A seven-year-old friend of mine showed me his sketchbook after the service last Sunday. It was a drawing of one of the electric guitars used by the praise band of our church. He was quite proud of his work, but he was quick to point out that the strings weren’t quite right. They were a little heavy-looking, but it was a very well-drawn picture for a kid his age. Afraid Sam would quit drawing guitars because the first one he drew wasn’t perfect, I told him how in art school you get to draw and redraw the same thing over and over until it feels just right.
Pastors practice their sermons in front of the mirror; choirs are allowed to go over and over the difficult parts. So when it comes to art, why do we expect to either have “the gift” or not? And why do we expect that gift to show up early in life—or not at all?
Listen With Your Eyes
For some people, drawing is one of the best ways to listen. So how about encouraging your congregation to try it and see for themselves!
For the weeks of Advent this year, include in your worship space an interesting arrangement of objects that relate to your worship themes. Invite everyone from kids to grandpas to draw and redraw these objects during the worship service. Rather than covering your worship bulletin with text, save some room for worshipers to sketch. Or take it a step further and hand out sketchbooks and pencils to anyone who will take one.
I’m guessing that getting people to participate will be the most challenging part. Consider introducing the idea a week or two in advance with an announcement along these lines:
During the services of Advent this year, we invite you to draw the items you see on the platform. Although they may seem like unrelated objects, as we work our way through Advent you’ll see that each has meaning. We don’t care if you’ve never drawn a picture in your life. We’re not going to display your sketches or ask you to turn them in. We invite you to discover for yourself that the close examination the act of drawing requires almost always leads to a deeper level of insight, adding meaning and depth to your participation in worship.
Don’t let people opt out too quickly with a “But I can’t draw” sigh.
If your space is very large or for some reason doesn’t allow for the arrangement of objects, consider projecting a symbol for each of the Sundays of Advent and ask worshipers to redraw or reinterpret the symbol on their own paper.
Pull this off and you’ll get credit for acknowledging the visual learners in your midst—a huge step, actually, as research suggests that more than half of us learn visually. In the process, you might even inspire a seven-year-old.
- Consider asking a local art teacher or artist to review sketches and offer encouragement and guidance to anyone who wants it.
- If the thought of your congregation busily sketching through the service makes you anxious, give your sermon series topics or Scripture readings to five or six artists and have each interpret the text as they see fit. Rather than just displaying their final artwork, ask them to bring in their initial sketches (including their mistakes!) and invite them to talk about the process of making their art.
- Make sketchbooks available and challenge your congregation to make a sketch or drawing every Sunday of the year. I’ve been doing this for some time, and it’s amazing what a record of past ideas and feelings it can be.
- Everyone loves to watch an artist do his or her thing. Invite an artist to draw or paint during the service in response to what he or she hears, sees, and feels.