one that gives it to them. It’s depressing for me to think that we have been working tirelessly for years to make a change in the Christian arts, and that change seems to be on the verge of happening. But it might happen totally without us. Why? We’re tiny. We’re unknown. We’re poor. We’re terrible at self-promotion.
Yet God has encouraged me greatly in this. First, it doesn’t really matter what part we play or what recognition we get if we do the part God has given us, and the change we long to see in the Christian arts actually happens. This is a test of our convictions, is it not? Why are we doing what we do? To get recognition for ourselves, or to work for the expansion of God’s kingdom? Honestly, I struggle with this. There are times in my weakness when I am covetous of successful bands and successful artistic cooperatives. I think, “We’re better than those guys, aren’t we? God, why haven’t you given us that kind of success?” Gently, God usually replies, “Because you say things like that. Believe me, you can’t handle notoriety.” And I reply, “Lord, but what about the artists I work for and the church longing for more and better art? Please allow the artists I serve to gain an audience. Their work is good. You have called them to art. Will You not give them the money and support they need to keep making the art You have given them to make? Don’t You want the church to benefit from the gifts and skills you have given them? Why must my pride get in the way of that?”
The solution that God has worked out for this situation is as wise as it is discomfiting. God keeps telling me: “I don’t need much to do a lot.” Think about Gideon. He didn’t have an impressive army. Samson probably didn’t look strong. Why would the Philistines have wondered where his strength came from if he had looked like Mr. Universe? And what about those five loaves and two fish?
The windows of heaven might open up at some point when we’re humble enough to handle it, but from the impressions I have been getting from God, I am more likely to get subsistence meat from the mouths of ravens for the time being. But, I feel more and more comfortable with this. I don’t even want a lot for the NFfCR. I just want enough. And God has given us enough. Sometimes miraculously. Always when we don’t expect it. And in ways we never would have predicted.
That’s the discomfiting part. We all know we’re supposed to trust in God. But actually doing it doesn’t feel terribly stable. If God’s glory is paramount, then the world must be faced with a Great Workman doing superb work through extremely unconventional tools. That’s us. We’re not even jackasses. We’re the sun-bleached jawbones of jackasses. It is precisely the weak tools that God glories in using. Because there is no question of whom gets the credit.
The NFfCR has almost no resources. We are virtually unknown. We face obstacles at every path. Yet, I look back at our six years, and I’m astounded. So much has been accomplished with so little. How? The grace and power of God. And that is encouraging. We don’t have a lot to offer. Our production values are low; our bank account stays in the three (and sometimes two) figure range; all of us make tents to make a living … But God has consistently done His will through us, and blessed us all along the way.
I must regularly recommit myself to walk by faith. We will continue to do our work for as close to free as we can. We will continue to attempt to wrest control of the arts from a debasing market. We will continue to fight to get our art into the hands of as many people as possible. Because God is faithful, and we trust in Him. We’re the five loaves and two fish. My ambition is that God would use our little to do great things.