Fuller Seminary/Brehm Center, Maria Eugenia Fee

Pasadena, California

To establish and facilitate a series of arts-based leadership development workshops for pastors and church leaders in order to introduce them to the formational value of the arts in worship and invigorate arts-based worship practices in their faith communities.

Researcher(s): Dr. Maria E. Fee 
Academic Discipline:  Theology and Art

Project Summary 

This project comprises the establishment, facilitation, and evaluation of a series of art-based leadership development workshops involving pastors. The purpose of the program is to enhance pastors’ leadership abilities through interpersonal art experiences, and to further ascertain how said encounters specifically nourishes the worshipping life of the church. The workshops comprise rudimentary art making and art analysis exercises to mobilize pastors as “agents.” Through an art-based model, leaders encounter a holistic approach to faith and culture (W. Dyrness, 2008, p. 3), a type of active reflection, which subsequently benefits communal worship rousing pastors to employ tangible methods that broaden the church’s praise practices. 

What questions have you asked about worship in the past year?  

My project considered two questions: What if church leaders were trained to engage God’s world as an artist? Followed by the question, how does arts-based leadership formation effect pastoral exchanges, community life, and worship? From the pastors’ post-workshop interviews, I garnered new questions about the nature of human creativity. If pastors declared that the arts helped revive and validate the self, amplified awareness to attend art, others, God, and the world around them, then what vital role does creativity play in church life? This further begs the question, should seminaries address art as the means to invest in creativity for the sake of all? 

In what ways has or will your project strengthen the worship life of congregations? 

The project enabled pastors to exercise innate creativity subsequently empowering them to apply artistic strategies within worship. For example, Pastor A commenced middle school camp with worship to include a study of Genesis creation texts through artistic responses thereby validated teen creativity in relation to God’s creativity. Thus, they modeled a new approach to bible study. One excited teen asked if they can address the whole Bible in like manner! Pastor F led scriptural reflection through collage with a small group. Someone noted a deeper appreciation of the biblical text and was excited to discover, “I am a visual learner!” Pastor E found that a collaborative poem was the first step in helping the congregation become “WE.” Other stated benefits include a new framework to view liturgy, inspiration to share big statements about Advent beyond words via a campus-wide installation. 

What have been your greatest challenges (or challenging opportunities)? 

Some hold the belief only artists can make art. Commencing the program, pastors noted feelings of inadequacy. By the end, their poetic offerings provided rich experiences. This opened their capacity to apply aesthetic approaches in worship. Despite such empowerment, most implemented artistic methods in small group scenarios or with kids/teens. Did pastors transfer earlier ambivalence about art onto congregants? Having incorporated both a creative response in a worship setting, as well as in a small group, one pastor preferred the results of the latter. The smaller gathering provided safe environs for robust interpersonal interactions. The greater challenge is how to face vulnerabilities of all to fearlessly engage creative facilities. 

What advice would you like to share with other Teacher-Scholars? 

The project was the first time I needed to address folks as research participants rather than students. This was daunting. Creating and facilitating the workshops went great--in line with my gifts and experiences. However, I felt constrained and awkward about the interview process. I wished I asked better questions, asked for clarifications, asked for examples. Despite this, the interviews are inspiring! They gave me hope for the church. I met pastors willing to take art workshops because they were looking for out of the box solutions, wanting soul refreshment, or desired depth. My advice, then, for other Teacher-Scholars is to find God and soul refreshment in the project beyond its stated aims in in the midst of discomfort. 

What products will emerge from your project? 

The Teacher-Scholars program permitted the establishment of a four-part art-based workshop series for church leaders. A booklet was developed alongside to offer pedagogical and theological basis for workshop content, examples for homework assignments, and other resources. Considered a pilot program, the workshops are now ready to be administered beyond the research context. The next step is entrepreneur, making the workshops a product for churches and institutes. 

Outside of the workshops, the research will lead to publication of essays/articles concerning benefits to faith communities when pastors/leaders are art-trained, especially regarding corporate worship. 

As a professor, the workshops heavily informed classroom teaching. Given the time and energy, I would like to write and publish a resource book for pastors based on the project and seminary classroom interactions.