Prepare the Way – Remove the Stones

“Go through, go through the gates!
Prepare the way for the people.
Build up, build up the highway!
Remove the stones.
Raise a banner for the nations.”
Isaiah 62:10

Since 2004, when I served as convener of the Lausanne Forum for World Evangelization’s Issue Group on the Arts, I have had the increasing sense that the recommendations of the “Redeeming the Arts” paper from that Forum needed urgent implementation on a global scale.

During my seven years as dean of the arts at Belhaven College in Jackson, Mississippi, USA, I developed the program to train students in music, visual arts, dance, and theatre in their craft within a biblical worldview. Today, the college has beautiful facilities, a world-class art faculty, and a vibrant missional student arts community. It is one of only twenty-five universities and colleges in the United States to be nationally accredited in all areas of the arts. Seeing those things accomplished, it seemed it was time to take the vision to another level.

After prayerful discussion with Belhaven’s president Dr. Roger Parrott (chair of the 2004 Lausanne Forum), the college has launched StoneWorks—a global arts partnership for cultural transformation. An exciting vision to educate the Church, disciple the artist, and transform the culture is underway and gathering momentum. The following is an overview of the vision and its current implementation.

Vision Overview
In Babylonian exile, God’s people discarded their musical instruments and wept (Psalm 137). They were struggling with their identity. With their homeland in ruins, they had begun to lose hope. When they did eventually begin to return home, it was with a mandate to rebuild, restore, and renew the ruins of their city (Isaiah 61:4). Before the restoration work could begin, however, they had to prepare the way, build a highway, and remove the stones.

Comparisons could be made with Christian involvement in the arts. At certain times in history, the arts have played a strategic role in the life and mission of the Church that championed artistic endeavors to the glory of God. At other times, Christians largely abandoned the world of the arts. Seeing it as broken and spiritually bankrupt, they went into self-imposed cultural and artistic exile.

The neglect of the imagination in life and faith has impoverished the Body of Christ. However, during the past few decades there has been a global renewal of interest in the arts and the imagination among believers. Like the ancient Jews in exile, it is time for God’s people to weep over our cultural disobedience and neglect of God’s good and creative gifts. It is time for the artist and the Church to weep together over their mutual alienation. And, it is time for our tears to turn into action. The stones need to be removed. A highway must be constructed.

There has probably never been a time in which a biblical understanding of the arts is more needed by the Church than in our present visual and image-oriented postmodern culture. The 2004 Forum’s Lausanne Occasional Paper, “Redeeming the Arts,” speaks to this challenge. In response to this challenge, StoneWorks has been established to be a global arts partnership for cultural transformation and the recovery of the imagination in the life and mission of the Church.

The Need
Christ has called believers to disciple the nations. Today, it is the secular arts and entertainment industry—in particular film, television, and music—that has taken over that role in our contemporary world.

The biblical pattern in expressing God’s love and redemptive purposes was approximately seventy-five percent story, fifteen percent poetry, and ten percent instructional and didactic in nature; ninety percent appealed to the imagination! At a time when our world has become more visually and image driven, the Church has reversed this biblical pattern. Today, only ten percent of the way we express the transforming narrative of the gospel is creative and imaginative.

If the Church is to fulfill the purposes of God for this generation, there must be a recovery of the imagination, both in the Church and the culture. Those gifted and called by God to be artists for his glory must come out of spiritual exile and learn how to integrate their faith and their gifts in a holistic way. The “stones” in their lives, the Church, and the culture that cause them to stumble and fail to reach their God-given destiny, must be identified and dealt with. The Church must be educated, the artist must be discipled, and the culture must be transformed.

  

The Vision
Healing and restoration, important as they are, must be seen within the overarching purposes of God for his world. The vision to restore, renew, and rebuild the brokenness of the arts world is a vision to see the arts restored to God’s original intention, for beauty and for his glory. In turn, the arts will be a powerful way to bring truth, beauty, and healing to the lies, ugliness, and sickness of a world alienated from the God of creation.

StoneWorks calls Christians involved in the arts to be healed, restored, and renewed. It is a call for the Church to once again embrace the arts and the artist. It is a call for the nations to embrace a vision of creative and cultural restoration. It is a call for “such a time as this” in the purposes of God.

StoneWorks
StoneWorks is a catalyst to empower artists—and the arts—as a transformational voice in the Church and the culture.

Mission: Forming artists to reform culture

Spheres:

  • Church. Educate the Church to embrace a biblically-based understanding and practice of the arts.

  • Marketplace. Encourage spiritual, artistic, and worldview excellence that is culturally transformational.
  • Academy. Establish witnessing communities of art students and faculty on university campuses. This will require looking at new models and paradigms.
  • Missions. Train mission organizations to understand the role of the imagination in discipling nations. Every nation in the world lives by a story and affirms and passes on their story through the arts (music, stories, language, dance, theatre, etc.). The importance of the arts in mission must be recognized and affirmed.

Partnership Values:

  • Common vision
  • Sustained relationship
  • Mutual empowerment of vision
  • Shared resources

Three-fold Structure:

  • Summits are where we generate ideas for strategic initiatives and bring together key people to talk and share ideas that can be formulated into strategic initiatives. There is a great need to create symbols that have meaning for the culture.

  • Institutes are, in essence, discipleship and worldview mentoring programs.
  • Initiatives are partnerships in culture-shaping projects and program development.

 

StoneWorks plans to hold numerous summits (local, national, regional, international), institutes (in churches, missions organizations, the academy, and in the marketplace), and initiatives that work toward the three-fold vision of:

  1. a global movement of believers who are excellent in art and Christian character,

  2. a global Church that integrates God’s good gifts into its life and mission, and
  3. a culture that will be impacted and transformed through the creative expression of truth.

Events in 2007
There were seven types of events held in 2007.

1. Inaugural Summit. The inaugural StoneWorks Summit took place in June 2007 at the Belhaven campus. Recognized and emerging leaders from mission organizations, universities, and professional arts entities came together to discern how to educate the Church, disciple artists, and transform culture. Some of the ideas generated are already being used in institutes and initiatives.

2. Online Arts Community. StoneWorks consulted with artists and arts organizations and is now developing a multi-faceted, interactive, online community for Christians in the arts. This is a huge felt need that, when completed, will help facilitate relationships, resources, dialogue, creative partnerships, artistic expression, research, academic papers, mission opportunities, and much more.

3. Transformation Media Project. Collaboration between StoneWorks and InterVarsity USA is underway to film and produce innovative DVD modules to motivate arts students and faculty to develop a vision for witnessing communities on college campuses. This media project will have far-reaching impact. The accompanying original music will form the basis of worship and performance at StoneWorks events and beyond—thereby reinforcing the vocabulary and concepts related to transformation.

4. Global Partnership Summits (GPS) are the highest level of focused dialogue, idea development, and leadership influence sponsored by the StoneWorks Institute. They bring together established leaders and gatekeepers in the arts, church, education, missions, and the marketplace for intercessory prayer, evaluation of our current position, and mapping out ways to effectively reach the stated destination of church and cultural transformation. They do this through a combination of strategic initiatives, global partnerships, and shared resources.

5.  StoneWorks Arts Leadership Training (SALT) identifies and brings together emerging arts leaders in church, marketplace, academy, and missions, to mentor them in moral, intellectual, and spiritual life to be transformational leaders who are faithful to the gospel and their call to follow Christ and influence culture.

6. Artists & Cultural Transformation Symposiums (ACTS) bring together key culture-shapers in the arts community (writers, directors, producers, choreographers, composers, visual artists, film makers, patrons, etc.) for community, renewal, artistic input, insightful dialogue, spiritual empowerment, and intentional orientation toward transformational vision.

7. Arts, Reconciliation & Transformation Seminars (ARTS) develop a Christian perspective on the arts and the imagination in life, worship, and mission. These church-sponsored seminars will affirm the arts and imagination as gifts from God to be celebrated, and will explore their important role in culture formation and transformation within the biblical context of creation, fall, and redemption.

Events Planned for 2008 and 2009
An ACTS is being considered for professional dancers in the fall of 2008. GPS are in the planning stages for Australia and Europe for 2009. An academic-focused SALT is planned for the summer of 2009. ARTS are ongoing.

StoneWorks Global Partners
There are a growing number of StoneWorks partners whose organizations and networks span 140 nations. There is enormous potential for worldwide influence, as Christians in the arts bring transformation within their own unique cultural frameworks. Along with the strategic partnership with InterVarsity on college campuses, StoneWorks has also entered into a formal partnership with Operation Mobilization to engage the arts and the imagination in world missions.

Partnerships are also developing with many artists and arts organizations that share a vision to support and disciple artists working in the marketplace. We are encouraged to see a growing number of these groups using the language of cultural transformation in their vision.

Arts Manifesto
In June 2008, a diverse group of thinkers and practitioners will convene at Belhaven College to continue the initial work of formulating an Arts Manifesto. When this phase is completed, the draft document will be widely disseminated for others to review. Based on responses, the Manifesto will be edited, rewritten, and signed by numerous individuals, organizations, and groups as an affirmation of the arts in the life and mission of the Church and its members, and as a statement to the broader culture.

Prayer Network
We are also in the process of establishing a global StoneWorks Prayer Network. As we move forward with a common vision and shared resources, we need to bathe our work and our partner relationships in prayer. Please join us in prayer for this important work. You can visit us at: www.stoneworks-arts.org.


Colin Harbinson has been involved in the arts and missions in over sixty nations. He is international director of StoneWorks, a global arts partnership for cultural reformation and the recovery of the imagination in the life and mission of the Church. Harbinson is founder and president of the International Festival of the Arts and the Lausanne Senior Associate for the Arts.