The Lost Art Of Discipleship

Discipleship is more art than science. In fact, it may be rightly said that discipleship must be artful before it can be effective. We forget this. In American evangelical circles we gravitate toward models of discipleship as course load rather than art exhibit. We value the right answers when we should value the best questions.  

Author Jeanette Winterson understands this. Today I came across this passage from her 2006 essay on artist Liza Lou. Consider the parallels between art and worship by replacing the former with the latter in Winterson’s prose: 

What art does is to coax us away from the mechanical and towards the miraculous. The so-called uselessness of art is a clue to its transforming power. Art is not part of the machine. Art asks us to think differently, see differently, hear differently, and ultimately to act differently, which is why art has moral force. Ruskin was right, though for the wrong reasons, when he talked about art as a moral force. Art is not about good behaviour, when did you last see a miracle behave well? Art makes us better people because it asks for our full humanity, and humanity is, or should be, the polar opposite of the merely mechanical. We are not part of the machine either, but we have forgotten that. Art is memory — which is quite different [from] history. Art asks that we remember who we are, and usually that asking has to come as provocation — which is why art breaks the rules and the taboos, and at the same time is a moral force.

Worship is art. Or perhaps more powerfully, art is worship. When it isn’t, we are missing the point of both. This is why the misuse of either endeavor is appalling. As Steven Pressfield has said, “To labor in the arts for any reason other than love is prostitution.”  

This must be so because our mission as disciples is connected to memory and beauty. Discipleship begins with an experience of beauty that connects with our human memory of Eden, as deep calls to deep. The church’s job is to reawaken people’s connection to shalom. We are to proclaim, as Switchfoot declared, a "new way to be human" which turns out to be the very first way.  

And such a calling must be artfully engaged.