Whether it is part of a youth retreat, worship service, or the focus of an entire evening of youth ministry, creating art can transform, empower and heal people. The act of creating something is a tool in ministry that connects us to our Creator in unexpected ways. This post is the first of a three-part series on how to incorporate art in youth ministry.
The Need for Art as a Tool in Ministry
You are an artist.
It is likely you read that, laughed and thought something like, “I can’t even draw stick figures.” I suspect this because I hear youth and adults alike deny the truth about their artistic abilities almost every time I begin an art workshop. Ask small children to draw anything and they will jump in and give it a try, but something happens often during late elementary school. Our confidence as artists begins to fade as we compare our abilities to others’ or get a less-than-perfect grade on artwork.
Our culture does not value quiet reflection in general, and often sees creating art as a waste of time. Each of us was created in the image of a creative God, yet this side of our nature is often put aside for more “practical” pursuits. In ministry, we have the unique opportunity to draw out the spiritual sides of our students through creating art. The process of creating something is often spiritual, rejuvenating, healing and fun. By intentionally including prayerful art in your ministry plans, you can equip students with a new way to connect to God. This post will give you a basic overview of how to plan a prayerful art workshop for your students.
Planning a Prayerful Art Workshop
A “Prayerful Art Workshop” is a time designed specifically for creating art as a form of prayer. This is a Spirit led process in which artists are encouraged to pray, reflect on a passage, and then create art such as a painting. Art could include anything from drawing or painting to poetry writing. The amount of time you need depends on the type of art being created although typically I recommend about an hour for junior high students and 90 minutes for senior high students.
Organizing a space for creating art needs to be thought out ahead of time. Each artist will need access to art supplies, and a table or place to work that is prepped for potential spills or messes. Cover tables and floors with butcher paper or plastic table covers. If easels are unavailable, consider putting tables up on their sides to use as makeshift easels. Be mindful of music and lighting to create a space for quiet and reflection.
Instruct students ahead of time to wear clothes that can get dirty or provide old shirts as smocks. Gather your art supplies ahead of time. Supplies may include something to paint on like butcher paper, canvases, or blank paper, tempera or acrylic paints (red, blue, yellow, brown, black and white), paintbrushes, plates to use as paint palettes, cups of water for cleaning brushes, paper towels, pencils, and Bibles. You may want to include idea books, stamps, markers, hairdryers to dry paint, glue, magazines, etc.
Connecting to God Through Art
The goal of prayerful art is not to create a masterpiece but to connect to God by trying to sense how the Spirit is moving you. Begin by setting the tone that this is a safe place to play with art and by giving artists permission to create. I begin by having students write the phrase, “I am an artist.” Ground rules include having an open heart, having fun, no put-downs, and no comparing your art to others.
Before beginning, explain the supplies that are available and the guidelines for the art time. Make clear where art supplies can be found and show examples of art that you or others created ahead of time. The time is spent like this:
- Pray. Specifically pray that we can connect to God and sense the Holy Spirit through the creative process. Read a portion of Scripture such as a Psalm slowly, asking students to listen for words, phrases or images that come to mind. (5 minutes)
- Create. Instruct artists to begin sketching or painting after hearing the Scripture, beginning with whatever words or images came to mind. (45-70 minutes, depending on project size and age/maturity of group)
- Share. A very meaningful part of this process is sharing what you have created with others. I reserve the last 10-15 minutes for small groups of 8-10 people to share their artwork and say a few words about it. Close with prayer and everyone helps with clean up.
Since incorporating art into my ministry, I have known many young men and young women who regularly turn to creating art as a way to connect with God. As you consider introducing art to your students, I encourage you to practice the process yourself. Enjoy your own time of growing spiritually through creating and you will inspire others to do so. I would love to hear how it works out for you – feel free to contact me if you have questions.
Blessings to you and your ministry,
Have you used art as a spiritual practice in your own life?
How have you incorporated art into youth ministry?
What ideas would you share? What roadblocks?
The Need for Art in Youth Ministry– Part Two: Bible Journaling
The Need for Art in Youth Ministry– Part Three: Art Mission