Sunday, December 17, 2006

"Missional Art" -- What is That?

Well, it is the best phrase I can think of to describe art that draws those who recieve it into relationship with God. There is creation itself which, according to the Bible, "declares the glory of God." So that means all of creation is "missional art." If we are receptive to God's art, if we "open our eyes" and hearts, then we can know a great deal about The One who created it.

I think most of the art that people create has a purpose, perhaps all of it does. Even when little children draw what looks like random lines they are "trying to get something out." They are communicating.

But, when I use the phrase "Missional Art" I am referring to art created by someone who knows God and who, through the creative process, intentionally or unintentionally, communicates something about God. Some of the most effective Missional Art is not symbolic (such as a painting of the cross). The rock band U2 is a great example of outstanding Missional Art that is subtle but powerfully missional.

Help me expand on this....

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Missional Art: Characteristics of Effective Pastors & Missionaries

1. They have a genuine appreciation for and understanding of art; they do not just “use” art as a “tool” for outreach.
2. They accept, respect, value, honor, and empower creative people (artists). This is critical, as artists will not stick around if they sense that they are not valued. Budgets reflect values; money to support artists is an essential aspect of honoring them.
3. They understand that one of the most powerful aspects of the creative process is the formation of relationships. People are hungry for positive working relationships that result in genuine community and belonging.
4. They do not divide the world into artificial “sacred” and “secular” realms. This enables them to listen carefully to both God’s Word and to the voices of mainstream society around them, what John Stott calls “double listening.” For an outstanding explanation of why this is so important, see Steve Turner’s book “imagine.”
5. They plan strategically, with an integrated approach to outreach that is holistic, comprehensive, and sensitive to the needs and preferences of their target group (there is far more to effective outreach than art).

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Messages in Japanese & English (Title is a link)

Jesus LifeHouse, a vibrant church in Tokyo that is effectively reaching youth, has an archive of excellent, gospel-focused messages available free of charge.

United Band in Tokyo, Nov. 19, 2006

From David Tensen's Blog: Last weekend was fantastic! Hillsong United Band came to Tokyo from Australia for one night and we saw 1900 people pack the hall of Aoyama Gakuin University. Tickets were sold out two weeks before the event and the people were lining up in the rain for over an hour to get in and grab a good seat. There was nothing stopping them! Some had travelled hours for the concert - it was soo great and the United team love Tokyo and really enjoyed playing at the service. They played around 20 songs and around 200 people responded to call to follow Christ. Which is amazing for Japan!

My Comment: I attended this concert, it was incredible to see the crowd's enthusiasm and energy. There is no question that the spiritual climate in Japan has changed. This kind of thing did not happen in Japan a few years ago. Now, similar events are taking place around the country, including large black gospel concerts.

Missional Art: The Creative Proclamation of the Gospel

Missional Art
The Creative Proclamation of the Gospel

1. Everyone has God-given creativity so “missional art” can be a part of every ministry.
2. Teamwork is essential to creativity.
3. People are looking for participatory environments where they can make a creative contribution.
4. One obstacle to creativity is rigidly clinging to the status quo. Change is hard but our choice is to embrace growth or experience slow death.
5. A controlling, top-down structure is another obstacle to creativity, creativity thrives where there is freedom to explore and innovate.

There are some encouraging signs of a spiritual awakening in Japan. One “sign” are “hot spots” -- vibrant churches that are effectively reaching Japanese with the gospel. Why some churches are thriving while many are not, is an important question that calls for careful research. However, I believe that one important characteristic of thriving churches in Japan is their emphasis on “missional art.”

Two churches in Tokyo where “missional art” is part of the DNA of the church:

1. Nakano Baptist Church

When Pastor Kazumi Saito started pastoring this fifty-year-old congregation in 1999, it was an older congregation that had made few changes in forty years. Today Nakano Baptist is full of life with children, youth, and young moms from the community taking part in a variety of creative ministries. The church space is warm and friendly with a small café in a back corner of the sanctuary. This summer the church ran a highly creative kid’s camp that drew many children from the community. Artistic flyers, newsletters, and posters are part of what draws people to the church.

One indication of change in this congregation is that the church is equipped with quality music and video equipment. Saito’s messages incorporate portions of mainstream movies as well as original video clips that he produces. Because Saito is keenly aware of what is happening in mainstream Japanese culture, he is able to communicate on a level that “connects” with those who have had little or no contact with the gospel.

Nakano Baptist has a vision to build a 250 seat multi-purpose “community space” that will be used for worship services, concerts, and other events. It will include a café and state-of-the-art sound, lighting, and video equipment.

2. Jesus LifeHouse Church

On Easter Sunday, 2006 attendance at Jesus LifeHouse (JL) was 450. A group from Australia lead by Pastor Rod Plummer established JL in August of 2002 with Japanese youth as the target group. This church has baptized an average of 90 people per year, most of whom were young people in their late teens and twenties. The arts are important to the leaders of JL. Associate Pastor Ryuta Kimura stated, “Art is good. God is an artist…normal people should be able to accept it and relate to it… young people don’t really care about the history of art and all that stuff, just that it looks good.”

The Internet plays an important role at JL with the attractive web site drawing well over fifty visitors/day. Thirty percent of first time visitors to the church come through the web site. A new Media site featuring message videos is getting a strong response with well over two hundred people/week viewing videos. Mixi, a sophisticated Japanese social networking site similar to My Space, is one important means of connecting with youth. According to Kimura, seventy percent of Japanese youth use mixi making it a natural “space” for people to “meet” and communicate with each other. “Our people make connections with new people (via mixi) through their friends and people who they know. For example, if someone writes comments on their blog, then there is a connection, the person can be invited to church.”

In the summer of 2005, JL collaborated with five other churches to host Hillsongs, “United” band in Tokyo. Over 2,500 attended two concerts with 50 decisions to follow Christ. Kimura said it built vision, “we realized we can do more of this.” In May of 2006, JL hosted world-class DJ Andy Hunter for a worship dance gig that drew over two hundred youth. Willingness to try unorthodox, creative means of connecting with people through art is a remarkable aspect of JL.

Article on Jesus LifeHouse by David Tensen

Creation (general revelation) and the Bible (special revelation) are masterpieces born out of the heart of a creative God who wants to be known. Both are “missional art” because they are God’s creative way of revealing Himself and His plan of salvation. Our ability to create “missional art” is related to our being made in the image of God.

In a nation where art has been highly valued for many generations, “missional art” is one of the keys to the hearts of Japanese.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Roger and Abi Lowther: Missionaries through the Arts to Japan

Roger Lowther has a Master of Music in Organ Performance from The Juilliard School of Music in NYC, and his wife Abi has a Master of Music in Piano Performance from the University of Memphis. These accomplished musicians have an unusual passion for using their gifts and abilities to share the gospel with Japanese. Lowthers arrived in Japan in 2005 and are career missionaries with MTW (Mission to the World); they are currently studying Japanese language and culture.

Roger has recorded three CDs: “Lowther plays…” “Come Away to the Skies,” & “Storytime: Night on Bald Mountain.” A new CD entitled “Storytime: Mars & Venus,” featuring Roger on the pipe organ and Abi on the piano, will be released in 2006.

"World evangelism is way beyond our resources. But, God continuously takes five loaves and two fish and turns them into enough, plus extra… so that His name is glorified in our hearts, and His kingdom is spread throughout the world.” Abi Lowther

“Talking about Christianity through the arts is a great approach in Japan because it is indirect. Rather than sharing our own viewpoint, we can talk about Christianity through the perspectives of well-respected people like Bach or Van Gogh." Roger Lowther

Q. How will you utilize the arts to reach Japanese for Christ?
Roger: Many stories (written by a Christian or not!) contain the Christian themes of light shining into darkness, life coming from death, victory coming from defeat, strength coming from weakness, and rescue beyond all hope. They continue to be written into movies, books, paintings, and all kinds of media because they are deeply ingrained into the very substance of creation. The human heart of any culture longs for these themes, and through them, we can point people to the gospel of hope and grace.

Q. Explain more about how you will “point people to the gospel.”
Roger: One of the main ways is through concerts that we will perform or invite others to perform. Though our training is classical, our concerts will not be limited to classical music. In fact, Abi led a black gospel choir to Japan from Memphis a year ago. We will also share the gospel through lectures on musicals (“Les Misérables: Living with grace”), movies (“The Lord of the Rings: Just a good story?”), symphonies (“Mahler 2: A symphony of hope through death”), and other arts, including novels, plays, poems, paintings, dance, manga, anime, and even kabuki. The lectures are kept short to encourage lengthy discussion times afterward. I probably learn more in the discussions than the audience learns in the lectures. (He laughs)

Q. What kinds of things do you learn?
Roger: I get to know people and the way they think, what questions they are asking, what they think about the world around them, and, if they’re artists, what they are saying through their art. In this way, and through reading, I get to know the culture.

Q. How do you think Christians should relate to mainstream culture?
Abi: I’d like to answer this one. We should definitely be involved and be part of it. We should also be able to respond to it, and yet in our response not be preachy. The fear of being polluted by the world is legitimate, because we are all human, but it is not an excuse to stay away from mainstream culture and art. It is our responsibility to go and live with the people as Jesus lived with us. Because of this, we like organizing events where non-Christians can get to know Christians and where Christians can grow by learning to talk about life’s issues from their Christian perspective.

Q. Why Japan?
Abi: Japan seems to be the perfect match for us, something that becomes clearer every day. The arts are perhaps appreciated more here than in many countries of the world. It is an amazing culture, full of beauty – and that is what we LOVE to talk about, like putting us in a candy store. In addition, because of their high literacy, Japanese are perhaps more interested in hearing the gospel through the high arts than any people in the world. We hope Japanese artists will catch this vision for portraying the gospel through what they do and reach their own people as well as contribute to the church.

Q. Will you be available for concerts?
Abi: Yes, but our time and energy will primarily be committed to our church planting team in Chiba lead by Dan Iverson. We plan to live somewhere in Chiba after language school but we hope to build relationships with artists (both Christian and non-Christian) throughout Tokyo.

Q. Who or what has influenced your thinking about God, the Bible, and the arts?
Roger: I attended Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City for six years. The senior pastor, Dr. Timothy Keller, greatly influenced my teaching style and content, especially through his “Open Forums” (concert/discussions for non-Christians designed to tackle themes like love, death, money and freedom, from a Christian perspective).

Also, my wife and I stayed at L’Abri in England for 1 month. Founded by Francis Schaeffer to talk about Christianity from all aspects of human life and culture, we learned a lot about how to lead healthy discussions in a non-Christian environment, especially about movies and books.

This may sound funny, but we were greatly influenced by the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). It is a 2659-mile trail, running from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon, and Washington. Hiking the full length of this for six months influenced the way we think about Christianity and art. It is hard to explain, but it has given us the freedom to be more creative and have a larger perspective of our place in this world as Christians.

Contact information:
Roger and Abi Lowther
1190-16 Karuizawa Machi
Kita Saku Gun, Nagano Ken 389-0102
Phone: 0267-42-8647

Contemplations on the Gospel by Roger Lowther

“Christ as Savior and Judge” was painted around 1450 by Petrus Christus in order to meditate on the gospel. Just over four inches high, this tiny painting grabs your attention with a halo shooting from Christ’s head like fireworks and the provocative display of Christ’s wounds. Set like a theater, it portrays Christ as the lead character, taking center stage in the story of life. Two angels in the background look our way from the curtain. One is holding the sword of judgement, a reminder that having been driven out of the garden of intimacy with God, someone would have to be cut down in order to restore the relationship. The other holds the lilies of mercy, nicknamed the “white robed apostles of hope.” They are frequently used in weddings to symbolize purity and life. Shaped like large trumpets, they are also used as symbols of Easter heralding the resurrection. The symbolism of Easter lilies goes even deeper when you consider their beginnings as small dirty bulbs that look like trash to the untrained eye. Planted in the ground, these tomb-like pieces burst forth from the ground with beauty and majesty. Christ standing in front of both holds his hand in front of the sword of judgement to show the cause of His wounds. The light source shining from the left and the gentle nod of Christ’s head towards the lilies encourage us to accept His sacrifice of mercy and to accept Him.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Biola/CLTC Film class in Tokyo

Biola University is a large liberal arts college in S. California with a mass communications department that has over 200 students. Biola professor Michael Gonzales Ph.D. will come to Japan in January of 2007 to teach a film class. Michael will bring several Biola students with him, others from Japan will join this class in making a short film. CLTC (Christian Leadership Training Center) is hosting this bi-lingual class with the goal of providing training for those interested in communicating the Good News of Jesus Christ in Japan via film. For more information on the film class contact Paul Nethercott. E-Mail:

A high quality film with a redemptive message can reach a lot of people. For example, in Japan "Narnia's" market total after three weeks was a mighty $18.7 million. "Narnia's" global total, more than $690 million ($401.2 million international), now surpasses that of 1994's "Forrest Gump" in the all-time box office sweepstakes.

Engaging a New Generation through Media

"We were called to reach a sight and sound generation with the gospel of Jesus Christ through music, theater, and film." Tom Newman

Newman spoke these words twenty years ago, long before numerous digital devices greatly increased the amount of readily available media. Newman had foresight; he understood that effective communication of the Good News of Jesus Christ must include redemptive, creative use of media. After producing numerous smaller projects, Newman released his first feature length film, “End of the Spear,” in January of 2006. “End of the Spear” home page:

End of the Spear tells the story of Jim Eliot and the four other missioners who were killed by a tribe in Ecuador. I have not had opportunity to see the movie but a couple of friends who did told me “it is powerful story.” I have also been told that it is a good movie but that it fails to reach the highest levels of artistic quality. While almost everyone mentions the outstanding cinematography, a common compliant is that the movie is hard to follow (unless you already know the story). These issues along with relatively weak promotion resulted in “End of the Spear” doing poorly at the box office in the US; which means the possibility of this movie being released in Japan is extremely low.

It is exceedingly difficult to make a great movie. Even if “End of the Spear” is less than a masterpiece, Newman has accomplished an incredible feat in making a feature length film of good quality. Moreover, his ideas about using media to reach people with the message of Jesus Christ are brilliant. Japan is one of the media centers of the world – what is our vision and plan for using media to reach the huge number of Japanese that are voracious consumers of media?

In the following article, Tom Newman presents a compelling reationale for using media to retell the ancient story of redemption in Jesus Christ.


Engaging a New Generation through Media
By Tom Newman

Twenty years ago, I led a group of young people on a tour through England with the stage show "Toymaker & Son.” After performing on a makeshift stage in a packed room at a local YMCA, I felt inspired to take the microphone and communicate a vision that had been emerging in my life. I still remember the curious looks my wife and several close friends gave me as I proclaimed that "we were called to reach a sight and sound generation with the gospel of Jesus Christ through music, theater and film.” Pretty bold words for the assistant principal of a Christian school in Oklahoma, USA. Now, after three internationally touring live shows, two documentary films, over fifty television commercials, two internationally broadcast children's series, two feature-length movies and the current theatrical release of a new film, I look back in wonder that I’m still here, pursuing that same vision.

Of course the cultural, political and spiritual landscape of the world has changed since that day in England. However, the need to reach a sight and sound generation has not. Saying that today's culture is consumed and controlled by media is overstating the obvious. From films, books, television and videogames, media and the art of storytelling have become the currency of culture and influence in our world. And though it's often an unconventional method within the body of Christ, I can't think of a greater place to communicate the stories and truths of God than through these mediums.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus chose some unconventional means of his own to communicate his message. He toured the countryside and told stories. Though it hardly seemed like an effective means of communicating such important truth, there he was talking about farmers, wedding banquets, wineskins and mustard seeds. Of course our modern Bible translations with their comprehensive footnotes can tell us exactly what each of these stories meant. But the meanings weren't that clear for those who were actually there, not even for the twelve disciples. So with a message so important, why not just come out and tell people exactly what he meant? In the Gospel of Mark we find the disciples asking Jesus a similar question to which he responds, "You've been given insight into God's kingdom—you know how it works. But to those who can't see it yet, everything comes in stories, creating readiness, nudging them toward receptive insight…All my stories work this way" (Mark 4:10-13; The Message). Philosopher and literary critic Kenneth Burke says that "stories are equipment for living.” From his ministry on earth, this seems to be an idea that Jesus understood quite well. And it’s a remarkable thing that the God who incarnated himself as a man also chose to incarnate eternal truths through an equally unexpected means.

If I wanted to convince or educate an audience of the terrible dangers that great white sharks pose to beach-going vacationers, I could probably deliver a moving speech packed with relevant facts and startling statistics. And I might actually persuade a handful of people to spend their vacations away from salt water. But in 1975 a director by the name of Steven Spielberg devastated the beach tourism industry with his thrilling story Jaws. Consider also: Bambi, which tells of the evils of hunting; Cider House Rules, which persuades that abortion is a humane and necessary practice; and Mary Poppins, which reminds busy fathers to spend more time with their children. It seems that a well-told story is the greatest way to make an idea—be it true or false—come alive.

Last year I co-produced the film End of the Spear with Every Tribe Entertainment, which was released in theaters 20 January (2006). The movie is based on the true story of the five martyred missionaries made famous by Elisabeth Elliot's book, Through Gates of Splendor. Countless sermons, news articles and books have told the story over the last fifty years. From the beginning of the creative process, it was our desire to incarnate the eternal truths of forgiveness, sacrifice and love within a well-told story uniquely suited to film. Most people have heard the story from the viewpoint of the missionaries (Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully, Nate Saint and Roger Youderian), but through the direction of veteran film maker Bill Ewing, executive producer Mart Green, and director Jim Hanon, we approached the story from the virtually unknown perspective of the violent Waodani tribe who killed them. Not many know that in the few years after the missionaries’ deaths, the Waodani changed from being the most violent tribe in documented history to a peaceful people. Even today, many in the tribe call themselves "God followers.” When I look back, I don’t think we could have found a better way to encapsulate the truth of God’s power to change the human soul than through the story of a tribe who lived through such an incredible transformation. After screening the film with critics, church groups and prominent Christian leaders, we were overjoyed with the predominantly positive response. Of course there are some who might have preferred that the film include more references to God or more detailed information on how a sinner can become saved. But as the filmmakers and storytellers for End of the Spear, our focus was just that—to make a film and tell a story.

In recent months C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia entered the cultural landscape with a huge presence. Much has been said of Lewis’ belief that a story can sneak truth past what he called "the watchful dragons" of a hardened heart or unreceptive audience. Judging by book sales and movie receipts from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, one could probably say that Lewis not only sneaked past these "dragons," he also slayed them. I hope this will serve as a reminder to other Christian artists, authors and filmmakers who desire to express eternal truth to this generation.

In 1988 and 1989, our company, Impact Productions, was given the remarkable opportunity to slip past the "watchful dragons" of Communist Russia with the live dance show "A Toymaker’s Dream.” Before we came, I made sure to clearly outline the symbolic, biblical meaning of our show to the Russian officials who would allow us entrance into their country. I even told them that our reason for coming to Russia was to tell the Soviet people that God loves them. Their response was surprising: "Do you think we are stupid? We could see all that from watching your show. But you cannot say those kinds of things in our country. Do you understand?" Of course we gladly accepted an offer that allowed us to demonstrate the love of Jesus through a story, rather than just telling the Soviet people about it. To this day, I am still amazed at the warm embrace we received from this strongly atheist nation.

As Christians, our countless rapture stories and bath-robed sermons have left a funny aftertaste in people's mouths. We often pack so much message in our stories that they are stripped of enjoyment and effectiveness. Though such heavy handed efforts have been applauded in years past, in many ways it has only encouraged others to tell even more stories through such ineffective means. John Akers, publisher of Christianity Today, bluntly asks, "Where are the creative men and women—the writers, artists, filmmakers—who will capture the imagination of our confused world in the name of Christ?" I pray that many young people will begin to answer this call to the media and engage a new generation with well-told stories. Only when this happens will we reach a sight and sound generation.


Tom Newman is founder and president of Impact Productions, He has produced the feature film "End of the Spear," the children's series "Pahappahooey Island" and the holiday film "Christmas Child." Impact Productions Home Page:

The above article is reprinted with permission from Lausanne World Pulse. World Pulse Home Page: