Ministry Leadership and the Arts

Apr 6, 2021

Dear Preachers,

Like so many others around the globe, I’ve been rather anxiously awaiting my turn to receive a Covid-19 vaccine. Last Friday was my big day—or big day #1 of 2, to be precise. Arriving at the drive-through mass vaccination site I took up my position in the elaborate automotive choreography, under the direction of 500 volunteers and medical staff, enabling more than 5000 people to receive a shot that day. Alone in my car, warmed by the sun of a bright spring day and the smiling eyes above so many masked faces, I felt tears on my face and heard myself singing:

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation!
Oh, my soul, praise him, for he is thy health and salvation.
All ye who hear, now to his temple draw near.
Join me in glad adoration.

Bursting into spontaneous song is hardly a rare occurrence for me—though it is more commonly some obscure show tune or old school folk rock. Melody and lyrics help me express feelings I may not fully understand, or lift up prayers for which I have no words. As my colleague Maria Fee has said, “We need the arts to extend our praise language.”

You may not consider yourself a singer or artist, or even someone who is particularly creative or imaginative. Nevertheless, your experience as a worshiper—or, I would argue, simply as a human being—is greatly enhanced by exposure to the arts, and even more so by engagement with forms of art. Just think of how different it feels to sing or clap along to a worship song surrounded by others singing and clapping along, than it is to watch that song on a video. Even such a brief interaction with a moment of art is likely to cause a physical, emotional, and spiritual change in you.

Studies have shown that such engagement with art can have a profound impact on leaders, who are so often called upon to think creatively in order to find innovative and “out of the box” strategies. (See, for example, this “Visit to the Art Museum“study in 2016). Spending time learning about painting, dance, theater, or music doesn’t guarantee you’ll discover some hidden talent, but it very well may impact the way you process the world around you and inspire new ways to think and act. In the Brehm Center, we’re wondering—what would happen if preachers and worship leaders were exposed to art-based training? To find out, the Ogilvie Initiative is partnering with Maria Fee on a research study funded by a Vital Worship Grant from the Lilly Endowment. Nine lucky volunteers will be part of four workshops on Mondays in June, followed by implementation of a creative strategy in your own worship services in the following months. Click here or read below for more information, and apply by May 1 to be considered for this exciting project.

As I have written before, preaching is always an act of worship that integrates theology with a variety of art forms—not least, the movement of the Spirit through the preacher’s own creative voice—all of which work together to proclaim a gospel of reconciliation and justice for the renewal of our fractured world. May we each learn to lift our voices in ever more creative and imaginative ways, according to the power of the King of Creation at work in us.

With Easter Joy,

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Rev. Dr. Jennifer Ackerman
Director, Brehm Preaching — A Lloyd John Ogilvie Initiative
Fuller Theological Seminary

Supporting Ministry Leadership and Worship through the Arts is a research study that will evaluate the efficacy of art-based training in the leadership development of pastors, and consequently, how the meaning-making operations of art creation serve communal worship.

The study seeks nine adult volunteers who hold a church leadership position and who are able to apply a creative strategy learned in the workshops to their leadership of communal worship. This will typically, but not exclusively, be a pastor. Any church leader with authority for planning and executing worship is welcome to apply.


MONDAYS | JUNE 7, 14, 21, and 28, 2021
10-11:30am PDT | 12-1:30pm CDT | 1-2:30pm EDT

Chosen volunteers will participate in a one-month learning cohort, including expectations to:

  • Attend four online, weekly, 90-minute workshops (six hours total – see above schedule),
  • Complete two at-home creative assignments (approximately 3-6 hours total),
  • Employ at least one art expression in their congregational worship setting (hours vary),
  • Provide essential feedback through interviews (no more than 3 hours in total), and
  • Consent to articles and essays being written as a result of the program. (Your name and context will not be disclosed.)

Deadline to be considered as a possible volunteer is May 1, 2021.
CLICK HERE to learn more.

Workshops will be led by artist, theologian, and Brehm Visual Arts Director, Dr. Maria Fee, who is an artist with an M.F.A. in Painting, M.A. in Theology, and a Ph.D. in Theology and Culture. As a professor of worship, theology, and the arts, Dr. Fee assists seminarians’ negotiations of theological queries through a creative discipline. Her own art practice explores ideas of fragmentation, metizaje (cultural mixing), alienation, and hospitality.

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Dr. Maria Fee
Director, Brehm Visual Arts
Fuller Theological Seminary

Well Formed Worship Leader Cohort

There are still a few spots left for the Brehm Center’s first cohort experience for worship leaders. Co-facilitated by Ed Wilmington (Brehm Music—A Fred Bock Initiative), Jennifer Ackerman (Brehm Preaching—A Lloyd John Ogilvie Initiative), and Julie Tai (Fuller Seminary Chapel Director), the Well-Formed Worship Leader Cohort is designed to address eight core areas of leadership in the vocation of worship leadership, including themes of spiritual, theological, cultural, and liturgical leadership. In this intimate, 10-week program, you will also examine pressing cultural conversations in worship leadership such as race and technology. Learn more here. Sign up soon, first online meeting is April 18!