Letters From A Devastated Artist (5)

“Clearly the person who accepts a pastor or priest as an infallible guide will believe whatever they teach.” – a paraphrase of St. Thomas Aquinas

Dear Pastor,

For misunderstanding artists and using them for your own ambition, historically and unfortunately, you are the most culpable. From the Pope’s mistreatment of the artistic genius Michelangelo, the “Bonfire of the Vanities” and the religious zeal of Father Savonarola, the iconoclasts, the covering over of “lewd” nudes in the Sistine Chapel, neutering the statues at St. Peters, and on through time to the modern day evangelicals who have removed all semblance of true art and artistry from their services. From time immemorial, artists and the clergy have been, at best, uneasy bedfellows.

Power corrupts. Fear leads to suppression. These two sentences explain much. The last two years, I have carefully researched religious history in preparation for my latest book. Of the two overarching themes to emerge, one was the vice-like control exerted by church leadership to maintain power. We have all heard the phrase, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Most artists are simply too free and wild to control. And so, the Pastor fears them. And then suppresses them. And because most Pastors are all-powerful (dictators without accountability of any kind) in their churchdoms, they simply suppress anything that would cost them power. It is politics at its finest…or lowest. Machiavelli would be proud.

I didn’t realize this simple truth until the last couple of years. The new breed of “crowd charismatic, no people skills” orator does not ultimately endear themselves to their parishioners. They seem not to even comprehend the word minister. Their people fear and respect them, but are not ministered to by them. And so this particular breed of Pastor naturally fears the artist leaders who by nature tend to be more people conscious, empathetic and “among the people.” Subsequently, these particular pastors exert control and censorship to make sure the art is propaganda, therefore eventually rendering it powerless. One pastor told me in a condescending way, “You know, Randy, you can’t build a church on artists”.

In my early ministry as an artist, I was forced by my pastor to burn my “obscene rock albums” and watch my vintage Chicago, Kansas and Eagles albums go up in smoke. That same pastor preached that intercessory prayer, worry and doubt were sins. Another pastor severely reprimanded me for a soloist singing an Amy Grant song that had the reprehensible words, “baby, baby.”  I’ve been forced to change true-to-life lyrics to perfect endings, been screamed at, made fun of, and once, my Pastor hit the conference table with his fist in front of the entire staff and screamed at me, “We will NEVER have dancing in this church, as long as I’m Pastor.” (Who cares what the Bible says, of course). And I’ve watched as the creative team was forced to plagiarize Rick Warren and Bill Hybels rather than create our own service programming. So much so, that a cease and desist was issued from the Warren office. Unfortunately, these stories are only a few of the many that are too painful to recount.

The sad truth is that many of us (and most volunteer church leaders) are afraid “to touch God’s anointed” and so the Pastor/Priest is never held accountable for his/her actions. Because of the fear and control we have been taught in our religious upbringing, we are guilty of failing to protect our leaders who are human just like us.

There is no intercessor between us and the triune God. The Pastor is not our intermediary, nor is he supernatural. He is just a human being like me and you who has the gifts of charisma and oratory. He has not been given special dispensation by God, or a pass, if you will, to do whatever he chooses to do. He will answer for his actions, just as we will.

We must support our pastors by challenging them, not revering and pardon the french, brown-nosing them. We must love them with truth, not acquiescing to their every want and desire. We must hold them accountable and protect them from themselves even as we ask someone to do the same for us. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

We need these men and women to teach us Biblical truths. We do NOT need to give them power to lord over our lives. I applaud their calling to teach. I applaud their calling to minister. We need Pastors. But even more, we desperately need healthy Pastors.

My pastor, Pete Wilson, who is the antithesis of much I have written here, and a man that is comfortable in his own skin, radically transparent, and a lover of people and artists, posted articles on his blog recently HERE and HERE about pastors that deeply disturb me. Pastors have isolated and insulated themselves into despair and loneliness. A desperation they dare not admit because our religious psychosis demands that they are perfect. We have allowed them to die inside by bowing to an office and authority that scripture does not teach.

Could it be that we church goers tend to say like Pilate, “I wash my hands of this matter,” when in reality the guilt of placing them on a pedestal and expecting perfection is blood on our hands? Please understand me, I care about pastors.

This past February, I asked a pastor to speak to the global creatives that gather annually at the cre:ate Conference to help us understand the quandary and frustration pastors experience in dealing with us “artistic types.” As a former pastor for over thirty years, I personally offer “48 Hours of Solitude” for any pastor and/or leader that is a grace-filled, non-judgmental, no-holds-barred time of solitude and encouragement with the overriding philosophy, “what happens and is said at the 48 hours absolutely stays at the 48 hours.” A safe place. A place of grace and love. Nothing more, nothing less.

What else can we do to nurture a mutual love and respect for each other? As a wise man once told me, “The enemy does not necessarily strive to keep us from the truth, he strives to keep good men with the truth from each other.” This post like my most recent book is intended to facilitate conversation. To start us talking. Americans and especially religious people and leaders generally suck at dialogue. Open dialogue is often viewed by many pastors as disloyal and disruptive, when in fact, it could be the very thing that saves us all from heartbreak, despair and utter loneliness.



55 thoughts on “Letters From A Devastated Artist (5)

  1. This took me a full day to even reply to this post. It's been mulling over in my mind for a while. I would not consider myself an artist but a lay worker/lay leader and after many years of hearing why you can't and we won't do what we do I became burnt out and dispassionate. Even now thinking it I am afraid if I let what I felt and experienced flow it may take a page or two. This struck deep with me.

    1. Thanks for your honesty. I'm thankful you are able to write this beautiful comment, through the depth of your introspection.

  2. "We need Pastors. But even more, we desperately need healthy Pastors." YES, we do…

    We need healthy, transparent, inspired, disciples. Pastors are disciples pursuing Jesus. When they (we) aren't, much of what you talk on could quiet possibly be one of the many issues. Insecurity, burn out, apathy…

    Great article series. Thank you for the encouragement. We (artists/pastors) need voices giving light to this darkness.

  3. Randy — I am honest and truly trying not to be a total nudge (aka pain – and yes, I'm neurotic enough that I worry about things like that — God and I are working on it, but still…) I am super happy you are blogging again. I am happy in large part because I realized a year ago that I need more artists in my life — I don't know if I get you or you get me — but somewhere in there I make sense when I read your blogs. I'm intentionally around artists today and I love it.

    Having said that.

    This series seems almost cathartic to me. I could not write with the clarity and conviction that you are writing these with unless they were wounds that have already been redeemed and healed on some level. I tend to sound like a victim at times when I talk about past wounds, at least the wounds that aren't healed yet, and I don't hear victim in you. I can feel the wound, but it doesn't seem to need a tourniquet – I can see the bandages as well.

    I am not in a place to freely discuss this particular post — this particular wound is still too much — however, I do love this post. and I agree with your assessment. Blessings.

  4. Randy…this one got me. I've read the other articles with interest (and my men's group is starting the book next week) but this one hit my core. I come from the charismatic/pentecostal side of the aisle and still love and treasure it in many ways. The one thing I hate about some segments of that movement is the deification of pastors. It breaks my heart on several levels.

    One being the control issue. People (in some circles) shape their lives entirely on someone else' interpretation of Scripture. The other is the glory issue. God's pretty clear that He "will not share His glory with another" but I've seen friends and peers revel in the praise of others for their charisma and gifts (and frankly had been there myself). I've also seen the friends whose marriages end b/c their lack of accountability led them to believe that they could do whatever they'd like (including forsaking their vows) and it would all somehow be ok. When I think of those friends I pray God save us from ourselves.

    The last one is the exaltation of some gifts over others. I love when Scripture says "the hand can't say to the foot I have no need of you". Just because I'm an artist doesn't make my gifting more valuable in the Church. I love to tell our facilities manager how grateful I am for his gift. If it were left to me, not a toilet in this place would work. People may like the way I sing, but in their "hour of great need", so to speak, I bet their way more thankful for him.

    I'm so grateful for transparent people, like Pete, who lead well, serve faithfully and live openly. My prayer is that pastors live as people and that we allow others the freedom to speak into our lives and not treat the dissemination of Scripture as a one way street.

  5. Randy,

    These have been so powerful and beautiful. Some may not, but I see Christ in you.

    I have been blessed by your life these past few months.


      1. Randy and Rocco,

        In my earlier comments I posed a few questions. I hope that they are not misinterpreted. I, too, have seen Christ work through you Randy. If I had to make a list of the five most influential people God has used in my life…you would be on the list.

        Thanks for sharing your life,


  6. I'll never forget interviewing for "the big job" as a Music Director in what was considered to be one of the FL mega churches. I cast some vision for producing/writing worship with some people outside of that ministry that God had set me up with years before (people who mentored me, who caught vision with me, who shared the sweat and tears with me, and there less than an hour's drive away) …

    When the Big Kahuna (Senior Pastor) said "anything like that you wish to do can be done here under our roof" … haha, that's when I said "no thanks" and took a position an hour north in a tiny church that said "the sky is the limit".

  7. Wow Randy. You get me. You have no idea what a relief it is to see this. I knew when I met you there was something special but this just not only confirms it but bronzes it, puts it up on the mantle and then shines an eco-friendly LCD spotlight on it.

    You ripped open wounds with this. Wounds of ministries where I was thrown out or attacked in some way because I wouldn't bow to the leader/pastor/minister who didn't want me doing something in my life outside of their church/ministry. In some cases, those ministries turned around and did the same things I was going to be doing for which they made me feel like an unholy pariah.

    I also know those wounds needed ripped open so the salve of this post could be applied for complete healing and not just the surface of it. Thanks, Randy.

      1. Yeah, I participated in some of those early record burnings with you:) Wish I had some of those albums back.

        Yet, God is good…all the time! He has blessed me beyond my wildest imaginations.

        1. Ah, Ronnie. Yes, you did. We were there side by side as I recall over thirty years ago. You were also the first to openly question some of the things being taught and helped me to learn to question. For that, I thank you.

  8. I'm a writer who longs to write with freedom as you paint with freedom. I'm a writer of fiction who is aware that there are all sorts of words and phrases that are supposedly not acceptable in Christian fiction. I'm also aware that this artist streak in me is not always understood in the churches I have been in and in fact, I have felt alone in a sea of fellow believers. I have an artist's heart. I get this post. I get it. But…I think there may be times when the power that corrupts is not coming from the pastor but from elsewhere.

    Yes, I do think some pastors are like this all by themselves. But sometimes it's the church's (or rather a small group therein) fault — for being a nasty, controlling tyrant. Is the pastor wrong for not standing up to those kind of people? Yes. But let's not always assume that the Pastor is not feeling heat and pressure from elsewhere that causes them to stifle and shut down the artist. Maybe that's just something unique to churches here in NC? I don't know. But I've seen it firsthand. I've seen a small, powerful group push pastors out of churches (and in one case the ministry) because THEY, in their safe pews, prefer the status quo, lazy thinking and man made rules.

    On the flip side, I also know some that love their freedom of expression so much, THEY have become legalistic, clanging symbols in regards to art and the definition of true expression. I am not directing that at you in ANY-way. I'm more specifically talking about a certain type I interact with amongst writers. However, I'm certain it exists in all artistic circles. There are times when those who feel this freedom lord it over others. It can be a sort of intellectual elitism that is just as dangerous, if you ask me, as the lazy thinking, status quo legalistic types.

    I certainly don't know your experiences, Randy. I only know mine. And in mine, the waters of church politics are always muddy. So what's the answer? I don't know. But I do know that humility, prayer saturated interactions with those who oppose us and an honest review of our own attitude and approach in our dealings with people, certainly won't hurt.

    1. Elaina, Such a great comment on all sorts of layers. I totally agree that in smaller, congregational led churches, many pastors are handcuffed and not allowed to think or act at all without permission from the chosen ones who are the power elite in the church. Your point is well taken.

      Hopefully, I choose to enjoy my freedom, not to flaunt it. But somebody must say something. And with thirty years experience and no longer tied to the apron strings of a church–I am one who cannot stay silent. I try as diligently as possible to say in every article I write that I also stand in need of accountability and godly wisdom.

      Thanks so much for your invaluable insight.


      1. I totally agree that you shouldn't remain silent! And really, my comments about the clanging symbol types are really more directed at my little writing world.

        I'm grateful that there are people like you who are not silent.

  9. Karin, I am so sad about your home church. It is an all too familiar story. I am thankful you have found a place to enjoy. Hang in there!

  10. So why haven't we left? In one sense we have, because on Saturday nights we attend another church (one of those mentioned above) for teaching and worship, and consider it the place where we can learn and hear God. And in that very large church in the Chicago suburbs, we have been very impressed at how available the Senior Pastor has been. Most Saturday nights after services he talks with anybody who needs to talk to him, never rushing them, praying for them. It is refreshing to watch on a week by week basis.
    Why haven't we left completely? Because our children are late teens and this place is their home, where they have been raised, where they have their friends, and because my brother is one of the youth pastors and even tho I am biased, he does a great job. Loves God, loves the kids, and is doing some great things. However, once both of mine graduate from high school I will be gone. I have just over 2 years to go.
    Post 2 of 2

  11. Randy,
    I have been reading these "letters" with interest. This one struck very close to home. To preface, I have never served as paid staff on a church (although I am a "PK"), however, the "Absolulte power corupts absolutely" statement describes the church I have been involved in for most of my life. The Senior Pastor and the Elder board have a complete disregard for the congregation and that we have brains and can make educated decisions. It is sad, frustrating, and very disheartening. Veiled threats have even been published in the weekly prayer list (to the tune of "honoring" your leaders, not touching the "Lords Annointed,etc). If the Senior Pastor was a "great orator" as you reference, that would be one thing, but he is not, is not a people person, and gets his way based on fear, intimidation, and even half truthes.
    Post 1 of 2

  12. Wow. I was there on the day were you were forced to plagiarize Rick Warren and Bill Hybels rather than create your own service programming. It was like watching a civil war reenactment with people that knew nothing about the war they were fighting. It was one of the most devastating days i have ever had in church. The bridge to nowhere and all. The fake preplanned emotional invitation. My wife and I were so let down by the experience that we went to another worship gathering. We actually got up in the middle of invitation and left cause were sick and nauseated! Pretty sad that what should be the creative highlight of the week was like watching a preschool class try and do justice Phantom of the Opera. It was like getting a photo copy of the Mona Lisa. Jesus forgive us for our lack of creativity in your name!!!!

  13. Brilliant, some people may not agree but you have the insight and courage to write your beliefs. Thanks for being inspirational to us all.

  14. There just seems to be an absense of that. Please don't think of this as judgement. That couldn't be farther from the truth. I just long to see you writing about Christ in your life…what does that look like? what is happening spiritually with you? I am confident that there are some incredible things … are you writing about them? Sharing the negative experiences without any redeeming stories of the "church" or "pastors" leaves me wondering??

    Always your friend and thankful that you shared Christ with me, it changed my life!!


    1. Thanks again Ronnie, I refer to the reply in your first segment. Madeline L'Engle talks about writing with layers. Look carefully for the layers. If Christ were not at work in my life, I would not be taking my valuable time to write about this in a redemptive fashion. Amid the call for a better way, there are layers that are worthy to be considered.

      Don't miss the layers amid a search for the Westernized version of Christianity's constant search for "perfect answers".

      Thanks for taking the time to challenge me. I value it.

      1. Great observation! Our Westernized version of Christianity is certainly skewed. Gee Whiz, we are Americans aren't we? :)

        btw – I do see the layers, hope to talk with you soon, please give Chris a hug for me.

  15. I am in my 25th year of ministry. I have seen some things in people that absolutely blow my mind. But, I have also seen the faithfulness of Christ. I have been intentionally and unintentionally hurt by the "people" of God. I have been guilty of the same. Still, God's faithfulness when we are unfaithfull is amazing. I know that you have experienced legalism as I have too. The struggle is determining the difference between holiness and legalism. One is a deep dark cavern of ugliness and self worth, the other is born out of the desire to be like Christ, but can only be achieved through His power and forgiveness. I guess my challenge is look over the things that you have written, ( I have not read your book yet, but look forward to doing so) on your blog and other forums and see how much of it reflects a life that is being continually changed by Christ and talking about how He is a part of everyday life.

  16. Randy, (long post…split up over multiple comments)

    I must say that I have found the last two letters (4 & 5) very discouraging. I am not saying that there is not any truth in what you are writing. I just believe that it is incomplete. To continually write about the negative experiences that you have had with the church and pastors, without sharing how God has used these very same things in your life in positive and redeeming ways is somewhat baffling.

    1. Ronnie,

      It is fitting that they are discouraging. They should be. I heartily admit I am a work in progress, and I honestly cannot echo the sentiment in your earlier comment that "Yet, God is good". At this point in my life, I personally feel those things have NOT been used of God in positive and redeeming ways. They have been destructive in my life and many other pastors lives, as we clearly see in the posts on Pete's blog. Although, I guess one might say that for me to even write these posts could be considered redemptive.

      Please pay close attention and do not miss nor discount the sincerity in the last paragraphs of each post. Read them carefully. I suppose in context, I do not consider these incomplete. But, on the other hand, the writer is incomplete, sooo…

      Thanks for your honesty.

      1. Hey Randy…me too? I am still a massive work in progress. I know that it takes a lot of strength to share things in such an open and yet personal way. I admire your willingness to do that. I am not sure I am as willing to be as open. I hope you understand what I am asking for? If not the church or pastors…then what? What is God doing in your life now? You catch glempses of it. Certainly, deliverance from legalism is part of it.

        Email and blog post sound so stiff sometimes, so please don't read too much into these statements. I would love to have a conversation with you and catch up on soooooo much stuff. It has been way too long. If you get a chance, send me a phone number and I will give you a call. My email is listed with this post.


  17. Man, Randy… that letter was the bomb. I agree with you 100%. I have only one question: how did Pete's article on Piper disturb you, or did I misread your blog?

    1. Yes, Shannon, it disturbed me (as it did Pete) because of the statement "In 30 years, I have never let go of the passion for public productivity."

      He obviously does not have trusted and wise people holding him accountable, FOR THIRTY YEARS!! Where was his wise council? His team of allies?

      That is what disturbs me..Does that make sense?

      1. Randy,
        I just posted this on Pete's blog, but thought I'd post this here as well. I guess I'm kinda embarrassed to have to ask this question … but here goes …

        What exactly, is "public productivity"? Reading between the lines, I assume it means that you "do stuff so people can see it"? I dunno.

        Maybe there's someone else out there who doesn't quite "get" what that phrase means … so I'll be the guy to raise his hand and say "I don't quite understand".

        Someone enlighten me please!?

  18. As a graduate of the Ministry School of Slick, I confess that looking back – I have been so blessed to be a part of amazing ministries where the ministers lacked that controlling, charismatic nature that I had grown to used to in school.

    In my arrogance however, I criticized my sweet churches for not knowing everything I knew about creating a huge ministry. In more than 1 city, I was the staff pastor who had to learn that "support the pastor's vision at all times" needed to be struck from my well-drafted lay- ministry applications!

    I guess I can thank God I married a military guy and not another minister, although even in this town where we've lived for 5 years, I still feel I don't really belong. We're not exactly Baptist, Charismatic, Word of Faith or Catholic.

    So I minister in the marketplace, where Christians across the board can hear me speak and say to themselves, "Hey, she's a believer!" The funny thing is, if I were to try to minister in their churches, it would take forever for them to see if I fit into their dogma.

    Randy, your posts are so heartfelt and compelling. God bless our dear pastors. They are just like a microcosm of your average youth group.

    1. Thanks so much Gina. Thankfully, there are some pastors who gladly accepted collaboration and accountability. May their tribe increase. May their health increase.

  19. "There is no intercessor between us and God. " I'm sorry, but when I read this in your blog, I immediately stopped reading the rest, and had to respond quickly. What I have quoted from your writings above, that statement, is a lie. Not a mis-statement, not a slip of the tongue, not anything else but a lie. Randy, devastation can cause many ill-advisesd actions, and incorrect reactions. But to deny the one intercessor we have whose blood cleanses us from our sins and brings reconciliation-do deny the Name of Jesus, Randy, – please take some time to reflect, be blessed, and lifted up. Let the words of the living God come to your spirit and bring you peace.

    1. Steve, You take my writing out of context. When I say God, I mean the Godhead three in one. But, out of fear others will do so as well, I have edited that sentence to read triune God. Thanks for the heads-up.

      1. Sorry bout that. I truly almost deleted my text to you because I think I know your heart is in the right place. but that sentence just hit me as so wrong, I chose to take the stand. Glad I did, and that you are mature enough to know that we don't need to put out any stumbling blocks. There are already so many of them. Thanks for considering my reply, and thanks for continuing to minister as God directs. I'll get back in my box, take my meds, and take a nap now. Have a great Wednesday.

  20. Randy, you are so right about pastors exerting misplaced power in our lives. I've also heard the statement "Don't touch God's annointed"–that's so Old Testament. When Christ died on his cross, he made the way for each and every one of us to have the annointing of God living in us (John 14-16). As you say, we are all the same in God's eyes and we don't need any one to get between us and God. Now, pastors do have a place in the body of Christ–they're there to help us mature into the full stature of Christ (Ephesians 4:13). Actually, we're all to build each other up and to encourage all of us to seek God with everything we have. Our life is found by cleaving to God, not to one another (Deuteronomy 30:15-20). Thanks for your provocative post.

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