The church is losing her children. In droves, unsatisfied teens and young adults are giving up on Christianity. We’ve all seen the statistics, not that they were necessary—the reality is all too obvious—nearly every family in the church has been personally affected. Pastors and parents have responded to this reality with a variety of programs—most having to do with correct doctrine, apologetics, and worldview training. Though these programs have their place, most of them fail to recognize that the main problem is not that Christian youths don’t know the right things. Most young people in the church know the truth and can give the right answers. The main problem is that they don’t love the right things. Their hearts are constantly being trained in a different direction, and by a persuasive teacher: art.
The rapid growth of information technologies has connected young Christians to a world of instant music, film, visual arts, literature, photography, etc., that entice their hearts to love what the world loves. Sunday might provide a sermon or two, but the rest of the week is filled with movies that train young men how to view sexuality, photographs that train young women how to understand beauty, songs that teach young people the meaning of love, novels that convince them they can be good without God, and advertisements that train us all where to place our value and how to spend our money.
The church must reevaluate the incredible power of art and start supporting her excellent artists and their worthwhile projects. In order for the body of Christ to engage the hearts of her congregations and engage the rest of culture, two fundamental changes must occur:
- We must change the way Christian art is understood and practiced. Most art today, including most Christian art, has become about entertainment and emotionalism. But the Biblical model indicates that art should focus on communication and edification. Christian art must communicate full-bodied truth in a beautiful and creative display of excellent artistry.
- We must also change the way Christian art is funded. Right now, the Christian art and media industry run on the same principles the secular art and media industry does: popular demand. But popular support rarely favors difficult truths over comforting words of affirmation. Just look at the lives of the prophets! This is why the church body must focus its support on the lives of her artists, and not necessarily the marketability of their art. This will free artists to express God’s message without having to ask, “Is this too politically incorrect?” “Will this step on people’s toes?” or even “I could probably sell more CDs if I leave the difficult songs out.”
How We Are Helping
Currently, The Nehemiah Foundation is involved in four arenas to help catalyze this needed change in our church and culture: (1) we help artists develop their skill sets with constructive feedback and thoughtful attention, (2) we provide oversight and resources for the actual creation of art, (3) we are spreading news of this approach by engaging Christian audiences of all kinds, and (4) we are spreading the gospel through art by unleashing artists to perform for the world, so that many will see, and put their trust in the Lord.
The world’s most effective campaign against the church today is not intellectual. It’s cultural. The church’s most pressing current battle rages in the hearts of our young people. What makes matters particularly dire is that the church has not come close to responding to this most urgent need.
Some churches have already become aware of the need. That’s why words like “culturally relevant,” “authentic,” and “missional” have been popping up on church bulletins and banners. Because churches understand the need. But they don’t understand the solution.
The cry of young Christians who are brave enough to say it is coming in louder and louder: “We don’t connect with the songs our worship teams sing to us on Sunday. We don’t like Christian radio or Christian movies. We don’t believe it.” And why would they? So many worship songs are little more than a repeated pop chorus of vague praise: “How great is our God?” Well, they don’t know. And no one is really telling them! Because the God who exists in corporate worship doesn’t exist in real life. If He did, there would be so much more to sing about Him than just the same mantra some mega-church worship leader half-way around the world wrote ten years ago?
Consider any young churchgoer. They struggle with sin. They grapple with truth. They are trying to make sense of the difficult world they have come to know all too well. If all the church offers in response is a temporary escape rather than a lasting deliverance, we as the body of Christ have failed our mission. You can’t have deliverance if you don’t address what holds you in bondage.
Our God is real. He works with us in our real lives. He helps us fight sin. He encourages us in righteousness. His truth applies to relationships, work, school, sports, and every other facet of the human experience. After all, our Savior Himself was just that: a human being. Once Christian art becomes more grounded, it will have even more power to lift up the low, encourage the meek, direct the zealous, and humble the proud.
Honesty isn’t the only thing the church is leaving out of her art: creativity and beauty are also regularly choked out of worship by a restrictive song-of-four-chords-and-one-thousand-choruses approach. At one point in time, the church was known for its production of beautiful, excellent, cutting-edge art. Such art is now studied and honored in even the most secular of institutions, and it continues to inspire the hearts of God’s people to worship and praise.
The church can return to that standard of aesthetic excellence and again be a praise in all the earth. But, in order for that to happen, some serious changes need to occur—in the way churchgoers understand art, in the way art is commissioned and distributed, and in the way Christian artists view their calling and craft. And we are hard at work, trying to bring about that change.
What the Bible says about Art
Traditionally, the church has held art and its influence in high regard. Even in the days of early Israel, God appointed full-time musicians to write and perform songs of praise. Throughout the Psalms we see and hear about the importance of song, even for the non-believer. That’s why David cries out with conviction: “He put a new song in my mouth; a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.”
“The Nehemiah Foundation is dedicated to rally support for Christian artists, facilitate the creation of excellent art, hone the church’s involvement in culture, and reach the lost with the beauty of the Gospel.”
“To see the church making the earth’s most compelling art.”
Our Four Programs
We spend time investing in artists’ skills by helping them hone their ability with insightful feedback, constructive criticism, helpful direction, and meaningful encouragement. Self-publication companies are a dime a dozen. The problem with such an approach is that the artist or author doesn’t get helpful feedback or direction. Our goal is to make sure that, when artists are done engaging with the NFfCR, they are better equipped as artists to continue making even more excellent art in the future. This program is particularly long-term oriented, because we know these artists will continue doing what they love, and we want to help them in the long run.
Art Production is the step where we actually make art, including the production of music albums, visual art collections and prints, book publication, etc. People in our communities and around the world will be able to enjoy good art that speaks the truth, encourages their walk, and challenges misconceptions. Physical and digital copies of music, visual art, and literature can be distributed to immediate communities and around the globe.
Education and Instruction
We educate artists and audiences with the logistic help of churches, schools, co-ops, and any other forum where our voice can be heard and appreciated. By conversationally engaging these groups, we are able to influence the way Christian art is understood and practiced. These meetings inform Christians that they are not alone in their reservations concerning Christian art. We want to help Christians understand and articulate a more biblical approach to the arts.
Christians aren’t the only ones who need good art! We also promote our art in common, secular venues, arenas, and forums. We are able to effectively reach out to people that would otherwise write off Christians as shallow, ignorant, oblivious, or prudish. This outreach is particularly effective because good art can woo an audience of unbelievers when lectures and propositional apologetics fall flat.
What Sets the Nehemiah Foundation Apart?
There are plenty of ways to fund Christian artists and projects. But the real means of change is not blindly throwing money at new artists. Supporting artists must go hand-in-hand with an alternative view of Art Theology. The role of art in God’s design must be understood more fully to effect a lasting change.
For several years, the individuals that make up the NFfCR have been scouring scripture, seeking the whole counsel of God on this issue. Most notably our President, Michael Minkoff, has had this issue at the forefront of his mind for the majority of his life. The result of this meditation and research led him to write our flagship book, According to His Excellent Greatness. If long-term success is our goal, a theological and philosophical framework must be created and maintained.
Patron Funding and Community Support
One of the most revolutionary aspects of our mission is that we’re changing the way art is funded. Instead of starting another Christian art studio that would be beholden to popular demand, we have structured our organization to operate on the faithful gifts of patrons and on the investment of communities into their local artists.
What is so interesting about this approach is that, in this age, it is practically inevitable. With the advent of affordable recording equipment, online hosting, file sharing, streaming, etc., the music industry is losing its means of fortune. The future is dim for the big marketing and distribution firms, inaccessible recording spaces, and lucrative radio deals. The big money that once came so easily is withering, and must be replaced by a different funding model. It is essential for the church to be on the forefront of this change, setting an example of philanthropic support for excellent art.
Efficient Use of Funds
One of the most remarkable characteristics of the NFfCR is the extremely focused way we use our funds. One organization, similar to ours in appearance, pledges that for every donation, 10% will be used to fund artists. We, on the other hand, have been using almost every cent of our donations on artists, taking care to use our resources in the most efficient and effective ways, so that more artists and projects can be supported.
Dedication to the Gospel
When searching for similar organizations to connect with, it was surprising to find how many non-profits beat around the bush when it comes to their faith. Perhaps the vague, “common good” language helps with donations or grants or creates a broader audience. Nonetheless, at the Nehemiah Foundation, we consider art to be meaningless without God as its creator, the Holy Spirit as its inspiration, and Christ as its redeemer. So, inasmuch as we pursue Christ and His gospel in our art, we are actually achieving the common good.
Loyal and Qualified Staff
The most noticeable strength of the NFfCR is our staff, as it should be with any organization of this missional and service-oriented nature. Not only do we have an impressively competent group of individuals, but we have attracted the most dedicated group of leaders any non-profit could ask for. Since 2007, our staff has created several time-consuming art projects, with 99% of their work being volunteer efforts. They have shown unparalleled ability matched with an unparalleled self-sacrifice that only God could provide. Among our most impressively skilled members are:
President of the Foundation, Michael Minkoff Jr. has ten years of professional writing experience, five years of professional experience in the publishing world editing, copy writing, and typesetting. He couples these professional qualifications with over ten years of audio recording, mixing, and multi-instrumentalism. These experiences have led to his involvement as a guest movie reviewer for web shows and podcasts. He holds a BS in Science, Technology, and Culture from Georgia Tech.
Vice President and Board Member, Mike Minkoff Sr. has 30 years of business and finance experience in an international architectural engineering company. He provides constant insight, support, business advice, and encouragement.
Music Director, Phillip Hodges is a classically trained guitarist, and a concert-level multi-instrumentalist, composer, and arranger. Phil is an invaluable asset in the studio, providing instrumentation and musical direction for almost every project that goes through the foundation.
Producer and Board Member, Sean Sullivan has over ten years experience as a singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Having navigated the treacherous waters of the California music market, he maintains valuable connections to the west coast music scene, not to mention his depth of knowledge concerning recording and production of music.