When “Christian Artist” doesn’t mean “Gospel”

Jendella Benson writes a guest article for UKGospel.com about finding her place as a Christian artist in a secular world.

If there is any part of the Christian life that is a dense grey area of debate and contention, it is how Christian artists should respond to the fact that they are Christian and creative.

When it comes to the realm of “the gospel” and “music” and “gospel music” in particular, a lot of people have a lot to say about it and I know many young Christian creatives who have been burdened by this expectation.

I was once a young idealistic Christian music artist, with zeal oozing from my pores and a world that seemed quite easily black and white.

Almost everything that I wrote was fiercely evangelistic, grime and hip hop were my pulpits and each eight bars was a Bible-thumping testament to my zealous faith.

I don’t despise those days at all as they played a big part in making me who I am today, but when life got a bit more complex and grey began to smudge the boundaries that seemed so obvious before, I found myself disillusioned with my faith and falling back bit by bit until the mic was firmly attached the stand and I was no where to be seen on stage.

I can’t even count the number of my friends who this happened to, let alone the number of young enthusiastic Christian artists in general, and it was only a year after graduating from my visual arts degree that I finally felt like I understood the intersection of my faith and my art.

Out of the Abundance of My Heart My Mouth Speaks

It was a couple years early, but I was in the depths of a quarter-life crisis. What was I going to do with my degree in design and photography? What course of action should I take?

After interning with both a photography charity and a commercial photographer’s studio I could clearly see where the money was – advertising and fashion – but I was conflicted about working within an industry that at times felt very shallow and like it contributed to a lot more of society’s problems than it solved.

As a Christian I knew that I had to do something meaningful with my life, something that would leave an impact of Grace and Love upon my world, but becoming a missionary or pastor was definitely not the answer.

After months of soul-searching the answer came to me, and not in a flash of inspiration but through a drip feed of realisations. I won’t bore you with the lengthy narratives and internal monologues, but here is the quick equation:

Christian Living = Dying To “The Flesh” = (Living) Sacrifice = (Active) Service

Now the thing about service is that we can’t all be serving in the same area, because that would be pointless and frustrating. Imagine going to a restaurant and all the waiters and waitresses are all serving the same five tables in one small section while the rest of the restaurant goes ignored – ridiculous, right?.

We already know that as a body we all fulfil different roles and functions (1 Corinthians 12) so when it comes to our service (or “ministry”, if you prefer the term…) surely this is obviously the case as well?

While some may find their place of service in writing amazing worship songs to be sung in churches up and down the country, others may find their role delivering music in a more secular arena, for example. There’s nothing wrong with either approach as long as you’re in your lane and your heart is right.

For me as a (now visual) artist, dying to my flesh meant rejecting the easy cop outs (staying inside the Christian community) or the draw of money (ADV£RTI$$$ING!) and running with the social justice orientated project on young mothers that had been weighing on my soul for years.

I picked it up and ran with it and every scary decision that has come with it.

“How can such a project be Christian, or be seen as preaching the gospel?” Well, arguably it can’t and isn’t.

But Christianity is not a list of brand regulations that need to be adhered to. It is a life of faith that seeps into everything we do because it is a life lived, not a logo to be stamped.

And by that fact alone the values of the gospel, such as empathy with those who are rejected or marginalised, compassionate justice in place of wrathful judgement and everything else we know to be true, are displayed authentically in whatever industry/scene/sphere we find ourselves in, and the creative industry needs it as much as any other.

“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” – Cesar A. Cruz

A couple weeks ago presenting a film at my first solo exhibition.

Article as originally published as guest post on UKGospel.com from Jendella Benson, a photographer, filmmaker and writer, as well as member of the UKGospel Team who you may have heard previously on one of the UKGospel podcasts.