Help arts students flourish in your fellowship

help arts students

Anna, a junior majoring in musical theatre, was eager to move back into the dorms and start a Bible study there. Her commitment wavered with an opportunity for the lead role in the fall musical. Anna was torn between developing her artistic gifts and her chapter leadership responsibilities with InterVarsity. Should she serve Jesus in the dorms — or in her arts department? I often regret the advice I gave her.

Like Anna, many Christian arts students struggle with what it means to follow Jesus and pursue excellence as an artist. How can your campus fellowship nurture and energize art students for ministry to others? Your group will benefit from their strengths in evangelism, creative juices and love for Jesus as you help them grow in their faith and God-given talents.

However, arts students often don’t have time for traditional involvement or leadership in a campus fellowship. You can help them by creating a vision for how God can use them in their department or their field. Then send them there! Brainstorm alternative avenues for discipleship and leadership training. Help them pursue healing, obedience and joy in Jesus. Pray for God’s transforming work in their lives and in other artists on your campus.

Anna’s story: dorm ministry or musical lead?

Anna’s situation was complicated. Our InterVarsity group was excited to start a dorm ministry, and Anna’s move there to lead a small group was a huge part of that vision. She had even raised funds to cover her higher living expenses. We valued high commitment from our core members and students leaders so, as Anna’s InterVarsity staff person, I advised her not to audition for the fall musical … and she didn’t.

Now I wonder, could she have done both? Should she have been released from the dorm commitment, or had help making the initial decision? Could she have been given a “pass” for the two months of rehearsals and performances—in the context of nine months of ministry on campus?

These are difficult decisions for arts students who are trying to follow Jesus and pursue their art at the same time. Often they have to choose between involvement in their campus fellowship or their art. If they want to serve in a leadership role, the commitment that is expected of them can be unrealistic. Weekly leader meetings, large-group meetings and small-group Bible studies are usually in the early evenings when rehearsals, concerts or gallery openings are just beginning.

In many fellowships, artists are valued only for what they can contribute to the Christian community. “Using the arts” is the dreaded phrase, usually referring to leading worship, creating skits for announcements, or decorating the room for the large-group room meeting. These are all great things to do, but it’s only the tip of the artist iceberg.

Tips for developing artists as leaders

Here are ideas for energizing and encouraging the artists in your group to embrace the leadership roles God has for them:

  • Keep the big picture. Ask this question: “What is God doing in this student’s life and in this arts department?” Release the student to open doors of ministry for the sake of the Kingdom. Artists are culture-makers. Their love for God and a Christian worldview may lead other artists to Jesus in a department that may be devoid of Christian witness.
  • Redefine leadership. Is chapter leadership viewed as “a part-time job,” or does spending 24 hours a week in rehearsals or the studio count for the Kingdom of God? Don’t create a false dichotomy between art and ministry.
  • Adjust your expectations … and meeting times. How can you make it easier for arts students to be integrally involved in your fellowship when scheduling conflicts often occur? Do meetings have to be at 7:00, making it difficult for huge swaths of arts students to participate? Consider having leader meetings or small groups at 4:00 or 10:00 for a period of time. Redefine faithfulness and commitment to the ministry for students who may have a lot less time than others. Identify the key places, meetings, camps and conferences for these busy students to attend and hold the rest loosely.
  • Support them. Busy artists still need small groups for accountability, encouragement and prayer support. Send them into their studios, practice rooms or rehearsals and pray for their witness through quality art and their interactions with others. Go see their work and celebrate with them what God is doing.

Bianca’s story: Where to lead?

Bianca was a theatre major who struggled to figure out how to follow Jesus in her department at Western Michigan University. Rather than joining the chapter’s leadership team, the leaders of the InterVarsity group prayed for her and sent her into the department. They came to Bianca’s plays and fielded her prayer requests. Her InterVarsity staff person, Dave Biskie, supported and encouraged her. He even took an acting class to develop his own acting skills and joined Bianca in building relationships in the department. Bianca was respected for her work and her faith and she grew immensely in both. She finished well and entered an excellent graduate program in theatre.

The young Christian artists Bianca had invested in while at WMU continued to follow her example of engaging the arts community. Two years later, they regularly host Arts Family Night for over 40 students from the theatre, dance, music, and art departments. Artists meet regularly to explore and apply the teachings of Jesus, pray for their departments, and care for one another. Their numbers continue to grow as they welcome artists into their community.

Bianca and Dave are overjoyed that the investments she made in her department continue to bear fruit on campus. “I’m so glad we decided not to have Bianca be part of our leadership team,” said Dave. “It was a scary choice at the time because she was a great asset to our chapter. But if Bianca had taken a traditional position of leadership, with all of its related time commitments, she would not have had such a large impact on our campus.”

Living it out

At Northwestern University (IL), an Arts Bible Study meets at 10:00 p.m. in the basement of a residence hall. Most of the students are theatre majors who are passionate about their faith, growing together as a community, and impacting the theatre department as they share life with cast and crew. I may have stuck with theatre through college if I’d had a fellowship like this—and didn’t have to make my own decision between being in shows and being a part of a fellowship.

Who are the artists in your campus group who need support and freedom to live out the healing grace and truth of Jesus wherever he leads them? May God create places for arts students to bring his love to every art department on every campus — and throughout the world.

—Nina Thiel

Nina has three more tips in this sidebar on “How to Support an Artist”.


Recommended resources:

  • Drama Team Handbook, Appendix C: “Working with the Theatre Community”, ©2003 InterVarsity Press