Every great comic hero has an origin story, so why not me? My whole life, for as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be an artist. I had an amazingly supportive grandmother who put crayons in my hands before I knew what to do with them and from there, I was off to the races. It’s not surprising. After all Pablo Picasso once said, “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” I have solved that problem. I am a lifelong artist, but in some ways, art became a problem in and of itself.
When I was a kid, I loved to do two things, make pictures and tell stories. I was bullied relentlessly, so the storytelling, which sort of required being in front of people, decreased, but the art… I could do that by myself away from the prying eyes of my bullies, so art became a kind of refuge for me, and before long I knew I wanted an art career. Long story short, I pursued art pretty intensely.
Now in my case, when you think art, don’t think of galleries and museums. My parents did not see art as a viable career path, and so rather than going to art school, I got a string of menial jobs and tried to enter the arts through the back door. I got a job with a printing company, as a press operator with the promise that I could work my way into the art department. That promise never materialized, so I took a course at a local vocational school in “Commercial Art” and landed my first “real art job”—designing grocery store circulars for a food distributor. It was technically art, but it was about as fulfilling as it sounds, so I started to freelance.
The Illustrated Man
My main interest was in illustration, and I really wanted to be a comic artist. Looking back this is not surprising. All I ever wanted to do was make art and tell stories. One day I landed what I considered at the time to be the dream gig, painting for a licensee of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
On the other side of life, the non-working side, I was in trouble. That string of menial jobs had left me feeling pretty worthless, and I drowned those sorrows in alcohol for several years, leaving some real wreckage. It all started to turn around when I met my wife. She was the preacher’s daughter. When we met, I hadn’t been to church in ten years. She was sober. I was the polar opposite of sober. She wanted me to go to church with her. I had no desire to do that, but I liked her, so I went and another long story short, I met Jesus and married her.
Life was great, but I wasn’t. I loved my wife and the two sons we had in the ensuing years, but my need for success as an artist, was all-consuming to the point of idolatry, and it was ruining everything in my path. Eventually, I became convicted of that and laid art down. During that time I felt the call to ministry, and I swore that I would never pursue art again unless I was doing it for the Lord.
The Transformational Call
I’m convinced to this day that my life was radically changed by two things. Someone cared enough to introduce me to Jesus and my pastor found a use for my artistic gift in the church. It all started with a simple project. One day my pastor asked me to paint a backdrop for the skits that were part of Vacation Bible School. That led to roles in the skits, which led to teaching a VBS class.
When I felt the call to ministry, I started off as a youth Sunday School teacher, then the youth leader, and in all this time, the only art I was doing was that one backdrop each year, and I was okay with that. To be truthful the carnage my pursuit of art left behind had me pretty scared to go back to it. I was happy teaching kids a couple times a week, except for one thing. It didn’t feel like the teaching was sticking.
It wasn’t just me. Many of my students had been in church their whole lives—many longer than me, but a lot of them didn’t know or hadn’t retained even the basic Bible stories. I began to pray for a way to make my teaching stick and I kept hearing the same thing. “Use art to teach them.” I didn’t want to open that part of my life back up, but the leading continued, and I continued to fight it, until Vacation Bible School came around again.
My son Chris, age four at the time, was in the skits that year. He was the town crier in this Medieval-themed VBS, and it was his job to bring the memory verse each night. One night, amid my battle against God’s call to art, my son recited this verse, “1 Peter 4:10 Each one should use whatever gifts he has received to serve others…” I knew it was my son’s voice, and yet I knew God had spoken. I barely slept that night as the ideas flowed one after another for using art in ministry.
I ended up with many more ideas than I could use, so I started sharing them on the internet. People began contacting me to do workshops for them on using the arts in ministry, which led to me having a speaking and speed painting traveling ministry which I do to this day. To date I have ministered with art in over 300 venues in 21 states, I pastor a church, and I realize my life has come full circle. Today I earn my living making art and telling stories, the very thing I dreamt of since childhood, and I couldn’t be happier.
What’s Your Whatever Gift?
The question for you dear reader is, if each one really should use whatever gifts he has received to serve others, what’s your gift and how would God have you put it to work? Helping you find that answer is a big part of why this column exists. I hope you’ll join me. Want to see more about why the church needs creativity? Check this out.