Byron Spradlin

Artists In Ministry & Missions

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2 Sides of an IMagination Coin

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  • Imagination, as revealed in the Bible, is two-fold: First, humans have a capacity to invent things. This is the capacity to see what could be but is not yet.
  • Second, humans have a capacity, through the working of the Holy Spirit, to interact with transcendence—including the ability to engage with God. This is the capacity to see through what is known into the realities beyond what is known.

Once the Biblical concept (and definition) of imagination is seen in context with the biblical definition of the artist as a craftsman, the connection between God’s plan for worship and man-kind’s ability for expression can be seen. First, it affirms the way God has made human kind. Second, moves Christians to reject the notion that the arts and artists are simply elitist and somehow disconnect-from-main-stream-culture. Third presses Christians to seek out and include artists, creativity and beauty as mainstays in the life and worship of the Church.


Throughout Scripture1, and certainly exemplified in this Exodus 35 passage, one sees that God has directed His people to be engaged in a holistic, multi-sensory assortment of imaginative and emotional expressions to engage Him in worship—a worship-way-of-life. Dr. Ronald Allen, professor of Old Testament and Hebrew Languages at Dallas Theological Seminary addresses this issue:

Many Christians who cherish the bible for its teaching about Christ and about the nature of salvation have yet to learn to experience the Bible itself . . . We (must) learn how to develop the discipline of imagination from the Scripture in two ways. First, we must recognize the role of imagination in the very process of writing the bible. Second, we must exercise our own imagination in developing the art of creatively reading the Scriptures. . . . Many evangelical bible readers . . . read the Bible for its content, but we rarely linger over its style.. We read for doctrine, but we miss its art.2

God has created humans and human community to engage Him through the fullness of the mind: the imaginal dynamic of intelligence, the emotional dynamic of intelligence, and the intellectual dynamic of the intelligence. God designed man to enjoy all three dynamics in worship.


    1 Other Scripture passages that reveal both, God interacting with believers, and directing believers to interact with Him, in multi-sensory ways are: The Three Visitors appear to Abraham, Gen 18:1-33; the ram in the bush and the voice of God for Abraham to substitute for Isaac, Gen 22: 1-14; Jacob wrestles with God, Gen 32: 22-32; Moses and the burning bush, Ex 3:1-22; Moses, Pharaoh and the ten plagues, Ex. 6-12; Moses and the Red Sea crossing, Ex. 13:17-14:31; God’s directions to build the Tabernacle Worship Center, Ex. 25-50; Joshua and the Jericho Battle, Josh 6:1-21; The Singers in Solomon’s Temple, 1 Chron. 25; Solomon, the Temple, and Huram-Abi, Solomon’s Temple Designer, 2 Chron. 2:13-5:1; Isaiah’s Vision, Is. 6:1-8; Ezekiel’s call, Ez. 1:2-29; King Belshazzar, Daniel and the Hand writing on the wall, Dan 5:1-30; Jesus’ Birth, Lk 1:26ff; Jesus’ baptism, Mt 3:13-17; Jesus’ Transfiguration, Mk 9:1-12; Paul’s conversion, Acts 9:1-19; John’s Revelation, Rev. 1:9-19; The New Heaven and Earth, Rev. 21-22. 2 Allen, Ronald Barclay. Imagination: God’s Gift of Wonder. Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1985, p. 9.


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The Problem With Imagination

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Three Protestant Concerns with Imagination

In spite of the marvelous assets God gave to humans through imagination, Protestants historically manifest three concerns with the human capacity to imagine.


  1. One challenge is that this term can be used to underscore wrong or evil imaginations. For example in Gen 8:21, “the imagination of man’s heart (is) evil,” or “I know there (evil or disobedient) imaginations even before I bring them into the land . . .” (Dt. 31:21). So apparently, Protestants have often thought about this term with negative feelings, unfortunately.

  1. A second challenge imagination seems to bring before Protestants is that in passages where this term is used positively the translators use other English renderings which do not pick up the attribute of imagination. For example the King James Version translates in Isaiah 26:3 with the term mind, instead of the term imagination: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee . . .” The term is actually imagination, not mind. Note the thrust of the passage if the term mind were rendered more correctly, as imagination: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose imagination is stayed on thee . . .” Clearly, when the verse uses imagination there is far more mystery in this prophetic affirmation.

Given the orientation Protestant theologians have concerning the mind, the characteristics of the imaginal capacity of human intellect are sometimes lost. It seems that the Protestant community somehow takes a one-dimension view of that the human mind is only given to rational and information ideal. Certainly a life of faith will often move on past what seems rational to the “average person.” And, even the thoughts and mental engagement involved in worship itself encompasses much more than rational exercise or information.

  1. A third challenge is the tendency to think of God’s attribute (or perfection) of creativity in terms of His POWER, and disregard the aspect of His own imagination. That is, God has the power to create (bara) all things from nothing. But here Scripture is emphasizing his power to make all things. This reality of His power is true, and the Hebrew term bara seems only to be used for God, suggesting that this bara-power is reserved only for God. But, God’s power to create also includes God’s yatsar-power—the ability to imagine—which, in Scripture, is not solely reserved for God. One sees this yatsar-power attributed to man as well (e.g. Is 26:3). So, if man is made in His imagine, God has given this power to people. Although Protestants seem to discount imagination, the God-given human capacity of imagination is perhaps one of the most important characteristics distinguishing people from lower animal life.


God is Transcendent. He is powerful, mighty and beyond our understanding. But, he is also imminent. God is also personal, loving and he chooses to live in the hearts of men and women. The very fact that He has superintended for us a method to see Him as or father, friend, companion, and comforter demonstrates His own ability to exercise imagination. And, He gives people the ability to imagine as they worship. Why? This is because God is both the object and the subject of human worship. Worship demands that humans enter a proximity with God they can neither completely understand or control. God allows imagination in worship so that we be engaged with the true God who is fully real and beyond all that could be imagined.

God directed Old Testament Israel to use metaphor and symbols and ritual activities as human aids to direct their faith into the realities of Himself. This God is beyond the metaphors and symbols. Ultimately, as Christians look at these Old Testament metaphors and symbols (types), a clear picture of the role Christ played in redemption is seen. This is the principle that the writer infers to in the Hebrew epistle:

11 When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, . . .” (Hebrews 9:11-12 NIV).


In summary, one can see that in the Old Testament, and in the Hebrew world view in general, God engages humans through all three dynamics of human intelligence—the rational (information, first spoken, then written in propositional form), the imaginal (metaphors, symbols and multi-sense expressions), and the emotional (the heart,1 the core or center of a person’s self).

1 Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Word defines the Hebrew term, Lebab, rendered HEART in English, as follows: Lebab is often compounded with “soul” for emphasis, as in 2 Chron 15:12, which reads, “And they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul” (cf. 2 Chron 15:15). Also see, “…man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” 1 Sam 16:7. From Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Copyright © 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Electronic Database © 1996 by Biblesoft.


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Got Imagination?

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The Biblical Role of Imagination and Imaginal Intelligence

The Hebrew term for imagination is either yatsar or yetser. It is a term that is use, for example in the passages in Jeremiah related to the Potter’s trade (e.g. Jer. 18:3). 

Yatsar means to fashion in the mind before forming in time and space. That is, to fashion in the mind also holds in its meaning the capacity to imagine, to invent, to form, to frame (in the mind’s eye); and the emphasis of the term is in the ability to see something—that could be real and true—in the mind’s eye BEFORE it is actually formed in time and space. Yet, though it is ‘seen’ in the mind before it is actually created, the assumption of the term is that the thing “fashioned in the mind” will actually at some point in time be formed in reality (e.g. Jer. 18:4, “But the pot he (the potter) was shaping from the clay was made in his hands; so the potter formed it (first in his mind fashioned it a different way to be made—then began to form it again, after having thought of its new form) into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him” (NIV, author’s expanded explanations).

Hebrew concept of imagination includes two dynamic applications:

  1. with regard to the human capacity to invent or make something, imagination is ‘the capacity to see what could be but is not yet.’ An example of this human capacity is Jer. 18:4, “But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him” (NIV).

  2. with regard to the human capacity to interact with transcendence, imagination is ’the capacity to see through what is known into the realities beyond what is known.

A profound example of this second dimension of imagination—facilitating interaction with transcendence—is the exercise of faith in Hebrews 11:1: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (NIV). One who believes ‘faithfully’ in God looks on the revelation of God has given (culminated in God’s revelation of Jesus, God Incarnate); and though not knowing ‘all’ there is to know about God’s saving work, knowing enough of God’s work in Christ (Christ’s real and earthly life, death and Resurrection), to place one’s hope in all the realities of salvation one has in Christ, most of which “we do not see” (Heb 11:1b). That kind of ‘faith’ is not blind faith’. It is true faith; though much of what goes into that faith is beyond the capacity of the human to ‘completely’ grasp.

Paul says the same thing in Romans 11:34: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (NASU).

Jesus implies this same “faith principle” when speaking to His disciples after His Resurrection, when He said in John 20:29, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (NIV).


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4 Elements of a Ministry Support Newsletter

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Ministry connections and community building around your calling should be at the root of you ministry efforts.

Create a Newsletter Plan for your ministry

        1. Compile a list of people who know you (family, relatives, friends, past ministry associates,

        2. Collect names at each ministry event from believers who have experienced the Lord working through you

        3. Communicate regularly but not continuously

        4. Create an email news update list
        5. Collate & Manage your email list with an app like: Mail Chimp
        6. Consider mailing newsletters (although mailing may seem “old school”, a personally mailed item with a hand written note may have a strong connection with some of your supporters

Paul did this: Note all his letters
Note especially Romans 16
–26 individuals . . . he’d known before
–5 groups of people . . . he’d known before and he was asking for their “assistance.”

About Newsletters

Newsletters should include four things

1. Information about your ministry

2. Inspiration from your ministry about the Lord

3. Instruction from the Word of God, that has something to do with your ministry.

4. Invitation to participate in your ministry—through praying, volunteering, giving, connecting others.

–A Few Tips

It is easier to maintain support than to raise new support.

Send regular prayer letters—monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly.

Some do a quarterly paper, snail-mail newsletter with return envelops enclosed; and monthly send out email updates and prayer requests.

Update your support team constantly.

Send a handwritten letter once or twice a year to each supporter.

Make a personal phone call or visit as often as possible.


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The 2 Basic Dimensions of Ministry

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Ministry has two basic dimensions—

  1. you dealing with God about people (centered in your daily worship communion with God), and

  2. God dealing with people through you (the assignments you receive from God out of your growing communion with Him) . . . then, your artistic abilities will be a means by which and a context in which God will expect you to function in order to develop contact and relationship with people with whom you are intentionally looking, by faith, to effect and serve for His purposes. That effect, and that sort of service—if it is truly ministry on God’s behalf—will entail a supernatural transaction (energized by God’s Spirit, not by you), and will result both in …

                1. spiritual impact in people’s lives through the ‘service’ you render; and in

                2. people coming to find salvation in Jesus through seeing the Lord more clearly—and hearing Him—through your ministry service, whatever that particular ministry service might be.

Therefore, your artistic ministry will only be fully and biblically developed as you go beyond “the doing of your art”. Your arts ministry will develop a fuller biblical design as you increasingly develop ways wherein and around which you will be …

            1. identifying and developing people you can mentor towards their own growth in Jesus; and …

            2. resourcing the local and regional church (equipping the saints—Eph. 4:11-12) out of the specialized fruit-bearing capacities you have progressively demonstrated in your past ministry track record.

Besides simply your abilities to perform an artistic expression or endeavor—if you are really focused on ministry, and growing in more developed ministry—you will be developing specialized areas of biblically based resourcing around at least four (4) areas :

  1. spiritual formation issues,

  2. biblical ministry issues (related to theology and strategies of the arts in ministry),

  3. artistic skill areas, and

  4. technical aspects specialized and related to arts ministry strategy.

When your focus is set on ministry, when your ministry is articulated in Kingdom terms (and not in musical or artistic media terms), your artistic orientations become the environment in which you premeditatedly intend to connect with people about the realities of God—and when you are faithing that He, the Lord, will graciously and supernaturally move through you—then it will be clear . . . to you and to others . . . that you have truly entered into the realm of ministry through the arts.

Anything else, and you may end up simply being yet another clanging cymbal

Byron


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