The Collision of Faith & Creativity: Interview with Gary Molander

The Collision of Faith & Creativity: Interview with Gary Molander

December 5, 2011 by

This summer I met Gary Molander at the Echo Conference. He’d just put out a new book, Pursuing Christ. Creating Art.: Exploring Faith at the Intersection of Faith and Creativity (read our review), that was right up our alley. Gary is a former pastor and currently creates church media. That’s right—he’s smack in the middle of the pastor/artist debate, which means he brings a unique insight.

Gary is the founder of the church media company Floodgate Productions. He also founded Floodgate Creative for full service creative work and Floodgate Foundation, which funds community restoration projects in El Salvador.

We sat down with Gary to talk about his new book, and stick around for the end because we’re going to give away some free copies of Gary’s book!

In the book you make the claim that pastors are artists. I think we have a lot of creative people who would beg to differ. Can you explain that?

I’ve read that line a million times, and even debated whether or not I should leave it in the final manuscript. The line is “I think pastors are artists, who might not really believe that.” The short answer is that I don’t really believe that line. Completely.

But in the book, I continue to suggest that we’ve too tightly defined what an “artist” is. When I talk with people who are the “artists” in the church world, they would never suggest that a pastor is an artist. They would say that he’s a CEO, or a leader or a micro-managing control freak. But never an artist. And that worries me.

I invite you to take a deep breath, and read this paragraph without breaking. When I look at someone who is leading a church and a staff team, and who shares his/her heart every week, and who is trying to move a group of people forward into a kingdom that doesn’t make sense, and who is a counselor and a peacemaker and a father and a boss and a visionary and a doctor and a lawyer, and who is loved and hated by people in the same room for different reasons, and who is scared to death but won’t admit it…

I think that’s an art.

So I’m stretching to one extreme in hopes of getting my readers into the middle. And I really want for pastors to begin to see their calling as an art, not as a litany of formulas designed to get their church past the 400 barrier.

When a lot of people think of Christian art, they think of cheese. Church art has a bad reputation. How can churches get away from that art and explore art that has more value? And while doing that, how do they deal with the people who complain that it’s not “good” enough or “holy” enough or whatever enough?

I think the cheese factor in church art comes when we assume that the art needs to offer both a clear portrait of an actual image of Jesus (usually blond-haired and Caucasian) and a plan of salvation, all wrapped together with a bow at the end. In my field (film and writing), something goes the way of bad cheese when the story offers a character and an ending that simply doesn’t work in real life.

Churches can explore art that has more value simply by creating beautiful works (or by telling compelling stories) that don’t resolve anything. Art not only communicates truth. It also creates emotional uprisings. Many churches have never considered giving an entire congregation the chance to experience intense stirrings. Many church leaders are uncomfortable if the final fill-in-the-blank is left unfilled. It seems far safer to give people tips and techniques and formulas alone, than to give them a license to touch a mystery.

And to be wrecked by it.

I mean, rather than causing us to leave church with a smile, what if God’s will is for us to sit in our own personal pond of holy agitation the whole morning and actually experience the ache of seeing no way out?

What if our lives are unresolved, and what if our art reflected that?

What’s one thing artists can do to make better art?

If I had to boil it down to two things (that is what you asked, right?), I’d say this:

First, I think we need to stop pursuing the next great creative concept, and start pursuing Jesus. That sounds great, and many people nod and say “Mmmm” when I say that in a room full of artists. But it’s so very true. When we pursue Jesus, the next great creative idea will come as a gift of the relationship. We artists tend to drag Jesus through our creative processes, turning to Him only when we’re stuck. I’d rather allow Jesus to drag us into bringing healing and redemption to the world, and figuring out our creative concepts as that’s taking place.

Second, I think artists would create better art if they became less concerned with preaching and more concerned with inspiring. Let the pastor preach and teach (artistically, I would argue). Great art happens when artists simply set the table and invite people into the feast.

What’s one way pastors and creatives can get along better?

Pastors need to clearly communicate the scope and the vision of the project to the artists involved. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to create art (music, video, print pieces, stage elements, lighting, sound, etc.), without knowing the vision or the scope. We guess, always knowing that we might be wrong. And if we work at a church where the pastor is the “anointed one,” then we’ve come to understand that this is entirely normal.

So when something I’ve spent countless hours creating is pulled at the last minute because the pastor decides to go in a different direction? Once or twice is fine, but doing that over and over again will kill the heart of artists.

I think there are a lot of smaller churches out there that don’t have creatives on staff or taking the reins. How can these churches tap into creatives without a budget?

I agree. I think the vast majority of churches can’t afford to hire someone to just create stuff all day long. I would suggest a couple of threads to consider.

First, I would look for that late-teens, early-20’s kid who’s already bent in the artistic direction. Most likely, he’s already in your church. One of my greatest regrets in pastoral ministry is that I didn’t search and equip this exact kid like I should have. He’s the kid churches should be buying Final Cut and AfterEffects for. He’s the kid who churches should put on a bus to creative conferences (Echo, Story, etc.). He’s the kid who needs ongoing pastoral mentoring so that his skill level doesn’t surpass his spiritual maturity.

Secondly, I’d look to existing resources outside of your church. Companies like Igniter Media, CenterlineNew Media, Floodgate Productions and others consistently provide media resources that churches can use, and would be proud to show (Floodgate even provides a small church discount for substantial savings). Northpoint Church is really great at making their in-house creative resources available to the church at large. is always offering free creative resources.

Read the Review & Free Copies
Thanks Gary. Good words.

To dive deeper into what Gary’s talking about, check out his new book, Pursuing Christ. Creating Art.: Exploring Faith at the Intersection of Faith and Creativity. You can read our review and Gary has also offered to give away three free copies. Here’s how to enter to win:

  1. Post a comment below answering the question, “How do you think the church could create better art?”
  2. Gary will draw three winners at random on Friday, Dec. 9 to receive a copy of his book.
  3. One entry per person, shipping to U.S. addresses only (international winners might need to pitch in on shipping), [insert other disclaimers and addendums here].

So… how do you think the church could create better art?

Update: And the winners are… David Clark, Rob Rash & Craig Hinca. Gary will be sending you a copy of his book. Congrats.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
Read more posts by | Want to write for us?

24 Responses to “The Collision of Faith & Creativity: Interview with Gary Molander”

  • Kent Bateman
    December 5, 2011

    As a designer and pastor-in-training myself, this post was super helpful.

    I think communication between pastors and artists/creatives is so key to this whole deal. There are thousands of churches out there that make beautiful things to put on-screen, online, & in your hands.

    There are a select few whose beautiful creations actually communicate what they were meant to communicate.

    Thanks for the thoughts, Gary.

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  • Gregory Fish
    December 5, 2011

    I don’t need to win the book, I already have it and it’s a great book. So good luck everyone. If you don’t win, then just go buy it!

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  • David Clark
    December 5, 2011

    What a loaded question! I think there are a lot of things the church can do to create better art… But I think one of the most important aspects (at least in my circle) is simply trying to be open to being pushed outside of our comfort zones in creativity. Too often we allow things like budget, time, personal preference, etc. to get in the way – we use them as excuses, almost, to keep us from doing anything uncomfortable in our creative process. How much more rich and inviting would our worship experiences be if we allowed ourselves to be stretched and to grow our art on a more regular basis? Scary? Sure. But you never know what the outcome could be like unless you try it.

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  • Craig Hinca
    December 5, 2011

    My personal challenge as an artist and a pastor is to not get preoccupied always with what others are doing. Although I fully support being inspired and exposed to what is “out there” creatively, I try to remember to challenge myself to be prayerful and asking God what He wants to communicate through me-in my community-for this time. To me, better art is always the communication of the process or product of what God is showing me or our community of faith.

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  • Vic
    December 5, 2011

    Our church has all sorts of artists – architects, painters, jewelry makers, heavy-duty sewers… My wife is a painter and 2D artist, and she and some other creative folks have recently started an arts forum at our church in Baltimore.

    The plan is twofold: host quarterly forums after church, and create focus groups by discipline that will help Christians in a particular artistic discipline to network and sharpen each other. The forums include a potluck, short talk (either an artist presents her work or gives a booktalk on a good book about faith and art), and discussion.

    All that to say… my wife would love this book!

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  • Adam
    December 5, 2011

    I think the Church can better create art by celebrating it and making it a priority. This has been a part of my church since it’s beginning 4 years ago. It’s a challenge in some ways, but it’s worth it! I have never ceased to be amazed at what creativity and art can do in a place where Christians gather, :)

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  • Curtis Honeycutt
    December 5, 2011

    Ban Comic Sans and Papyrus. Stop blatantly ripping off other successful marketing campaigns.

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  • Rob Rash
    December 5, 2011

    I think it’s quite simple… by not ignoring art in the church. I think there is an absence of art because we simply don’t value it nor encourage it.

    I believe by talking about creating art, encouraging our artists to create, and then providing a context to share and highlight their work would be a good first step.

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  • Rebecca Anderson
    December 5, 2011

    How do you think the church could create better art?
    I have a couple of ideas:
    – It seems like a matter of focus and priority – making a spot at the table for the creative brains that sometimes aren’t included in planning and strategy.
    – Committ to including an artistic point of view – to try one thing new each month until you find the fit that works.
    – Remember that art is response to an amazing God, and looking for how to show that more.
    Great discussion!

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  • Jennifer Leight
    December 5, 2011

    I think we need to recognize equally all of the gifts God has blessed us with – not value one above others.

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  • Scott Parrish
    December 5, 2011

    Thanks for an intriguing article. “How do you think the church could create better art?” Hmm, I suspect the average church and pastor don’t even think of mission and ministry this way. So, I like some of the redefinition found in the article. I think if we see it as a necessity and priority to have quality art in order to accomplish the mission that we’d see the necessary shift. What if such expertise in visual communication became as pervasive as expertise in preaching/teaching (verbal communication)? Some of this may be overcoming the “fear factor” some may have taking steps away from the tried, true, traditional, and perhaps boring, toward creative expressions of the Spirit that connect with people today.

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  • Brian
    December 6, 2011

    My pastor taught biology before entering ministry. Has minimal imagination. He’s not against creativity, but just has very little initative toward inviting it,,,or celebrating it. So our congregation becomes formed in -his- image: slightly scientific and mostly pastoral. sigh.

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  • Shay
    December 7, 2011

    Get more people to participate in arts in the church who are not a part of the church already.
    Stop being lazy.
    Stop going to big box Christian book and gift stores.
    Delete all the ‘inspirational’ Christian emails you are forwarded.
    Reflect on the classic examples of creativity that are deeply rooted in the Christian faith.
    Read the Psalms more.
    Persecution also tends to inspire creative output.

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  • Tonja Conway
    December 8, 2011

    If you’re talking about art as elements of the weekly corporate worship gathering, then better art would come from the pastor trusting the Holy Spirit’s work through ALL the contributing team members – not just himself. There would then be no (or at least less) unilateral “last minute changing of direction” and “killing the artist’s heart”.

    But if you’re talking about art produced for general consumption by any member of the Church, then the Church could produce better artists by igniting awe and inspiration in a person’s heart. Creating art (in any form) is a natural response to the greatness of our God.

    And art isn’t just pretty things to look at. I’m a Godin fan, and he said, “Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. The medium doesn’t matter. The intent does. Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another.” So if you’re a customer service rep, your art could be treating your ‘clients’ with such respect and courtesy that they are changed by your interaction. Human to human instead of anonymous entities. To me that sounds like art offered by an artist to his Creator just as much as a graphic on a screen on Sunday.

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  • Andrew Finden
    December 8, 2011

    Great stuff. I think he hit the.nail on the head: artists don’t need to make tracts. As Francis Schaeffer writes, simply being creative (love poems and lanscapes e.g.) honours the Creator in whose image.we are made.

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  • Nicole
    December 8, 2011

    I don’t have a profound answer to the above question, just simply: tell compelling stories. After all, isn’t that what the Gospel is?

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  • Joe Rooney
    December 8, 2011

    I love the statement that “pastors are artist” becaude the first person I go to when I’m in a creative rut, besides Jesus, is my pastor. I mean here I am trying to visually represent the church’s vision, the vision that is casted by my pastor, if anyone knows what it looks like it’s him. Great article and can’t wait read the book.

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  • Kelvin
    December 8, 2011

    I probably consider myself “that late-teens, early-20’s kid who’s already bent in the artistic direction” and I find this topic quite interesting. In my opinion, the visual promotions for the the church I attend are lacking direction and are just solely “creative” based, and Gary Molander seems to bring out some important points for the designers in the church.

    I’m a student of graphic design, and one of the things I really believe in is that the visuals can really set the right environment for people to experience a certain emotion. As manipulative as that sounds, it’s probably true because people will most likely take a clean-looking visual art more seriously than something made without conviction or considering the aesthetics. As a church, we can take advantage of this to aid the message we want to get across.

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  • aaron
    December 8, 2011

    I wanna win

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  • deb Christensen
    December 9, 2011

    Wow, huge question, larger dialog, and needful reality for today’s culture. I always try to do too much, and have to stop myself and remind myself to start small, do it well, then clone myself (team-building), and start the next thing … small, do it well, rinse & repeat.

    If the church fails to negotiate communications with the culture, and tomorrow’s culture, our churches will be empty in 40-50 years, maybe sooner.


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  • jon warner
    December 9, 2011

    Art needs to communicate true reality. True reality is often messy. Art needs to get messy.

    Making things too pure or too easy screams of plasticity.

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  • Gwyneth Lang
    December 9, 2011

    Love the conversation. I think there is real fear in change and creativity is all about innovation, risk and trying new things. My least favorite phase is, “this is the way we’ve always done it.”

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  • Church Motion Graphics
    April 2, 2013

    Thanks for sharing Gary. I always enjoy hearing you speak and reading your words of wisdom. Thank you for being a pastor to creatives.

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